Exodus 4, heading back to Egypt

Discussion in '2000-02 Archive' started by Helen, Jul 28, 2002.

  1. Helen

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    Aug 29, 2001
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    This is quite a chapter, and there is a LOT of dispute about the Zipporah episode later. But first, let's talk about Moses' response to the Lord.

    He tries to get out of it.

    "What if they don't believe me?"
    The Lord gives him a sign to use. About the snake: Moses was a man of the country after forty years in Midian. He knew a poisonous snake when he saw one and he would NOT have run from one that was NOT poisonous!

    Now, the LAST place anyone in his or her right mind who knew the least thing about poisonous snakes would do is grab one by the tail! The sucker just reaches around then and gets you and your are dead or very, very ill. But Moses was told to do that and he obeyed. That obedience is really important for us to understand, because so often we will resist something we know the Lord wants us to do because no fool in his or her right mind would do it!

    We would do well to remember Jesus' words, "If you love me, you will obey me." Moses obeyed.

    So He loved and respected God, and honored Him, and trusted Him.

    The Lord gives Moses two other signs intended for the Hebrew leaders, so THEY will believe. These signs, by the way, are not meant for Pharaoh, but for Moses' own people.

    Moses still tries to get out of going (remind anyone of Jonah?). When Moses pleads inability to speak, there are two answers God can give to get him to go:

    1. Poor fellow. I know you have a hard time, but if you work at it you will succeed! You need a little more self-esteem. Let's work on this together...


    2. Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him dear or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? It is not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.

    The Lord chose the second option.

    And for the third time, Moses pleads with God not to go, and this time we read that the Lord was angry with him. The Lord tells him Aaron will be his mouthpiece, but he, Moses, is going to go!

    "Nevertheless, no my will, but thine be done."

    Now we get to the really disputed part of the chapter: what on earth was going on that Zipporah found it necessary to cut off the foreskin of her son? I have heard so many answers on this, I thought giving you a sampling would be better than me trying to say anything. So the following are from a couple of hours' search on the net and reading some really interesting, and in some cases really bizarre, ideas about this episode. I have included two Jewish interpretations.


    From Case of the Flung Foreskin
    by Al Maxey
    Posted to BereanSpirit on
    Monday, September 18, 2000

    Exodus 4:24-26. This is a much debated text. Some have even suggested it has no legitimate place in the Scriptures, and is a fanciful addition of some scribe. I believe, however, that it appears here for a purpose, and that it possesses great spiritual significance. Notice the passage in some detail:

    "At a lodging place on the way..." -- The KJV says it was an "inn." This was probably not a Ramada Inn, or anything remotely similar! Most scholars feel it may well have been little more than a "recognized resting place" .... perhaps an oasis, or a place where a well had been dug and travelers could stop and refresh themselves on their journey.

    "...the Lord met him and sought to put him to death." -- Again, there is much speculation as to what this means. Who was it the Lord met? Most scholars feel it refers to Moses, and I agree. However, in the absence of clear antecedents there is room for some speculation. Some feel it was one of the sons of Moses that was in danger of being struck dead. Others see a reference to Pharaoh or one of his sons, or even a reference figuratively to Israel. The most widely accepted interpretation, however ... and the one I embrace ... is that it was Moses who had this "meeting" with the Lord.

    The next question is with reference to the nature of this "meeting." In what way did Moses encounter his Lord? Some feel it was a "face to face" confrontation, as was the case with Balaam: "Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand .... And the angel of the Lord said to him, 'Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me .... I would surely have killed you just now ...'" (Numbers 22:31-33). In the text of the LXX (Septuagint), the phrase "the angel of the Lord" is even included here. Some feel Moses had just such an encounter.

