Exodus 4:24
And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.
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(24) In the inn.—There would not be any “inn,” as we understand the word, in the Sinaitic peninsula. Probably there would not even be a caravanserai. Nothing more is meant by mâlon than a recognised resting-place.

The Lord met him.—The LXX. have ἄγγελος κυρίου, “an angel of the Lord; “and so the Targum of Onkelos and the Arabic versions. But the existing Hebrew text is probably correct. God met Moses, i.e., visited him with a sharp attack of illness, which threatened to be fatal. Both he and his wife seem at once to have concluded that the visitation was a punishment, on account of their having neglected to circumcise their new-born son. Perhaps Moses had an intimation from God to that effect.

Exodus 4:24. By the way in the inn — Here our translation uses the modern word inn: but the original signifies only the place where they rested that night, which was probably in some cave, or under some shade of trees. The Lord met him — The Septuagint says, The angel of the Lord, with which agree the Chaldee and some other ancient versions: and sought to kill him — He appeared in a threatening posture, probably with a sword drawn in his hand, or inflicted upon him some disease which threatened him with death. This was a great change: very lately God was conversing with him as a friend, and is now coming forth against him as an enemy. The cause seems to have been Moses’s neglecting to circumcise his son; which, perhaps, was the effect of his being unequally yoked with a Midianite, who was too indulgent of her child, and Moses so of her. Now God was offended with him for this neglect of duty, not only because Moses knew that no child could be admitted a member of the Israelitish community without circumcision, nor be entitled to the blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham’s seed, but also, because Moses’s example was of great consequence; for who would have regarded the law if the lawgiver himself had neglected it? As Moses was raised up for an extraordinary service, it was peculiarly proper that he should set an example of exact obedience in his own conduct. Hence he was thus sharply rebuked.

4:24-31 God met Moses in anger. The Lord threatened him with death or sent sickness upon him, as the punishment of his having neglected to circumcise his son. When God discovers to us what is amiss in our lives, we must give all diligence to amend it speedily. This is the voice of every rod; it calls us to return to Him that smites us. God sent Aaron to meet Moses. The more they saw of God's bringing them together, the more pleasant their interview was. The elders of Israel met them in faith, and were ready to obey them. It often happens, that less difficulty is found than was expected, in such undertakings as are according to the will of God, and for his glory. Let us but arise and try at our proper work, the Lord will be with us and prosper us. If Israel welcomed the tidings of their deliverance, and worshipped the Lord, how should we welcome the glad tidings of redemption, embrace it in faith, and adore the Redeemer!In the inn - Or "resting place." See Genesis 42:27 note.

Met him, and sought to kill him - Moses was attacked by a sudden and dangerous illness, which he knew was inflicted by God. The word "sought to kill" implies that the sickness, whatever might be its nature, was one which threatened death had it not been averted by a timely act. Zipporah believed that the illness of Moses was due to his having neglected the duty of an Israelite, and to his not having circumcised his own son; the delay was probably owing to her own not unnatural repugnance to a rite, which though practiced by the Egyptians, was not adopted generally in the East, even by the descendants of Abraham and Keturah. Moses appears to have been utterly prostrate and unable to perform the rite himself.

24. inn—Hebrew, "a halting place for the night."

the Lord met him, and sought to kill him—that is, he was either overwhelmed with mental distress or overtaken by a sudden and dangerous malady. The narrative is obscure, but the meaning seems to be, that, led during his illness to a strict self-examination, he was deeply pained and grieved at the thought of having, to please his wife, postponed or neglected the circumcision of one of his sons, probably the younger. To dishonor that sign and seal of the covenant was criminal in any Hebrew, peculiarly so in one destined to be the leader and deliverer of the Hebrews; and he seems to have felt his sickness as a merited chastisement for his sinful omission. Concerned for her husband's safety, Zipporah overcomes her maternal feelings of aversion to the painful rite, performs herself, by means of one of the sharp flints with which that part of the desert abounds, an operation which her husband, on whom the duty devolved, was unable to do, and having brought the bloody evidence, exclaimed in the painful excitement of her feelings that from love to him she had risked the life of her child [Calvin, Bullinger, Rosenmuller].

