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And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.
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.
A lot of theories have been offered this passage, and a lot of questions, but rather than list them all I'm going to present what appears to be the most likely interpretation. Some of the questions (and their answers) are:
- Who was the Lord trying to kill?
Some think it was Moses' son that was the target, but that it was Moses is more likely. It should be noted (contra Jonathan Hirsch) that there is no indication here of some sort of sudden attack in the night reminiscent of Midianite demon-tales (often appealed to as a possible source for this story). That must be read into the text. If anything, the "sought" indicates that the means was by some slow, lingering method like an illness that gave plenty of warning. It's the same word used in Ex. 2:15, "Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses."
- Why was the Lord out to kill Moses?
Given what happens, everyone agrees it is because Moses' son was not circumcised, in violation of some command. Why wasn't the kid circumcised? That's a matter of equal conjectures.
The likeliest seems to me to be that Moses wasn't willing to risk having his son weakened by the operation while they were on this long journey through the wilderness: A bit of poor faith by Moses in God's provision.
- What is Zipporah doing?
That phrase about the "bridegroom of blood" brings forth a number of speculations, but the two most likely, and most rooted in the social context, are:
- It is a phrase of marital relationship, recalling circumcision as a premarital rite. This fits best if it is Moses being circumcised, but if circumcision was normally "pre-marital" where Zipporah came from, it might be the sort of thing she would say anyway.
- It is a statement that the child is circumcised and therefore, by virtue of that circumcision, protected. This may have some strength as an explanation in that the word "cast" is the same word used to describe how blood was applied to the lintels and doorposts at Passover. This interpretation also understands "husband" (chathan) as being related to a cognate word that signifies "protection".
That's what the books say...but let us always remember: Any time something in any ancient document seems odd to us, the deficiency is more likely in our understanding than it is that the writer is out of their heads.