In Westminster’s summer sermon series we are looking at the life of Moses. Of course, when anyone hears that theme, certain scene come to mind. Most of them are what you would guess, even if you’re not a religious person at all. Think Cecil B. DeMille, Charleton Heston. These are scenes made for the big screen: the burning bush, standing before Pharaoh, crossing the Red Sea, engulfed by a cloud of Mt. Sinai (wait, then I guess you couldn’t see him; oh well, you get the idea…).
There’s a little snippet of a story that hides between the burning bush and appearing before Pharaoh. It’s usually ignored or studiously avoided because it’s so strange to modern ears. But the strategy of avoiding scriptures that are strange or offensive is neither right nor safe. If we really believe – or want to believe – the whole authority of scripture thing, we have to strap on the scuba gear (note strange metaphor shift) and dive into the murky waters…
I’m referring to 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.)
Go ahead, take as much time as you need. Deep breath. Now exhale.
It sounds so matter-of-fact. Oh, by the way, the God who called me and is sending me to Egypt? Yeah, he’s trying to kill me.
There’s obviously (or not obviously) a lot of background there that is assumed that we the readers know. There’s also no escape from the fact that this God is not tame. So much for God being a projection of our desires. What is up here?
Think of it. Moses, an Israelite 400 hundred years removed from the days of the covenant in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, runs away into the desert of Midian where he meets a girl at a well. Zipporah is not an Israelite, so there is no prior commitment to the terms of the covenant as we’d read about in, say, Genesis 17, where God says that circumcision isn’t just the sign of the covenant; it is the covenant (17:10). No exceptions.
Moses is definitely God’s man, chosen and called for a specific, epic purpose. But even that pales in comparison to the global, cosmic thing God is doing in creating a people who are specifically his possession in order that the world would come to know this God and know his salvation. And that identity is inextricable from circumcision. Apparently, Moses has skipped this part with his son Gershom. Who knows why: pushback from Zipporah, never got around to it, it could be anything – Moses is familiar with making excuses.
Moses is ill, and going downhill fast. Presumably, Zipporah gets the message. Honey, we need to be fully on board not just with this current assignment, but with the big picture God is unfolding in history. God is deadly serious about this. So, in terms and symbols that are a world away from anything recognizable from us, she and her son join Moses in their epic place in God’s story.
A more technical reflection on this enigmatic passage can be found here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/moses-maximus-and-a-bloody-valentine/
That’s not to say that all the mystery is resolved; far from it. Is there a sense in which God perhaps is trying to kill us? At least the part of us that is separate from his covenantal plan for us and for the world. Can we imagine how terribly seriously God takes this?