Met him, i.e. appeared to him in some visible shape,

and sought to kill him. Whom? Moses, spoken of and to before. He offered and endeavoured to kill him, either by inflicting some sudden and dangerous disease or stroke upon him, or by showing himself in some threatening posture, possibly as the angel did to Balaam, and afterwards to David, with a drawn sword in his hand, ready to give him a deadly blow. The reason of this severity was not Moses’s distrust of God, or delay in his journey, nor the bringing of his wife and children along with him, (which it was convenient for him to carry with him, both that his father might not think he intended to desert them, and for the greater assurance and encouragement of the Israelites, when they saw that he exposed his dearest relations to the same hazards with them all,) but the neglect of circumcising his child, which also the Lord some way or other signified to Moses and Zipporah, as plainly appears,

1. From Zipporah’s following fact upon that occasion.

2. From the Lord’s dismission of Moses upon the circumcision of the child.

3. From the threatening of death, or cutting off, for this sin, Genesis 17:14, which, because there was now no magistrate to do it, God himself offers to execute it, as he sometimes saith he would do that in case. And this was a greater Sin in Moses than in another man, and at this time than it had been before, because he understood the will and law of God about it better than any man, and God had lately minded him of that covenant of his with Abraham, &c., whereof circumcision was a seal; the blessings and benefits of which covenant Moses was now going to procure for himself and for his people, whilst he remained under the guilt of grossly neglecting the condition of it. Besides, what could be more absurd than that he should come to be a lawgiver, who lived in a manifest violation of God’s law? or that he should be the chief ruler and instructer of the Israelites, whose duty it was to acquaint them with their duty of circumcising their children, and, as far as he could, to punish the wilful neglect of it, and yet at the same time be guilty of the same sin? or that he should undertake to govern the church of God, that could not well rule his own house? 1 Timothy 3:5. And this was not only a great sin in itself, but a great scandal to the Israelites, who might by this great example easily be led into the same miscarriage; and moreover might not without colour of probability suspect the call of such a person, and conclude that God would not honour that man who should continue in such a visible contempt of his law. And therefore it is no wonder that God was so angry at Moses for this sin.

Quest. How came Moses to neglect this evident duty?

Answ. From Zipporah’s averseness to and dread of that painful and, as she thought, dangerous ordinance of God, which she herself evidently discovers in this place; and the rather because of the experience which she had of it in her eldest son. And as she seems to have been a woman of an eager and passionate temper, so Moses was eminently meek and pliable, and in this matter too indulgent to his wife, especially in her father’s house, and therefore he put it off till a more convenient season, when he might either persuade or overrule her therein; which was a great fault, for God had obliged all the children of Abraham not only to the thing, but to the time also, to do it upon the eighth day, which season Moses had grossly, and for some considerable time, slipped, and so had preferred the pleasing of his wife before his obedience to God.

And it came to pass by the way, in the inn,.... As Moses and his family were travelling in their way to Egypt, at an inn where they stopped for the refreshment of themselves and cattle, or in order to lodge all night: so it was, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him; not the uncircumcised son of Moses, as some think, but Moses himself, who had neglected the circumcision of his son; that from the context, and the fact of Zipporah, after related, seems to be the reason of the divine displeasure, and not his bringing his family with him, supposed to be an hinderance of him in his work, nor of his staying too long at the inn, and not hastening his journey, which are the reasons given by some: and Moses's neglect of circumcision was not owing to the disuse of it among the Midianites, who being the descendants of Abraham, it is highly probable they retained this rite, and that it was used in Jethro's family, since Zipporah well understood the nature of it, and how to perform it; and it looks as if her eldest son had been circumcised before, seeing only one was now circumcised by her; but the Midianites perhaps followed the same practice as the Ishmaelites did, who were their neighbours, and the descendants of Abraham also, who deferred it till their children were thirteen years of age; or if this child was a very young one, it might have been put off, because of the journey they were just about to take, and purposing to do it when come into Egypt; but this was resented by the Lord in Moses, who had such knowledge of the law of God; and this displeasure of Jehovah might be signified either by inflicting some disease upon him, as Aben Ezra and Kimchi think, which threatened him with death, or by appearing in a terrible manner, as the angel of the Lord did to Balaam, with a drawn sword in his hand. And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and {l} sought to kill him.

