"Over against all that reason suggests or would measure and fathom, yes, all that our senses feel and perceive, we must learn to cling to the Word and simply judge according to it."

- Martin Luther

A Brief Study:

 What Does This Mean?

 by: Stephen C. Lomax

The Circumcision” (c.1799-1800)

-- tempera on canvas by --

William Blake (1757-1827), English

Exodus 4:24-26 ~ circumcision of the son



II. Addendum

The internet provides at one’s fingertips potentially the largest library in the world -- a contemporary Alexandria, if you like. The undifferentiated mass of data that comes before one (no respecter of person, logic or organization) is the accumulation of responses to “search” criteria entered. A search on the passage Exodus 4:24-26 returned 177,000 location hits. A second search using more restrictive “advanced” methods returned a mere 1,020 locations. A great amount of time would be necessary to thoroughly vet each one. Happily, most sites are of dubious value and not worth pursuing.

Of the sites that offered commentary on this difficult passage, a few were selected that at first glance seemed to promise insight, if in a few cases merely antithetically.

We were disappointed to find that the suggestively more orthodox web pages in the final analysis were less than enlightening. And those that avowedly challenged the Bible head-on and its trust-worthiness, were uniformly silly or shallow. Through footnoting, we have displayed “hyper-links” to all the web-based internet sites reviewed that the reader may conduct follow-up independently and form his own opinion -- if he wishes.


First, we happened upon “The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.”1 This looked interesting as a resource for serious Bible de-bunking. Instead of finding doubt and credulity teamed up to dismantle the Bible by compelling reasoning, the site instead projects smugness, sanctimoniousness, flippancy, hostility, prepossession, and mechanistic certitude. It is blindness paraded about as objectivity. Applying collegiate PC speech-codes to Bible passages, it has breezily indicted most Scripture under a variety of fashionable (15 or so) categorical execrations. The passage in view (Exodus 4:24-26) exhibits five (5) such onerous characteristics: absurdity; injustice; cruelty and violence; and, intolerance. This site is a repository of cliché, stereotype, and caricature, stock-in-trade tools of the PC-police. No serious attempt is made to really understand or “mine” the passage, conduct a word study, or compare with other Scripture. The passage is peremptorily dismissed as an illustration of a homicidal deity inexplicably on the warpath. The ostensible purpose of this site is to discover all alleged contradictions, discrepancies, and inconsistencies in the Bible. This is meant to be a place the atheist might repair for respite and rearming; of the first, it is mighty thin stuff; of the latter, only if he were shooting blanks in a mock-war exercise; in other words, not if his life depended on it. One seeking free-thinking “scholarship” is ill-advised to stop here. One wishes to be kind and say that everything is at least well-reasoned, but politeness is a poor substitute for truth. The website guru ought to exit campus occasionally for some fresh air.

Reason alone cannot understand Scripture (Rom. 12:2). Defective reasoning, as in this instance, only worsens the outcome. The Bible is sealed shut, its life-giving words mere dead letters to the rationalist (the gift of the Holy Spirit: Job 32:8; Matt. 28:19; Mk. 13:11; I Cor. 12:3; II Cor. 1:22; I Jn. 2:20; I Jn. 5:6, 20; without the Holy Spirit: Ps. 51:11-12; Matt. 15:14).

The following from C.F.W. Walther goes a long way in explaining the irremediable blindness of the “skeptic”:

Comparing Holy Scripture with other writings, we observe that no book is apparently so full of contradictions as the Bible, and that, not only in minor points, but in the principal matter, in the doctrine how we may come to God and be saved. In one place the Bible offers forgiveness to all sinners; in another place forgiveness of sins is withheld from all sinners. In one passage a free offer of life everlasting is made to all men; in another, men are directed to do something themselves toward being saved. This riddle is solved when we reflect that there are in the Scriptures two entirely different doctrines, the doctrine of the Law and the doctrine of the Gospel.2

This site has parallel ones similarly deprecatory of the Book of Mormon and the Koran. Apparently nothing except the web-designer’s puerile exegesis is well regarded.


