BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 153 (July-September 1996): 259-69

          Copyright © 1996 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.




                    IN EXODUS 4:24-26*

                                  Ronald B. Allen


     EXODUS 4:24-26 comprises possibly the most perplex-

ing passage in all the Torah, surpassed perhaps only by the puz-

zlement many feel concerning "the sons of God" and "the daugh-

ters of men" in Genesis 6:1-4.

     The Book of Exodus begins in chapter 1 with a brief recital of

the plight of Israel in their long period of servitude in Egypt.  Then

in chapter 2 the story records the birth of Moses, whose protection

in his infancy was a most remarkable instance of divine provi-

dence, including humor.1  The balance of chapter 2 through

nearly all of chapter 4 focuses on Moses' early life, as Yahweh

prepared him for his lifework of being the human agent for God's

deliverance of His people from Egypt.  Along the way God re-

vealed Himself to Moses in terms of His divine name Yahweh

(2:22-3:15),2 and then He told Moses of His choice of him to be

His agent.  Moses was reluctant at first, but finally was convinced

that his purpose in life was this grand task.  So at last in Exodus

4:18 Moses prepared to leave Midian, where he had lived for forty

years, to return to Egypt to obey God's command.

     As Moses was on his way to Egypt, the Lord came to kill him.

Surely these three verses (Exod. 4:24-26) are among biblical


Ronald B. Allen is Professor of Bible Exposition, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dal-

las, Texas.

* This is article three in a four-part series, "On Paths Less Traveled:  Discovering

the Savior in Unexpected Places in the Old Testament," delivered by the author as

the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 7-10,


1 It is interesting to note the comic justice of Pharaoh's daughter hiring Moses'

mother to nurse her own baby (Exod. 2:7-10).

2 Ronald B. Allen, "What Is in a Name?" in God: What Is He Like? ed. William F.

Kerr (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1977), 107-27.

260 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1996


paths less traveled.  Childs wrote, "Few texts contain more prob-

lems for the interpreter than these few verses which have contin-

ued to baffle throughout the centuries."3  In the New King James

Version, Exodus 4:24-26 reads as follows:  "And it came to pass on

the way, at the encampment, that the LORD met him and sought to

kill him.  Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the fore-

skin of her son and cast it at Moses'4 feet, and said, 'Surely you

are a husband of blood to me!'  So He let him go.  Then she said,

'You are a husband of blood'--because of the circumcision."



     Several questions come to mind when one reads these verses.

     1.  This passage seems to be an intrusion into the flow of the

chapter.  It is abrupt as well as cryptic and difficult. Though these

verses form a unit, the question remains, What is the purpose of

this pericope?

     2.  The passage is marked by a lack of clear antecedents for

some of its pronouns or named objects for some of its verbs.  Fur-

ther, many translations have inserted the name "Moses" in verse

25 where the Hebrew has only "his."5 Who did what to whom?

     3.  More significantly, the passage prompts the question,

Why?  What possibly could have prompted the rage of Yahweh that

would have caused Him to want to kill Moses?  This seems partic-

ularly inappropriate, since the initial "misunderstanding" be-

tween God and Moses had been settled (Exod. 4:1-17).

     4.  Why does the passage center on what for modern readers

are the distasteful and embarrassing subjects of circumcision,

blood, and foreskins?

     5.  What was behind Zipporah's action?  How did she know

what to do?  Why did Moses not act?  After she cut off the foreskin

of her son, whom did she touch with it, what did she touch with it, and

why did she need to touch anything with it?


3 Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary

(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 95.  John I. Durham writes, "These verses are

among the most difficult in the Book of Exodus, not in terms of their translation,

which is quite straightforward, but in terms of their meaning and their location in

this particular context" (Exodus, Word Biblical Commentary [Waco, TX: Word,

1987],56-59). Walter C. Kaiser Jr. echoes these words ("Exodus," in The Expositor's

Bible Commentary, 12 vols. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990], 2:332).

4 The footnote in the New King James Version correctly notes that the Hebrew is

literally "his."

5 Certainly this passage must be studied on the basis of the Hebrew text rather

than in a translation.  At times the priority of the Scriptures in the original lan-

guages needs to be reasserted over that of any translation.  All translations of

Scripture are adequate for the purposes intended; no translation of Scripture is

able to reveal the subtle nuances that are a part of the original locution.

The "Bloody Bridegroom" in Exodus 4:24-26   261


     6.  What is the meaning of Zipporah's words, "You are a

husband of blood to me," and to whom are they addressed?

