Saturday, May 12, 2012

Who did what to whom and why?

I hit a conundrum in Exodus, chapter 4. Moses and God had just been talking at the burning bush.  Moses got his instructions on freeing the people of Israel and was headed back to Egypt. When I read verses 24-26 I wondered what happened. If God wanted to kill Moses, he'd had plenty of chances already. And if Moses needed to circumcise his sons, why didn't God bring that up already? I read the same verses in every version of the Bible I had on hand to try to understand. I later found out that I'm not the only one confused. Turns out there's even a Wikipedia entry about it.

I originally read it in The Message:

24-26 On the journey back, as they camped for the night, God met Moses and would have killed him but Zipporah took a flint knife and cut off her son's foreskin, and touched Moses' member with it. She said, "Oh! You're a bridegroom of blood to me!" Then God let him go. She used the phrase "bridegroom of blood" because of the circumcision.  1

The King James version reads:
24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, 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 his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.
26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

The New Revised Standard Version says:
24 On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met him and tried to kill him. 25But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, ‘Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’ 26So he let him alone. It was then she said, ‘A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.’ 2

A search on the Internet led me to an interesting article written by Ronald B. Allen about "The Bloody Bridgegroom." He summarizes other scholars' ideas on the verses and then gives his own interpretation.  He says God held Moses in a death grip because Moses had failed to circumcise his son and circumcision was a requirement of the covenant with the people of Israel. But God gave Moses a chance to redeem himself. Moses' wife, Zipporah came to the rescue, although she seemed angry at having to do it herself. 3

I found another interpretation in "Commentary on the Torah" by Richard Elliott Friedman. He translates verse 24 with "he asked to kill him" and says it is possible Moses was asking God to kill him instead of sending him to Egypt. Mr. Friedman states there were other prophets who said they preferred death to being prophets. 4

It was actually enlightening for me to see that there is a lively debate over some Bible passages. I've enjoyed using resources available to me to compare ideas.

1 "Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group." 

2 ‘New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.’ 

3 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 153 (July-September 1996): 259-69
Copyright © 1996 by Dallas Theological Seminary.

4 HarperCollins, Apr 15, 2003

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