I nearly laughed out loud when I read a commentary on Exodus 4 in which the author wrote, “The reader is unprepared for verse 24.”
That, my friends, is putting the matter very, very mildly!
Another author said rather “the reader is floored by verse 24, shocked, almost scared out of his or her wits by this intrusive verse!”
So far in Exodus, we see things moving along pretty well. God has now called Moses, and despite initial hesitancy and resistance, Moses is now cooperating quite nicely. (He’s still a bit resistant, but he’s getting better)
So without further ado, Moses had taken leave of his father-in-law, packed up the family, and left Midian and you would think that God would have been pleased at how things were going.
In fact, by the time we get to verses 21-23 of today’s reading, the text has become almost casual in relaying to us the fact that God now chats with Moses on a pretty regular basis and without a lot of fanfare.
So when we do get to verse 24, it’s pretty much out-of-the-blue. That verse tells us that God is planning to kill someone.
And it’s one of the oddest portions of Exodus if not one of the most bizarre incidents in the entire Bible.
And “What could it mean?”
While I won’t tell you definitely this morning, I will suggest this whole chapter is a turning point for the people of Israel.
Up to this point in the story, we have a lot of going up, and going out. We have a lot going forth. We have a lot of responding, and hesitating, and acting. We have speaking, and moving. We have building, and even trusting.
But here for the very first real time, in this chapter we have the throwing down, both literally and figuratively.
In Genesis and Exodus we saw God saving His people. But we did not seen the people doing something essential in order to be saved.
I believe that this chapter shows us the first real model of salvation in the life of a follower of Christ.
And as strange and creepy an incident as Exodus 4:24-26 might be, it previews for us so much of what is vital to all things related to salvation.
In other words, yes, we are saved by grace but grace always comes to us with blood on it.
And if it’s not our shed blood that saves, then the saving blood must belongs to someone else, and that someone is vividly pictured here as Moses is references as no less than a blood-smeared bridegroom. He’s a archetype savior figure that points to the real bloodstained bridegroom, Jesus, who would take away the sin of the world.
But to be saved by the blood, we have to throw down.
And that’s what was missing for Moses, and God’s people. They were happy to be saved, by they really had not thrown down, and trusted God.
So Moses really needed here to completely leave Midian behind him, he needed to throw that old life down.
And we see this theme of throwing down several times. The staff and the serpent, the water, the blood.
And it is clear that God is saying that even though Moses had left Midian physically and geographically, his uncircumcised son bore witness to the fact that he and Zipporah had not yet left Midian behind completely and spiritually.
And of course it’s the same for us. Each of us need to leave our Midians behind us if we are to be a people wholly dedicated to the God who gave up his only begotten Son for us.
To drop our nets and follow Christ we cannot do it. . . kind of, sort of, some of the time.
If we are to be children of the God, then we need to completely throw down our own Midians.
And for each of us, that will all be a little different.
But I’d wager that everyone in this room has something that will spring to mind. Something they cling to that we should give up to follow Jesus, but we still keep those things tucked away somewhere.
There a show on right now called “Mike & Molly”. And it’s a romantic type situation comedy that involved two rather overweight individual who meet at a over eaters anonymous meeting and become a couple. In one episode, one of them reveals that even though they have given up eating candy as past of the program, they keep a candy bar hidden in the fridge. Mike says he knows, and he’s eaten and replaced it three times. Molly then admits she’s eaten and replaced it …five.
They KNOW they have this thing to leave behind, but they keep the temptation tucked away close so they can indulge from time to time.
They know they shouldn’t BUT……
Which reminds me of a joke. A child asked a preacher why people who follow Jesus are called Christian Butts.
The preacher was surprise as he had never heard of it, but he thought it might be a rude things that people said to put Christians down. He thought maybe it came from some Christians being judgmental and acting like a BUTT.
But No. The boy said. It’s not something other people say. His parents say they are Christian butts.
The preacher was shocked and asked the boy to give an example.
He said…”they are always saying it.” They will swear and cuss and say bad things about someone and then say “I know I’m supposed to be a Christian BUT….”
We are not Christians BUTs. We are Christians. Follows of Jesus. No Buts about it….
If you remember though, even some of the disciples thought they were Christian Buts when he called them….
They said…We’d love to follow you Jesus BUT …we’d got business back home, we’ve got dead to bury, we’ve got arrangements to make.
Jesus said. No BUTS. Follow Me.
That’s where Moses was. He ways saying I’ll follow you out of Egypt God BUT….
And God says here. NO BUTS!