     7.  What is the point of this passage?6



      Not surprisingly, this puzzling passage has been a mine for

critical scholars to explore, allowing them to look for exotic ores

and bizarre treasures.7  Alas, they seem to have found mostly

fool's gold. On the other hand three contemporary scholars have

attempted to deal with the passage constructively.



      Childs notes many difficulties, including those of connec-

tion, the rash action of the Lord, the lack of stated reason, the lack

of an explanation of the action of Zipporah, the lack of an-

tecedents, and the irrational, almost demonic, atmosphere with

its focus on blood.8  Then he says that it is not clear whose feet were

touched.  "In my opinion the redactor of the present narrative

seemed to have understood the child as the recipient of the action.

The smearing of the blood serves as a visible demonstration that

circumcision had indeed been performed."9

     To this the question may be asked, Would not the boy's wail be

sufficient evidence that he was the one on whom the procedure had

been accomplished?  Why also put blood on the child's feet?


     To whom were the words addressed?  On the surface they seem to

     apply neither to the child nor to Moses, and assuredly not to

     Yahweh.  The frequent suggestion of translating the phrase on

     the basis of Arabic to mean "the blood-circumcised one" escapes

     some of the difficulties but cannot be sustained philologically.10


    Childs concludes that the story "serves to dramatize the

tremendous importance of circumcision. . . . the implication is

certainly that Moses was held culpable for its omission.  Indeed so

serious was the offense as to have nearly cost him his life.  When

Zipporah righted the omission, he was released."11


     6 To put it another way, How does this text aid in one's spiritual development,

and how may this text be used in preaching God's Word to hurting people?  How is

this a part of Scripture that has its role in making the believer complete in the

Lord (2 Tim. 3:16-17)?

     7 For a survey of theories, see Durham, Exodus, 57.

     8 Childs, Exodus, 95.

     9 Ibid., 103.

     10 Ibid.

     11 Ibid., 104.

262  BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-5eptember 1996


     Thus Childs suggests these points:  (1) The child was circum-

cised by his mother because Moses did not do so.  (2) The bloody

foreskin was touched to the feet of the child to demonstrate that the

circumcision was accomplished.  (3) Questions about Zipporah's

enigmatic words are unanswered.  (4) The meaning of the pas-

sage is to be found in the tremendous importance attached to cir-

cumcision (and its role in the covenant of God and man).



         With the two textual clues, the rite of circumcision as the ex-

     planation of the whole episode and "my firstborn son"12 as the

     connection between the sections, the rest of the passage yields

     this explanation. The Lord had attacked Moses as he was enroute

     to accomplish the mission of God in Egypt. The nature of this

     nearly fatal experience is not known to us; therefore, it does not

     figure in the interpretation. That Moses was the object of the di-

     vine action is clear from the fact that the otherwise unspecified

     son in v. 25 would need to be identified as belonging to someone

     other than Moses. The sudden introduction of Zipporah's action

     leads us to believe that she instinctively connected her husband's

     peril (a malady so great that it left only her hands free to act, for

     presumably his were not able to help) with their failure to circum-

     cise their son. This she immediately proceeded to do. But her

     words of reproach--"Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me"--

     indicate that the root of the problem was in her revulsion and

     disgust with this rite of circumcision.13


    Kaiser then gives this conclusion:

          Thus for one small neglect, apparently out of deference for his

     wife's wishes, or perhaps to keep peace in the home, Moses almost

     forfeited his opportunity to serve God and wasted eighty years of preparation

     and training! To further underscore this connection between Moses' grave

     condition and the circumcision of his son, Zipporah took the excised prepuce

     and touched Moses' feet (this need not be as many commentators argue a  

     euphemism for his genitals, for this is not a puberty rite here).  The Lord let Moses

     go, and the grip of death was lited.14


     These are the salient elements in Kaiser's presentation: (1)

Moses was the one under God's action, suffering from an (un-

named) illness that incapacitated him.15  (2) The child (presum-


12 Kaiser is referring here to the words, "my firstborn son," in verse 22.

13 Kaiser, "Exodus," 332-33.

14 Ibid., 333.

15 This is also the view of U. Cassuto: "that the Lord met him, that means, that he

contracted a severe illness (on the Hebrew usage that attributes every event to the

direct action of God)" (A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, trans. Israel Abra-

hams [Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967], 60).

