Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Exodus 4:24-26 Not So Freaky After All

'Not So Freaky After All' may seem like a strange title to give to a post about a section of the Scriptures.  No disrespect intended, but as we read on, you will see why I found this passage all very strange at first:

"At a lodging place o the way, the LORD met Moses
and was about to kill him.
But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her sons's foreskin
and touched Moses' feet with it.

'Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,' she said.

So the LORD let him alone.
(A that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.)

Exodus 4:24-26 (NIV)

Now do you see what I mean?  After all, Moses has just left his father-in-law's household with his wife and two sons, and is returning to Egypt as the LORD had directed.Why, then, would the LORD meet him along the way and try to kill him?!

The answer is actually very simple:  Moses was not honoring the terms of the covenant which God had made with Abraham and his descendants:

"Then God said to Abraham,
'As for you, you must keep my covenant,
you and your descendants after you for the generations to come.
This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you,
the covenant you are to keep:
Every male among you shall be circumcised.
You are to undergo circumcision,
and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
For the generations to come
every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised,
including those born in your household
or bought with money from a foreigner --
those who are not your offspring.
Whether born in your house or bought with your money,
they must be circumcised.
My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.
Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh,
will be cut off from his people;
he has broken my covenant."

Genesis 17:9-14 (NIV)
I should note that right before this incident in Genesis, God had made a covenant with Abraham and had walked between the severed carcasses of  animals which He had directed Abraham to prepare.  You can read more about this ceremony here, but the main idea was that God was saying "May I be split in two like these carcasses if I do not carry out all that I have promised you."  In other words, it was a self-maledictory oath:  "May such-and such be done to me if I do not keep my oath."

God had not made Abraham do the same.  However, God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision as a way for Abraham to express the same type of idea:  "May God cut off me and my descendants if I am not faithful in keeping the LORD alone as my God."  Abraham no doubt would have been careful to convey this information to his descendants.

Moses knew about this covenant sign.  He probably had also spoken of the significance of these matters to Zipporah his wife as well.  How do I know this?  Well, when Moses is in the midst of nearly being killed by the LORD, Zipporah seems to know exactly what to do to turn away the LORD's wrath from her husband.

Why had Moses neglected to circumcise his son?  I do not know for sure.  Perhaps he became careless or indifferent over the years.  Although he had his parents' godly influence at least for a while, the court life of Egypt could have had a detrimental effect, for the Egyptians had many 'gods'.  Moses also lived forty years among the Midianites.  Not that Moses worshipped the 'gods' of the Egyptians or the Midianites, but perhaps a careless attitude had crept in over the years.

There does seem to be a hint of what had influenced his procrastination about circumcising his son.  It is clear from this passage that Moses' wife Zipporah found the idea of circumcision repulsive.  After she had reluctantly circumcised their son, she had touched Moses' feet with the severed foreskin.  [Actually, she probably touched Moses elsewhere, for 'feet' was sometimes used as a euphemism for one's private parts.]  She also called her husband a 'bridegroom of blood'.  Clearly she had some issues with the practice of circumcision.  Not that it was so very unusual -- many nations practiced circumcision.  However, none of the other nations practiced it for the same reasons which the nation of Israel did.  In any case, Zipporah seemed to find the practice barbaric.  Perhaps Moses had avoided circumcising his son in order to keep peace in his family.

The LORD had chosen Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.  Moses' allegiance had to be to God first, not Zipporah or anyone else.  It is reassuring that God did not show favoritism.  Leaders sometimes do not follow the rules which they expect others to obey.  This would not be permitted with Moses. God held himself to the same strict standard:  If Pharaoh was to be called into account for his rebellious ways, then so was Moses.

Therefore, God's actions toward Moses had not been freaky at all.  He had done exactly what He had said He would do to those who refused to follow His covenant instructions.  By ignoring the covenant sign of circumcision (for whatever reason), Moses had put both himself and his two sons at risk of being cut off from the people of Israel.

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