Rejoice, everybody! It is Friday, and if you live in sunny central California, you get to enjoy temps in the 70s today with sunshine and no humidity. If you're in the area, come visit us at Valley Baptist Church in Salinas! If you're not, then I am sorry to brag on our weather - your's probably isn't as nice. After 1.5 years as a native Californian, I've learned that the four most California things possible are: #1 Mentioning how great the weather is #2 Eating Avocados #3 Skateboarding #4 Buying bags at the grocery store because I am literally incapable of remembering to get them out of my trunk and bring them into the store. Enough nonsense - Today's Bible passages include Job 21, where we see Job at his best: a man of sorrows that maintains an excellent sense of dark sarcasm in answering his mean friends:
Pay close attention to my words;
let this be the consolation you offer.
3 Bear with me while I speak;
then after I have spoken, you may continue mocking.
In Luke 7, we see the remarkable example of the Roman Centurion's faith, and Jesus' compassion and power on full display as He resurrects the only son of the Widow of Nain. 1 Corinthians chapter 8 is focused on eating food sacrificed to idols - not a big deal in much of the West - but also discusses how to NOT be a stumbling block to people when we use our freedom to eat and drink. It also contains this powerful nugget of wisdom, " Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up " (1 Corinthians 8:1) Our focus passage remains in Exodus today, and our Bible question concerns what might be one of the most mysterious (and totally unexplained!) events in all of the Bible. Let's read the whole of Exodus 4, and be on the lookout for the mysterious happening. Notice how there is not pretext or postscript that explains our event in question.
Did you catch it?! There, right at the end of Exodus 4, almost IMMEDIATELY after God has called and pushed Moses into leading the Exodus out of Egypt, God goes to Moses to KILL HIM! Yes - I said kill him, because that's exactly what the Bible says! WHAT IN THE WORLD?! Here's the text again, in case you missed it:
On the trip, at an overnight campsite, it happened that the Lord confronted him and intended to put him to death. 25 So Zipporah took a flint, cut off her son’s foreskin, threw it at Moses’s feet, and said, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. At that time she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood,” referring to the circumcision.
SO MANY QUESTIONS! The foremost question is: WHY does God seek to kill Moses, but there are other questions too: HOW was God going to kill him? WHY did Moses' wife circumcise her son, and throw the tip at the FEET of Moses? WHY did that appease God? And finally, what in the world did she mean by, "surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me?" Let me begin our answers with a strong caution: I think we can offer an extremely plausible explanation for much of what is happening here, and we can offer an explanation that is sound in a biblical sense. However, our explanations will AT BEST be CONJECTURE. (conjecture is an opinion or conclusion that comes from incomplete or missing information.) Biblical conjecture is ok - I think - as long as we say right up front that we are speculating - making educated guesses at best.
Putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together, it would appear that God was going to bring the most severe discipline possible to Moses, because Moses was willfully refusing to obey God's commands and have his son circumcised. Let's turn to our French friend John Calvin for a good speculation/conjecture about what is going on here:
The expression, “the Lord met him,” is here used in a bad sense, for an adverse meeting, or hostile encounter; as though Moses should say that the hand of the Lord was against him to interrupt his journey. In what form He appeared we don't know, except that the words pretty plainly imply that Moses was assured of His anger, so as to be aware that his death was near...
The cause is not [directly] expressed for which he perceived that God was so angry with him; except that we may gather it from what follows. For why should Zipporah have taken a sharp stone or knife and circumcised her son, had she not known that God was offended at his uncircumcision? It is sufficient for us to know that he was terrified by the approach of certain destruction, and that, at the same time, the cause of his affliction was shown to him, so that he hastened to seek for a remedy. It would never have otherwise occurred to himself or his wife to circumcise the child to appease God’s wrath; and it will appear a little further on, that God's anger was satisfied by this offering, since he withdrew his hand, and took away the signs of his wrath.