The "Bloody Bridegroom" in Exodus 4:24-26  263


ably Gershom) had not been circumcised, possibly the result of a

family dispute.  (3) Zipporah showed revulsion to the act of cir-

cumcision of her son, as seen in her words to Moses; nevertheless

she acted to save Moses' life. (4) One senses the homiletical point

in Kaiser's last paragraph: What sadness if one were to lose a

ministry for God just to keep peace in the home.



     Durham insists that the study should be "of the passage as it

stands in Exodus, and, just as important, where it stands in Exo-

dus.16  These are his interpretive points.  (1) The main point is

clearly circumcision, and at that, a specific circumcision.  The

etiological view (as Childs argues) is not in view here, nor (in the

present text) is there any ground for a demonic interpretation.  (2)

Moses was the object of Yahweh's encountering action.  (3) The

reason for the attack is "that Moses had not previously been cir-

cumcised."17  (4) Zipporah circumcised her son, because if she had

circumcised Moses, he would have been incapacitated for his

journey.  On the child, the effects would be less problematic; in

any event, the child did not make the journey.  (5) To transfer the

effects of the rite to Moses, she touched the severed foreskin of her

son to Moses' genitals.  (6) The phrase "a bridegroom of blood"

was an ancient formula recalling circumcision as a premarital

rite.  (7) Thus Zipporah's action "is a vicarious circumcision of

Moses to prevent his being painfully crippled at the beginning of

the most important undertaking of his life."18

     There are some strengths to Durham's position, but his view

is marred by a critical error. "Vicarious circumcision" is as un-

likely a category as "vicarious baptism."  This is a theological

oxymoron.  If Yahweh were about to kill Moses because he was not

circumcised, the blood of his son's foreskin on his still uncir-

cumcised organ would not likely assuage the wrath of God.  Fur-

ther, Durham says that the words of Zipporah form "the ritual

statement which accompanied the premarital circumcision as a

declaration to a young man's in-laws that he was of an appro-

priate for marriage."19  Of what application would this be for

Moses, who had long before married her and fathered two sons by


16 Durham, Exodus, 57.

17 Or if he had been circumcised, it was in the "partial manner" of the Egyptians.

This is farfetched, for was it not Hebrew circumcision that led Pharaoh's daughter

to recognize Moses as a Hebrew baby (Exod. 2:6)?

18 These points are summarized from Durham, Exodus, 57-59.

19 Ibid., 59.

264  BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1996


her?  If circumcision were a necessity for marriage in her cul-

ture, and if Moses had not been circumcised as a baby in Egypt,

surely Moses would have been circumcised by Jethro, her father,20

in the time-honored tradition of the Arabian (and other) peoples of

this period. The weaknesses of this view outweigh the strengths.




     "Now it happened on the way at an inn, that Yahweh encoun-

tered him and sought to kill him" (author's translation).  The

"him" (twice) in verse 24 undoubtedly refers to Moses.21  Is it pos-

sible that the delicate nature of the text led Moses (or another) to

refer to him obliquely?  Moses was on his way to Egypt, as com-

missioned by Yahweh (4:21-23).  The strained interplay Moses

had had with the Lord (4:1-17) was behind him.

     Yahweh is clearly the subject of the verbs "met" (wgaPA, "to en-

counter") and "sought to kill" (though the Septuagint substituted

the word "angel" for Yahweh).  Moses had recently learned the

meaning of the name of God, Yahweh (Exod. 3:13-15); now God

who was for him had become his enemy.

     The verb "encounter" is minimized by many commentators.

Cole says Moses "was struck down by some dangerous sickness

or other blow as the sign of God's displeasure."22  However, He-

brew has a clear way of speaking of physical illness or injury

(e.g., 1 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 1:2), and such phrases are not in this

passage.  The verb "encounter" is as significant in this passage

as is the word "son."  Kaiser rightly sees "son" (v. 25) as the con-

necting link of this pericope with the preceding one (v. 23), but he


20 This is particularly the case since the Hebrew for "his father-in-law" (Ont;Ho) used

of Jethro is derived from an Arabic word that means "his circumciser."

21 Because there is no clear antecedent for the pronoun "him" in this verse, it is

remotely possible that the one whom the Lord was about to kill was not Moses but

his son (either Gershom or Eliezer) who was not circumcised. The uncircumcised

one was to be cut off from Israel (Gen. 17). In this case one may picture the Lord

holding the boy, even as his mother circumcised him. Then the Lord would have re-

leased the boy.  This option is likely without precedent among interpreters (but see

comments below on v. 26).  Perhaps the strongest objection to this view is the obser-

vation that one would have expected Moses to have acted on behalf of his son in this

Hebrew custom rather than his mother (who was a Midianite).  Yet her mother's

love may have urged her to act quickly, as Phinehas acted with zeal in Numbers 25.