(l) God punished him with sickness for neglecting his ordinances.

24. sought to kill him] ‘A primitive anthropomorphic way of saying that Moses fell dangerously ill’ (McNeile). The reason is commonly supposed to have been his neglect to circumcise his child (Genesis 17) But, as Di. remarks, ‘there is nothing in the narrative to suggest this; and an acquaintance with the command of Genesis 17 is as little pre-supposed by it as by Joshua 5:9’ (see further below, p. 33).

24–26. Continuation of v. 20a. On the journey to Egypt, Moses falls dangerously ill; but his wife, Zipporah, divining the cause, saves his life by circumcising his son, and casting his foreskin at Moses’ feet (thereby treating it symbolically as Moses’ foreskin). A remarkable, and evidently antique narrative, noticeable also on account of the strongly anthropomorphic representation of Yahweh (‘met him,’ and ‘sought to kill him’: cf. Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 3:24, Genesis 7:16, Genesis 11:5; Genesis 11:7 : see the writer’s Book of Genesis, pp. xx f., 35 f.).

Verses 24-26. - The transition is abrupt from the promise of triumph over Pharaoh to the threat of instant death. But we must bear in mind that some days may have elapsed between the two, and that the sin which provoked the menace was probably not committed at the date of the promise. The narrative of verses 24-26 is obscure from its brevity; but the most probable explanation of the circumstances is, that Zipporah had been delivered of her second son, Eliezer, some few days before she set out on the journey to Egypt. Childbirth, it must be remembered, in the East does not incapacitate a person from exertion for more than a day or two. On the journey, the eighth day from the birth of the child arrived, and his circumcision ought to have taken place; but Zipporah had a repugnance to the rite, and deferred it, Moses weakly consenting to the illegality. At the close of the eighth day, when Moses went to rest for the night, he was seized with a sudden and dangerous illness, which he regarded, and rightly regarded, as a God-inflicted punishment, sent to chastise his sin in breaking the Divine command (Genesis 17:10-12). Zipporah understood the matter in the same way; and, as her husband was too ill to perform the rite, she herself with her own hand cut off her boy's foreskin, and, still indignant at what she had been forced to do, cast it at her husband's feet, with the reproach - "Surely a bloody husband art thou to me." The rite once performed, however reluctantly, God remitted his anger, and. allowed Moses to recover his health, and pursue his journey. Verse 24. - It came to pass by the way in the inn. "Inns," in our sense of the word, were unknown in the East for many ages after the time of Moses, and are still of very rare occurrence. Khans or caravanserais take their place. These are unfurnished buildings, open to all travellers, who thus obtain shelter gratis? but must provide themselves with food, bedding, and all other necessaries. It is questioned, however, if even such a place as this is here meant. Probably, the malon of Moses' time was a mere recognised halting-place, in the vicinity of a well, at which travellers were accustomed to pass the night. The Lord met him and sought to kill him. A sudden seizure, followed by a dangerous illness, is generally thought to he intended (Knobel, Kalisch, Rosenmuller, Canon Cook); but the words seem more appropriate to a miraculous appearance, like that of the angel to Balaam (Numbers 22:31). Still, it is quite possible that nothing more than an illness is meant. Exodus 4:24But if Moses was to carry out the divine commission with success, he must first of all prove himself to be a faithful servant of Jehovah in his own house. This he was to learn from the occurrence at the inn: an occurrence which has many obscurities on account of the brevity of the narrative, and has received many different interpretations. When Moses was on the way, Jehovah met him at the resting-place (מלון, see Genesis 42:27), and sought to kill him. In what manner, is not stated: whether by a sudden seizure with some fatal disease, or, what is more probable, by some act proceeding directly from Himself, which threatened Moses with death. This hostile attitude on the part of God was occasioned by his neglect to circumcise his son; for, as soon as Zipporah cut off (circumcised) the foreskin