Did you know that in one of the most unusual and confusing stories in all of Scripture, there was a moment when Moses’ wife actually got so frustrated with her husband that she threw their son’s circumcised foreskin at Moses? Really…you didn’t know that? Well, as weird as it sounds we will explain it all…here on five minutes of truth.
There are quite a few stories, sprinkled throughout the Bible, that on the surface seem a bit…if we’re being honest…weird. From floating axe-heads to a sermon bringing a valley of dry bones back to life. From raising people from the dead to a chariot that carries one Bible hero off to heaven. There are stories, many in the Old Testament, which when observed from a distance and removed from context do not lend themselves to easy understanding.
They contain actions that seem to defy conventional wisdom and promote, in many cases, significant skepticism for the casual reader. And sometimes even for the not so casual reader. I understand the confusion. These stories seem so outrageous that one can quickly come to the conclusion that there is very little reason for it being included in the Bible at all. We know, however, that this is not true.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” . If that is the case, this also includes the “weird” passages that I firmly believe are considered weird simply because they are not understood in light of Paul’s statement. And one of the most misunderstood events happened as Moses was on his way to free God’s people from the yoke of slavery they endured in Egypt.
We know the story. After fleeing Egypt upon learning of his heritage, Moses met Jethro, a priest from Midian, and married Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah. Sometime after, Moses had the encounter of a lifetime when he ventured up Mt. Horeb to examine a burning bush, but instead met the God of the universe Who told Moses to go back to Egypt…confront Pharaoh…and free the Hebrew slaves.
It is on this journey to Egypt that we read this curious story found in . The Bible relays that on the journey, God actually threatens to kill Moses. He does not explicitly say why, but the context of the story fills in the missing pieces. Immediately after the threat, Zipporah circumcises their son. So, we can glean that Moses’ neglect in doing this himself spurred on the harsh threat God made towards Moses.
After the circumcision, Zipporah takes the severed foreskin and throws it at Moses’ feet. She states: “you are a husband of blood to me” (b). And to make sure he really got a proper reading on her indignation, she repeats it by saying once again, “you are a husband of blood” (). It is clear that Moses’ wife was not happy (putting it lightly) and that something really bad must have happened. Now we look at what did happen in context with the rest of Scripture which will make this seemingly weird passage not so weird after all.
First we must remember the importance the Hebrews placed on circumcision. It was THE sign that they belonged to God as a people. It was THE sign of the everlasting covenant God made with His people (b). And any male child not circumcised would be cast out from his own people because “he has broken My covenant” (b). To say that circumcision was a big deal…would be the height of understatement. God stated that every male child would be circumcised when they turned 8 days old and it fell to the father to ensure this happened. Is this becoming a bit clearer now?
We don’t know how old Moses’ son was but he was at least 8 days old. Considering that the birth was mentioned in Exodus chapter two and the circumcision was not brought up until chapter four…it’s a pretty good guess that he was well older than 8 days old. Therein lies the problem. Moses knew the sign of the covenant. His wife knew, so certainly he did. He knew that God commanded circumcision at 8 days old, he knew that this was THE sign for the covenant, he knew that his son could be cast out by his own people, and he knew it was his responsibility to see that it was done.
Moses failed his son and his wife by failing as a father and husband. And when that happens, there are terrible consequences. This was not Moses’ first go at disobeying God. After God told Moses He was sending him to free the Hebrews, Moses came up with every excuse he could muster to bow out. Such as: I don’t know Your name; What if they don’t believe me; Who am I that I should do this; and I’m not a good speaker. Finally, he provides the truthful statement when he says: Just send someone else.
These two events (the avoiding the circumcision and the lack of faith at the burning bush) are related. They both tell the same story of a man who is willing to shirk his responsibility to his family (in the case of circumcision) and his enslaved people (whom he wanted no part in helping). Moses was called to be the husband and father God wanted him to be. And he failed. His own wife had to circumcise their son to save both the son and Moses. And she was not happy about it. She was crushed and she was angry. We can debate the wisdom in throwing a bloody foreskin at your husband, but it just goes to underscore what a huge failing this was on Moses’ part and how the ramifications of that failure impacted his ability to be the husband, father and Believer God wanted him to be.
All of a sudden, that weird story that didn’t make much sense, makes a lot of sense when we see the entire picture. So it is with all of God’s Word. There is always a reason the so-called “weird” stories are included in the Bible. So we can see Who He is, how much He loves us, and how He wants to save us. How cool is that.
On behalf of myself, Robert Houghton, and all of us here at Growth Project…keep reading God’s Word.
Dr. Purvis started Growth Project with Robert Houghton after spending 20 years on active duty as a Chaplain in the United States Navy. After many moves and multiple deployments, he settled in Winter Haven, Florida to do God’s will. A glutton for educational punishment Danny has a BA in English from Carson-Newman College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary; and a PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He has been married to his wife Kimberly (whom he met when they were 6 years old) for nearly 30 years and they have four wonderful children.