22  R. Alan Cole, Exodus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 79.  Similarly,

John J. Davis suggests Moses "was punished by God and was apparently desper-

ately sick" (Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in the Book of Exodus [Grand

Rapids: Baker, 1971], 71).

The "Bloody Bridegroom" in Exodus 4:24-26   265


strangely dismisses the link of "encounter" with the next pericope

beginning in verse 27.23

     Yahweh encountered Moses to kill him; in the next unit

Aaron encountered Moses to embrace him. Both statements use

wgaPA, a relatively rare verb that connotes a significant personal en-

counter.24  This verb suggests a dramatic (hostile) encounter of

Yahweh with Moses in what may be a hitherto-unacknowledged

theophany.  Those approaches that say Moses was ill because of a

visitation by the Lord overlook the serious nature of this term.

This theophany was an appearance of the living, preincarnate

Christ, the One who reveals the Father and is the living Word

(John 1:14-18).

     Yahweh's encounter with Moses was similar to the wrestling

match of the Angel of Yahweh (the preincarnate Christ) with Ja-

cob (Gen. 32).  Both theophanic appearances were sudden, per-

sonal, direct revelations of the divine presence in a hostile,

wrestler's hold.  Moses was held by the Lord, not beset by a myste-

rious disease.  And then he was released by Yahweh when His

demands had been met (Exod. 4:26); it was not simply that he "got

better."  Just as he was later held by Aaron (v. 27) in a warm em-

brace, so now he was held by the Lord (v. 24) in a hostile hold--a

death grip.

     Why does verse 24 state that "Yahweh. . . sought to kill him"?

If He truly wished to kill Moses, could He not have done so in a

moment?  Actually the very opposite was God's intention.  He held

Moses in a death grip, but He did not want to kill him.  The verb

wqaBA, "to seek," means not a frenetic activity on God's part, but a

sudden struggle, a divine grip, and divine patience before the fi-

nal blow.  Indeed, He was giving Moses one last chance to stay

alive.  Strangely, but surely, this is another instance of God's

grace.  Moses had committed a serious offense against the Lord

that made him unfit to be God's agent of deliverance or to live in

God's presence.



     "Then Zipporah took a flint and she cut off the foreskin of her

son, and she held it out to touch his feet, and she said, "Surely you

are a bloody bride-father25 [MymiDA-NtaH#] to me!' " (author's transla-


23 Kaiser, "Exodus," 332.

24 The word here (v. 24) is not the more familiar verb xrAqA, "to meet." Both wgaPA

and xrAqA are used in verse 27.

25 Brown, Driver, and Briggs list NtAHA as a "daughter's husband, bridegroom"

(meaning one who undergoes circumcision), and more generally, a wife s or hus-

band's relations. For Exodus 4:25 they give the standard translation, "a bloody

266  BIBLIOTHECA SACRA I July-September 1996


tion).  Crucial to the interpretation of this verse is the Lord's in-

struction regarding circumcision based on Genesis 17.  Clearly

that passage says that each male child is to be circumcised on the

eighth day of his life.  Should that fail to be done, that one was to be

cut off from Israel; he had broken covenant with Yahweh (Gen.


     Moses was guilty of not carrying out circumcision in his own

family, yet he was the one who was to lead the circumcised nation

of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land.  The situation was

simply intolerable.  "But if Moses was to carry out the divine

commission with success, he must first of all prove himself to be a

faithful servant of Jehovah in his own house."26  Though a sen-

tence of death was pronounced on any neglect of circumcision as

being a breach of the covenant (Gen. 17:14), "Moses had probably

omitted circumcision [of his child] simply from regard to his

Midianitish wife, who. . . disliked this operation; he had been

guilty of a capital crime, which God could not pass over in the case

of one whom He had chosen to be His messenger, to establish His

covenant with Israel."27

     There may be a grisly pun in the words "cut off" in Genesis

17:14.  If the foreskin were not removed, then the person was to be

removed.  Did the punishment fall on the child who was uncir-

cumcised, or on the parent who refused to have this done?  The an-

swer may be "On both."  That is, the child seems to be in view in

Genesis 17:14, but the command is for the father (or his agent) to

do the task.  Another issue concerns which son is in view in Exo-


bridegroom art thou to me" (Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A

Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon, 1907], 368).

However, there are etymological data that may suggest the standard translation is

based on the false assumption that Zipporah's words were addressed to Moses.

