Talk about good storytelling: "and God tried to kill him in his sleep" (well, kinda)


If you've ever read Exodus, then no doubt you stopped dead in your tracks when you got to chapter 4, finished reading vs. 23, and then got hit in the face with the next couple verses:

24 And on the way, at the place of overnight lodging, Yahweh encountered him and sought to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, and she cut off the foreskin of her son, and she touched his feet, and she said, “Yes, you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” 26 And he left him alone.  At that time she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

Talk about jarring. I mean Moses just got word from God to pack up with his family and go back to Egypt, tell Pharaoh what's up and that his firstborn is gonna die unless he relents and let's God's firstborn (Israel) pack up and head out.

It was Mr. Chambers who inspired me to write this post (he's got a nice little post on storytelling over at his blog "Cataclysmic" you should check out). He talks about how we try to control storytelling, and dilute the ambiguity that sometimes a great storyteller will use to keep us engaged.

I think this story in Ex 4 is one of those cases. There are so many (initially) confusing details that either seem to be given or left out. Who is it that God's trying to kill? Why is does God pull this sneak attack maneuver? How did Zipporah know what to do, and so fast?[1]

I mean these are huge questions, that on a first read through, you're left asking yourself—besides the, Wait! What just happened?!

I think this is one of those Bible stories, that if we wanted to keep it PG, it would have to be a Lego version

So if we're going to let the storyteller be a storyteller, how can we best interact with such stories? Should we jump to deduce who's who and what's just happened, or let the initial shock wear off as we continue reading? Or are we just so far removed from this narrative's milieu that we're shocked and awed by elements that wouldn't have fazed a first hand hearer. 


[1] Just a heads up: The New American Commentary: Exodus by Stuart Douglas has an excellent breakdown on what's going on with this episode and how if fits into the larger context. Also, I should point out that Logos identifies the "him" of verse 24 (i.e. the one being ambushed by God) as Abraham—an analysis that Douglas disagrees with (and I think he's right).