Why did God Threaten Moses?

Why did God threaten to Kill Moses on the way to Egypt?

circumcision 13

God often takes extreme measures to get His point across and ensure His plans get implemented.  God convinced Moses, that if he disobeyed a command given to his grandfather Abraham seven generations earlier, He would kill him. The grievance God had against Moses was that Moses had not circumcised his son Gershom.

What is this surgical ritual that God requires of every male son of the descendants of Abraham? Why is it so important to God?  Was man created with a defect that needed correcting or is God illuminating to us a deeper spiritual truth?

God’s instructions to Abraham are recorded in Genesis 17. After making many promises to Abraham , God instructs him regarding His requirement of him and future descendants.  As recorded in Genesis 17;

 9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”  [i]

Before uncovering the mystery of this bizarre commandment to circumcise, let’s set the stage for God’s threat to kill Moses.

About six hundred years after Abraham in the 15th century B.C., the great Moses turned 40, but instead of reaching the pinnacle of his career, he makes a colossal career mistake.

Moses grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He was the adopted grandson of Thutmoses I, an 18th dynasty Pharaoh.[ii]  There was no better position to find yourself than in the Royal family.  Moses had the best education and training that could be provided in all of Egypt.   He was smart and privileged and with the riches of Egypt at his finger tips.

To be so blessed and favored, Moses life had an inauspicious beginning.  He is born to a Hebrew slave family during a time when Pharaoh feared the population explosion among Hebrews.  So Pharaoh issues an edict to kill all Hebrew babies as a method of controlling their numbers. To evade this edict, Moses was hidden by his mother Jocebed in the bull rushes of the Nile only to be discovered by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter Hatshepsut,[iii] while taking her bath.

I suspect it was God who caused the eyes of the girl Hatshepsut to distinguish an ark hidden in the bull rush.  What a surprise it must have been for Hatshepsut and her attendants as she pulled back the cloth to discover a smiling baby boy. The mothering instinct, so strong in many young girls must have taken over when Moses began to cry.  Her heart melted as she picked up the crying babe to comfort him.

As the Pharaoh’s only daughter and only surviving child of his Queen Ahmose[iv], she must have gotten most of her wishes granted.  Her wish that day was to have this baby.  Since she found him and drew him out of the water, she would name him after her father Thutmoses I.[v]  She would simply call him Moses.

Moses grew in the care of the harem of the King.  As were all of Pharaoh’s children and grandchildren, his tutors were handpicked by Pharaoh himself with the help of the Queen and his staff.[vi]  Until the age of forty Moses grew in knowledge of hieroglyphics, languages, reading, writing, speaking, philosophy and administration.  He was a political celebrity, a Kennedy in Egypt.

Moses must have contemplated his life as Pharaoh and what his legacy might be.  The Pharaoh’s were preoccupied with making their name great and leaving a legacy to future generations. The Pharaohs’ were convinced they were gods.  To guarantee their place in the afterlife it was imperative their names be remembered and worshipped. To be forgotten was to lose your place in the afterlife.  One way they chose to solidify their legacy and their name was to build massive and elaborate tombs for themselves and it was that belief that gave us the great pyramids. [vii]

The Hebrew God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob had no name.  This must have been a source of embarrassment to them among the Egyptians who had many gods with many names.  Moses surely considered this disparity as he weighed the lives of the Egyptians in their prosperity to the lives of the Israelites in their slavery. How fortunate and possibly guilty he must have felt being a Hebrew adopted by the Royal family.

How difficult it must have been for Moses to have faith in a nameless God that was doing nothing for his ancestral people.  This preoccupation with names might have been the reason that Moses quickly inquired at the burning bush about God’s name.   Moses asked God, “Look! When I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors sent me to you,’ they will say to me, ‘What is his name?’ ‘What should I say to them?” (Exodus 3).

Though Moses was culturally a quintessential Egyptian, his earliest remembrances were days spent with his real mother.  His mother Jocobed cunningly volunteered to be the babies wet-nurse.  At her knee he developed a love for his birth mother, his family and his people.