    Most scholars seem to feel, however, that the encounter was much less personal, and simply took the form of a sudden seizure and potentially fatal illness which both Moses and Zipporah recognized as a "visitation" of the Lord upon Moses for some sin he had committed. Whatever the exact nature of this "meeting," it is obvious that it (1) was perceived as coming from the Lord, and (2) it was about to cost Moses his life! Whatever it was which had brought about the wrath of God against Moses, it was serious!!
    "Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin..." -- The implication here is that the conclusion reached by this couple (or at least by Zipporah) is that the sin which had so displeased the Lord was the fact that their child had not yet been circumcised. Perhaps Moses was too weak to perform this rite himself, so she did it for him (maybe even at his direction). Again, there is much speculation here. Some feel it was Moses himself who had not been circumcised, but there seems little evidence for that theory (and few hold to it). One commentator even goes so far as to suggest that the child was circumcised in the place of Moses, and that Zipporah then "touched the foreskin to Moses" to transfer "covenant obedience" to her husband. This is, in my view, reading far too much into the text, and raises some very serious questions. Can one be circumcised FOR another? Is one person's obedience transferable to another? I really think that is a dangerous interpretation.

    Most scholars interpret this section in the following way: When Gershom was born, Moses circumcised him. This was a bloody rite not practiced by the Midian people; it was not part of their religion. It likely was viewed as repugnant by Zipporah, and when the second son was born she pleaded with Moses to forego this "bloody religious rite." It appears that Moses may have given in to his wife on this one, and thus was in violation of one of the vital aspects of the covenant (Genesis 17:9-14).
    Recognizing that it was this infraction of law that was causing the God of her husband to seek his life, she performed the circumcision of Eliezer herself to save Moses. However, she was still extremely repulsed by this "bloody rite" which was so foreign to her. Therefore, when she had removed the foreskin, she "threw it at Moses' feet!" Some say, "she flung it at him!" One commentator notes: "The action was petulant and reproachful."

    The last statement in vs. 26 -- "because of the circumcision" -- literally reads in the Hebrew (according to several commentaries): "because of the circumcisionS" (plural). This indicates that she was still upset over the FIRST circumcision as well (the circumcision of Gershom). Now a SECOND had been performed, and thus because of these circumcisionS (plural), she regarded her husband as a "bridegroom of BLOOD." One commentator explained this statement this way: "A husband who caused the blood of his children to be shed unnecessarily for some unintelligible reason." This was HER perception of the matter. Another says: "A husband who cost her dearly, causing the blood of her sons to be shed in order to keep up a national usage which she regarded as barbarous."

    Thus, after flinging the foreskin at Moses in contempt, she lashed out at him and called him "a bridegroom of blood."

    The account ends here! Moses recovers; the journey to Egypt resumes; and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Some feel that Moses MAY have sent Zipporah and the two sons back to Midian at this time, and that he entered Egypt and delivered the people of Israel without them being present. This may be implied from Exodus 18:2b where it states that AFTER the deliverance of the people, and as they were assembling to be presented to their God, Jethro brings Zipporah and the two sons BACK to Moses "after he (Moses) had sent her away." Some scholars feel that they were so incompatible spiritually that she would have been a hindrance to Moses as he stood before Pharaoh, and thus she had to go. All we can safely say, however, is that at SOME point between Exodus 4 and 18 she had been sent home, and now was being returned to him by Jethro.

    Zipporah is never mentioned again in Scripture, with the possible exception of Numbers 12:1 -- "Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married." Many feel that Zipporah had died and Moses took another wife (and that his family did not approve of his selection). Others feel that this Cushite woman IS Zipporah, and that the family did not approve of Zipporah. But, if Zipporah was a Midian, how is it that she would here be called a Cushite woman?

