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Circumcision of Gershom

The Bible passage in Exodus 4:24-26 is a difficult passage to understand, even for Bible scholars. The Circumcision of Gershom, Moses's son, is a quick glimpse into the different cultures of the region, including Israel, Egypt, and Midian. As I'm sure you remember, Moses fled Egypt when it was discovered he was a Jew. He fled to Midian, which is across the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. The Sinai is a harsh desert, especially for a man alone, but Moses made the crossing. Once there, he met his wife Zipporah, and they had the first of two sons. Then, God called upon Moses to go to Egypt and retrieve the people of Israel. That's where this historical narrative begins – on the road to Egypt, Zipporah performs the circumcision of Gershom. Gershom means "a sojourner there." He was born just a few days before God sent Moses back to Egypt with his family. The infant Gershom was to be a sojourner in Egypt.

The Biblical Occurrence of the Circumcision of Gershom

Exodus 4:24-26 KJV

"24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him.

25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.

26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision."

Circumcision of Gershom

This passage is strange. Moses and his family enter an inn. Then, the Lord (Adonai) sought to kill Moses. So, Zipporah quickly sprang into action, apparently knowing exactly what needed to be done. She took a flint knife and circumcised Gershom. Then she "cast it at his feet," but who's feet? According to scholars, it is usually agreed that it was Moses' feet. But feet, during that time and in that region, could also be used as a euphemism for genitals. So, she either tossed the foreskin at Moses' genitals or touched them to his genitals. Other scholars believe it was Gersom's genitals that were touched as part of the Midianite ritual of circumcision. We can't know because we don't have information about Midianite circumcision rituals.

Types of Circumcisions in that Region

In the Egyptian circumcision, only a small portion of the foreskin was removed. It was used for various reasons, including identifying royalty, a right of passage for young men before getting married, and a complete circumcision used as a punitive procedure for prisoners of War.

Some scholars believe the Midianite procedure also removed only a small portion of the foreskin. They think it was done before marriage with a healing period before the wedding ceremony. But this is speculation gleaned from Zipporah's words after the circumcision. She said, "A bloody husband thou art" because of the Israelite form of circumcision. 

The Israelite circumcision removed the foreskin almost to the tip of the penis. It was performed on all Israelite children when they were eight days old. Modern medical studies, trying to determine the best time to perform a circumcision, came to the same conclusion as God. The 8th day of life is the optimal time to circumcise to decrease the occurrence of infection and decrease healing time. God is always right when he mentions anything scientific within the Bible – always!

Zipporah and the Circumcision of Gershom

The scholars are not in universal agreement but agree for the most part. Moses and his family were at the inn when Adoni afflicted Moses. We know Moses would have died without the swift action of Zipporah. It is speculated that Moses was circumcised in the fashion of Egyptian royalty. One author said Gershom was probably eight days old when they entered the inn. Zipporah wanted to obey the Midianite custom of circumcision and convinced Moses to delay the procedure. This failure to circumcise angered God. God had a covenant with all the descendants of Abraham. That covenant required all 8-day-old infant boys to be circumcised. Moses was disobeying God, so God "sought to kill him." Perhaps Moses and Zipporah discussed the circumcision that very day, and she convinced Moses to defy God. We don't know.

What do we know? Zipporah appeared to know exactly what to do to save her husband from God's wrath. She whipped out a sharp flint knife. As a sidebar, flint knives can be several times sharper than steel knives. So, it was a sharp knife. She cut off Gershom's foreskin and tossed it or touched it to the genitals of either Gershom or, more likely, Moses. Some speculate the circumcision of Gershom and the touching of the foreskin to Moses' genitals was a symbolic circumcision of Moses because of his Egyptian circumcision. However, it could have been a simple requirement of the Midianite ceremony. Either way, Zipporah's quick and obedient actions to God's covenant requirement saved Moses. Without the Circumcision of Gershom, the people of Israel might still be enslaved in Egypt because Moses would have been dead and unable to free them. God would almost certainly have sent another to save the Israelites, but we can't know that as truth.

Life Lessons from the Circumcision of Gershom

First and foremost, you must obey God. If you don't, God may unleash His wrath on you, as He did with Moses. If God has a plan for you and you decide to do things your way instead of God's way, you will be chastised. Any good father would do the same with his children. Unfortunately, Moses' infraction was egregious because of the Abrahamic covenant. So, Moses received an almost deadly punishment.

Second, if you know you have sinned, be swift to correct yourself. Zipporah acted swiftly to correct the sin of failing to circumcise Gershom. In so doing, she saved her husband and kept God's Abrahamic covenant with the people of Israel. Doing things God's way instead of our own way should be the goal of every Christian.

The Circumcision of Gershom is a fascinating bit of history. Even obscure bits of history can teach us valuable life lessons that make us better people and better Christians. I hope this lesson blessed you!




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