Unfortunately for his career as an Egyptian ruler, Moses allegiance to Israelites caused his anger to burn when witnessing an Israelite mistreated by a cruel Egyptian slave master.  Doubtless he knew about the promised deliverer that would one day take the Israelites back to the land of Canaan.  He certainly overheard the chatter that he was that deliverer who was miraculously positioned by God to one day be King of Egypt.

On this day Moses would take his destiny into his own hands and with those hands he killed an Egyptian slave master.   No one really knows who this slave master was, but he was most likely someone close to the Royal family.  More than likely a man Moses had come to despise over time for his arrogance, cruelty and abuse.

Unfortunately for Moses, there were witnesses and his crime became known to Pharaoh.  In fear, Moses fled to the land of distant kin in Midian.  The land of Midian received its name from a son of Abraham and his wife Keturah who had migrated there.  No doubt, the hopes of many Israelites were dashed as their most likely deliverer disappeared.

For forty years Moses labored in obscurity as a Sheppard in Midian at the base of Mount Sinai.  Seemingly out of the blue, Yahweh came calling via a burning bush.  Moses must have forgotten as he neared age 80 that he once imagined that God had a great plan for his life.  As he drew near this curious bush that would not be consumed, a voice came out of the fire saying, “Moses, Moses, don’t come any closer. Remove you sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3). And it was there at the bush that Moses got his charge and mission that would propel him into the final forty years of his life.

What were God’s instructions?

Tell Pharaoh that Israel is His first-born son and if he refuses to let them go, warn him that  “I AM”  says He will kill his first-born son.  Exodus 3

One can imagine how thrilled Moses must have been with this mission.  His flight to Midian is because Egypt represents not only his greatest fear, but is also a reminder of what could have been.  He had put that life behind him and had forged a new life for himself with a wife and children. Egypt was a reminder of his failure and what a disappointment he was to himself, his own people, as well as the Egyptians.

How could he possibly go back there?  He had been a rising celebrity who fell from grace and vanished, but even at age eighty there would be old enemies waiting, threatened by his return.  He must have wondered, at his age and not having worked in that environment for forty years, how God could want him to do this job.  His argument and excuses with God to find someone else are reasonable and understandable.

Even before his murderous crime, there had been great political intrigue in Egypt regarding Moses. His adopted mother Hatshepsut had married her half-brother Thutmosis  II to solidify her place as Queen of Egypt.  Their marriage did not produce an heir causing further intrigue about Moses right as an adopted son to the throne.   It was during this time that Moses murdered the Egyptian slave master and fled to Midian.  We can only imagine the headlines in Egypt when a possible heir to the throne vanishes under a cloud of speculation he had murdered an Egyptian in defense of a slave.

Talk must have eventually subsided over time after his disappearance, but the mysterious flight of their Prince and conjecture about his crime must have made him a cult icon in Egyptian society for the Bible says regarding his return after 40 years in Exodus 3:11, “moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.”

While Moses was away in Median, Thutmosis II died and the Kingdom fell to Moses step brother Thutmosis III, the son of Thutmosis II and a secondary wife.  He was too young to rule and his step mother, Queen Hatshepsut, acted as his Regent.  Apparently, this arrangement did not last and Hatshepsut took on the role of Pharaoh for the final 22 years of her life.  She was one of only a few female Pharaoh’s in all of Egyptian history.  But finally, Thutmosis III, the Pharaoh of the Exodus, became Pharaoh at Hatshepsut’s death.

As Thutmosis III matured, though known as one of Egypt’s greatest military leaders, it would be instinctive for him to feel vulnerable and threatened by a son of Hatshespsut.    Obviously, Moses believed there were people who wanted him dead even before he fled to Midian for Yahweh’s words in Exodus 4:19 comforted him.  He said, “Go back to Egypt, because all the men who wanted to kill you are dead.”

However, Moses understood that his return would be a threat and God only knows what Thutmosis III thought of his adopted brother’s return.  Had Moses really come on a mission from a god or had he come to undermine and overthrow him and take up where his step mother had left off.  Was Moses attempting to diminish the memory he would leave as the god of Egypt by taking his work force and those who would build his legacy for the generations to come.

