Exodus 4:24, Why would God have sought to kill Moses?

The Bible teaches the following:

20 Then Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on a donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the rod of God in his hand.

21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.”‘”

24 And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him. 25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses’ feet, and said, “Surely you are a husband of blood to me!” 26 So He let him go. Then she said, “You are a husband of blood!” — because of the circumcision. (Exodus 4:20-26)

Many have wondered about Exodus 4:24-26. Since it follows verses about the death of the firstborn of Pharaoh and Moses’ son, some think that Moses’ son may have been the target, especially since he was not circumcised when he should have been.

A Jewish source, after quoting Exodus 4:24-26, stated:

The text is enigmatic and confusing. Why did God wish to kill Moses? Why choose him as a leader and savior and cajole him into returning to Egypt, only to execute him on the way? What is the significance of the circumcision? Why does it need to be performed at this juncture? How does Zippora know that this will bring healing?

On one level, the story reminds us of Jacob’s strange battle prior to his meeting with his brother Esau, where he, too, is stalked by a celestial assailant. There, Jacob’s thigh is wounded; here, a full-scale circumcision is performed. …


A certain ambiguity is noted in this passage:

And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him.

We are not told who the “he” is. Although the text points toward identification with Moses, the text remains enigmatic and obscure. Based on the context one may posit that the victim is not Moses but his son! …


As we know, Moses had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

The birth of Gershom is noted in the text:

And Moses was content to dwell with the man [Jethro]; and he gave Moses Zippora his daughter. And she bore him a son, and he called his name Gershom; for he said, “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” (Exodus 2:21-22)

Yet when Moses takes leave of Midian and sets out for Egypt, two sons are mentioned, but not named:

And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt; and Moses took the rod of God in his hand. (Exodus 4:20)

Only later in the Torah we are told the name of the second son, Eliezer:

…and her two sons; and the name of one was Gershom; for he said, “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” And the name of the other was Eliezer, for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.” (Exodus 18:3-4)

Presumably, the birth of Eliezer was immediately prior to the family’s departure from Midian — perhaps at this juncture he did not even have a name. Now we may understand Moses’s difficulty: This child is but a few days old. …

The man whom Zippora married was a Jew who dressed like an Egyptian, a fugitive from the justice system of Egypt. He was comfortable with the deal struck with Jethro. But Moses has changed — he becomes a prophet of God, a man with a mission. In this episode, Zippora indicates her own metamorphosis — she takes both of her sons, and she circumcises Gershom, her father’s nascent follower. She is symbolically and physically displaying her fidelity to God, to His messenger Moses, and to the mission Moses has undertaken. In a sense, she is retaking her vows with Moses, Moshe Rabbenu, not the wanderer she had married years ago.

After this stop at the inn, where Moses puts his own house in order, he may continue his journey toward Egypt and the reunion with his brother Aaron who awaits his arrival.

*There are sources which indicate that Zippora too was a descendent of Abraham through Ketura. … Rav Kasher cites this “tradition” in the name of Josephus, Antiquities 2:11.

(Kahn A, Rabbi. Moses’ Stop. http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48937337.html accessed 02/13/18)

Since Moses had two sons, both would have had the requirement to be circumcised.

One explanation as to why Zipporah was so upset is that since Ishmael was circumcised at age 13, doing this earlier could have been against her family’s custom. She apparently got wind of the idea that God wanted it earlier–and she was not happy about it. This may have been because when something arose that pointed to a serious threat, Moses realized his error and circumcised Eliezer, perhaps on the eighth day.

Consider the original command in the Bible to circumcise and what happened then:

9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Genesis 17:9-14)

23 So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; 27 and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. (Genesis 17:23-27)

Another possibility with Zipporah is that she did not come from a family that practiced circumcision and she did not like it.

The old Worldwide Church of God published the following regarding Exodus 4:24-26:

A Mysterious Passage of Scripture.

