There have been some Bible passages which have struck me as laughably bizarre. In the way that truth is often stranger than fiction, these type of passages seem to provide circumstantial evidence of the Bible being an accurate record. Yet, these passages have left me hoping that they can not possibly be true because of the strange implications which could be gleaned from them. This study involves one such passage.
God (in burning bush form) has finished convincing the reluctant Moses to travel back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh, which will ultimately lead to the liberation of the Israelites from their slavery. Moses, with his family and belongings, has just left his father-in-law's estate. God has just partially revealed how He Plans on flaunting His power against Pharaoh.
Foreskin for Death
In Genesis 17:1-16, God gives Abraham the Covenant of Circumcision, as well as a new name. It is to be an “everlasting covenant” passed down from generation to generation (so I guess there will be circumcision in Heaven or on the New Earth!). It's a very strange Covenant, in that God would so “perfectly” design the human body only to have part of it ritually lopped off at His command. Children are to be circumcised at the age of eight days, long before they can decide for themselves if they would like to enter this Covenant. Summing up the importance of the circumcision, God says in Genesis 17:14 that “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken My Covenant.” But simply being cut off from your people would not be the only consequence for not getting circumcised, as revealed in Exodus 4:24-26:
At a lodging place on the way [back to Egypt], the LORD met [Moses] and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched [Moses's] feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.) NIV(Note: Where you see Moses in the brackets in this passage, the Hebrew text had simply used pronouns, such as “him”. So this could be referring to either Moses or Moses's son. However, the most commonly accepted interpretation is that it is referring to Moses, so that's how I will study it.)
This is about as bizarre as bizarre gets!
First, note that there is no mention of “an angel of God” or a burning bush, or anything to make you believe that it is not God in person, just like when God wrestled Jacob/Israel. God incarnate confronted Moses.
Next, we see that God is about to kill Moses. There is no dialog recorded between God and Moses at this moment. Nor is there even an expression of the reason for God's homicidal intent. Zipporah somehow knows what to do to calm God's rage, so she accordingly butchers her son's penis. Perhaps, then, we can implicitly guess that God had stood before Moses and said something like “Because you have not circumcised your son, I will kill you!”
Now, this was Zipporah's firstborn son, so she probably had not performed many circumcisions before then. I can just image the kind of hasty slicing and dicing she did, while God was watching over her back, to prevent the Almighty from slaying her husband. Talk about a high pressure situation!
Getting back to God, it's important to remember that God is supposed to be omniscient here. So God would have known that Moses's son the entire time that He was having the lengthy dialog with Moses about confronting Pharaoh. You would think that He would have said something like “and by the way Moses, you need to circumcise your boy before you leave to go to Egypt”, but there is nothing to that affect recorded or even hinted at. One can only conclude that God had Planned to have this dramatic foreskin showdown with Moses.
However, it is clear that God was ready and willing to kill Moses. If He had done that, then His Plans for liberating the Israelites would have had to change. But God already knows the future before it happens, because He Planned everything from the beginning. So God Planned on Moses not having had circumcised his son, and He Planned on having to threaten Moses to force the circumcision. But then, it would be inaccurate to say that God “was about to kill him” because it was all going according to Plan, and to kill him would have changed that Plan! It's really dizzying logic to puzzle through, and it's a fairly good case for this being a work of fiction as opposed to recorded fact.
On a final note, nowhere in the Bible up to this point does it claim that not circumcising your child is grounds for death. God seems to just be making up His own rules as He goes along. Or perhaps God has made all the rules, but just isn't willing to divulge them until some unlucky person becomes the target of His wrath for transgressing each of those hidden rules, just like we saw with Er and Onan. This is God's sense of justice.