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?

  • 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
    Aug 22 '20 at 20:42

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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