In Exodus the fourth chapter is an enigmatic set of verses that have long puzzled Bible scholars. “And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him [Moses], and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah [Moses’ wife] took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his [Moses’] feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he [God] let him [Moses] go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision” (verses 24-26).

Max Dimont, in his book Jews, God and History, pretty much has the right explanation: “Scholars’ still debate why Moses’ son was not circumcised at birth. It is as if by an afterthought God realizes He has entrusted the exodus of the Jews [Israelites] from Egypt to someone who has not observed the Jewish rite of circumcision, and now he wants to kill Moses… It is Zipporah, the wife of Moses, who quickly performs the operation to appease God’s wrath” (p. 39, pocketbook edition).

Moses (a direct descendant of Abraham through Levi), who was to be the messenger of the Old or Sinaitic Covenant and who is called its mediator, had a son who did not have the token of the promises to the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve patriarchs) evident in his flesh. The why of it is obvious from the content of these verses. Moses had trouble with his family. God’s instructions had been rather clear: “And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:14). (Has the New Covenant Been Made Yet? Good News, June 1976)

Consider, also, what God stated at the time of the bush that did not burn:

5 Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” 6 Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. (Exodus 3:5-6)

So, Moses was supposed to represent the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses, apparently because of his wife, was cowardly and had not had circumcised Gershom.

While Exodus 4 does not state that God gave an personal circumcision command to Moses, it is basically impossible that Moses did not know that the children of Israel were circumcised when eight days old as God told Abraham.

Since God called him to lead the descendants of Israel (Jacob), Moses would have not been considered a proper follower of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob if his sons were not circumcised.

God was not going to have His direct representative lead the nation of Israel in an obvious state of disobedience.

The Jews and various others have debated whether it was Moses or his son whom God sought to kill. Exodus 4:24 does not give a plain answer. However, it should be clear from all we can tell that Moses was the one at fault.

Exodus 4 does not state why it became obvious to Zipporah that God wanted to kill someone. But somehow it was clear enough for her to take some action–and it seems to have been after Moses would have pushed the circumcision issue, since she blamed him.

After she took action, neither her son nor Moses were about to be killed.

The main point of the story in Exodus 4:24-26 is that people should do what they know God wants them to do. They should not just keep pointing change off as their may be physically and/or spiritually dire consequences.

The New Testament warns about being cowardly and afraid:

7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:7-8)

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”  15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17)

Moses should have overcome his cowardliness and given a proper answer. And yes, as Christians, God expects us, through relying on Him, to overcome even our fears.

Consider also:

22 Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on.  23 Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.  24 Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?  25 And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  26 If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?  27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  28 If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?

29 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind.  30 For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.  31 But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.

32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:22-32)

If we do what God says, we should not be afraid. In other words, we should not be afraid to do all that God commands.

Notice a couple of things from the Old Testament:

6 The Lord is on my side;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
7 The Lord is for me among those who help me;
Therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.
8 It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man.
9 It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in princes. (Psalm 118:6-9)

25 The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe. (Proverbs 29:25)

Many things were recorded in the Old Testament for our examples. And I think the incident in Exodus 4 was one of them. Notice something that the Apostle Paul wrote:

11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:11-13)

Moses probably thought everything was fine. He had not circumcised his son, yet God was going to use him. But that was faulty reasoning.

Moses was lukewarm, somewhat cowardly, and probably afraid it would ‘rock the boat’ with his wife if he took action. Action his wife likely felt was extreme, unnecessary, painful, and wrong. So, Moses probably had thought about circumcision, but decided he could wait and that God understood.

For the vast majority of Christians, they hesitate to do all God wants them to do today. If not, Jesus would not have said:

14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,

‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:  15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.  16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.  17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked —   18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.  19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.  20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3:14-20)

Do not think that you can continue to be lukewarm. Do not risk being vomited out of God’s mouth–that will happen to most Christians in the end time.

Instead, change as you should and support the Philadelphian work. Do what God wants you to do.

Do not delay and be cowardly like Moses was.

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