At another website3, promulgating Rabbinical thought, we find a wholly different perspective. The validity of its exegesis rests in part upon the presumption that the 20th century “historical-critical” Scripture-interpretation method and certain literary conventions are correct. If they are rejected, the following statements appear senseless drivel.

This story [Gen. 4:24-26], is one of those times in which she purposely employs this technique. The ensuing much conjecturizing is evidence that the “great lady,” Gevurah, J,4 has succeeded in compelling the reader to examine preconceived notions. For him [Avi Erlich], this passage is a delving into the psyche of Moses. It is a description of his bad dream, his nightmare told in hallucinatory language. … Perhaps these are the nightmarish images fabricated by a terrified servant in the middle of the wilderness, in the middle of the night. … do we have a tricky, nuanced, sophistically subtle, non-religious comic, supreme ironist, the most elliptical of all biblical authors, here daring to intimate an extra-ordinary wayward, and uncanny literary character.”5

Equip a Freudian with the rudiments of “historical-critical” interpretative tools, and this is what you get: analytical psychology applied to Scripture; mind-bending fear-symbols dribbled over the presumed clever ramblings of a feminine metaphor-alias, the alleged author of Exodus, “J.” This is an example of grasping for any mental gymnastic that serves to discard the plain sense of language. It is as true today as in the time of Jesus Christ, God’s Word is foolishness and a block of stumbling (I Cor. 1:23) to those who are perishing.


Another site6 takes a more candid look at the passage. Much of the discussion is interesting, it attempts to reveal Zipporah’s state-of-mind and the mainspring of her actions, though its speculations are offered without warning and opinions are left in place as though they are well-reasoned conclusions. Also this website, as we shall see, is subtly “loaded” in the very beginning and thereby craftily it undermines Scripture.

What do these verses [Exodus 4:24-26] say and mean? … A Biblical conundrum …7

The author’s calling the passage “a Biblical conundrum” even before the study begins introduces a foreign note to it. Conundrum in this context means Biblical “mean conceit” or “low jest,” (definitions in Webster) and a state for which no universally acceptable answer is available. His choice of words -- conundrum -- suggests that, whatever the text actually says, it may mean many different things. The reader may choose that which makes most sense to himself, a notion the text (and context) will not bear.

We believe, based on Scripture, that the Bible has only one meaning: for if Scripture meaning is generally unclear, only subjectively true or contingent, how may St. Paul so confidently list its uses (II Tim. 3:16-17)? You cannot make your rule of something itself undefined. We further believe that difficult passages can be understood by clear ones (analogy of faith: Rom. 12:68); that conflict either with itself or with another Scripture verse or passage is impossible; that multiple, elastic or evolving meaning is non sequitor. In addition, meaning conditioned by environment, circumstance, or subjective criteria matters not at all, for they too are subject to the Bible (Jam. 1:7) and not it to them.

The Bible improperly used, in this case adding to it (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19), recently has been done to huge commercial success by Bruce Wilkinson in his The Prayer of Jabez. From an obscure parenthesis in the OT (1st Chron. 4:9-10) -- which by no stretch teaches that which he has claimed -- he has wrought a widely read, immensely influential devotion on the predictable (considering his milieu) theme of temporal health, wealth and prosperity to which the Christian has as it were a “Constitutional right!” His notion, in fact, stands in direct contradiction to most church history.


At still another site9, a slightly different approach is used. The author asks “what the heck is going on in Exodus 4:24-26” and suggests that for certain it will never be seen in Disney’s Prince of Egypt.

