Questions From Readers
● What is the correct understanding of Exodus 4:24-26? Also, Exodus 4:20 reads as though Moses had returned to Egypt, but the next verse speaks of that return as still future. Why?—J. K., Japan.
At Exodus 4:20 it states: “Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt.” Ex 4 Verse 21 continues: “And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt”; which contradicts the thought that he had already returned. The difficulty is in the translating of Ex 4 verse 20. It reads as though the return was complete, whereas actually the Hebrew verb form indicates the return was under way but not completed. Other translations allow for this view. “Moses taketh his wife, and his sons, and causeth them to ride on the ass, and turneth back to the land of Egypt.” (Yg) “So Moses took his wife and sons, and mounted them on an ass, to return to the land of Egypt.” (AT) Hence it is perfectly logical for Ex 4 verse 21 to speak of the return as future, since it was not accomplished as yet.
Exodus 4:24-26 (AS) recounts an incident taking place during this return journey: “And it came to pass on the way at the lodging-place, that Jehovah met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet; and she said, Surely a bridegroom of blood art thou to me. So he let him alone. Then she said, A bridegroom of blood art thou, because of the circumcision.” It seems that Moses had been delinquent in some respect. For one thing, he had not circumcised his son, and thus had failed to live up to God’s covenant of circumcision made with his forefather Abraham. (Gen. 17:9-14) Jehovah, through his representative angel, met Moses along the way and was going to execute the uncircumcised child. Moses’ wife, Zipporah, realized what was necessary to right matters. She took a sharp stone, a customary instrument in those days, and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it, not at the feet of Moses, but at the feet of the angel representing Jehovah. Meeting this requirement appeased the anger of Jehovah and the child was spared.
Then Zipporah said to Jehovah, through the representative angel, “Surely a bridegroom of blood art thou to me.” By her compliance with the requirements of the covenant of circumcision, Zipporah acknowledged and entered a covenant relationship with Jehovah, and Jehovah became as a husband to her and she as a wife to him. That such a covenant relationship with Jehovah can make him as a husband married to the other party of the covenant is shown by the Law covenant made with Israel. Because of this covenant Jehovah says concerning the Israelites: “I was an husband unto them.” (Jer. 31:32) So by this rite of circumcision Zipporah said to Jehovah’s representative angel, “A bridegroom of blood art thou.” Or, according to the King James Version: “Surely a bloody husband art thou to me”; “a bloody husband thou art.” So through Zipporah’s quick action “he let him alone” (AS); that is, Jehovah’s angel let the child alone, not slaying him as he otherwise would have. (Gen. 17:14) But Jewish tradition makes Moses the one whose life was threatened for his remissness. Moses was responsible for the treatment of his son.—See The Watchtower, Nov. 15, 1944, page 347, ¶38.