Moses and God

By Genelle Austin-Lett

Categories: Men in the Bible, Moses, Old Testament


Why would God want to kill Moses just after he asked him to go to Egypt? In the NRSV translation - it reads "On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met him and tried to kill him." What was that all about?


There are many interpretations of what transpired that night. Some accounts speak of Yahweh (God) as a devastating power unable to accept less than His will. Others suggest it was part of a legend. Here are a few attempts to clarify a pretty murky set of events.

Matthew Henry's Commentary reports: "This is a very difficult passage."

  1. "The sin of Moses, which was neglecting to circumcise his son. This was probably the effect of his being unequally yoked with a Midianite, who was too indulgent of her child."
  2. "God's displeasure against him. Omissions are sins. God takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the sins of his own people. If they neglect their duty, let them expect to hear of it by their consciences, and perhaps to feel from it by cross providences."
  3. "The speedy performance of the duty for the neglect of which God had now a controversy with him. His son must be circumcised; Moses is unable to circumcise him; therefore, in this case of necessity, Zipporah does it."
  4. "The release of Moses thereupon: So he let him go; and all was well; only Zipporah cannot forget the fright she was in, and, upon this occasion (it is probable), he sent them back to his father-in-law."1

The Cambridge Companion to the Bible offers the following explanation: "The first is that God's anger is directed against the halfhearted way that Moses has accepted his task. It is a foreign woman, Moses' Midianite wife, who has the faith that Moses will win through and the foresight to act to defend Moses. The second point is that Moses' symbolic circumcision resolved the ambiguity of his identity. He is now a circumcised Hebrew, not an Egyptian liable to be killed in the future as a firstborn son."2

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