In a previous article, we explored the strange event that happened as Moses and his family returned to Egypt: God attacking, and trying to kill, Moses’ firstborn son, Gershon. We inquired about the foreskin and the blood. We left the article on a cliffhanger: what did Zipporah mean by her statement “A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.” We’ll try to resolve that mystery in this article.
As we discussed in the previous article, the incident of Moses’ son, Gershon, being attacked by the angel of the LORD on the way to Egypt was proleptic of the Passover. Moses’ firstborn son needed to be covered with blood so that he, as well as his family, would be protected from the angel of death, just as the houses of the Israelites needed to be covered with blood to be protected from the angel of death that swept through Egypt on the night of Passover.
There is obviously a link between salvation and having faith in God’s promises (Rom. 10:8-10). Circumcision was symbolic of a family believing that God would deliver them one day by way of his Messiah. Covering the doorway to one’s house with lamb’s blood was also symbolic, a testimony to one’s faith in God’s promise of deliverance. But it wasn’t merely symbolic; observing the symbol had real consequences in history. Those who didn’t have faith didn’t act. Those who had faith acted on it. Those who didn’t have faith saw their futures, their inheritance, cut off in history when their firstborns were taken by the angel of death.
OLD TESTAMENT MARITAL LAWS REVEAL THE MESSIAH
The meaning of all of this is revealed in the laws of the Old Testament.
Take, for example, the Biblical ideal: a virgin man and a virgin woman, coming together in marriage.
On the night of his wedding to his virgin bride, by the nature of the situation the man will become bloody as he and his wife consummate their marriage covenant. In other words, he will become a bloody bridegroom. This will produce evidence of the woman’s virginity.
But if a man marries a woman who is not a virgin, there will be no tokens of her virginity produced on their wedding night. The husband would have the option of bringing a bad name upon her if she had lied about being a virgin:
“And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid” (Deut. 22:17).
Lying about such a thing was a serious crime. A properly-betrothed woman would receive an inheritance in the form of a dowry given to her by her father. The dowry was paid for out of the bride price that her future husband would have to pay for the opportunity to take the woman’s hand in marriage. For example, Jacob worked for seven years (and then another seven years) for Laban as the bride price that Laban demanded in order for Jacob to prove his capability to support his daughter(s) economically (even though Laban took advantage of this system).
This was symbolic. The girl’s father represented God to her. When she was married to her husband, this representative responsibility was transferred to her husband from her father. But for this transfer to take place, there had to be an exchange. By paying the girl’s father the bride price, he was swearing to pledge a lifetime of faithfulness to his new wife, just as God does for us and his bride, the Church.
This was the understanding that a man would have entered into the marital covenant expecting. But a non-virgin girl may have been less desirable as a wife. A man may choose a virgin bride over the non-virgin. So, if a woman was not a virgin but lied about it and said that she was, she was committing several counts of theft. She was attempting to steal the husband’s money and her father’s dowry. More importantly, she was robbing a virgin woman of an opportunity to marry a stand-up man. She was attempting to overturn God’s law. This was a serious crime.
Alternatively, the husband, if he were a scoundrel, could lie about his wife’s status as a virgin in an attempt to destroy her credibility (and violate the ninth commandment against bearing false witness).
Perhaps the man knew his wife was not a virgin when he married her, and knew in advance that there would be no tokens (evidence) of virginity produced on the wedding night. He may agree to marry her anyway, telling her that he did not care about her status as a non-virgin, in which case he would promise not to “turn her in.” In this case, there would only be the promise of the man’s word, secured against his integrity, but no sign offered as a second witness. If this is the case, the woman is at risk that one day he could change his mind, go back on his promise (his word), and turn her in.
God is not like this. God always offers at least two, and sometimes three, witnesses (Deut. 19:15): Word and Sign. He doesn’t just claim us and promise to be faithful to us, but he also gives us a sign and seal of his promise in the sacrament of baptism. He doesn’t just tell us that we are continually forgiven of our sins, but he gives us the sign and seal of this forgiveness by sharing a symbolic meal with us in the Lord’s Supper.
But what if a truly incredible man of integrity married such a woman, who had before played the harlot, but still loved her enough to make sure that he would never go back on his promise? What could he do to show her that his promise of love and faithfulness would never be annulled?
What more could he do besides making a verbal promise (word)?
He would have to make sure that this circumstance could never legally be invoked: “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity” (Deut. 22:17).
He would have to ensure that this legal requirement was fulfilled: “And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city” (Deut. 22:17).
In other words, he would need to produce the sign to go along with his word of promise: the tokens of virginity (evidence).
The blood that would serve as evidence would not be able to come from her; it would have to come from a substitute.
He would be that bloody substitute.
Circumcision was symbolic of this: the man would be willing to cut himself and draw his own blood that would stain the “cloak” or sheets on their wedding night and serve as the evidence of the woman’s virginity. With that evidence, those tokens, in her possession, she would be forever judicially clean in the eyes of the law.
THE TRUE SUBSTITUTE, the TRUE BLOODY BRIDEGROOM
Jesus Christ is the substitute, the true and forever-faithful husband, who produced the blood required to show that his bride is judicially clean. “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11). Jesus was the circumcision. The Church is his bride.
On the night of Passover, the true Israelites would be spared. They would be identified because of the blood of the lamb that was smeared over the door to their house. Doorposts are symbolic of legs in the Bible (Song of Solomon 5:4-6; Prov. 5:8; Is. 45:1). It doesn’t take much more of an imagination to understand, then, that the blood smeared over the door frame was symbolic of a wedding night between a husband and his virgin bride.
Circumcision pointed to the future fulfillment of this spiritual union between God and his Church. Even though she had played the harlot and was spotted with filth, he would adorn her in white linens and decorate her with the most beautiful jewels as if she had always been pure. In his eyes, he would see her as pure. He would overlook her sins.
He could only do this because someone paid the legal price of her transgressions. Jesus was the only person who could do so, the spotless lamb:
“But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:19-22).
The incident with Gershon and Zipporah on the way to Egypt foreshadows God sacrificing himself to be our faithful and true husband to redeem us from our deserved destruction. This was a sign, given for us, to have faith and hope in God. It was a sign showing us that he loved us so much that he would forever remove our legal fault by blotting out the curses which we should suffer for transgressing his law. He would blot them out by covering us in his own blood.
This incident would play out again soon on a bigger scale: Israel, as the firstborn son of God (Ex. 4:22), will be attacked to be killed (eye for eye) and will also need a blood covering to be spared God’s wrath. That covering comes by faith. That faith is manifested as obedience to God’s word (Ex. 12:7-13). Families were spared because they lived under one roof. Because the families were saved, the nation itself was saved. The nation of Israel who left Egypt the following day was a nation of families who confessed faith in God as their savior and redeemer. They trusted his word and applied his sign. By his sign, he rescued them from death, and the survivors inherited in history. The faithless were disinherited — but not before their riches had been transferred to the faithful (Ex. 11:1-3).