Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Circumcision

I cringe every time I think of Zipporah flicking her son's foreskin at Moses' feet. "Bridegroom of blood," she called him, because he compelled her to wield the knife.

The scene in Exodus 4:18ff is confusing. Moses and family, donkey, staff of God set out from Midian to confront Pharaoh with the news that YHWH is reclaiming His people. Suddenly, God stops this family vacation and tries to kill someone. In a classic version of Hebrew narrative, the details are limited. We don't know if God was trying to kill Moses (majority position) or his son (my view). What is unquestionably vivid is the stain of blood on Zipporah's left hand, and the tiny heap of flesh caught between Moses' toes.

The issue was Moses ignored the sign of Abraham's covenant. Circumcision marked God's relationship with the father of Israel. Every son of Abraham, on the eighth day, was sealed with a scar (Genesis 17:12). This was an everlasting covenant that Moses overlooked, I suspect, out of deference to his wife. And when God interrupts their travel and attempts capital punishment, Zipporah owns up and surgically intervenes.

The scene is both comedy and tragedy. We grin at the mother doing the messy work of parenting; we cringe at the father standing passively by. We laugh and cry because we are not watching an isolated event, but a paradigm for father/mother roles. Mothers eternally intervene. Fathers eternally withdraw. And I blame this on circumcision.

Timothy, a bi-racial disciple of Paul, underwent the knife to pursue vocational ministry. Converts to Judaism were expected to do the same during both the Old and New Testament eras. Conversion was costly, painful, emasculating. It is no coincidence that Timothy's spiritual guide was a Jewess believer, not a Greek dad (Acts 16). Fortunately, the early church remedied the debate as to whether or not Christians should undergo the knife (Acts 15). We can keep our blades above the waist--our hearts are the new target.

Nonetheless, I suspect men have never recovered from the sight of blood and the shine of a blade. Circumcision has incapacitated many a man. So I am thankful for ladies like Zipporah, who have iron stomachs and nimble hands.

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