4:24-26. This record in Exodus 4:24-26 is one of the great records in the Word of God that reminds us how important it is to obey God’s commands. Only when we obey God can we stand legally under his protection and blessing. This is especially true for leaders. The spiritual warfare that rages around God’s leaders makes it imperative that they do their best to obey God.
Many years before Moses lived God had made it clear to Abraham that if a person was going to be included in the covenant he must be circumcised, and that anyone, even those people who were bought to be slaves, were to be circumcised (Gen. 17:9-14). Any uncircumcised male was considered to have broken the covenant (Gen. 17:14). Children were to be circumcised when they were eight days old (Gen. 17:12). This was the responsibility of the parents, and culturally that responsibility fell upon the father.
Moses had not circumcised at least one of his sons (perhaps both of them), because Zipporah is said to only circumcise one of them (Exod. 4:25). The Bible does not tell us why Moses did not circumcise his son, so we do not really know. One possibility is that it could have been due to a request by his Midianite wife. Perhaps if he did circumcise his oldest son there was an inordinate amount of suffering and so she resisted circumcising their second son. What is clear is that Moses did not circumcise at least one of his sons, and in doing that he opened himself up to the attack of the Adversary. The text is also not clear how Zipporah figured out that the attack upon Moses was related to his son not being circumcised, but she did figure it out. The Hebrew text says that once the child was circumcised, God “let him [Moses] go.” Even though it saved her husband’s life, Zipporah’s disgust with the whole situation is clear. She took her son’s foreskin “and threw it at Moses’ feet” (Exod. 4:25 NASB). Some commentators argue that she just “touched” his feet with it, but given the vocabulary and the obvious emotion in the text, “threw” is no doubt what happened. Also, although the Hebrew text does not say “Moses’ feet,” but rather “his feet,” the context and the fact that she then spoke to Moses, makes it clear that it was Moses’ feet and not her son’s feet (cp. Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary). Zipporah’s disgust is also communicated effectively by her words, “You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me” (Exod. 4:25 NASB). Although exactly what she meant is not explained, the fact that she had to shed her son’s blood and cause him (especially at his now older age) significant pain and suffering caused her to call Moses “a bridegroom of blood.”
As stated above, this record of the incident reminds us of the importance of keeping God’s commands and the seriousness of disobeying them, but it also no doubt indelibly impressed the same lesson in Moses’ mind. He was guilty of a grave sin in the eyes of God, which the Adversary was not just going to overlook. The Hebrew text says that “the LORD met him [Moses] and sought to put him to death,” but we know from the scope of Scripture as well as the Semitic way of speaking that this is no doubt the idiom we refer to as the “idiom of permission” where the active verb “met” is used in a permissive sense, “allowed him to be met” [for more on the idiom of permission, see commentary on Rom. 9:18, and the book, Don’t Blame God!, by Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, chapters 4-6]. Moses’ sin meant that Yahweh could not effectively protect Moses, which allowed Moses to be met by the Adversary. God does not desire to put people to death even when they sin. In direct contrast, the Adversary always looks for openings to afflict leaders, and he had every reason to try to kill Moses, whom he had no doubt been watching since his birth and divinely protected childhood. To Moses, the importance of the lesson did not revolve around “who” was trying to kill him, but rather “why.” If someone is outside the covenant or the will of God, that person is exposed to a death sentence, and that can be especially true of leaders. This is a very important lesson, and became very apparent in the coming years both in Egypt, where many died due to disobedience, and in the Wilderness Wanderings, when Aaron’s two sons, and leaders such as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, died due to their rebellion (Lev. 10:2; Num. 16:25-33).
The Hebrew text makes it clear that Zipporah performed the circumcision with a flint knife. Far from being barbaric, microscopic studies of the edges of flint and steel knives reveal that the edge of a well knapped flint knife can be actually sharper than surgical steel, and a freshly knapped edge is completely sterile, protecting anyone who is cut with it from infection.
Another thing that is not specifically stated in the record, but can be gleaned by reading about Moses in Egypt and Exodus 18:2, is that after this incident Moses sent Zipporah and his sons back to her father, Jethro the priest of Midian, where she stayed until after the Exodus from Egypt, many months later.