Lessons from Israel: No.12 : God of Righteousness
Ex 4:24-26 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. 25But 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. 26So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)
We move on now to a rather strange incident in the life of Moses. His interview with the Lord has come to an end and so goes back to Jethro his father-in-law and asks permission to go back to his people in Israel (v.18) and Jethro sends him on his way with his blessing. We then have a little recap which explains Moses next actions: “Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead.” So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.” (4:19,20). Now we mention that because, as at the end of the conversation at the burning bush, it appears that he is on reasonable terms with the Lord. The Lord has sent him on his way with a reassurance of safety, and so Moses takes his family and sets off. Now in doing this, he is indicating his acceptance of the Lord’s task for him – and that is significant. Up until then he had been on a different footing, but that fact that he takes on the task changes everything.
Sometimes in Scripture there seems a vast understatement or lack of detail and verse 24 is such a verse: “At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him.” Now, we aren’t told how the Lord met him and how He was about to kill him. The fact that his wife was able to take remedial action suggests that Moses was struck down with an illness that was getting progressively worse. A question that naturally will come to mind here is, why should the Lord want to kill Moses, and the answer from those who know the Lord and understand a little of His ways, is that He doesn’t!
Parallel situations that we might consider that shed light on such a time are, first of all, Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22) and, second, the Lord’s anger on Mount Sinai when Israel made the golden calf (Ex 32 esp. v.10). It is clear that in neither case did the Lord want the outcome that was apparently being suggested. In the former case He wanted Abraham to show his willingness, and in the latter case He wanted Moses to plead for his people. So what is the point of the Lord looking like He is apparently going to kill Moses? Now if He had wanted to do that, He could have done it instantly but instead, as we have already noted, He gives time for remedial action to be taken.
So what was it that saved Moses’ life? “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.” The next verse indicates that she referred to circumcision, meaning you are a son of the covenant and your sons should also be sons of the covenant. So what was the covenant that she referred to? That between God and Abraham: “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised,” (Gen 17:10) which was supposed to be for all following generations as well. Moses had obviously been circumcised as a baby as part of the family of Israel and he should have circumcised his own boys, but obviously he had felt that he no longer had any link with Israel and so had not bothered.
As he makes his way back to Egypt, he is coming on the Lord’s terms and is coming as an Israelite and is required to come in righteousness, conforming to all that had been agreed in the past about Israel. Moses cannot enter into the work of God on his own terms. No, he is an Israelite, part of the covenant people of God and he should be doing all he can to conform to all that that means. If he tries to enter the will of God on his terms, death awaits him. He can only enter on the agreed terms. Now whether Moses told his wife to circumcise their son or she heard from the Lord directly is unclear, but whatever it is, she carries out this act of separation. It is separation of a small piece of skin but it is also a recognition that this boy is being separated off to the people of God. Touching Moses’ feet with the skin is a form of identification of the dying man with the covenant of God and it is on that basis that the Lord lifts His hand off Moses and he lives.
This was simply God’s way of emphasizing to Moses that he goes as God’s ambassador and therefore he should go righteously. Righteousness simply means conforming to all of God’s laws for His people. The law here is simply the sign of a covenant agreement between God and His people. Moses (and his family!) goes as a representative of the covenant people and he himself must therefore conform to that covenant. For us this concept of covenant may not be very significant but it was basically God saying to the family of Israel, you are my family. Today the New Testament speaks about us being the children of God (Jn 1:12,13, 1 Jn 3:1,2) or members of God’s household (Eph 2:19) and the emphasis is on the relationship with God, which goes as far as us being able to call him ‘daddy’ (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6).
David displayed great awareness of the significance of this covenant relationship when he came against Goliath and asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). He’s saying, why are you allowing this character who has no relationship with God to dominate you, the people who do have a relationship with God? The relationship is all important, and that is something that Moses is having to learn the hard way. No, this is not a strange little incident; this is a very significant little incident, and we would do well to learn from it.