Q. Exodus 4:24 seems to come out of the blue. Why does God want to kill Moses all of a sudden?
A. The Hebrew text of these verses is very difficult because they use many pronouns (“he,” “him,” and “his”), but the antecedent of those pronouns is unclear. These pronouns could refer to Moses or they could refer to Moses’ son (Gershom). What interpretation makes the most sense of this passage? I think the reading that makes the most sense has Moses’ son (Gershom) as being the main referent of the pronouns – which would create this translation/interpretation:
24 At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill Gershom [because the child had not been appropriately circumcised]. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off Gershom’s foreskin and touched Gershom’s “feet” with it, saying “Surely you are [now] a ‘blood relative’ to me.” 26 So the Lord let Gershom alone because Zipporah
had announced “You are a blood relative to me” in connection with the circumcision. There are a couple of things to keep in mind in this interpretation:
• In v. 24, the Lord was not threatening Moses’ life, but that of his son. We should note, however, that Moses is ultimately at fault for not having his son circumcised according to the regulations of the Abrahamic covenant.
• In v. 25, Moses’ son (not Moses) is the one circumcised by Zipporah.
• In v. 25, “feet” is a common Hebrew euphemism for a man’s genitals (see Isaiah 6:2; 7:20; Ezekiel 16:25). It seems that what happened was that Zipporah touched Gershom’s genitals with the freshly-removed foreskin, perhaps in an effort to legitimize the previously neglected and now emergency circumcision.
• In v. 25, the phrase the NIV translates “bridegroom of blood” should probably be understood in the more simplistic sense of “a blood relative.”
o This phrase is not negative (as the NIV seems to suggest), but positive, an endearing reference a child who had entered his parents’ covenant of grace.
• In v. 26, the one that God spares is Gershom (not Moses) because Zipporah has appropriately circumcised the child.
While this approach does not remove all the difficulties, it does make good sense of the text in context. God had just prophesied that Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel (God’s “firstborn”) go, his own firstborn would be killed. The fact that this story immediately follows God’s warning about the potential death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son naturally brings to light a problem that
threatens the life of Moses’ firstborn son.