God Threatens Moses

Moses argument with God eventually stops, and Moses agrees to become an emissary to Pharaoh. His journey begins toward Egypt with wife Zipporah and Gershom his first-born son.  It was on this journey that God confronted Moses and threatened to kill him.

What could have been God’s motivation for killing Moses?  The verse that describes this incident is very brief.  “And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. 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’” (Exodus 4).

There is a lot not said in these verses.  What was the conversation between Moses and the Lord? Was Moses resisting the instructions of the Lord? Was Zipporah a part of the conversation?  The verse immediately preceding said,  “And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn” (Exodus 4).

Now the LORD is addressing Moses about his own firstborn and it escalates to a life and death encounter. The LORD has been preparing Moses for His purposes for 80 years. Is this a final test for Moses?  Is it a test for Zipporah? Is it to test Moses obedience when it comes to his family?  Did God need complete unity and compliance from Moses and Zipporah as a family?  Was Moses’ wife standing in the way of God plan? Is the LORD setting a standard for Moses before he meets Pharaoh?  The more time you meditate on this story the more the Lord gives you to chew on.

It is obvious that Moses had disregarded the mandate the LORD had given to his father Abraham that all male sons be circumcised.  It also seems obvious that Zipporah objects to the circumcision of her son. Why has Moses not complied?  Do his actions show he has distanced himself from the Hebrew people and their God? Has he rebelled against their God and their traditions?  Has he become influenced by the culture of his Midian wife and have their people rejected the circumcision requirement of Abraham’s descendants too? Is Moses faced with a choice between his wife and his God?

God leaves us to speculate about these questions. We do know how the situation resolves itself.  Zipporah takes a very sharp flint rock and circumcises her son, but not without making one last melodramatic protest by tossing the bloody foreskin at Moses feet and calling him a bridegroom of blood.

We also know that at some point Moses sent Zipporah back to her father, for in Exodus 18 on his way back from Israel it says that Zipporah comes out with her father to meet Moses and the Israelites. At some point Moses had sent her back.  Was it at this encounter that Moses sent her back?  Did she fail her test?  Are we held back from what could be because of failing our tests?  God always gives us more to wrestle with when he tells a story.

Why this scene?  Why is the LORD so insistent on this bloody, painful and physically impractical ritual? Did the maker of man create an imperfection that needs removed?  If this is so important to him, what is the significance?

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Moses is his ability to hear God.  On several occasions the people come to him to inquire of him because of this ability.  What is this unique ability to hear the voice of God?

One thing God does show us in the Exodus story is a contrast between Moses and his nemesis Pharaoh.  At this point in the story we find Moses willfully in disobedience with the commandment of the LORD given to his forefather Abraham regarding the circumcision of his son.  He knew of the command.  He knew the promise of a future blessing.  He knew the consequence of disobeying.

There is really only one explanation for his inaction. He has rejected the command of the Hebrew God and defiant of God’s promised consequence of disobedience. My guess based on my experience with people, is that he has rejected the Hebrew God.  He has seen the plight of the Israelites and either hasn’t believed in the blessing or appreciated a God that would allow his people to be put in their current predicament.  Till the burning bush, his circumstance had most likely caused him to be an unbeliever.

But the big distinction we are shown about Moses is that when God threatens a plague on Moses he hears the LORD, humbles himself and obeys God’s command.  He has what we will later refer to as a circumcised heart.  Pharaoh on the other hand shows no such quality.

Why would God create the male with something that needed to be cut away, if not to teach us something in a very dramatic attention grabbing way? 

This is the cutting away of flesh, but not just any flesh. It is the cutting away of flesh on the male reproductive organ. This is the life transferring organ.  This is the organ that He will use to bring about the eventual Messiah, the one who brings redemption to the world.  The Messiah who will not only save man’s life, but save mankind for God.

