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Exodus 4:24 At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. 25But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

God wanted to kill Moses for not circumcising his son.

Joshua 5:2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.

How to explain the difference in God's reactions to non-circumcision? Why didn't God just order Moses to circumcise his son?

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    Moses and his wife, the daughter of a pagan priest, did not (initially) belong to the same monotheistic faith, hence the need for a small display of force, to help change her mind on the issue.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 20:42

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This is a very interesting question! To understand what is going on in Exodus chapter 4 you actually need to apply a wider Old Testament understanding which requires more ‘space’ than an ‘answer’ allows. Nevertheless an overview....

You need an understanding of ‘firstborn’, in particular who [which god] had a legal right to the firstborn. This actually helps understand a lot, example the issue with ‘Cain’ (firstborn), and issues with Essau/Jacob, (why the second born needed the blessing), why Isaac had to born after Ishmael, etc. And the Passover!

Aaron was the firstborn, and needed to ‘put under’ the protection of the covenant made with Abraham in order to be taken ‘out’ from under that ‘ownership’. And that involved circumcision.

Looking at that incident in Exodus chapter 4, without using the ‘lens’ of that understanding makes some infer/‘see’ that the ‘him’ that the Lord sought to kill was Moses - where as it does not refer to Moses - but Aaron. God”s intention was to use Moses alone - it was Moses’s insecurity that cast Aaron into the role, nevertheless God had to ‘work through’ Moses, as Aaron was the firstborn - therefore exposed.

Now the incident in Numbers you refer to was simply that the practice of ‘marking’ Gods nation (circumcision), thereby putting them under God, had been neglected. By this stage, they were already through sacrificial ritual (Exodus chapter 13) redeeming the firstborn.

13:1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,”Consecrate[a] to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.”

At this stage, they were under a different covenant, one that ‘fixed’ that issue with the firstborn.

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The difference is not on God's principle, it is in the practical situation.

Circumcision is the mark that an Israelite belongs to God (Gen 17:10-14).

Gen 17:14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

As such, any uncircumcised male did not belong to God, and not a servant of God.

In Exodus 4:24-26, Moses was travelling with his wife and sons back to Egypt, to do what God commanded. Moses wife Zipporah was a Midian, from the situation that happened, I would think Moses let his sons uncircumcised because of Zipporah, and that God threatened to kill Moses to make Zipporah changed her mind. For otherwise, Moses' sons did not belong to God, and not allowed to participate in a Holy Mission.

In Joshua, the warriors above 20 years old were born in the desert. They were not suitable to be circumcised for they kept moving. But when they were chosen to conquer the promise land, a Holy Mission that God commanded, they needed to be circumcised.

In the incident of Moses, was Moses circumcised? I believe he had. The dialogue between God and Moses (Exodus 3 - 4:17) did not mention his circumcision, so Moses should have been circumcised when God chose him.

But "Why didn't God just order Moses to circumcise his son?"

In the dialogue between God and Moses, I don't see God requested Moses to do the mission with his family, God only chose his brother, Aaron to go with him. It was likely Moses did it in his own thinking, and not realize the significance of circumcision as to God, that God taught him a lesson.

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Why did God react so differently concerning the lack of circumcision in Exodus 4:24-26 and Joshua 5:2? God wanted to kill Moses for not circumcising his son in Exodus 4:

24 At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. 25But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

Why didn't God just order Moses to circumcise his son?

Moses knew the statute and should have followed it already. God told Abraham in Genesis 17:

10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

Now, on the other hand, Joshua 5:

2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.

How to explain the difference in God's reactions to non-circumcision in this case?

It wasn't their fault. It was their fathers' fault and they died already.

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This account is a prophetic drama - a prophecy that has a similar fulfillment in our time (type/antitype).

Moses was on his way to deliver God's people from a tyrannical world empire. But there was a problem. He was violating the covenant by failing to circumcise his son.

In this scene Zipporah is acting as the bride, and the bridegroom is the angel of Jehovah (the Christ). The blood is the blood shed by Christ on behalf of his anointed ones, hence Zipporah says the expression "you are a bridegroom of blood to me" (because of the circumcision). Circumcision is baptism through water (and spirit) for anointed Christians.

So we have four key components here:

  1. A bridegroom (Christ)
  2. A bride (the 144,000 anointed)
  3. Blood (shed by Christ)
  4. Circumcision (baptism)

What Zipporah was prophesying under divine inspiration is "now the bridegroom can marry the bride because of the baptism and the blood of Christ."

How so?

Well, you see, there will be a modern-day antitype of Moses who will deliver God's people from a tyrannical world government (the upcoming United Nations "wild beast"). He will act as the "two" witnesses (Moses and Elijah) for a period of 42 months when God's "woman" flees into the wilderness (Rev. 11:2,3; 12:6; 13:5). This "prophet like Moses" is also seen conversing with Christ during the transfiguration (Acts 3:21-24). This means that Christ cannot be the prophet like Moses (unless there are two such prophets).

But just as with Moses and the issue of circumcision, there is a problem. A serious problem. This man is not baptized with water, only holy spirit. He is not "circumcised." Since no one can enter the (heavenly) Kingdom of God without being baptized with both water and spirit, Jehovah is currently seeking to "kill" this final prophet who is destined to deliver his people (John 3:5; Rev. 15:3).

There can be no marriage of the Lamb (bridegroom) to his bride (the 144,000 anointed) and the shed blood of Christ in behalf of the "little flock" is invalid until this "circumcision" takes place. There will be 144,000 co-rulers with Christ, not 143,999.

"You are a bridegroom of blood to me" (because of the circumcision).

"The bridegroom who shed his blood for us can marry the bride" (because of the baptism).

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