And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is My firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let My son go that he may serve Me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”
At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So He let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.
Consider the choices before you when a friend asks, “How is your day going?” You could give a straightforward answer such as “good.” You could turn the question around and say, “My day has been fine, thanks. How about yours?” You could rehearse some of the positive activities and accomplishments of your day, “It’s been great: I had a delicious meal with a good friend, and I completed a big project at work.” But how many of us would answer the question by describing our fears and failures? Can you imagine saying, “I’ve really been struggling today: I’ve been anxious about my finances, and I was harsh and angry towards my child.” Whether in a personal conversation or a published memoir, most of us would be tempted to edit out such vulnerable confessions.
As the author of Exodus, Moses had editorial privilege over how he told his life story. And it would have been easy and understandable for him to omit his moments of fear and failure. But God wisely guided Moses to include many of such moments. Even in these early chapters of Moses’ story, we hear him question God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Exodus 3:11) We hear him argue with God, “They will not believe me or listen to my voice.” (Exodus 4:1) We hear him tell half-truths to his father-in-law, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” (Exodus 4:18) And here in Exodus 4:21-26, we read about Moses’ life-threatening enmity with God and his failure to circumcise his son, “The LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it.” (Exodus 4:24-25) These autobiographical confessions are not merely included for the sake of an accurate historical record, but also to remind us that God calls sinful people to be His sons and servants, transforming them by grace along the way. That was Moses’ story, and it is our story too.
While Moses was certainly vulnerable in sharing this story, he was not particularly detailed. If you are a careful and curious reader of the Bible, you may still find yourself asking important questions such as:
“Why did God seek to put Moses to death?”
“How did God seek to put Moses to death?”
“Why did Moses not circumcise his son when he was eight days old?”
“Did Moses agree to allow Zipporah to circumcise their son?”
“Why did Zipporah touch Moses with their son’s bloody foreskin?”
“What is the significance of Zipporah’s words about Moses being a bridegroom of blood?”
“Did this event strengthen or weaken the relational bond between Moses and Zipporah?”
Moses says almost nothing to help us answer these questions, and no other biblical authors give any explanation of this particular story. As a result, scholars often have contrasting answers for these questions. We can speculate, but it will not bear much fruit for us.
But there is one significant question that I believe does have a clear, compelling answer and illustrates a truth that is critical for our faith. The question is this: “Why did God spare Moses’ life?” At first glance, we may be tempted to say that God spared Moses’ life because Zipporah obeyed God. But delayed obedience by a spouse doesn’t solve the problem of personal sin; Moses himself was still guilty and still responsible. So why did God spare Moses’ life? God spared Moses’ life because of the shedding of blood, which pointed forward to the perfect atoning blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.
While we view blood as repulsive and unsanitary in many ways, it is important for us to grasp how central blood was (and is) in the story of redemption. When Moses’ son was circumcised, the blood shed not only pointed backwards to the way God instituted circumcision as a sign of the covenant for Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:9-14). This circumcision also pointed forward to the bloody Passover night God when would deliver Israel from Egypt (Exodus 12), to the bloody confirmation of the covenant with Israel (Exodus 24), and to the bloody sacrifices that would be offered in the tabernacle (Exodus 30). All of these bloody signs and sacrifices highlight the severe consequences of sin and the indescribable gift of Jesus Christ’s blood being shed for us on the cross. As Peter writes, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited by your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Moses didn’t earn his place as a son of God. He didn’t work his way up the chain of command in Israel by faithful obedience, political skill, or dynamic leadership. Moses was redeemed by God, adopted as a son, called to leadership, and given success in his efforts only by God’s grace poured out through the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. And so as we consider the life of Moses, we are called not to pattern our lives after him but to entrust ourselves to the holy and gracious God Moses was saved by and served. And one day we will join Moses, Zipporah, and all of the saints and angels in singing to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and open its seals, for You were slain and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation!” (Revelation 5:9)