Meditations in Exodus: 20. Attempted Assassination
Ex 4:24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him.
Moses has accepted (possibly ungraciously, possibly with reticence) the Lord’s calling, and with his father-in-law’s blessing has left their home in Midian and taken his wife and two sons with him. Thank God for wise and discerning wives! They have travelled at least a day’s journey and have come to what is probably a watering place, an oasis where they stay for the night. Now depending on whether we accept the text as it stands, or take note of the footnote, either Moses or one of his sons gets very ill. Whether this was Moses himself or another scribe recording this, they were sure that the Lord was out to kill him, so severe was the illness.
It is at this point that the shallow sceptic starts rumbling on about a harsh God who changes His mind and is now out to kill His servant. It is nothing like that This is the Lord pulling Moses up and indirectly saying, “You are part of my chosen people and so are your family, and there are certain requirements that the males in my chosen people have to abide by, so why haven’t you done this?
Now I am going to assume that the ill person is in fact Moses for it is his wife who takes action. It is possible of course that he tells her what to do but it is reasonable to expect that being the daughter of a priest and now having been Moses’ wife for a number of years, she would know his background and know that circumcision was practised by the Hebrews as it was by a number of peoples of the Middle East. Somehow or other she realises that this sickness is a divine disciplining and such a thing seeks to point out a failure that needs remedying. No, of course the Lord doesn’t want Moses dead, but He does want His attention. He does want him in every way to conform to the requirements of the covenant that had been established back with Abraham (see Gen 17:10)
That is what is at the heart of what she does – conforming to the Law, if you like, a preliminary law certainly, but a law of God nevertheless – but there is also something else quite remarkable in what she does as she circumcises the son and takes the foreskin, “and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said.” (v.25) I believe the Living Bible gets this completely wrong: “remarking disgustedly, “What a blood-smeared husband you’ve turned out to be!” No, she has sensed something very precious. Years later when the Law of sacrifice was given to Moses, to atone for a sin the sinner took an animal into the Tabernacle and later the Temple and putting their hand on its head they sacrificed it. The putting their hand on its head was a way of identifying with it, accepting that the beast would be taking the sinner’s punishment. Why else would Zipporah take this bloody foreskin from her son and touch the extreme end, so to speak, of Moses’ body with it?
No, it is far more likely that she is saying, “My husband who is dying because of your failure to keep your God’s covenant, I save you, my bridegroom, by the shedding of blood. As I touch you with this blood it is with the life of another you are touched and will be saved.” The fact that she refers to him as her bridegroom highlights her submissive relationship to him, The bride in such eastern culture came in humility and submission and speaking as she does she declares that is how she still approaches him. She knows her husband has a divine calling. He would have shared with her when he returned home all that happened at Mount Sinai at the burning bush, she is the wife of a holy man and she is the daughter of a holy man and everything about her culture has taught her to honour such men. Although the sacrifice of animals with the shedding of blood had not yet come in the Law (which would come in the next year or so!) nevertheless it had been there in the establishing of a covenant between Abram and God (see Gen 15:9,10)
This sensitive woman sensed something of this truth that within the divine plan, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb 9:22). In circumcising her son she brings the family in line with the divine covenant requirement and by ‘applying’ it to Moses it is as if she is saying to God, “We acknowledge our guilt but rely on your ways to save my husband. This is the only blood I have; please accept it.” A remarkable woman! The record of this incident concludes, “So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)” (v.26) Moses himself, as a Hebrew child, would have been circumcised and now she realises that circumcision applies to all the males of her family. We assume the second son was similarly circumcised before they moved on, but the sacrificial element of the blood to save a life was the key point as well as the circumcision in this incident.
There is a very simple lesson that follows or comes out of this incident. The good news for us males is that circumcision is no longer a requirement of God’s chosen people as the New Testament affirms a number of times, but the lesson is about not being careless with God’s requirements. Moses in his forty years as a Midianite shepherd had virtually forgotten that he was a Hebrew, but the Lord hadn’t.
We are sons and daughters of the new covenant and the day we forget to rely upon the death of Christ on the Cross, will be the day Satan accuses us of guilt and we start having doubts. There are key belief issues that we should never forget because if we do we could become vulnerable to the enemy who the Lord may use to discipline us. We are saved by the Cross, by Jesus’ blood being shed for us, not by good works or by being nice people. Hold on to the basics and whatever the Lord highlights to you in the New Testament teachings hold on to them; don’t be casual.