Vol. 23 New Series February, 1961 No. 1
EXODUS 4:24-26

This is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible to explain. These three verses are so brief and abrupt that it is difficult to make proper sense. We know so little of the circumstances of Moses' return to Egypt, and so little about his wife Zipporah. Here is how the Revised Standard Version reads: "At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin, and touched Moses' feet with it, and said, 'Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!' So he let him alone. Then it was that she said, 'You are a bridegroom of blood,' because of the circumcision." Rotherham is somewhat different: "And it came to pass on the way in the resting-place for the night that Yahweh fell upon him and sought to kill him. So Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it down at his feet—and said—Surely a bridegroom by rites of blood art thou to me! So he let him go. Then it was that she said, A bridegroom by rites of blood—with regard to the rites of circumcision."

Leeser is somewhat different in verse 26: "And then he withdrew from him: when she said, A bloody relative, but only in respect of the circumcision." Dr. Bullinger, in his Companion Bible has a few notes: "A secret in Moses' life, known only to himself. Moses had neglected to circumcise Eliezer. To save the child's life, Zipporah now performs the rite herself. The words "bloody husband" in the A.V. rendering are in the Hebrew "a husband of bloods"—genitive of relation, i.e. with rites of blood; alluding to circumcision, which she had tried to evade and avoid. In v. 26, the word He means Jehovah."

Alford says "This surprising occurrence must be accounted for by remembering that Moses was an Israelite, bound to God by the covenant of circumcision, and that he was bringing his family to Egypt uncircumcised, having apparently conceded this point to the national habits of his wife. God had attached to the neglect of circumcision the penalty of death (Gen. 17:14). How God met him we are left to surmise: possibly in a dangerous stroke of illness or sudden incapacity, as would appear from his inability to circumcise his own child. . . . . It is difficult to say what exactly was done by Zipporah; at whose feet she cast the foreskin of her son (that it was Eliezer, and he a new-born babe, there is not a particle of ground to infer); or to whom she addressed the words." Further on Alford says, "the performance of the rite was followed by the deliverance of Moses from the peril, whatever it was: and when that was accomplished, then she called him a bridegroom of blood, in reference to his life having been bought, and himself as it were re-married to her, at the price of the child's blood."

The Targum (or paraphrase in Aramaic) of Onkelos, was translated thus by J. W. Etheridge in 1862: "And it was in the way, at the place of lodging, that the Angel of the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. And Zipporah took a stone, and circumcised the foreskin of her son, and approached before him, and said, On account of the blood of this circumcision let my husband be given (back) to me. And when he had desisted from him, she said, But for the blood of this circumcision my husband would have been condemned to die."

The Greek Septuagint reads as follows: "Now it came to pass in the way, in the caravanserai, there meets with him an angel of (the) Lord. And he sought to kill him. And Sepphora, taking a stone, circumcises the uncircumcision (foreskin) of her son, and prostrates towards his feet and says: 'Staunched is the blood of the circumcision of my boy.' And he (or, she) departed from him, because she said, 'Staunched is the blood of the circumcision of my boy.'"

Now the word for staunched in Greek is estE, meaning also stands or stands still. Is there then a word in the Hebrew text which has a similar meaning? Twice we find the words chathan damim, rendered in the R.S. Version as "a bridegroom of blood." If these words had been chatham damim, they would mean "seal up blood." In Lev. 15:3 we find this verb, "or his flesh be stopped from his issue." This verb is found 29 times, and its noun, chotham occurs 14 times.

One more point must be enquired into. Is the ancient form of the Hebrew letters M and N very different? No; they are almost exactly similar.

The May, 1946, issue of "Unsearchable Riches" had an article on The 'Bloody' Husband, of four pages. When I read it, immediately I recognized that the verb chatham might be much more suitable than the word chathan, in place of which "U.R." suggested we ought to read nthn, meaning "given." Other suggestions were also made, but they were far too far-fetched. It was mentioned that the Hebrew term chathan or chthn is never translated" husband" elsewhere, but is usually rendered son in law or bridegroom. Then it was stated that the translators of the Greek version found no such expression here, but they use the word estE, which literally means STAND, but has a wide range of usage idiomatically, and is used for the Hebrew GIVE (nthn). Therefore the new rendering in place of bloody husband is given is the blood. Yet when one turns to page 321 in the Concordant Greek Concordance, and sees the chief meanings given, one of these meanings is stanch (a flow of blood). But the word give or given is not there, or in any of the compound verbs which have sprung from histEmi meaning STAND.

It is then stated that the conclusion leaves a bad impression of Zipporah and her relations to Moses and to God's covenant. Yet if one examined such a fine work as the Rev. Richard A. F. Barrett's five volumes of "A Synopsis of Criticisms on Passages of the Old Testament" (London, 1847), he would discover that most of the fine scholars of the nineteenth century who had studied the passage praised Zipporah for having saved the life of Moses. Bishop Patrick considered that Zipporah was not an angry woman, but spoke to Moses with great affection, signifying that she had espoused him again, seeing that she saved his life by the blood of Gershom or Eliezer (we are not told which it was).

Bishop Horsley says that Zipporah, the Midianitess, by her act of faith, incorporated herself with the family of Israel, from which she was by birth an alien, and so became, more truly than by her marriage with Moses, a daughter-in-law of Jehovah.

Dr. A. Clarke says that some suppose that verse 23 is not part of the message to Pharaoh, but was spoken by the Lord to Moses; and that the whole may be thus paraphrased: "And I have said unto thee (Moses), Send forth my son {Gershom) by circumcising him, that he may serve Me (which he cannot do till entered into the covenant by circumcision), But thou hast refused to send him forth; behold therefore, I will slay thy son, thy first-born. And it came to pass by the way. . . .." Dr. Clarke has the same opinion of Zipporah as Bishop Horsley, and thinks Zipporah considered herself as now allied to God because of this circumcision. According to the law (Genesis 17:14), the uncircumcised child was to be cut off from his people, so that there should be no inheritance for that branch of the family in Israel. Moses, therefore, for neglecting to circumcise the child, exposed him to this cutting off, and it was but barely prevented by the prompt obedience of Zipporah. Moses by neglecting it gave a very bad example.

Perhaps Jehovah intended His statement in verses 22 and 23 of Exodus 4 to be a warning to Moses to get his son circumcised. The New World version reads here: "And you must say to Pharaoh, 'This is what Jehovah has said: "Israel is my son, my first-born. And I say to you: Send my son away that he may serve me. But should you refuse to send him away, here I am killing your son, your first-born."'" It may have been that Moses pondered so deeply upon this expression, "Israel is My son, My first-born" that he forgot about his own son.

A.T. Last updated 29.11.2005