Old Testament Exodus Bridegroom of Blood

Bridegroom of Blood

I have often wondered who chose the stories we tell and place in our children’s storybook Bibles and our Sunday School lessons. Did they sit down and vote on the stories? Did they think of the major mountain tops of redemptive historical timelines? Did they think about what lesson they might be able to teach from the story? Obviously, these are curated stories, that are often edited in some regards. I have not, to my knowledge, seen a realistic children’s storybook where David stands victorious over the corpse of Goliath with his head in his hand. Now, maybe this is why I am not invited to any of these meetings, if they have any, because I think this is a great story found in the Bible that points us to Christ, but we do not know it, or it is too bloody for us. Today we see the story of what you could call the Bridegroom of Blood.

Now last time we stopped halfway through the message the Lord was telling Moses, for two reasons, both practical reasons and not textually driven. The first is that I wanted to spend a lot of time looking at God’s sovereignty in the first half, because this is a matter that comes up repeatedly. Spending time on that helps us give a foundation as we continue through the text. But secondly to begin the second portion of the Lord’s speech to Moses in Midian breaks up the main connection to this passage today. When we look at a complexity passage like this (it is difficult) we often isolate it making it even more difficult to interpret. With that disclaimer in mind let’s look at this difficult passage together.

Sons of the LORD

The Lord tells Moses what he is to tell Pharaoh, and that is “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son” (Ex 4:22–23). We have highlighted in our study thus far the importance of the title of son. The opening pages begin with saying, “these are the names of the sons of Israel” (Ex 1:1), the midwives were only commanded to kill the sons (Ex 1:16), when they did not do this Pharaoh commanded his people to throw all the sons into the Nile (Ex 1:22). In the midst of all of this there is born a son (Ex 2:2). Now in most translations they often change the term sons to “people or Children.” I think this can not help us when we get to passages like this, Pharaoh enslaved the sons of Israel (Ex 1:13). The sons of Israel called out to God for help (Ex 2:23). Moses is actually sent the sons of Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3:10-11). Now before you throw your arms up in the air and start screaming at the Bible and saying, “See this just goes to show the Bible is a patriarchal book that elevates the hierarchical powers of the XY chromosomes.” The Bible is a theological book, a thus when we come to passages like this we must understand the theological implications of this.

God calls Israel his son, his firstborn son. This is an important cultural statement that is lost in our ears today. To be the firstborn son is to hold all the responsibility and privilege that is tied that household. This would mean all the blessings of God are for Israel as the first-born son. But it goes further than this. That the origin of Israel is not biological but theological. That Israel does not descend because of biological family ties but Israel exists because they are begotten by God this is the point in Deuteronomy 32:6, That God created them and established them. That we can say, as Paul did, we are sons of Abraham (Gal 3:7 cf. Is 63:16). The other aspect that we can understand about this term firstborn son is that the people of God bear God’s name and should reflect his character, they carry the family resemblance, this is will be important when we see the people of God rebel against God. Another interesting point is to think about is that God uses terminology of a family rather than of a harsh task master, like Pharaoh. If Israel being God’s son then God is Israel’s father. They are slaves to Pharaoh, but sons to God. This is important when we think about the Israelites serving God, they serve him not as slaves but as sons. This is the foundation of the Parable of the two sons, we often call it the prodigal son, but it is a parable about two sons, it begins by saying a man had two sons. The younger son squandered his inheritance, and sought to come back a slave, and is treated like a son. The older son still has the inheritance but thinks that he is a slave. Yet both the father begins talking to them by calling them sons. That God sees Israel as son helps us understand God as a loving and caring Father who guides, disciplines, and protects His children. This then makes sense when we are called sons of God (Gal 4:1-7).

But we also need to remember two things that happened prior to help us understand more of this passage. The first is that Moses is going to tell Pharaoh that “If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.” Here Pharaoh has enslaved God’s son and has treated him horrifically for centuries. He has sought to kill the Sons of Israel by commanding midwives to kill the young boy who just came into the world, and when that didn’t work to command his people to throw the sons into the Nile. The Lord promises will kill his firstborn son, if Pharaoh does not let his son go. Now, we know what this is taking about, the Passover. The final sign before Pharaoh lets God’s people go. The second thing we need to be reminded of is the promise given of the promised son told to Adam and Eve in the Garden that will crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). Now with this in mind this helps us understand the following passage that Moses included here.