      The verb NtaHA, "to circumcise" is related to an Arabic verb, hatana, "to circum-

cise." The Hebrew  NteHo, "father-in-law," is related to the Arabic hatin, "a circum-

ciser ," hence to a father-in-law with reference to circumcision performed on young

men just before marriage (cf. the Arabic hatan, a relative on the wife's side).  The

Hebrew NteHo is used of Jethro, Moses' "wife's father" (Exod. 3:1; 4:18; 18:1-2, 5-8, 12,

14, 17, 24, 27; Num. 10:29; Judg. 1:16; 4:11).  The same word in the feminine is used of

the wife's mother (Deut. 27:23).

      In Ugaritic the related verb htn means "to marry," and the related noun htn

means "son-in-law" (Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook [Rome: Pontifical Biblical

Institute, 1965], 405).

    These Hebrew, Arabic, and Ugaritic terms also have cognate nouns in Aramaic,

Syriac, and Old South Arabic, with the same general meaning (cf. the Akkadian

hat(a)nu).  See Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Ara-

maic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 1:364-65.

26  C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, 3 vols., Biblical Commentary on

the Old Testament (reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, [n.d.D, 1:459.

27 Ibid.

The "Bloody Bridegroom" in Exodus 4:24-26   267


dus 4:25.  Since only one son is said to be circumcised, one may

assume that the other son had already been circumcised.28

     The words "her son" do not exclude Moses as father, of course,

(nor is it likely that this was a child of hers from another mar-

riage).  But they may suggest something of the animosity she may

have had against circumcision.29



     "Then He released him. (Now she had said 'bloody bride-fa-

ther' with reference to the circumcision)" (author's translation).

      The verb "to release" (hpArA, "to sink," "to relax," "to with-

draw") fits with the idea of the release of the wrestler's grip of

death, described above.  Zipporah repeated the scurrilous phrase

"bloody bride-father" to the living God because she was so angry

at the act she was forced to perform on her child.



     When Gershom was born, Moses would have circumcised

him on his eighth day as a matter of course, following the clear

teaching of Genesis 17:9-14.  While circumcision was also prac-

ticed by the Midianites, it would have been a kind of puberty "rite

of passage" for them (and other Semitic peoples as well).30  Thus to


28 Some might suggest the second son was an infant, not yet eight days old, but

this seems unlikely.  The birth of the second son that near the time of travel would

have been an extraordinary hardship.  Only Gershom's birth has been mentioned to

this point (Exod. 2:22).  But Moses took with him his "sons" and his wife (4:20); the

name of the second, Eliezer, was not given until 18:3-4.

29 Some suggest the son in view here is Gershom, Moses' firstborn.  The tie that

may link this pericope with the preceding may be the words "firstborn son" (v. 23).

Also, as Kaiser suggests, the firstborn of Moses and Zipporah may be linked with

the firstborn of Pharaoh.  However, even Kaiser is uncertain on this point.  Actually

the relationship is tenuous.  In the case of Pharaoh, it was his son who was at risk,

but in the case of Moses, it was Moses himself, not his son, who was at risk.  Yet the

problem concerned his son.  "He who is on his way to liberate the people of the cir-

cumcision, has in Midian even neglected to circumcise his second son Eliezer"

(John Peter Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and

Homiletical [1876; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d., 2:13).

30 The rite of circumcision was not an exclusive practice of the ancient Hebrews.

 Actually circumcision was practiced in prehistoric times, as attested by some cave

paintings.  It was practiced among many people groups in the ancient world, in

Asia, among South Sea Islanders, in many tribal groups in Africa, and among some

of the native peoples of the Americas.  However, in most of these cultures, circum-

cision was a rite of passage performed on a boy at puberty rather than shortly after

birth.  Among the ancient Semitic peoples, circumcision was practiced among many

of Israel's neighbors, but not among the Canaanites or among the Semites of

Mesopotamia. Circumcision was practiced in Egypt, but exclusively among priests.

The Philistines (who were Indo-European peoples) did not practice circumcision

268  BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1996


the child's mother the practice of circumcising babies would have

been unexpected at best and abhorrent at worst. When the second

child was born, Zipporah (perhaps in association with her fa-

ther31) may have strongly resisted, saying, "You have done this

with the first boy, but not again.  Not with my son." If only one son

had not been circumcised, it would seem more likely to be the

younger rather than the older.

      So now at the critical moment she did what she had objected to

before.  Moses, her husband, was in the death grip of his God.  She

rushed forth, did the deed, but was surely repulsed by the practice.

