These verses have posed difficulty of interpretation to many scholars over time. But here is my interpretation as I perceived during my study and received from the Holy Spirit.
We should bear the following points in mind as we go on:
- God has unchanging standards which he can never compromise
- God expects us to keep the standard which we also require from others
- God commanded Abraham in Genesis 17:10 – 14 that all the male children in his household must be circumcised.
- For every disobedience, there is punishment (Note: in the New Testament, Jesu bore the punishment for all our disobedience on the cross)
I must first establish that God’s act of attempting to kill Moses was not because of His previous anger at him but simply an act of upholding of standard. God told Abraham to circumcise all his male children and any one of them who is not circumcised will be cut off (kill) from the land. Moses married a Midianite – Zipporah (which means bird) who is not conversant with the ways of Israelites. She gave birth to Gershom (the firstborn) and Eliezer (the second born). Zipporah probably must have objected the circumcision of Eliezer; maybe she saw the bloody nature of Gershom’s circumcision. It is clear from verse 25 that she circumcised one son not the two of them, if she objected to a circumcision then, she must have seen one to know what it looks like. This suggests to us that Gershom was circumcised by Moses and Eliezer was not.
The responsibility of circumcising Eliezer was given to Moses as the head of the family (not Zipporah). Moses failed in this responsible by allowing his wife to stand rather than that of God. He places his wife above God. Yet, he was supposed to lead God’s people and ensure that God’s standard of the law is upheld amongst these people. God had to correct this error by attempting to kill Moses. This attempt proves the following facts:
- God’s words are very powerful and so potent. They are unchanging. In fact, God will prefer the one he has chosen for a task to die rather than change His standard. God’s standard is anyone who is not circumcised will be cut off since Moses was responsible for not circumcising Eliezer, Moses was to be cut off for his disobedience
- Moses was to uphold God’s standard of the law amongst the Israelites, so He had to experience the consequence of not upholding the standard Himself.
- A leader leads by example, how can someone who is to ensure the punishment of people who go against God’s law, go scot free when he has disobeyed?
- Moses has been questioning God’s Word, this event will make Him realize that whatever God says, He does. Therefore, Moses will go to Pharaoh with vigour and a better assurance that whatever God says, He will do.
Moreover, God gave Moses a message to a disobedient King Pharaoh that He was going to kill Pharaoh’s firstborn because of disobedience, meanwhile, the Messenger himself was guilty of disobedience. It will be hypocritical of God and partial for him to have meted out punishment on Pharaoh without having punished Moses. Probably that is why He brought the punishment to Moses even before he got to Pharaoh.
Zipporah realized that her objection to the circumcision of Eliezer will cost Moses his life, so she was forced to do what she has been objecting to in the midst of trouble. Her act of obedience was what saved Moses from dying. Her action counters Moses disobedience.