Why did the Lord try to kill Moses in Exodus 4:24? That’s a great question. After reading the amazing account of God calling on Moses as His chosen (yet reluctant) leader, the Bible says that Moses began his journey to Egypt with specific instructions on freeing the Israelites from bondage.
However, something strange happens along the way. After God instructs Moses on what to say to Pharaoh, God actually comes close to killing him at the inn. What?! Why on Earth would the Lord want to kill Moses, especially after He went to so much trouble to instruct him on what to do? Here is the passage in question:
Exodus 4:24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.
There are two things to ponder about this passage: How was God going to kill Moses, and more importantly, why?
How Was God Going to Kill Moses?
First, we don’t know the means the Lord was going to use to kill Moses. God can end a person’s life in many ways, and the Bible records various “death penalty” scenarios. After lying to the Holy Spirit, Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead instantly (Acts 5:5-10). In the rebellion of Korah, God opened up the ground and swallowed them up (Numbers 16:32).
However, the Bible never tells us the means God was going to use to kill Moses. We can assume that since Zipporah had time to act, it was probably a slow means. Perhaps God had struck him with an illness or high fever. Or perhaps the Lord appeared visibly to Moses and warned him of his impending death–if he didn’t promptly comply with God’s demands. We’ll never know on this side of eternity, but Exodus 4:24 says “the Lord met him,” and Exodus 4:26 says, “So he let him go,” which may indicate that the Lord had visibly appeared or was somehow otherwise restraining him physically.
Why Was God Going to Kill Moses?
Now for the other question: Why was God going to kill Moses in the first place? Thankfully, the next few passages give us the likely answer:
Exodus 4:25-26 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. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.
What seems to have happened was that Moses had neglected to circumcise his son. If you recall back in Genesis 17:9-14, God established circumcision as the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, and God gave specific instructions that every “seed” of Abraham be circumcised. Moses and his children were clearly Abraham’s descendants, so Moses was required to circumcise them as the covenant stated.
Furthermore, Genesis 17:14 tells us the penalty of breaking the covenant by neglecting to circumcise (it was death):
Genesis 17:14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
It is unclear why Moses had neglected to keep this covenant, but it is clear that Zipporah was clearly upset and repulsed by the practice. In Exodus 4:25-26, she calls Moses a “bloody husband.” Perhaps Moses intended to do it eventually, but Zipporah begged him to wait (or avoid it entirely).
Nevertheless, God was so displeased that He was going to act out his death penalty warning from Genesis 17:14: He was going to “cut Moses off” from His people (to cut someone off generally meant death).
A Lesson for Us Today
Even though Moses was God’s chosen leader, God wasn’t going to give him a free pass on his sin. Moses was expected to continue the practice of circumcision in obedience, just as the Abrahamic covenant had dictated.
This passage holds a great truth for us today: God expects His people to be holy and to live in obedience. Why? God doesn’t want to use a dirty vessel, and He wants us to be an example to the unbelieving world. How hypocritical would it have been for Moses to declare the “law” to Israel, including the instructions on circumcision in Leviticus 12:3, while he was living in willful disobedience to it. Friends, God said “no way, Moses.”
Before we preach or teach today, we had better make sure we are in obedience to what we are preaching. Remember that James tells us that God holds pastors and teachers to much higher standards than other Christians:
James 3:1 My brethren, be not many masters [or teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
That’s an unsettling thought for anyone who aspires to teach or preach the word of God in any capacity, isn’t it? I think so.
Do Christians Still Have to Circumcise Today?
If anyone reading this article finds themselves panicking because they neglected to circumcise one of their sons (or themselves), don’t worry. Christians are no longer under the Abrahamic covenant nor the Mosaic law–Christ was the end of the law. The Apostle Paul made it clear in the New Testament that Christians no longer have to worry about circumcision, for it was a temporary sign of a temporary covenant:
1 Corinthians 7:18-19 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
Therefore, Christians no longer have to be circumcised today, and it has no bearing on salvation or obedience. However, some Christians still elect to do so for hygiene purposes, family tradition, or other reasons, which is fine.