of her son with a stone, Jehovah let him go. צור equals צוּר, a rock, or stone, here a stone knife, with which, according to hereditary custom, the circumcision commanded by Joshua was also performed; not, however, because "stone knives were regarded as less dangerous than those of metal," nor because "for symbolical reasons preference was given to them, as a simple production of nature, over the metal knives that had been prepared by human hands and were applied to daily use." For if the Jews had detected any religious or symbolical meaning in stone, they would never have given it up for iron or steel, but would have retained it, like the Ethiopian tribe of the Alnaii, who used stone knives for that purpose as late as 150 years ago; whereas, in the Talmud, the use of iron or steel knives for the purpose of circumcision is spoken of, as though they were universally employed. Stone knives belong to a time anterior to the manufacture of iron or steel; and wherever they were employed at a later period, this arose from a devoted adherence to the older and simpler custom (see my Commentary on Joshua 5:2). From the word "her son," it is evident that Zipporah only circumcised one of the two sons of Moses (Exodus 4:20); so that the other, not doubt the elder, had already been circumcised in accordance with the law. Circumcision had been enjoined upon Abraham by Jehovah as a covenant sign for all his descendants; and the sentence of death was pronounced upon any neglect of it, as being a breach of the covenant (Genesis 17:14). Although in this passage it is the uncircumcised themselves who are threatened with death, yet in the case of children the punishment fell upon the parents, and first of all upon the father, who had neglected to keep the commandment of God. Now, though Moses had probably omitted circumcision simply from regard to his Midianitish wife, who disliked this operation, he had been guilty of a capital crime, which God could not pass over in the case of one whom He had chosen to be His messenger, to establish His covenant with Israel. Hence He threatened him with death, to bring him to a consciousness of his sin, either by the voice of conscience or by some word which accompanied His attack upon Moses; and also to show him with what earnestness God demanded the keeping of His commandments. Still He did not kill him; for his sin had sprung from weakness of the flesh, from a sinful yielding to his wife, which could both be explained and excused on account of his position in the Midianite's house. That Zipporah's dislike to circumcision had been the cause of the omission, has been justly inferred by commentators from the fact, that on Jehovah's attack upon Moses, she proceeded at once to perform what had been neglected, and, as it seems, with inward repugnance. The expression, "She threw (the foreskin of her son) at his (Moses') feet," points to this (ל הגּיע, as in Isaiah 25:12). The suffix in רגליו (his feet) cannot refer to the son, not only because such an allusion would give no reasonable sense, but also because the suffix refers to Moses in the immediate context, both before (in המיתו, Exodus 4:24) and after (in ממּנּוּ, Exodus 4:26); and therefore it is simpler to refer it to Moses here. From this it follows, then, that the words, "a blood-bridegroom art thou to me," were addressed to Moses, and not to the boy. Zipporah calls Moses a blood-bridegroom, "because she had been compelled, as it were, to acquire and purchase him anew as a husband by shedding the blood of her son" (Glass). "Moses had been as good as taken from her by the deadly attack which had been made upon him. She purchased his life by the blood of her son; she received him back, as it were, from the dead, and married him anew; he was, in fact, a bridegroom of blood to her" (Kurtz). This she said, as the historian adds, after God had let Moses, go, למּוּלות, "with reference to the circumcisions." The plural is used quite generally and indefinitely, as Zipporah referred not merely to this one instance, but to circumcision generally. Moses was apparently induced by what had occurred to decide not to take his wife and children with him to Egypt, but to send them back to his father-in-law. We may infer this from the fact, that it was not till after Israel had arrived at Sinai that he brought them to him again (Exodus 18:2).
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