Whatever it is we need to throw down, it’s not supposed to be some, or whatever’s left, or whatever we feel like. It’s not supposed to 10%. It’s supposed to be all of it.
We are to throw out whole selves down at the foot of cross, and give ourselves to God.
And when Moses and the people of God left Egypt, they were not going to be successful if their faith was 10%, or 50% or part way. They were going to have a lot of problems if they were wishy-washy, somewhat committed, murmuring and complaining.
Unfortunately, that didn’t stop them, and they had a lot of problems.
But God urged them to get fully on board. Their salvation, and ours, came with a heavy price. Illustrated here, it was a price of blood, and a full commitment.
So whatever “Midian” is for each of us, God urges us to leave it behind.
Exodus 4 [From the NLT – New Living Translation]
1 But Moses protested again, “Look, they won’t believe me! They won’t do what I tell them. They’ll just say, ‘The LORD never appeared to you.'”
2 Then the LORD asked him, “What do you have there in your hand?””A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied.
3 “Throw it down on the ground,” the LORD told him. So Moses threw it down, and it became a snake! Moses was terrified, so he turned and ran away.
4 Then the LORD told him, “Take hold of its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it became a shepherd’s staff again.
5 “Perform this sign, and they will believe you,” the LORD told him. “Then they will realize that the LORD, the God of their ancestors — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob — really has appeared to you.”
6 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Put your hand inside your robe.” Moses did so, and when he took it out again, his hand was white as snow with leprosy.
7 “Now put your hand back into your robe again,” the LORD said. Moses did, and when he took it out this time, it was as healthy as the rest of his body.
8 “If they do not believe the first miraculous sign, they will believe the second,” the LORD said.
9 “And if they do not believe you even after these two signs, then take some water from the Nile River and pour it out on the dry ground. When you do, it will turn into blood.”
10 But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I’m not now, even after you have spoken to me. I’m clumsy with words.”
11 “Who makes mouths?” the LORD asked him. “Who makes people so they can speak or not speak, hear or not hear, see or not see? Is it not I, the LORD?
12 Now go, and do as I have told you. I will help you speak well, and I will tell you what to say.”
13 But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send someone else.”
14 Then the LORD became angry with Moses. “All right,” he said. “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? He is a good speaker. And look! He is on his way to meet you now. And when he sees you, he will be very glad.
15 You will talk to him, giving him the words to say. I will help both of you to speak clearly, and I will tell you what to do.
16 Aaron will be your spokesman to the people, and you will be as God to him, telling him what to say.
17 And be sure to take your shepherd’s staff along so you can perform the miraculous signs I have shown you.”
18 Then Moses went back home and talked it over with Jethro, his father-in-law. “With your permission,” Moses said, “I would like to go back to Egypt to visit my family. I don’t even know whether they are still alive.””Go with my blessing,” Jethro replied.
19 Before Moses left Midian, the LORD said to him, “Do not be afraid to return to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.”
20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey, and headed back to the land of Egypt. In his hand he carried the staff of God.
21 Then the LORD reminded him, “When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will make him stubborn so he will not let the people go.
22 Then you will tell him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son.
23 I commanded you to let him go, so he could worship me. But since you have refused, be warned! I will kill your firstborn son!'”
24 On the journey, when Moses and his family had stopped for the night, the LORD confronted Moses and was about to kill him.
25 But Zipporah, his wife, took a flint knife and circumcised her son. She threw the foreskin at Moses’ feet and said, “What a blood-smeared bridegroom you are to me!”
26 (When she called Moses a “blood-smeared bridegroom,” she was referring to the circumcision.) After that, the LORD left him alone.
27 Now the LORD had said to Aaron, “Go out into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So Aaron traveled to the mountain of God, where he found Moses and greeted him warmly.
28 Moses then told Aaron everything the LORD had commanded them to do and say. And he told him about the miraculous signs they were to perform.
29 So Moses and Aaron returned to Egypt and called the leaders of Israel to a meeting.
30 Aaron told them everything the LORD had told Moses, and Moses performed the miraculous signs as they watched.
31 The leaders were soon convinced that the LORD had sent Moses and Aaron. And when they realized that the LORD had seen their misery and was deeply concerned for them, they all bowed their heads and worshiped.
“Be playful with the scriptures.” was the advice of a learned seminary professor.
He was not suggesting his students be unfaithful to God’s word.
But instead he wanted them to look beyond the words to all possible meanings brought out by the characters, emotions and situations found in each biblical passage.