I therefore unhesitatingly conclude, that vengeance was declared against Moses for his negligence, which was connected with still heavier sins; for he had not omitted his son’s circumcision from forgetfulness, or ignorance, or carelessness only, but because he was aware that it was disagreeable either to his wife or to his father-in-law. Therefore, lest his wife should quarrel with him, or his father-in-law trouble him, he preferred to gratify them than to give occasion for divisions, or enmity, or disturbance. In the meantime, however, for the sake of the favor of men, he neglected to obey God. This false dealing was no light offense, since nothing is more intolerable than to defraud God of his due obedience, in order to please men. There was a mixture too of distrust and ingratitude in it; for, if the favor of God had had its proper weight in the eyes of Moses, he would not have been stopped by the fear of man from this holy duty.
John Calvin and Charles William Bingham, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 105–106. Slightly modernized
I agree with John Calvin (my agreement shouldn't carry much weight!) The issue appears to be that Moses, though aware of God's command to circumcise, REFUSED to circumcise his son in order to appease his wife, and possibly his father in law too. This would explain Zipporah's cryptic "bridegroom of blood to me" comment. Very likely, she is expressing distress and possibly even disgust at the necessity of performing such an operation on an infant. For a more complete and deep explanation of the practice of circumcision, please refer back to episode 16 of this podcast, in which we spent a good bit of time exploring the topic, and the fact that New Testament Christians are NOT required to be circumcised.
As a reminder - God commanded Abraham to institute circumcision for all males born to his descendants as a way of setting them apart from all of the other peoples of the land. Perhaps the best reasoning for circumcision I've ever heard was quoted in depth on episode 16 of the show, but basically amounts to this: Abraham's son Isaac was born in a miraculous way to a mom and dad who were way beyond the age of childbearing. As such, the entire nation of Israel was the miraculous doing of God - it didn't happen in a natural way, but a supernatural way. Every time a Hebrew male would begin to be intimate with his wife, in order to produce a child, they would both be reminded - by the sign of circumcision - that they were a people uniquely created by God. This miraculous birth also foreshadowed the birth of the soon coming messiah Jesus - born to a virgin to save His people - and the entire world - from their sins.
In the Old Covenant, circumcision was SUPREMELY important - as a sign and a reminder of God's goodness. That Moses would compromise on this most important commandment demonstrated that he would compromise on other important commandments too, and I speculate that God could not allow one of His major leaders in all of human history to lead His people into compromise. Thus did God come near to force Moses to repent, or to take His life if He stubbornly maintained his refusal to obey God. We might think this a bit over the top on God's part, but it is worth remembering a dynamic that we learn about in the New Testament: God's leaders and God's teachers WILL BE JUDGED MORE SEVERELY. Why? Because when they compromise and sin, they lead more people away than just themselves.
Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment
As John Calvin rightly pointed out, Moses should have been more full of the fear of God than the fear of what his wife or father in law might say to him. God is a consuming fire - He is awesome, mighty and powerful, and Moses was attempting to be a people-pleaser, and not a God-pleaser - a dangerous road to go down - LITERALLY! for a man of God.
You might be tempted to read such passages as this, and think as many do - that God was more harsh in the Old Testament, and more merciful in the New Testament, but such a view would be completely inaccurate. God is ALWAYS Holy. He is ALWAYS merciful. Consider Ananias and Sapphira - killed in the New Testament for their sin of lying to God's apostles. Consider the danger that Paul warns about in 1 Corinthians 11 (a topic we will cover in 3 days!) where he suggests that it is possible for people to DIE if they do not properly honor God in the way they partake of the Lord's supper. Finally, consider Jesus' stark and important warning about the fear of God in Matthew:
Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
It is not at all hyperbole when Proverbs 9 tells us that the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." May we take His commands with the utmost sobriety and seriousness! Allow me to close with an encouraging word from Charles Spurgeon:
Again, as Jesus did not utter a word against his adversaries, so he did not say a word against any one of us. You remember how Zipporah said to Moses, “Surely a bloody husband art thou to me,” as she saw her child bleeding; and surely Jesus might have said to his church, “You are a costly spouse to me, to bring me all this shame and blood-shedding.” But he gives liberally, he opens the very fountain of his heart, and he does not scold us. He had counted on paying the ultimate price, and endured the cross, despising the shame.
“This was compassion like a God,
That when the Saviour knew
The price of pardon was his blood,
His pity ne’er withdrew.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sheep before the Shearers,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 26 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1880), 350–351.
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