In her anger "she reached out with the foreskin to touch his

feet."  At whom was she angry?  Certainly not at her son, for she

had sought to protect him from an "early" circumcision.  Nor

would her anger have been directed principally against her hus-

band.  For she sought to save him by her impetuous action.

Instead, she was angry at Moses' God.  Who demanded the

circumcision of babies, against the traditions of all peoples in the

region?  Who had brought about her husband's action in circum-

cising their older boy shortly after his birth? And who now de-

manded that her younger boy be circumcised or her husband

would be killed?  Her husband's God!

     So to the Lord she reached out with the bloody prepuce, touch-

ing His feet.32  And to Him she called out harshly, "You are a

bloody bride-father to me."  She would have addressed these words

to Yahweh for three reasons.  (1) God was the One who had de-

manded that this action be done on her son.  (2) She reasoned that

since God "liked" the bloody prepuce so well, He might as well

have it.  (3) God had become to her like the circumcisers of her

culture, demanding the circumcision just before marriage.  This


(Judg. 14:3; 15:18; 1 Sam. 14:6).  The distinction in Israel was the meaning attached to

the rite.  This was not a rite of passage, but a sign of God's covenant with His people

("Circumcision," in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2 vols.

[Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988], 1:462-65).

31 When Moses arrived in Midian he was a fugitive, a person without land, family,

wealth, or standing (Exod. 2:15). Besides marrying Zipporah (2:21) he likely became

the adoptive son of Jethro.  He had become like Jacob in relation to Laban.  This is

likely the point of Exodus 2:21: "Then Moses was content to live with the man, and

he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses."  The verb translated "was content" (Hiphil

of  lxay!), probably means here, "he came to terms with," or "he acquiesced with."  When

Moses wanted to leave, he was not free to do so.  He needed to seek permission from

Jethro, as he had become Jethro's dependent (4:18).  Thus Jethro would have had

considerable influence over the treatment of his grandson.

32 Critical scholars assert that "feet" is a euphemism for the male genitalia.  The

unnamed translator of Martin Noth's commentary wrote, “’Feet,’ is of course here a

euphemistic expression, as elsewhere in the Old Testament” (Noth, Exodus, 50,


The "Bloody Bridegroom" in Exodus 4:24-26   269


is the meaning of her ambiguous words in which she called God

her "blood relative" by means of the enforced circumcision of her


      This view helps explain the use of  zxA in verse 26.  This word

sometimes serves as a stylistic device to introduce a phrase that is

to be stressed.33  She said what she did to the Lord, "because [zxA] of

the circumcision."  This passage does not explain circumcision;

circumcision explains the passage.

     Also this point of view helps explain something the text does

not mention until later.  Even though Moses had asked for per-

mission from Jethro to return to Egypt (presumably with his fam-

ily, 4:18-20), he must have sent his family back to Jethro follow-

ing this encounter at the inn (18:1-5).34  They are not mentioned

at all in the story of Moses' dealings with Pharaoh in Egypt.

Given the attitude of Zipporah, she may well have separated from

her husband.  She saved his life when he was under threat by God,

but she was not present when he by the mercy of God saved the na-


     This view may also explain why Moses married again

(Num. 12).  Many commentators have assumed that Zipporah died

before he married a second time.  But it may be that she remained

with her father Jethro even after the events in Exodus 18.  Although

Zipporah came with Jethro to Moses, nothing is said about their

reunion.  Was it perhaps out of respect for his wife that Moses did

not detail the nature of their estrangement?  And was it out of per-

sonal shame that he did not make this passage clearer?

     Moses' sin of not having circumcised his second son calls to

mind the concept of a "sin to death" in the New Testament (1 Cor.

11:27-30; 1 John 5:16).  Exodus 4:24-26 becomes an example of this

in the Hebrew Scriptures.  If the proposed view is correct that Zip-

porah touched the feet of the preincarnate Christ with the bloody

foreskin, whose thoughts are not thereby driven to the cross on

which His feet would one day bleed?

     The rite of circumcision was the foremost symbol of Israel's

relationship to God (Gen. 17:9-14).  Involving the shedding of

blood, it ultimately pointed to the shedding of the blood of the most

innocent Son.  But He did not merely bleed a few drops; His very

life was bled away.  And His death is memorialized in the Lord's

Supper by the cup, a symbol of blood.


33 Koehler and Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Tes-

tament, 1:26.

34 Lange, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and

Homiletical, 2:13.

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204


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