There are times in our Bible study reading when we come to difficult passages, and Exodus 4:24–26 is one of those passages. During our last "Ask Us Anything" podcast, a few of you reached out for an explanation of this passage. So this blog will seek to provide clarity while pointing to Jesus.
At this point in redemptive history, the Israelites, who are God's chosen people, are slaves in Egypt. The Lord appoints Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to release them from bondage and return them to the Promised Land. Moses is hesitant at first and makes excuses for why he cannot go. But, after the Lord gives Moses miraculous signs and the help of his brother, Aaron, Moses heads to Egypt with his family.
Moses takes his wife, Zipporah, and sons, Gershom and Eliezer. On the journey, God tells Moses that He will extend righteous justice to Pharaoh. Because Pharaoh brings death to Israel, which God calls His firstborn son, death will come upon Pharaoh's firstborn son (Exodus 4:22–23). We see the severity of sin and sin's consequences in this decree. For Pharaoh's faithlessness, God will give Pharaoh over to His obduracy. But, outside of God's protecting hand, Pharaoh inevitably chooses destruction and lifelessness.
Sin is an issue not only for Pharaoh but also for Moses. Scripture says that on the way to Egypt, Moses and his family stay at a campsite where God comes to put Moses to death (Exodus 4:24). When we read this verse, we may be startled. Why does the Lord want to kill Moses when He has just chosen him to deliver the Israelites? What sin does Moses commit to deserve this punishment? From the later verses, we deduce that Moses fails to follow the law on circumcision explained in Genesis 17.
In Genesis 17, God confirms His covenant with Abraham, the patriarch of the Israelites. God promises to give Abraham numerous descendants, a land for his nation, and an everlasting relationship with the Lord. To enjoy the blessings of this covenant, Abraham's descendants have to circumcise all sons of Israel. Obedience to this law is a sign of God's grace–that God set a people apart to receive His unmerited favor. In other words, the Israelites do not perform circumcision to earn a covenant relationship with God. Rather, circumcision is a physical symbol of the reality that God already secured. In response to God's love, covenant people are to seek to please the Lord with gratitude.
Though an Israelite, Moses does not follow the law on circumcision. He neglects to circumcise his son, Gershom. Possibly still struggling with hesitation toward his appointment, Moses does not show gratitude. Moses's disobedience demonstrates his lack of trust in God. In a way, Moses replays Pharaoh's stubbornness. Instead of resting in the life God reserves for His people, Moses violates the covenant relationship and settles for death.
But, as we see in verses 25–26, there is forgiveness through the blood. Zipporah moves quickly. She circumcises Gershom and puts the bloody foreskin on Moses's feet. At this act, God's wrath is appeased. The covenant sign is fulfilled, so God's mercy and grace cover where Moses falls short. Though Moses's faith is weak, this circumcision is faith expressed in obedience. Moses and his family will experience God's covenant blessings because even in the poorly executed circumcision, they still signified their need for the Lord.
Despite human sin, God is faithful; though unmentioned, the Spirit of God stirred Zipporah to act. He provided a way to save Moses. The blood in the circumcision ritual and its covering on Moses's feet ultimately pointed to Jesus's sacrifice. Later in redemptive history, God provided salvation for His covenant people, once and for all time. The eternal Son of God took on flesh and lived an obedient life in our place. He kept the Law perfectly, demonstrating a heart full of devotion. He never violated His covenant relationship with the Father. To satisfy divine justice, Jesus offered His body. His death paid for our disobedience; therefore, we do not face the consequence of sin that we deserve. And faith in Jesus's saving work has replaced circumcision as the sign of a covenant relationship with the Lord.
Jesus is the true and better Moses, who delivers us from slavery to sin and invites us to live in God's presence. Through our faith in Jesus, His blood and righteousness cover where we fall short so that we can enjoy the blessings of the new covenant. Though our faith is weak at times, we can be sure that we are secure in God's hand. God is committed to shielding us from the deathly consequences of sin and transforming us to mirror the holy devotion of Jesus.