Call, Obedience, and Faithfulness to Family – What the Weird story in Exodus 4:24-26 Teaches Us

If you are hanging with us at Genesis as we journey through Exodus, or listening online, we hope you are enjoying the series.  Preaching a long narrative like Exodus leaves us with choices on what and how much to cover.  We have chosen to move through the story in a few months rather than in a few years, so sometimes we have to choose how much of the story to highlight. Reading the Bible is always an adventure, but sometimes we come to stories and events that are included in the narrative that are just bizarre, and often difficult to find an explanation.  The short account in Exodus 4:24-26 is one such example.  I alluded briefly to this account on Sunday, but wanted to write a blog about this account and what it teaches us in light of God’s call and purpose.  Right after calling Moses and sending him to Pharaoh, God meets Moses and his family and is about to take his life (or possibly the life of his first born son).  Here is the story.

At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. 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!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.  (Exodus 4:24-26 ESV)

OK, so let me see if I got this right?  God sent Moses but then decided to meet him on the road to take his life.  Seems like a pretty schizophrenic God, right?  Well, not really.  Remember, Moses is telling this story, and he includes this to show his failure in following the call of God, and the importance of family in this larger plan.  To understand the story we must begin with the covenant with Abraham and the role of circumcision.  Of course, that just adds to the bizarre nature of the story.  In Genesis 17:1-14 God is forming the Covenant with Abraham which is filled with all the promises He will keep to the descendants of Abraham.  Exodus is the story of God’s mighty acts in order to fulfill these promises made hundreds of years before.  In this passage God gives Abraham the sign of the covenant, circumcision.  While this seems to be a strange ask from God, there are many reasons God did this, the simplest being that Hebrew men who serve the Living God could not commit adultery without the other person knowing their religious identity.  Whatever the case, in the story found in Genesis God commands Abraham to be circumcised and to do the same with all of his household.  He then tells Abraham that all his descendants must bear the sign of the covenant, and in Genesis 17:14 he is told that anyone who is not circumcised must be cut off from the people of God, the faith community of the Hebrews.

With that background, now God has called Moses to go back to Egypt, to rejoin the Hebrew community and represent Yahweh to them.  He is also going to go to Pharaoh and command him to release the Hebrews from slavery with a warning.  As descendants from Abraham, the Hebrews are God’s firstborn.  If Pharaoh will not listen God will avenge His firstborn by taking the life of Pharaoh’s (Exodus 4:21-23).  Moses is going to lead the nation, to be a leader for them to Pharaoh.

But Moses failed to begin by leading his own family.  He has not circumcised his own children.  They are to be cut off from the very community that Moses is supposed to lead.  And when the Lord appears, it isn’t even Moses who acts, but Moses’s wife Zipporah who circumcises her boys.  This wasn’t her job.  First of all, she didn’t even grow up among the Hebrews, she married in to the clan.  But second, this was a dad’s job.  And Moses did not fulfill this most basic calling.  He was to lead and pastor the nation, but he did not lead and pastor his own family.  So God opposes him.

So Moses writes his confession here.  He tells us that he failed as a dad even as he was supposed to succeed as a leader.  This is true way too often.  People want to be used by God, they want to lead and make a difference in the church and in the world.  But sometimes they do this as they fail to see the starting place for this sort of ministry.  True spiritual leadership begins at home.  It is husbands loving and leading their wives.  It is wives caring for their husbands and serving alongside of him.  It is parents investing the Faith into the lives of their children, teaching them to love Jesus, know Scripture, and pray.  It is doing family worship together and teaching the family to memorize Scripture.  All spiritual leadership begins here.  Moses forgot that, so do many who are in ministry.  This almost tragic story has been retold many times in the lives of pastors and church leaders.  They build ministries that are successful in the eyes of the world, but end up with children who lose their faith in the process.

But God’s grace is beautiful.  Even though it is Moses’s wife who does the act, God blesses.  Later, as Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible under the inspiration of God he will pen another passage that is vitally important for the Hebrews.  It is called the Shema, and is at the core the simplest reminder of what it means to love and serve their God.  And it contains a clear call to be the person that Moses was not when he started the journey.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV)

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