Moses and God continue their discussion. Moses complains that the Israelites won’t believe that he really spoke to God. So God gets him to throw his staff on the ground and it turns into a snake. Moses leaps back in fright, but God tells him to grab the snake by the tail and it turns back into a staff.

The Burning Bush by Nicolas Froment, 1476

The Burning Bush by Nicolas Froment, 1476

For his next trick, God instructs Moses to put his hand “into his bosom” and pull it out again. When he does so, his hand is “leprous, as white as snow” (Exod. 4:6). Then God tells him to do it again and the rabbit is returned! Err… I mean, his hand is back to normal!

Now this is all pretty impressive and should be enough to convince the Hebrews that Moses really is speaking for God. But just in case, God teaches Moses one final trick: He is to take some water from the Nile and pour it on the ground, and it will then turn to blood.

But Moses still isn’t sure. He’s not eloquent enough to speak for God, so can’t God just find someone else? As David Plotz says over at Slate: “If he lived in the 21st century, this is the point when Moses would be showing God two doctors’ notes diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Somewhat justifiably, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” (Exod. 4:14). But it’s too late to turn back now, so he allows Moses to take his brother, Aaron, along as spokesperson. “You shall be to him as God” (Exod. 4:16), which is totally not idol worship.

Heading home

Moses lies to his father-in-law, asking permission to go back to Egypt to see if his kinsmen are still alive (Exod. 4:18). If God says that lying is okay, the floodgates are opened, I suppose. Jethro/Reuel agrees, so Moses takes family and hits the road.

God tells Moses to perform his miracles before the new pharaoh, “but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exod. 4:21). Therefore, Moses should tell him that since Israel is God’s ‘firstborn,’ God will kill Pharaoh’s first-born son.

It’s passages like these that really turn atheists off about the Bible: the pharaoh has no choice, God is controlling his actions. And yet, God is still going to punish Pharaoh for these actions. As if this weren’t disgusting enough, God’s punishment is infanticide, killing a child who’s had no part in Pharaoh’s supposed crime.

Yuck.

At a lodging place…

“At a lodging place on the way the Lord met [Moses] and sought to kill him” (Exod. 4:24).

We’re never told why God decided that he wanted to kill Moses right after sending him on an important quest. The only clue we have is the way in which this lurking God-monster is repelled: Zipporah circumcises her son and rubs the foreskin on Moses’ feet (which my study bible says is a euphemism for genitals).

So there you have it. Garlic repels vampires, silver takes care of werewolves, and rubbing a child’s circumcised foreskin on your genitals wards off God. I think I’ll stick with garlic.

These disembodied snippets of stories are clear evidence of the multiple authors theory – that the Old Testament began as several books kept by several different communities that someone pasted together. Sometimes they did a good job and the seams are hard to find, sometimes not so much.

Taking the story at face value, Bible Slam wonders if Moses got food poisoning on the way home and attributed it to God. My study bible, on the other hand, has this to say: “Originally circumcision was a puberty or marriage rite; bridegroom of blood (v.26) [what Zipporah calls Moses after rubbing her son’s foreskin on his junk] is perhaps an old expression for a young man who was circumcised before marriage.” Furthermore, it could indicate that Moses was not circumcised, but that Zipporah’s action allowed him to be snipped by proxy.

So if we want to make some wild assumptions, we can say that Moses, who was cut off from his people when he was married, never underwent the proper ceremony. He would therefore have to “do it proper” before he returns to his people.

If not food poisoning or a replacement circumcision for Moses, Victor Matthews offers up another explanation: That it’s an apotropaic rite to ward off evil. “The Phoenicians also thought of circumcision as a means of escaping danger, as can be seen in the myth in which the god El protects himself by sacrificing his only son and then circumcising himself” (Manners & Customs, p.41).

Later, Matthews points out that there’s a parallel between smearing the son’s blood on Moses to protect him and, later, smearing the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the doorpost before the Passover to protect the Hebrew people in Exodus 12:22 (Manners & Customs, p.77-78). As I’ve noted several times, the act of circumcision functions as a replacement for child sacrifice, and this parallel makes that all the more clear.

One final point before we move on: Bible Slam points out that only one son is mentioned here, but earlier we were told that Moses has “his wife and his sons” (Exod. 4:20) with him. Since only Gershom has been named, this may again be an issue caused by multiple authors.

Back to the Mountain of God

Earlier, God had said to Moses of Aaron: “Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you he will be glad in his heart” (Exod. 4:14).

Now, God says to Aaron that he must go into the wild to meet Moses. Aaron obeys and meets Moses “at the mountain of God” (Exod. 4:27).

The mountain of God is in Midian, meaning that both Aaron and Moses have made the journey across the Sinai Peninsula twice. In both cases, the journey is made in less than a sentence.

Another point here is that the timeline is very muddled. Moses left Midian with his wife and sons, then he met his brother back in Midian. This only makes sense if the narrative is playing fast and loose with the timeline – but there are no indications in the “future” portions that Aaron is with them.

Taking it to the elders

Presumably back in Egypt, Moses and Aaron gather all the elders and Aaron tells them about what God said and performs the magic show he learned from Moses.

Moses’ concerns aside, the people are quickly convinced and they bow their heads in worship.