So God chooses the most sensitive and life imparting part of a male’s body to make His point.  There God illustrates His covenant.  He has man cut away the flesh of his son and exposes the most sensitive part of the male organ. This makes him more vulnerable and sensitive at the contact point.  Reread this paragraph to make sure you don’t miss this before reading the next sentence.  Circumcision is not only a commandment, but it is a prophesy.  A prophesy that “The Father” will fulfill with His son.

What is God saying with this prophesy of Circumcision?

Is God saying I want you to consider the intimacy of a loving sexual bond to understand the kind of relationship I want with you?

Is God demonstrating His desire for us to remove all flesh from our spiritual covenant and interaction with him? Is He saying He desires us to be our most sensitive when it comes to our union with Him?  Nothing hidden or held back…totally exposed to him with no shame…able to hear Him and to feel His presence.

Men and women become one flesh in sexual intimacy. When a woman’s heart is pure and she desires, and in so many words asks a man to come into her, isn’t she hoping for love and acceptance and the creating of new life?  Doesn’t God and man/woman become one in spiritual intimacy when a man desires and asks God to come into him?  And aren’t we asking for love and acceptance and the creating of new life.

God uses great drama to make His points with us.  He uses one thing to set up another thing. Circumcision was an object lesson.  It was one lesson to prepare us for another.

He was preparing us for the new covenant.  This new covenant was not the cutting away of the flesh of the body, but the circumcision of the heart.  Not a covenant with a newborn baby, but a covenant with a new creation.

But first the old covenant must be fulfilled… 

Have you ever wondered why it was so important to the writers of the Bible that God came in the flesh?

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God (I John 4:2).

I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist (II John 1:7).

Was it not enough that God came and walked upon the earth in the form of Jesus?  Why is it so important that He came in the flesh?

Here is the mystery of circumcision. 

Christ’s death is the fulfillment of the circumcision of the flesh.  In his death, the flesh was destroyed… Cut off, that man, by believing, might have a more sensitive fellowship with God…that we might know Him and hear His voice. Though physical circumcision was a requirement of God, it was a foreshadowing of his real intention of cutting off the flesh of His son and providing a spiritual reality so cutting that believing it removes the flesh that deadens the sensitivity of our heart.

How is the heart circumcised? 

It happens on a spiritual level when for the first time we come to the realization that something is wrong with us.  You might call it an epiphany or flash of insight, but whatever you call it, it causes a person to see past their excuses and rationalizations for not being able to live up to a standard that God has put in their heart.  It is a realization that self effort has failed, which is the flesh’s attempt at being a good person ie. right with God.

When this realization takes hold in the heart, then it is ready to accept the truth that Jesus was the one whose flesh was cut off to fulfill the covenant.  Here, we realize that our faith in His death, His burial and His resurrection is our only chance to be right with God.

This is when Christ circumcises our heart and makes us sensitive toward Him, His voice and His ways.  This new heart with the flesh cut away can now have an intimate bond with Him, for we begin to comprehend the kind of person God is and how much He loves us as we embrace what He suffered because of His love for us. We embrace that God is this good Father…this person Jesus.

Paul put it this way in his letter to the Colossians in chapter two and verse eleven.  In him you were circumcised, in the putting off of the flesh nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands, but with the circumcision done by Christ.

So what happens to us when we do this and our heart becomes circumcised?

It is the first act on our part of true humility.  For the first time we lower the false face of pride that till now has said that I can do this on my own. It is what the Pharisees couldn’t do and it is what many self righteous religious people today can’t do.  It is the first time when we truly acknowledge that we need Jesus to have life, that we are sinful and unable to live blameless before God through our own efforts.  This is our circumcision of heart.  We will be forever shaped by it.

What is the outward sign of our covenant with God? 

It is our willingness to allow for the circumcision of our heart and by our confession that we can’t even get close to living up to the standard set for us by God, and faith in Christ’s death burial and resurrection that Christ makes us right with God.  Our outward sign to this circumcision of heart is showing we have put our faith in Him by our submission to baptism, not the removal of dirt from the body but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him (I Pet. 3:21-22).

Cherish your baptism, for it is the mark of the new covenant, like circumcision was the mark of the old.

