Exodus 4:24-26 explanation

[Note: One person whom I had been working with asked me a question about this passage of scripture. I share this letter with you that you may learn from it and get some ideas on how to deal with others in their quest for understanding. cs]

Exodous Chapter Four 24"And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. 25Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. 26So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision." The King James Version, 1769.


First of all, I consider it an honor that you do come to me with bible questions. I feel that in some ways, you value my opinion or my understanding of the knowledge that I have aquired in over twenty-five years of study. The apostle Paul had this type of understanding and wanted to impart it to others (Ephesians 3:4). I would encourage you to continue in your studies so that you can have an understanding yourself of what God desires for you. As you know, I stand ready and willing to assist you, if you so desire.

In reference to your question concerning the passage above, I have done some preliminary investigation and with the assistance of others, whom I respect, and by use of commentaries by well studied scholars, I feel that I can answer this question to your satisfaction that is in accord with revealed scripture.

"But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by and act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." 2 Pet 1:20-21.

We must answer biblical questions with information provided by scripture. This is done several ways.

  1. By providing scriptural command such as book,chapter,verse.
  2. By drawing lessons from what is written about others. (read 1 Cor 10:6, 11

3. By drawing necessary implication of understanding by what is said, and being very careful not to go beyond that which is written, to go too far in our presumption or supposition, because something is not said specifically in scripture. (Read 1 Cor 4:6; Rom 15:4)

When it comes to the exact meaning of the passage above, it becomes impossible with any certainty to explain the specifics. There are however, several clues in this passage by which we can offer an explanation that is plausable, or possible.

v24. "sought to put him to death"----

Some versions insert the name of Moses, however the original language was sufficient to just say "him". Scholars vary as to which of three possible people we could be discussing. Moses, Gershom, or Eliezer were the only "him's" in this scenario.

Also note that if God desires something to happen, then it is as good as already done. We have a similar story in Numbers 22, in which the angel of the Lord was ready to strike Baalam, and had it not been for his donkey, he most certainly would have perished. By this we learn that there were conditions placed upon the "him" that put him in peril of death. As we will see, had he not taken necessary steps he would have died.

The next questions is why try to put him to death. The answer is found within the context of the passage. We see in v25 that Zipporah circumcises her son. This action obviously spared the "him" from certain death. Let's see why this action is at the root of this answer.

Genesis 17:10-14 describes the covenant with God and Abraham. The specifics of the rite were to be through all the descendants of Abraham (v9,10) Every male (including servants) was to be circumcised (v11). The age of eight days was to be the time when this happened (v12). Emphasis has to be understood where there is a specific, all other options are removed. In this case, not seven or not nine, but specifically "EIGHT". Failure to do this action would result in being cut off from God's people (v14). The severity of being cut-off is realized when you compare passages from Exo 12:15,19; Lev 7:20,21,25,27.

Failure to circumcise his son would have removed Moses from a covenant relationship. We use a pattern of speech from time to time in which a part is substituted for the whole. If a part of the family of Moses was to be cut-off, then the whole family had to be cut-off (Look what happened to Achan's family in Joshua 7:22-25). This would have made Moses, unfit for the task that God had appointed for him. Compare also the statement in James 2:10

"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all."

Moses was certainly under covenant law at this time, because the Law from Mt Sinai had not been given.

This most certainly was indicated to Moses and Zipporah in some way, form or fashion. We are left in the dark as to how they were given this information. We only can see the result of obedience to this small part of God's covenant. v26 "so He (GOD) let him (?) alone.

There should really be no problem with this narrative even though it is so brief. God has always revealed to His people what He expects from them. It would most certainly be cruel if God expected something that He had not revealed to us. Thank God for His holy scriptures.

As to the time of this narrative, several facts jump out.

  1. They were staying at an inn. Possible some sort of prepared shelter for travelers of that day. This would cause us to assume that it was evening or night.
  2. They were on their journey back to Egypt so that Moses could fulfill his mission. We are left in the dark as to what season of the year it was.
  3. This was the eighth day from the birth of Moses' son. We cannot possibly know for sure which son. Exo 2:22 records the birth of Gershom, but also in Exo 18:2-4 we have record of two sons.

The fact that Zipporah did the circumcision has led many to conjecture that Moses was struck so severely, that he could not possibly have performed this act. v25 does seem to indicate that Zipporah was not very happy about this event; "she threw it at Moses' feet". v26 she speaks harshly "You are a bridegroom of blood"

Even with all the possibilities which seem to be too numerous to try to explain, debate, or even understand, we can still learn lessons from this.

  1. One must obey ALL the law in order to be right with God.
  2. One must do the things of the law in the proper order and time and manner.
  3. One must do the things of the law with a clear conscience and pure heart. It must be done out of a sense of duty and honor. Especially; serving God must come from the motives of the heart.
  4. All people are subject to God's laws. Either the people immortalized in God's book or the nameless ones throughout human history (including you and me).
  5. No one is too great to be above the law.

XXXXX, I do not know if I have answered all of this to your satisfaction, or if I have even answered it correctly. I do know that I have not entertained any thoughts that would contradict scripture elsewhere. Maybe in eternity, we will have the time to learn all of this, but most likely, by the time we get there, this will seem unimportant.

Once again, thank you for your interest and quest for knowledge. May you come to a full understanding of God's word so that you may do His will, His way.

Carey Scott

Return to the Question Index Page

Return to the Old Testament study of Exodus