    The explanation may lie in Habakkuk 3:7 --- "I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, The dwellings of Midian in anguish." There is a literary device in Hebrew poetry known as Synonymous Parallelism. If this is an example of that device, and I believe it may well be, then it is possible that these two names may have been regarded as signifying the same territory, or that at least there was enough overlapping that they could have been regarded together. Thus, Numbers 12:1 MIGHT indeed be a reference to Zipporah, and the fact that the family of Moses did not approve of her.
    Nothing further is really known about Gershom or Eliezer, except their descendants were numbered with the tribe of Levi and in time came to serve as officers in the Temple during the reign of Solomon and beyond.
    I guess the real question surrounding the Exodus 4:24-26 passage, however, is one of significance. What was the purpose of this brief account? Why has the Lord given it to us? I think there are several significant spiritual lessons to be learned:

    ONE --- The importance of obedience to God's law. No person is above that law, and certainly not one who has been chosen to LEAD God's covenant people. A leader is an example, and Moses had failed to provide that example. How could he effectively lead a people known by this covenant sign (circumcision) if he himself had refused to enforce it in his own family. Even Paul circumcised Timothy "because of the Jews who were in those parts" (Acts 16:3) so that he would not cast this stumbling block before them. Moses simply could not have effectively led the people of Israel if he had been unwilling to comply with the covenant. Moses had apparently deferred to his wife, and this act of disobedience almost cost him his life. Also, how could Moses truly lead a nation, if he could not even lead in his own home?!! (Notice that this is even one of the qualities one must look for in spiritual leadership in the church today!!)
    TWO --- We must learn, as did Moses, that we cannot always please both God and men. At times in our journey through life we must decide whose will it is we will submit to. Moses had chosen poorly; he submitted to the will of his wife. It was a costly mistake (one which Job absolutely refused to make, by-the-way ..... Job 2:9-10).

    THREE --- No person is exempt from God's chastisement! No person is indispensable!! Moses was on his way to deliver the people from bondage, and yet his life was almost taken. Yes, even MOSES could have been replaced!!! None of US are God's gift to mankind. We too can be replaced if we prove unfaithful to our God.

    FOUR --- We also see in this account the burden one bears when unequally yoked spiritually (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Moses had married a "preacher's kid" from a false religion, and it led him away from obedience to his God.
    Well, one could probably draw a great many more insights from this passage ..... for example, the significance of a bloody sacrifice sparing us from death ..... but these are some of the immediate, more obvious, lessons to be drawn.
    There are some strange accounts in God's Word, but they are all there for a purpose. I hope this study has illustrated the worth of one such account.

    [from me, Helen -- you will notice that the Jewish commentaries differ radically in their estimation of Zipporah below. Keep reading... [​IMG] ]

    From the following:

    The exact manner of the manifestation of G-d to Moses is unclear,
    was it theophany, hostile angelic messengers, was he stricken with

    Apparently while Moses was engaged in the confrontation, Zipporah
    perceives the cause of it is Moses' failure to circumcise his son.
    Zipporah intercedes, presumably to spare the life of her husband given
    the bridegroom reference.

    After circumcising her son, Zipporah touches something to Moses'
    leg, whether it is the flint or the foreskin is unclear. The touching
    of the legs is probably indicative of some kind of oath, cp. Gen. 24:2-
    3, 9. In Exod. 24:8 Moses sprinkles blood on Israel and tells them it
    is the blood of the covenant. Regardless of what Zipporah touched to
    Moses' legs, it was bloody and may have been used in a similar manner
    (Zipporah was undoubtably familiar with covenant sacrifice as Jethro,
    her father, was a priest and sacrificed, cf. Exod, 18). Thus, Zipporah
    may be confessing her willingness to follow the G-d of Israel by
    circumcising her son and making an oath to her husband. One has to
    wonder if Moses wanted to circumcise his son previously, but she
    resisted him because of her Midianite background. Israel in general
    continued circumcision while among the Egyptians (cf. Joshua 5), but
    Moses lived mainly among Egyptians and then fled to Midian so he was not
    among Israel. Perhaps Moses was more acculterated to non-Israelite
    views so he did not recognize the importance or necessity of
    circumcision until this event.

