Monday, December 03, 2012

God Seeks To Kill Moses -- Exodus 4:24-26

Now it came about at the lodging-place on the way that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death.  Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me.”  So He let him alone.  At that time she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood” – because of the circumcision.

One cannot read the text above without wondering what on earth is going on.  God had just finished giving Moses an incredible assignment that required him to return to Egypt and now on the journey, God meets him (possibly, as Matthew Henry suggests, via a sword-wielding angel) and seeks to put him to death.  Well, let us see what we can make of it.

Clearly, the overwhelming opinion of almost all who write on this subject is that God was angry with Moses because he had not circumcised his son.  As this was a major instruction as part of the covenant God had made with His people, there was no way God would use Moses as long as this was the case.  Some think he did circumcise his first-born in keeping with God’s commands, but his wife, Zipporah, was so appalled at the blood-filled rite that she out rightly refused to allow Moses to have their second son go through the same experience.  So, when God attacked Moses, it was Zipporah who knew what it was all about and put a stop to it by doing what she did.

But let me go out on a limb here and suggest something very different, only as a possibility. 

The first thing that comes to our attention is that this happened “at a lodging-place” on the way to Egypt.  This phrase may suggest that this account happened during the night, while Moses was sleeping, and that it was all a dream.  We cannot be adamant about that, but the prospect exists.  We also note that the action changes very quickly, without notice or normal transition, from the Lord seeking to put him to death to his wife circumcising his son and yelling at Moses.  [Some would argue that the author of Exodus, Moses himself, did not want to give us all the details but I am not so sure, based on his usual writing style elsewhere, that he would have spared us as many details as he seems to.] All of this leads me to accept the dream hypothesis as a very plausible one.  There is lots of action, with no strong evident connecting points.  It makes even more sense when we consider that Moses was weary from his travels and had much on his mind as he considered the future.

Of course, one could also take the ‘literal’ approach.  But here are the implications -- God in the form of an angel, commences to attack Moses.  Did Zipporah actually see the actual Lord in order to put a stop to the fighting as the text may suggest?  Again, I do not think so.  Moses’ wife, Zipporah, ‘surprises’ God by, rather than coming to Moses’ defense, she actually blames her husband for what is going on.  She expresses her strong feelings by circumcising her son right there and then (could she really do this successfully especially given the fact she thought it so abhorrent? Perhaps) and throwing the foreskin at Moses’ feet (further proof of her anger) while calling him a “bridegroom of blood” which the text says refers to the fact that Moses had tried to introduce circumcision to her family but she had resisted and Moses never insisted on doing so.  As a result of her actions, God stops His attack on Moses, or otherwise, we can surmise, He would have killed him.  For all the above, I tend to think that the account here cannot easily be taken literally.

There is yet another school of thought that makes a lot of sense.  It suggests that Moses was fully aware of his sin and during the night, while examining his relationship with God, he realized its presence.  This may have driven him temporarily mad or to become mentally undone because of his failure to please God, especially as he knew he was going to lead the people of Israel for God.  This in turn may have resulted in a fever or a seizure, causing Zipporah to be greatly alarmed.  Or, this realization of Moses was followed by a one of those husband-wife discussions that turns into an argument, in this case over the matter of the circumcision of their son.  Worried about her husband as well as possibly her own future, she goes out and circumcises her son, not willing to fight it any longer.  (She uses a piece of flint rock readily available in the dessert there – evidence of which I have seen myself in a visit to Israel.)

We will not know the answer to the question of what really took place in the physical world until we can ask our Lord.  But as always, we should try to see what this account given in scripture might have to say to us.  What can we learn from it?

Whether the action portrayed here literally happened or whether it was a direction given to Moses in a dream, does not change the ‘content’ of what God was trying to convey to him, and perhaps to us.  The fact that God is willing to use you and me to accomplish His plan for mankind does not mean that He is willing to accept sin in our lives.  Sometimes He expects us to get rid of it ourselves; other times He’ll see to it that it is eliminated.  Either way, the sin has to go before He fully engages us in executing the plan He wants us to carry out.

Maybe the sin standing in your way is not as obvious as the one Moses committed by failing to carry out a key commandment of God’s.  Maybe it is just an attitude or a desire or a stubbornness based on false premises.  Maybe it is a sin of commission, but it could also be a sin of omission.  Whatever it is, we must identify it, confess it, and end it.

The implication in our passage is that Moses had his sin dealt with – either by Zipporah at the time God was fighting with him, or by his own action afterwards, if this were a dream.  We know that for God, as later verses and chapters tell us, allowed him to live and to carry out the purpose for which He had selected him.  It is my prayer that this be true in our lives as well.  I pray we can all be ready to do whatever it takes to eliminate any sin in our lives preventing God from using us in the way He wants to.

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