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Exodus 4:24-26 The Leader a Lawbreaker

8/29 Exodus 4:24-26 The Leader a Lawbreaker; Sins of Omission


Exodus is about God. It is about God and his power and sovereign authority over all of his creatures. God raised up Moses to be the reluctant tool he would use to rescue his people from bondage in Egypt to glad service to him. More important than what they were delivered from, God was delivering the Hebrew people to something – to life and life abundant – life lived in relationship with and worship of the one true God. God was delivering the people of Israel to himself – to be his. He called them his firstborn son.

God had prepared and shaped Moses to be his instrument to deliver his people. God called Moses and overcame his objections and excuses one by one. God invested him with his authority and gave him miraculous signs to perform, and promised that things would go exactly as he had ordained. But there was a problem with the family life of the leader God had called. God takes holiness very seriously and this sin had to be addressed. Moses’ lack of obedience must be dealt with before he is fit to lead.

4:19 And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand. 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 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.’” 24 At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

The Ambiguity of the Passage:

The NIV tries to clear up some of the ambiguity of this passage by inserting Moses’ name in place of the personal pronouns ‘him or ‘his’:

NIV: 4:24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met {Moses} and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched {Moses’} feet with it “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

Even the ESV and NASB insert Moses’ name in verse 25. The purpose is to clarify a difficult passage and make it more readable and clear. The danger in doing this is if the translators get it wrong then rather than making an ambiguous passage clear, they make it misleading. In this instance, the old KJV does a better job of translating the passage as it stands in the original:

KJV 4:24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, 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.

Even the word translated ‘husband’ could be translated simply ‘relative’. This leaves us with some questions. Who did the LORD meet and seek to kill? Was it Moses or his son? Most scholars agree that ‘feet’ is a euphemism for the genitals. Whose ‘feet’ did Zipporah touch with the foreskin of her son? Who was she referring to when she said ‘blood relative’? What did she mean by that? Was she angry? We don’t hear of Moses’ family again until in Exodus 18:2-6 where we are told that he had sent them home to stay with his father-in-law. Did they accompany him to Egypt and then he sent them away later, or did they go only as far as this lodging place and then part ways? The answer to these questions are simply that we don’t know. The grammar and syntax is simply not clear enough to say for sure. The context may help us a little, but in the end there is much that simply must remain a mystery.

We are dealing with a document that has been preserved for well over 3000 years. It is separated from us by multiplied centuries of time and by drastically differing customs and cultures so it should not be surprising that it seems quite foreign and even bizarre to us. If it was important for us to know exactly who did what to whom then God could have spelled it all out for us. It’s amazing the length of tedious detail in many of the biblical genealogies, but a story like this we are left puzzling over the pieces of historical narrative. But the bible was not written to satisfy our curiosity. The scriptures are given to us to communicate God’s truth. The goal is primarily theological. What can we learn about God and his ways? All scripture is meant to be useful – profitable for teaching and reproof and correction and training in righteousness, to equip us for every good work and to make us wise to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2Tim.3:15-17)

Background: Covenant of Circumcision and the Firstborn Son

It is clear that the main issue in the passage is circumcision. Moses’ son (and possibly Moses himself) is not circumcised. This brings God’s punishment, and Zipporah takes action and appeases God’s wrath by performing the deed. Let’s try to get an understanding of what’s going on by looking back to the origination of circumcision and what it means. Circumcision was first given to Abraham as a sign of the covenant between God and his people.

Genesis 17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” 9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 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.”

God is making a covenant, or a contractual agreement with Abraham and his descendents. God is promising to bless them and to enter into relationship with them – to be their God. The physical sign or symbol of the covenant relationship between God and his people is to to be circumcision. Every son born to a Hebrew family must be circumcised on the eighth day. Failure to cut off the flesh meant being cut off from God’s covenant relationship.

Apparently Moses had failed to circumcise his own son. God had called Moses to be the one to lead his people, but he didn’t have his own family in order. So God was going to cut him off. In the preceding context, God had commanded Moses to announce to the Pharaoh that he considered Israel his firstborn son, and if the Pharaoh refused to release God’s firstborn son, God would kill the Pharaoh’s firstborn son. The next thing in the narrative is that God shows up to kill Moses’ firstborn son, because Moses failed to keep the covenant. God takes his covenant relationship with his people dead serious.

The Meaning of Circumcision

But what does this all mean? Certainly there are hygienic reasons for removing the excess flesh of the foreskin, but why would God choose to make this the symbol of his covenant relationship with us?

Colossians 2:11 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, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Paul makes it clear that the circumcision that counts is the circumcision done by Christ, severing our allegiance to our fleshly sin nature, the death and resurrection to a new life that is also pictured in baptism. Circumcision is a painful prospect, touching a most intimate part of our life. In our relationship with God, there is no area of our life that remains unaffected. The process of sanctification (or being made holy) can be very painful – cutting away the things that God says must go. God demands absolute authority and access to every area of our life. Speaking of our struggle with sin, Paul asks:

Romans 6:2 … How can we who died to sin still live in it? … 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. … 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Paul made it clear in Romans 2 that:

Romans 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

This is not an innovation by the apostle Paul. The spiritual nature of circumcision was spelled out clearly by the Old Testament prophets.

Jeremiah 9:24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” 25 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh–

What was critical then – as it is now – is a relationship with the LORD. The outward symbol is nothing without the inward reality.

Jeremiah 4:1 “If you return, O Israel, declares the LORD, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver…4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”

This is not a development of the later prophets. All the way back in the Torah itself, the law of Moses, we find the focus on the circumcision of the heart.

Deuteronomy 10:12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.

This is the promise we have, that God himself will do this to us.

Deuteronomy 30:6 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.

Evidence of Grace

When we see what circumcision is and what it signifies, we can see this mysterious passage in a new light. This is evidence of God’s grace!

24 At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

Moses had neglected to do what he knew was required to be part of God ‘s covenant people. It was a sin of omission. God would have been just in cutting him off from his covenant people without warning, but apparently there is enough warning given for Zipporah to take action. That is sheer grace. Again we see a woman come to the rescue of the one who is to rescue Israel from Egypt. She, a foreigner, declares her status as a blood relative and does what Moses had neglected to do in his family. And God accepts her action. Abundant grace! Moses had sinned. He had failed to pass on this rite and the blessing of what it meant to his own sons. He had failed to include them in the covenant relationship that God had initiated with his people. He was called to lead God’s people into worship and he had failed to be a spiritual leader in his own family. It could have cost him the life of his firstborn son. But God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

God is serious about obedience. God demands holiness in his people, holiness that can only be found as a fruit of relationship with him through the work of the one mediator who shed his own blood for us and clothes us in his righteousness.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

August 29, 2010 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , | 1 Comment