And before we protest, we should know it is a proper thing to do because Jesus and the apostle did it themselves. Even though an Old Testament passage was clearly about the physical temple in Jerusalem for example, Jesus went beyond that and would state, I am the cornerstone upon which the Temple will be rebuilt.
That’s called allegory. And it’s clear that the Old Testament is filled with allegory. Jesus himself said, “all the words of scripture point to me”.
Now we could ask how could that be with a strict literal reading? How could the story of Noah be about Jesus? Well, it’s a story of a faithful few being saved by trusting God. There is a dove in the story that brings hope. It’s a story of punishment, and new promise. The story of Noah, at closer look is all about Jesus.
As is Isaiah, and David, and Job, and Jonah, and Ruth, and the list goes on.
It’s not coincidence or wishful thinking. The story of Jesus is IN all of it, when we look closer.
Now as a caution, we have to careful about not assuming too much allegory and going the other direction. Disregarding the literal sense and spiritualizing everything is dangerous because we can really be wrong. What Jesus has going for Him that we do not, it Jesus was God. So when he said “I am the cornerstore”, he knew what he was talking about.
We can’t always be certain that we know what we are talking about.
But like the apostles, if we trust the power of the Holy Spirit, and listen for God, and test everything, we can actually see Jesus in every part of scripture.
And Exodus (the story of God’s bringing man out of bondage) is clearly a Jesus story beneath the historical facts.
And it’s the story of throwing down.
God says “What’s that in your hand, Moses?”
“I-I-It’s my shepherd’s staff.”
“Throw it down.”
And you’d think that might be easy to say…big deal. Throw down a stick, Why was that so tough.
But for Moses, and for most people like him, the staff was life.
The staff, or rod as the scripture calls it, was essential to making a living as a shepherd, and even surviving in the desert life.
It was an essential tool.
Shepherds used the crooked end to pull sheep back into the herd when they strayed. It was a handy extension of their arm — to grasp things just beyond their reach.
The blunt end was important, too. If a wild animal attacked, the shepherd could use the end to poke it away. He could also use the staff like a baseball bat and beat back offenders if needed.
So the staff was, indeed, a necessity for making a living, and sometimes for simply staying alive. No shepherd dared leave home without it. The rod was indispensable, essential, vital to the everyday life.
You simply couldn’t be secure without it.
And that’s just the erroneous thinking that led God to say “Throw it down.”
For all Moses knew, God was telling him to get rid of his very life. God did not explain further and Moses might have been being asked by God to cast away his staff forever.
So it it would take faith.
And besides depending on his staff as a tool, Moses was used to it.
There may have been fond memories attached to it .
The wild animals he had fought off. The sheep he had saved. The comfort and support it gave him. yes, Moses could buy or cut a new rod, but it just wouldn’t be the same.
Moses simply depended on this object.
So when God said …. “Throw it down.” What could that mean?
What would he lean on, depend on? Without his staff.
And so Moses hesitates. Or does he?
Actually no. The Bible simply says that Moses, without question, threw the rod down. He did not hesitate. He did not know what God was planning, but he went ahead with it anyway.
Simply put, without is staff, he would have to lean on God.
What do we have in our lives that we would not give up? Or hesitate to give up?
Our home, car, clothes, food, money, children, family. Satellite TV? The internet?
We lean of these things, and we are hesitant to give them up.
And so this whole chapter in Exodus, and others speaks to the insecurity we can have when we follow Christ.
Like I said, Moses is universally accepted a Savior archetype. A Christ figure.
And he is leading God’s people out of their old life which was awful, but was also in many ways it was a life that was familiar, safe and comforting.
What did God promise them in the desert?
There was a promised land. And things would flow like milk and honey there. But like I said last week, in the meantime, what worldly possessions could they count on in the desert as the awaited this Kingdom.
The things they were given, where the things God gave. WHEN God gave them to them.
It took trust. And many didn’t have it. They were impatient. Upset with God. Life was hard. And they wanted God to get on with.
But Zipporah took a flint and cut her baby with it, tossing the bloody foreskin to the ground.
She didn’t do it because of fear. If God wanted to kill someone, He could have and he would have
Instead, Zipporah just responded the only way she knew to really show God, they had really left Midian behind. They were now fully God’s people.
So Moses was now a ” blood-smeared bridegroom” foreshadowing Jesus, our Savior.
The circumcision was a sacrifice, pointing to the final blood sacrifice that Jesus made.
You will never see the bible tells us it can be any other way.
There is no following Christ on the fence.
God says you can’t go part way. He told Moses, you can trust me part way. The old life is done, trust me, and I WILL save you!
(c)2013 Timothy Henry