    Assuming the oath hypothesis has merit, Zipporah would have
    emphasized that Moses was her husband for two reasons. One would have
    been to attempt to legitimize the circumcision as she was Moses' wife
    and the boy's mother. The second would have been to show that she was
    being faithful to her husband's G-d and they were united in their faith.
    Had Zipporah not interceded, the text tends to indicate that Moses would
    have been slain and Zipporah would have been left a widow. Instead, she
    intercedes, saves her husband, and her marriage and endorses the G-d of
    Israel by circumcising her son.

    Third, from the following:
    En Route
    By Joseph Frankovic
    In Exodus 4:24-26 one encounters a short, but challenging narrative involving the Lord (or according to the Septuagint and Targums, "the angel of the Lord"), Moses, Zipporah, and their son. Relying upon Rashi's commentary, I have translated these verses into English and transcribed my translation below:
    En route Moses [rested] at an inn. The Lord met him and sought to kill him. Zipporah took a flint, cut the foreskin of her son, placed it at his feet, and said, "You are a bridegroom of blood to me." And he withdrew from him…
    Several factors contribute to making difficult the task of explaining this story. From the start, one is struck by its brevity. The narrative offers the reader few details that might facilitate the exegetical task. One is also faced with three verbs with an unspecified third person, masculine, singular subject and four pronouns of the same person, gender, and number. Who did what to whom is not always clear. The Lord, Moses, and the child are all candidates to fulfill a third person, masculine, singular role. Moreover, one cannot help but wonder why the Lord would have sought to kill someone whom he had just commissioned with an important assignment.
    The major trend among ancient Jewish exegetes was to explain the Lord's attempt against Moses' life in the light of the child's uncircumcised state. Thus, Moses' failure to circumcise his son, a commandment given to Abraham in Genesis 17:12, had provoked the Lord.

    The eminent Jewish scholar Saul Lieberman once wrote about a midrashic fragment in which an ancient commentator had explained Exodus 4:24a from a radically different perspective. Isolating Exodus 4:24a from the rest of the passage and making a word play on the Hebrew preposition and noun bamalone ("at an inn"), the writer of the midrashic fragment suggested that bamalone should be understood like the Hebrew preposition and hebraicized Greek word baspatalone ("at leisure"). In other words, the Lord sought to kill Israel’s deliverer, because en route to Egypt, he had stopped at an inn for rest and relaxation. Failure to circumcise the male child had nothing to do with the Lord's behavior, at least according to this explanation.

    Unlike the more popular, first approach which points to Moses' apparent failure to fulfill a commandment, this second explanation indicates that while the Israelites suffered in Egypt, Moses bracketed out time for leisure. Such a situation the Lord found intolerable.

    This explanation reflects two significant and related theological conclusions: 1) God identifies with our pains and sorrows (cf. Is. 63:9 and Ps. 91:15), and 2) feeling our pains and sorrows, he always makes haste to liberate, heal, and give hope. Accordingly, God had no patience when dealing with Moses, because while he was resting and relaxing, others were perishing in Egypt.

    Jesus saw as his priority the endless task of bringing redemption to people. He encouraged his disciples to beseech the Lord of the harvest "to send out workers" (Mt. 9:38). He said of himself that he had come "to seek and save that which was lost" (Lk. 19:9), and on another occasion he described himself as a man without a place "to lay his head" (Lk. 9:58). Like Moses, Jesus had been sent for a redemptive purpose, but unlike him, --if we are to accept the midrashic tradition--he did not deviate from that objective.

    and, finally, please read the following, which is the best Jewish commentary I found:


    The end of this chapter chronicles the meeting between Moses and Aaron. Had they not seen each other for forty years?

    And then Moses and Aaron meet with the Israelite elders and tell them "everything the Lord had said to Moses." The signs are performed and the text tells us that the people believed, and that when they had heard Moses and Aaron, "they bowed down and worshiped."

    As always, their belief is going to cost them...

    [ July 28, 2002, 11:51 PM: Message edited by: Helen ]
  2. Clint Kritzer

    Clint Kritzer
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    Oct 10, 2001
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  3. Clint Kritzer

    Clint Kritzer
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    Oct 10, 2001
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