1. “Who was the Lord trying to kill?… Moses. [The word rendered] “sought” … indicates no sudden attack in the night reminiscent of Midianite demon-tales. … If anything, the ‘sought’ indicates that the means was by some slow, lingering method like an illness that gave plenty of warning.…that phrase about the ‘bridegroom of the blood’ … brings forth … two speculations rooted in the social context:

a. phrase of marital relationship, recalling circumcision as a pre-marital rite … circumcision was normally ‘pre-marital’ where Zipporah came from, but [were it so], it’s the sort thing she would be saying anyway;

b. a statement that the child is circumcised and therefore, by virtue of that circumcision, protected. … this interpretation also understands ‘husband’ (chathan) as being related to a cognate word that signifies ‘protection.’”10

The Hebrew language word exegesis is interesting. Withal, an odd liberty with the text as a whole colors the author’s exegesis (Is. 66:2). Also, the author tends to assiduously chop at a “tree” (word) here or there, while ignoring the “forest” (context) that surrounds it and spreads in every direction. The study ends with the caution “any time something in any ancient document seems odd to us, the deficiency is more likely in our understanding than it is that the writer is out of their heads.”11 For an “apologetics ministry forum,” something stronger than this might be expected. Standing up for the absolute divine authority of God’s revealed Word at precisely this moment might convict the curious, strengthen the weak or wavering, and edify the faithful. A caution to the reader, “The divine authority which is taken away from Scripture is actually awarded to the Ego of the theologian.”12 After all, the Bible isn’t just any ancient book.


Still another author, a pastor13 in a sermon (“Not Cheap” - as in grace) on this passage, comes away from it with a quite different view. We shall examine the part of the sermon relevant to our study.

The pronouns in these sentences have no clear antecedents. … Maybe the one who is nearly killed is Moses’ son, Gershom14, and so maybe its Gershom’s feet, not Moses’ own, that gets swiped with the foreskin. … I think it’s clear the NIV goofed. … Why? Because this entire section of Exodus 4 is about the theme of the first-born son. Indeed, the verb used in v.25 when Zipporah [she was the daughter of a Midianite pagan] swipes Gershom’s feet with blood is the exact same word that will be used in Exodus 12 when the people swipe their doorposts with the blood of the lamb.”15

Earnestness and hortatory zeal ornament the sermon. Still, we are not as convinced as this pastor that Moses isn’t meant in v.24, nor that the “NIV goofed.” Identifying Gershom as the object of God’s imminent punishment is highly debatable. In fact, the interpolation fails: it seems the pastor’s fixation is embraced by his desire to link Pharaoh’s “first born” firmly to the passage, thus rendering the parallel or “type” illustration he is expounding in the sermon, plausible. The essential point of the passage is lost sight of in the many contortions his singular exegesis requires.


2 Walther, C.F.W.; The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel: Thirty-Nine Evening Lectures: Concordia Publishing House, 1929, 426 pgs., p.6 … [trans., W.H.T. Dau]

4 from the “source hypothesis” theory, hobby-horse of the “historical-critical” school -- the Pentateuch was not authored by Moses but by four anonymous sources, J-E-D-P: if true, Jesus Christ was grossly misinformed or ignorant: Mk. 12:26; Lk. 24:42; Jn. 7:19, 23

5 Ibid: ibiblio

7 Ibid: anthrakia

8 Lueker, Erwin L.; Concordia Bible Dictionary: Concordia Publishing House, 1963, p.10 … “Harmony of Scripture teachings. Hence rule that interpretation of each passage should harmonize with the sum total of Scripture teaching.”

9 http://www.tektonics.org/print.php4 ... (apologetics ministry)

10 Ibid: tektonics

11 Ibid: tectonics

12 Pieper D.D., Francis; Christian Dogmatics: Vol. I: Nature and Character of Theology: CPH, 1950, p.63

13 http://www.calvincrc.org/sermons/2003/exodus4.html (Calvin Christian Reformed Church, Pr. Scott Hoezee)

14the elder son of Moses and Zipporah who was born in Midian (Ex. 2:22; 18:3) and became father of Jonathan, the priest to the Danites (Judges 18:30)” … ed., Green, Sr., Jay P.; The Classic Bible Dictionary: Sovereign Grace Trust Fund, 1988, 1114 pgs., (Gershom, p.456)

15 Ibid: calvincrc