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Moses and Zipporah

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Question #1:  Can you please explain Exodus 4:24-26?

Response #1:  This has always been a controversial passage and difficult for exegetes. What we can say for certain here, I believe, is that whatever else one wants to read into Zipporah's actions, she was upset with Moses and only performed the circumcision on her sons under the duress of the moment. It should be remembered that Zipporah hereafter does not follow Moses to Egypt, and later, when her father Jethro brings her and his grandsons to Moses in the wilderness (Ex.18), there is no indication that she stayed on. Moses' sons certainly did (cf. the genealogy of his sons in 1Chron.23:15ff.), and Moses is later re-married to a Cushite woman (Num.12). Whether it was the case that Zipporah had died, or whether the two had been effectively divorced as a result of this incident, or whether the Cushite woman was Moses' second wife, scripture does not say. But the most likely thing to my mind based upon the incident you ask about is that the two became estranged because of the Exodus 4:24-26 incident. The act of touching Moses' feet with the foreskins, and her comment “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me” can and have been variously interpreted. However, both the touching of the feet (felt to be a very private and personal part of the body; cf. the idiom “to cover one's feet”) with the bloody skin, and the pronouncing of Moses as “bloody” are unquestionably negatives, no matter what Zipporah meant specifically by this act and these words (they are not otherwise biblical). For, clearly, she did mean this as a very strong reproach, and the fact that she does not continue the journey with Moses and later cannot be said for certain to stay with Israel after the visit of her father to Moses all combine to suggest that she harbored very, very strong feelings against the circumcision of her sons, for whatever reason (clearly, it was not a “normal” practice in her culture).

We do not know whether or not Zipporah was a believer in the Lord. If she was, she was certainly not acting much like one (at the very least, she was opposing the fulfilment of a solemn obligation to God by her husband for her own personal reasons). Moses had based his life upon choosing for the Lord instead of doing the safe thing (cf. Heb.11:24-28). Surely he not only knew about the covenant of circumcision, but would have been in absolutely no doubt about its importance. Why then did he omit the circumcision of his sons? It can only be that for the sake of the peace of his marriage in the first place that he had failed to circumcise them, even though this was an egregious violation of the law of God for all Israelites. The Lord had allowed this disobedience to stand before, but there was no way that He could allow Moses to become the leader of His people while at the same time being such a bad example in this.

There is a lesson for us all here. It is a not uncommon situation that the people we love the most can often be the biggest stumbling blocks to us. For reasons good and bad, through sins large and small, and sometimes through chance and circumstance beyond our choosing, we sometimes find ourselves involved with people whose influence upon us is a great hindrance to our spirituality and spiritual progress. Very often this involves relationships which cannot and should not be easily or quickly tossed aside (as in the case of business partnerships, longstanding friendships, family relationships, or, as in the case of Zipporah and Moses, marriage). In the situation before us, we see the gracious hand of God at work. Rather than commanding Moses to divorce this woman or leave her behind (or allowing her to accompany him and to be a hindrance to his ministry and a guarantee that his family example would be a terrible one), God brought it about that through the necessity of doing His will, she left of her own accord. Moses was not made to circumcise his sons himself in the face of their mother's opposition, nor was he pressured to abandon his family. Instead, God brought about a “way out” that was perfect, even though it must have hurt a great deal (cf. 1Cor.10:13). And without this deliverance it is doubtful whether Moses would have had the freedom of action or undivided conscience necessary to perform the exceptional ministry he did.

To me, this is a reminder that when we find ourselves in very difficult circumstances, especially when they involve relationships that in good conscience we cannot break, we should remember the case of Moses and Zipporah, avoid taking matters into our own hands prematurely, and rest in the faith that God is able to deliver us at the right time and in the proper way even though we may have absolutely no idea what that way might be, for even impossible situations are not impossible for Him.

In our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

But why did the Lord meet and want to kill Moses?

Response #2:  

I believe the context indicates that the reason for this was along the lines of what was implied in the last e-mail, namely, that failing to circumcise his sons was a direct and willful affront to the revealed will of God. At Genesis 17:9-14 the Lord mandates and describes circumcision as the sign of the covenant between Him and Abraham and his descendants, that is, it is the first and most basic required act of all male Israelites that demonstrates their allegiance and obedience to God. Every male not circumcised is to be "cut off" for he has "broken my covenant" (v.14).

It seems to me that the Lord is clearly holding Moses responsible for the failure. Even though the passage in Genesis points the finger at the person not circumcised, the initial failure would clearly always be with the parents (as opposed to the eight day old infant). As the man whom God had chosen to lead Israel, to be its law-giver and teacher, the standard by which he would be judged would be much higher than when he was a mere shepherd (cf. Jas.3:1). Once he had accepted God's charge to return to Egypt and deliver Israel, this new, higher standard applied - and it appears that the Lord graciously waited until the last possible moment to place him under the compulsion of death, giving him a chance to do the right thing on his own (a hard thing, for it would surely have resulted in the alienation of his wife as he must have known and as in fact later happened). Given the importance of this divine command, Moses could never have been a effective leader, acting in God's stead and holding the people accountable for their failings if he himself were guilty of overlooking and ignoring such an important and, for Israel, basic mandate. The compulsion of imminent death was also a gracious boon from the Lord, because, as events prove, this was the only way that Moses was going to be "led" into doing the right thing and the only way Zipporah was going to relent in deed (if not in heart).

Here are some related links:

Moses and Elijah: the Two Witnesses

Moses Striking the Rock

Exodus 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart

Yours in Him whose ways are ever gracious, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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