Recently I have been preaching through the life of Moses during the Lord’s Day evening service. Last week I ran headlong into the most difficult set of verses that the book of Exodus has to offer. Let me remind you of how Exodus 4:24–26 reads:
Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, ‘You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.’ So He let him alone. At that time she said, ‘You are a bridegroom of blood’—because of the circumcision.”
Now, these few verses are a bit startling and not a little perplexing. Despite Moses’ earlier objections to God’s idea of using him as a deliverer, the Lord was fatherly toward him. The Lord even sent his brother Aaron as the mouthpiece for thick lipped and heavy tongued Moses. Why the radical change toward the man and his family when he was obviously on his way back to Egypt?
I have not done an exhaustive search, but current resources are not very helpful in resolving the critical questions that arise from the text. For instance, who was the Lord about to strike? Was it Moses or his son, Gershom? Is Zipporah’s statement one of anger or endearment? And why this little section (vv. 24–26) in the midst of other apparently little sections (vv. 18–31)? One scholar believes that verses 18–31 of chapter 4 are an example of loose editorial work. Do these rough-hewn verses merely move the narrative along? How do we understand the situation that took place at the lodge along the way back to Egypt?
Is it true that verses 18–31 fit together loosely? Is this a neglected section of the text? Is it an example of editorial forgetfulness? I don’t think so. Actually, it is quite the opposite. The context gives, well, … context … to the troubling verses. Think about it like this, after Moses leaves God he returns to his father-in-law to seek what appears to be permission to return to Egypt. But this would be a misinterpretation. Moses is not asking for Jethro’s permission so much as he is seeking his blessing. In other words, Moses says in effect, “Jethro, will you put your blessing on my departure?”
Now, there is a sense in which this is unremarkable. In fact, it may even be courteous, after all, he is leaving Jethro without an extra set of hands. He will take the man’s daughter away, and perhaps worst of all, the man’s grandchildren! So, in one sense Moses’ actions are unsurprising. However, what we find in verses 24–26 startles us. The man who eagerly sought the blessing of his father-in-law did not seek the blessing of God upon his child through the sacramental sign of circumcision. What a contrast!
The Obedience Problem
Having noticed how verses 18–20 work in concert with verses 24–26 we are now to think about verses 21–23. God had just said to Moses, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So, I have said to you, ‘Let My people go that he may serve Me; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.” Here we find a clue to one of the most perplexing questions in the story. God told Moses that Pharaoh would lose his firstborn because of disobedience. Now, on the way back to Egypt Moses is about to lose his firstborn because of his own disobedience. He had not circumcised his son and God was about to strike Moses’ firstborn. The parallel is striking. This also goes hand in glove with what we have learned thus far in the story. In comparison to a bush, a stick, Moses’ hand, Jethro, and Zipporah—Moses is hesitant and perhaps even a bit disobedient!
But God does not show favoritism. He does not say, “Oh Moses! You hard-headed guy! Okay, I will let you get away with a little rebellion.” Can you imagine how hypocritical that would be? How could Moses stand before Pharaoh and say, “For your disobedience God will strike down your first born” knowing that he has been disobedient by not placing the sign of the covenant given to Abraham on his child? So, what we have in verses 24–26 is nothing short of God showing up at the lodge ready to strike down Moses’ firstborn because of his disobedience.
Finally, let us notice how verses 27–31 fit with verses 24–26. Moses went up to meet Aaron (who was obedient to God by the way [4:27]) in the wilderness and it appears to have been a wonderful reunion. Moses then described to Aaron all that God commanded him to do. Surely the events at the lodge had an enormous impact on Moses personally and it’s likely that he shared those events with Aaron. Perhaps this very incident came to mind when Aaron lost his sons Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. Nonetheless, Moses told his brother all that the Lord had commanded.
Afterward, Moses and Aaron went to visit the elders of the Sons of Israel. Now, may I pull language down from v. 22? They went to meet God’s son, God’s firstborn—Israel. And what was the result? Verse 31, God’s son believed. And when they heard about the Lord’s concern and how He had seen their affliction they bowed in worship. What a lesson in parenting for Moses!
But to extend the thought. The obedience of Israel, God’s typological son, would be short-lived. Moses would also see Israel’s disobedience. Therefore, he would need to look beyond them. By the Lord’s Word and the types and shadows of the law, Moses looked forward to God’s greater Son—God’s own obedient only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus. That Son, though perfect, bore the disobedience of His people and He did not escape death like Gershom. But for the moment, Israel’s obedience as God’s son pointed Moses in the right direction.