Light from the Sidra

Shemot ('Names')

Torah: Exodus:1:1-6:1. Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13

The husband of blood

In his book Laws of Repentance, Moses Maimonides stated that ‘Every person has the potential to be as righteous as Moses, or as wicked as Jeroboam, clever or stupid, merciful or cruel, mean or noble, or indeed to possess any of the other temperaments. Nobody can force one, decree upon one, or lead one into one of the ways. Rather, one should choose a way through one’s own free will. . .’ (Hilchot Teshuva 5:2).

Rabbi Shraga Simmons is also of the opinion that every Jew (not ‘every person’) has the potential to be as righteous as Moses. And Jonathan Sacks, just after his appointment as Chief Rabbi, stated that the glory of Judaism is its teaching that ‘the greatest sinner, by an act of the will, can become the greatest saint’.

If that is the case, why in 3,600 years has no Jewish person been born who is as righteous as Moses? Since the giving of Torah, Jewish scholars have given themselves to the intense study of it. The Sages of Israel have discussed it in the Gemara, the commentaries and responsa. Indeed, commentaries have been written on the commentaries but (so far as I know) according to the Rabbis not a single religious Jew as righteous as Moses has arisen. The only exception is Yeshua of Nazareth who, according to a letter to Messianic Jews in the New Testament was ‘counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honour than the house. For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God’ (Letter to the Hebrews 2:3-4).

The life of Moses has been divided into three periods: he spent forty years as a ‘Somebody’ in the palace of Pharaoh’s daughter; forty years as a ‘Nobody’, keeping the sheep of Jethro in ‘the back side of the desert’; and forty years discovering how God can make a ‘Somebody’ out of a ‘Nobody’.

God didn’t choose Moses to deliver his people from Egypt because Moses was a particularly righteous man or because he was especially smart or talented. Whatever gifts, talents and intellect Moses possessed came from God anyway. For reasons known only to himself, God chose Moses and proceeded to make him into the man he intended him to be. He could have called anyone to redeem his people but he chose Moses in spite of his shortcomings. Indeed, when God appeared to him at the burning bush and called him to rescue his people from Egypt, Moses made every excuse he could muster; which is hardly the behaviour of a righteous man. In fact, it was Moses’ disobedience to the command of God that resulted in him being excluded from the Promised Land.

There is a curious incident in Exodus 4:21-23: ‘And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the LORD met him [Moses] and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses’ feet, and said, “Surely you are a husband of blood to me!” So He let him go. Then she said, “You are a husband of blood!”—because of the circumcision.’

In this strange account, though Moses is returning to Egypt in obedience to God, the LORD seeks to kill him because he has failed to circumcise his firstborn son. Zipporah wards off the danger by circumcising the eldest son and Moses is saved by the blood of his firstborn. This appears to be a foreshadowing of the Passover, when Israel is saved from death by the blood of the firstborn of Egypt!

A rabbinic interpretation of the passage, cited in Tom Holland’s Contours of Pauline Theology, says, ‘And [Zipporah] circumcised the foreskin of her son, and brought him before the feet of the destroyer, and said: The husband would have circumcised, but the father-in-law did not permit him; but now, let the blood of this circumcision atone for the fault of this husband. And when the Destroyer had ceased from him, Zipporah gave thanks and said, How lovely is the blood of circumcision which hath saved my husband from the hand of the angel of death.’ According to the Rabbis, therefore, Moses’ life was spared by the circumcision of the firstborn.

Pesiqta Rabbati 47 (191a-b,18) says, ‘Abraham was circumcised on the Day of Atonement; year after year God looks upon the covenant blood of the circumcision of our father (Abraham) and creates atonement for our sins-He said because of your blood you shall live.’ Many of the Rabbis saw an overlap between Passover and Day of Atonement, and the scholar Geza Vermes quotes a Rabbinic source that says: ‘With two bloods were the Israelites delivered from Egypt, with the blood of the Paschal lamb and with the blood of circumcision.’ Vermes says that the blood of circumcision mingled with the Paschal blood demonstrates that the Rabbis believed there was atonement significance in the Passover.

The writers of the New Testament were all Jewish and were deeply familiar with the Tanakh. The themes of circumcision and atonement play a part in the thinking of Rabbi Shaul, also known as the apostle Paul. His letter to Messianic believers in the Turkish city of Colossae is full of Passover symbolism. At the Exodus, Israel was delivered to us from the power of Egypt and conveyed into God’s kingdom in Canaan. The Jewish people had redemption through the blood of the Passover lamb. In chapter 1:12-14 of the letter to the Colossians, Paul draws on that Passover imagery and gives thanks to God, ‘who has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.’

In chapter 2 of Colossians, Paul writes: ‘For in Messiah dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Messiah. . .’

Paul picks up from the theme of the circumcision of Moses from Exodus 4:21-23 in which Moses is called ‘a bridegroom of blood’. According to Paul’s teaching in Colossians and elsewhere in his writings, Messiah died in order to secure for himself a bride, and in his death his people underwent circumcision. The imagery of the circumcision of the groom in Exodus 4 is, therefore a picture of the relationship of Messiah the groom to his people the bride. The ‘circumcision’ of Messiah’s people results from the suffering and blood which Messiah experienced to atone for their salvation and the forgiveness of their sins.

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