Why Did the Lord Threaten to Kill Moses?

post date: August 12, 2011


This question comes from a strange incident in Exodus 4:24-26.

At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’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. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

Context is the key here. In Exodus 3 God speaks to Moses from the burning bush and calls him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Earlier in Exodus 4 when Moses expresses his own inadequacy, God reaffirms his choice and promises to be with him as he goes back to Egypt. With that assurance Moses sets out to return to Egypt from the wilderness of Midian where he had lived for 40 years.

As they journeyed back to Egypt in obedience to God’s call, the Lord was about to kill Moses and would have killed him if Zipporah his wife had not circumcised their son. But this is not some random act. God had commanded in Genesis 17:9-14 that all the male descendants of Abraham must be circumcised on the eighth day. Moses had obviously failed to circumcise his own son.

Zipporah did what Moses should have done, thus saving his life.

Why does this matter? Before Moses goes back to Egypt (the symbol of the world), he and his family must be set apart to God (by the symbol of circumcision). Failure to do so meant that Moses didn’t take God’s commands seriously.

The lesson ought to be clear to all of us. Good intentions and partial obedience are never enough. God wants us to obey him with a whole heart. The details of life matter to God.

God’s commands are not optional. Before he could lead the Jews out of Egypt, his own family must be set apart for the Lord. Moses learned that through his wife who did what he should have done and saved him from sudden death.

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