The following occurs as Moses and his family are traveling back to Egypt to deliver Israel from bondage according to the instructions the Lord had given Moses.
24 ¶And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met [Moses],
and sought to kill him.
25 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.
26 So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.
27 ¶And the Lord said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him.
28 And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which he had commanded him. (Ex 4:24-28)
This is a very weird incident. It seems like the Lord becomes angry suddenly and arbitrarily. Thankfully, we have the Joseph Smith Translation to help us.
24 And it came to pass, that the Lord appeared unto him as he was in the way, by the inn. The Lord was angry with Moses, and his hand was about to fall upon him, to kill him; for he had not circumcised his son.
25 Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and circumcised her son, and cast the stone at his feet, and said, Surely thou art a bloody husband unto me.
26 And the Lord spared Moses and let him go, because Zipporah, his wife, circumcised the child. And she said, Thou art a bloody husband. And Moses was ashamed, and hid his face from the Lord, and said, I have sinned before the Lord.
27 And the Lord said unto Aaron, go into the wilderness to meet Moses, and he went and met him, in the mount of God; in the mount where God appeared unto him; and Aaron kissed him. (JST Ex. 4:24-27)
When studying this story, my first question was, “What does Zipporah mean by ‘Thou art a bloody husband’?” It seems extra odd because Zipporah was the one that did the circumcising, so she’s the one who gets bloody, if anyone does. We can tell she’s frustrated with Moses, even if we don’t understand her exact words. Throwing the cut foreskin at Moses’s feet seems petulant, as if it is the last straw.
Looking deeper, it seems like she becomes an additional witness to the Lord’s anger, since both the Lord and she are angry at the same time. This gives us a hint that she also had some spiritual perception. She knew what had to be done, and because her husband wasn’t doing it, she did it.
Did she consider her husband bloody because he had made her do a bloody job? Or did she consider him bloody because he had almost been killed by the Lord? Maybe she was saying that his disobedience was putting his whole family at risk. If he disobeyed, he would be killed, and then she would be left a widow without protection (and these were days when there wasn’t life insurance) with a child to raise. Maybe she was saying the equivalent of “It’s a dangerous and deadly thing to be the wife of a disobedient prophet,” or “You’re a dangerous man to be married to.”
To Moses, this must have really stung. Here he was, about to go down to Egypt and carry out this mission to lead Israel out of bondage, and even before he starts, he has gotten himself in deep trouble with the Lord because of disobedience. (For Moses to not circumcise his son would be like President Monson not baptizing his son at age 8.)
Zipporah’s reproach must have brought back the terrible feelings of inadequacy. He must have spiraled down into depression, which caused him to hide his face from the Lord. (I know what that feels like.)
“I have sinned before the Lord,” Moses said. It’s a simple admission, but there is so much unspoken turmoil of feeling packed inside it, such as the following:
“What I did was terrible,”
“I did it in the most blatant way, even knowing I was doing wrong and determined to do it anyway.”
“I feel terrible about it.”
“I don’t know how to make it right.”
“I don’t know if the Lord will forgive me.”
“If I can’t be freed of this sin or any desire to disobey, I will not be able to do the Lord’s work, and I will be cast off forever”
Moses had to go through repentance too.
After this, the Lord sends Aaron to go find Moses and meet him. When Aaron meets Moses, he greets him with the kiss of brotherly affection. The love of an older sibling is a wonderfully encouraging thing. I can imagine that meeting Aaron in the mount of God, where God had appeared to Moses, must have been a very happy experience. (This reminds me of how neat it is to meet family in the temple.) So Moses tells Aaron everything and then has the joy of seeing Aaron accept his words. This success must have further fortified Moses. Then they go together to the Israelites, and thus begins the struggle for deliverance.
What does this mean for us today? It shows us that even Moses, as great a prophet as he was, had to learn lessons about obedience. It is another example of the principle that where much is given, much is required, and he who sins against the greater light will receive the greater condemnation. It shows us that the Lord really can and will take a prophet out of mortality who presumes to disobey the commandments. But it also shows that the Lord is merciful when prophets repent. It also shows us how seriously we should take the parental responsibility to bring our children up in the covenant.