Death at the door

Some place on the way from Midian to Egypt there is a great story that Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit records for us. Now what is interesting about this story that has caused a lot of scholarly articles and discussion is that this story clearly involves the Lord and two or three other people, Zipporah, Moses and Gershom (Moses’ firstborn son). However, we only have two names recorded, Zipporah and the Lord. The other references are in the third person “him.” So, who does this refer to, Moses and/or Gershom. Whom is the Lord seeking to put to death? Now I think commonly the understanding is that the Lord is seeking to put Moses to death, mainly because of the common term “bridegroom” translated in vs 26. Zipporah saves him by circumcising their son, Gershom. This is an ambiguous passage, due to it’s brevity. How does Zipporah know what to do? What is the significance of the location? Etc. I however, think that the Lord is seeking to put Gershom to death, mainly because of what we have discussed up to this point. That just prior the Lord that told Moses that the Lord would send the Angel of Death upon the household of Pharaoh for Pharaoh’s inability to do as the Lord commanded. So we have the same situation, the angel of death came to the household of Moses, to put to death his first born because Moses has not done as the Lord commanded.

Now, if it is Moses or Gershom that is not the main point of the story. The main emphasis is that death is coming unless blood is shed. You see this in Zipporah’s response, “you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” We see the first glace of the Passover, but Moses wants us to connect this to the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision. That God makes a covenant with Abraham in Genesis chapter 17, where he promises Abraham a son, who God will establish an everlasting covenant with (Gen 17:19). The sign the Lord gave to Abraham was that “every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised” (Gen 17:10a-12b). And within that promise is that “any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Gen 17:14). Gershom is about to be cut off from his people.

Specifically, God’s people are God’s covenant people, Genesis 12 God called Abram and told him he would make of him a great nation. Genesis 15 God makes a covenant with Abram, Abram was caused to go into a great sleep, and God himself walked through the two halves of the heifer, goat, and ram. God established the covenant of Grace with Abraham and his offspring. The sign of the covenant was given to Abram in Genesis 17. Circumcision was a bloody rite of admission into the covenant community (Cf. Ex 4:24-26; Heb 9:22). However, Abraham was not saved by circumcision, as Paul explains in Romans 4:11-12. The mystery that was somewhat concealed in the Old Testament is now revealed in the New Testament. Circumcision was never a sign of Salvation; but, a sign and seal of the covenant promises. Physically circumcision was simply the external sign of being a part of the team. However, physical circumcision and physical descendants of Abraham are not automatically saved, but if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring (Gal 3:29).

Circumcision was a seal of Abraham’s righteousness (Rom 4:11). Circumcision is not merely outward or physical but was always about the heart. Deuteronomy 30:6 says, “And the Lord, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Cf. Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4, 9:26). Everyone has always been saved through faith and grace alone. This is why you can find women in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. They had a circumcised heart (Cf. Heb 11: 11, 31).

Blood on the Floor

Circumcision was a sign and a seal of the promises of God given to Abraham. A bloody rite of admission into the covenant community. This is exactly what this term “bridegroom” can mean, this term does not always mean “husband” but can be translated to speak of a son-in-law, father-in-law or mother-in-law (eg Jethro 3:1, 4:18). That now the person has been made a part of the family. They are now a blood relative not through sharing the same DNA strand in their blood but through covenant.[1] Some have said that “It is customary for women to call a son when he is circumcised, bridegroom.” [2] Zipporah circumcises her son to make him apart of the covenant community, to save him from death. So to, those who may eat of the Passover be circumcised as well, the Lord tells Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him.” (Ex 12:43–44). Gershom means sojourner in a foreign land (Ex 2:22, 18:3) and now he is circumcised. We see a similar story in the book of Joshua chapter 5, where the new generation of the sons of Israel, who had not been circumcised in the wilderness underwent circumcision with a piece of flint. It was after this they celebrated the Passover and then the manna ceased, and they enjoyed the food from the promise land.

Gospel Connection

Now we can go many different ways at this point, the understanding circumcision as a sign and a seal of the covenant, the historical practice, the theological implications. But let’s focus on clear thing in this passage, in the midst of use of third person pronouns and ambiguous terms. The start of this passage begins by explaining that the Lord sought to put someone (Gershom) to death, blood was shed through circumcision, and now the Lord releases the one whom he sought to put to death. Now whom the Lord was going to put to death, is important but not the central part of the story, Gershom, is circumcised, that is clear. The son, whose name is “Sojourner,” sheds his blood so that death is turned away. Now we can begin to see the gospel connection, which will be made clearer in the Passover. But for now, we see that those who are in the covenant relationship with God are treated as sons and not as slaves. They are saved from the death, which is due to them, because of the blood shed by the Son.


[1] John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus: Exodus 1–18, vol. 1 of EP Study Commentary (Darlington, England; Carlisle, PA: Evangelical Press, 2000), 116.

[2] Wilhelm Gesenius and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003), 315.

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