So, is circumcision a requirement of God for believers?  Yes and No.  Yes, he requires circumcision, but it is a circumcision of the heart…a cutting away of the sinful flesh nature that rejects Jesus, so that we can have intimacy in the Spirit with God.

Christ was the fulfillment of the prophecy which was Circumcision when his flesh was cut off at the cross.

Therefore since Christ Alone fulfilled the first covenant with his death, he made way for a new covenant, not a covenant sealed with our blood, but a covenant sealed with His blood.   Now we are no longer identified with Adam, the imperfect man whose destiny is death, but instead we are now a new creation, identified with Jesus, the man who overcame the flesh, yet was crucified, cut off, for our transgressions.

It was the death to the flesh that made way for the resurrection and new life.

Written by Clay Mize February 2015

Based on I Kings 6:1 dating of the Exodus


[i] According to Dr. Quick of Marquette University, the answer to this riddle of the 8th day is now known. He claims that a full-term child is born with a relatively high prothrombin level of its blood. Prothrombin is a substance which plays a significant role in the clotting of blood and its quantity in the body is directly affected by the newly isolated chemical, vitamin K. Dr. Quick states that the prothrombin level drops rapidly after birth and does not start to rise until the child is several days old, not reaching satisfactory levels again until about the seventh day. This he believes is the reason that a circumcision done before the eighth day, unless within the first several hours after birth, is more likely to bleed excessively than a circumcision done the eighth day or later.

Numbers in Hebrew have a meaning beyond their numerical value.  The number 7 is the number of completion.  It is the day God rested and the number of days to our week.  The number eight is a number of new beginnings.  Eight starts the cycle again for a new week.  God started the new world after the flood with 8 souls that were saved.  The circumcision of the flesh on the 8th day is a symbol of a new beginning for a male child’s life. It is a sign of the covenant between himself and God that is given to him as a birth rite for being in the lineage of Abraham.  As we will discover later, it is symbolic for a deeper message God is telling man.  It is the message of the redemptive power of a circumcised heart.

[ii] Most modern scholars believe the Exodus happened during the 19th Egyptian dynasty around the year 1260 during the Reign of Ramses II , based on external knowledge of Egyptology and modern Archeology.  However, these dates do not correspond with I Kings 6:1 passage that places the Exodus in the mid 1400’s B.C., during the 18th dynasty. The reasoning of the scholars is that the I Kings date is a corrupted date or that the author was simply throwing out a number symbolic of a long time period.  However, if you use the I Kings 6:1 date an entirely different story emerges with compelling evidence.

[iii] Hatchesput would later become Queen of Egypt as wife of Thutmoses II. At his death she became Regent for her stepson Thutmoses III, but soon after declared herself Pharaoh and ruled till her death. Her mummy was positively identified in 2007 and forensic scientists were able to determine her death to be the result of an abscess tooth.

[iv] Ahmose had four Children with Thutmoses I, but Hatsheput was the only survivor.

[v] Hatsheput is noted in Egyptology for her building projects that honored her father Thutmoses I.

[vi] Senenmut was Hatsheput’s chief advisor and head of building projects. He was also known to be tutor to her daughter Neferure. Though there is no record of it, he would most likely been a tutor to Moses as well.

[vii] Most of Hatshesput’s statues were ordered defaced, her likeness chiseled from the walls. Her Red Chapel at Karnak was disassembled as was her mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri in Luxor and her name erased from many of the official records.  There is much speculation about why this occurred.  Many Egyptologist believe it was because she was a woman or due to resentments Thutmosis III developed because she did not turn over the Kingdom to him earlier.  Another explanation is that she was the adopted mother of Moses and that this was Thutmosis III the Pharaoh of the Exodus way of punishing her and Moses by cutting the mother of Moses off from the afterlife.







  • I really enjoyed this article and the discussion the other Sunday night. It was only when I was brought to my knees from lots of pain and suffering that my heart was truly circumcised, allowing my belief in God to strengthen more than I ever could have imagined as I developed an intimate relationship with Him. For that experience, I am eternally grateful. Thanks for sharing your insights, Clay.

%d bloggers like this: