18 Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.
21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”
24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’[c] feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.
27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him to speak, and all the signs that he had commanded him to do. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. 31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 4:18-31)
In our passage today we have some very hard things and some very strange things to deal with as fallen creatures. We have some things here that are so foreign to the modern ear and mind that we may be tempted in various ways to dishonor God’s Word. We might be tempted to fight against God’s Word, or to be embarrassed of what we might think is the weirdness of God’s Word. But these things are not options for us as Christians. Nor is it an option for me to apologize for preaching God’s Word. So at the outset, as we come before God’s Word, we would do well to be reminded that we are but dust. We are creatures. We are not the arbiters of truth, or the standard of strangeness. We do not sit in the seat of judgment over God’s Word, determining what we will accept and what we will not. We are rather in the position of receivers of God’s Word. It is only our job to receive it, believe it, and obey it. It is rather, the Word that stands in judgment over us – showing us our sin, and errors, and misunderstandings, and showing us where we need to change.
Having said that, concerning the strange things in our passage today, I do not believe in the slightest that you will find it to be irrelevant, confusing, or boring like many modern people do today. If you do, then the blame is entirely on me (or you), and not God’s Word. This is a passage I really looked forward to, and greatly enjoyed studying this week. My prayer and hope is that you will have your Christian faith strengthened by it today, and your love for the Bible deepened.
So this section of Scripture gives us the events involved in Moses’ return trip to Egypt. Every single sentence here is not a strict chronological flow, but everything here happened between the burning bush and up to the Israelites receiving of the words of God through Moses. We can organize this passage in three categories: God’s Timing, God’s Way, and God’s People.
God’s Timing (v. 18-20)
First, we should note God’s providence at work when it was the right time for Moses to return to Egypt and deliver the people.
The first thing is the agreeableness of Jethro. Moses goes to his father-in-law to ask him if he could return to Egypt. Now we might initially that that is a bit odd that 80 year old Moses asks permission from his father-in-law, but we must remember that Moses was in charge tending Jethro’s flock. It was his job. We don’t know the exact nature of the agreement, but the point is that Moses had responsibilities that he was tied up with, and with ease, God works that out for him. It is the responsible thing, to go and make sure your responsibilities are covered and taken care of before just leaving. Even though God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, he didn’t just disappear. He remained faithful in his duties and trusted God would work it out, and God did as Jethro sends Moses in peace.
The second thing to note is what God tells Moses in verse 19 – all the men who sought Moses’ life from 40 years earlier are now all dead. This means Moses now has nothing to fear in his return and gives him confidence in his task. This fact, that may seem like quite a small detail actually serves to help us continue to see Moses as a type of Christ. The phrase used here that all who sought Moses’ life are now dead, is the same used of Christ. Matthew 2:19-20, “But when Herod died, behold, and angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’”
So in God’s providence, God again proves to Moses that now is the time to return to Egypt. So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.
Now this last phrase of verse 20 serves as a transition to the next verses. “And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.” Then in the next verse the Lord tells Moses that when he gets before Pharaoh, do before him, “all the miracles that I have put in your power.” So that is interesting wording. God tells Moses to do the miracles that He has put in Moses’ power. How has God puts miracles in Moses power? By the staff in his hand. It was God’s staff. Back in verse 17 God instructed Moses to take this staff into his hands with which he shall do the signs. And Moses confirms in verse 20 that he took the staff of God into his hands – which is the symbol of God’s power that he has vested in Moses as a mediator. We’ll see it more and more throughout Exodus, but this is the beginning of Moses as a mediator between God and the people.
God’s Way (v. 21-26)
But what will happen when Moses goes and tells Pharaoh what God has said and shows Pharaoh the signs that God gave him? God says, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” That’s like God telling Jeremiah to preach to a people who will not hear. And it is here that we find ourselves at a hard truth in the Word of God. It is a hard truth not because it is unclear, but because it is quite clear. God said that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart. God said that He hated Esau. God said that Jeremiah would preach to a people who would not hear. Jesus said in John 9, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Jesus called Judas the Son of Destruction and said that he was lost that the Scripture might be fulfilled. The Apostle Paul reiterates that God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. These are hard truths not because it is unclear what is meant, but because it is quite clear.
These are hard truths not because they are bad, but because we are. These are hard truths not because God is hard-hearted, but because we are hard-hearted, and hard-headed.
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But later on in Exodus it also says that Pharaoh hardened his heart. Certainly both are true. And we can begin to see it when we think about what God used to harden Pharaoh’s heart. What did God use to do this? He used Moses’ Words, which was God’s Word. The Word of God was the means through which God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. This is because the Word of God does not return void, but it accomplishes that which it was set forth to accomplish. And God’s Word pronounces both salvation and judgment. We are often quick to accept the salvation, but slower to accept the judgment. But we can’t have it that way. We are to accept all of the Word of God and it’s effects. When the Word of God is preached some are hardened with deaf ears and blind eyes, others are softened to receive it that it grows roots deep in them. Some hear the Word of God and respond in faith, some hear the Word of God and respond in unbelief. And the Word of God has its intended effect every time.
Did this keep Moses from going to Pharaoh? No, it did not. Duty is ours, results belong to God.
There are many parts and doctrines of Scripture that are hard to understand and accept to our human flesh and minds. But we don’t get to object to God’s Word based on human reasoning and philosophy.
We must not be ashamed to speak the way the Holy Spirit speaks.
We live in an age of humanistic egalitarianism. We have rejected the basics of the natural hierarchy in God’s created world and have accepted the lie that any inequality among men is an injustice. But such false notions of reality as these are shattered by the Biblical doctrine of God’s sovereign predestination, and the fact that God makes men to differ, both in stations, places, possessions, skills, gifts, and responsibilities in life, but also in grace. God had mercy on Moses and hardened Pharaoh. God delivered the Israelites and destroyed the Egyptians.
I love what R. J. Rushdoony says, “All nations are not equally honored…nothing can eliminate the fact of differences. If we reject God’s predestinating purpose, we fall into a variety of humanistic answers.”
You see, men despise God’s predestination because they have been trained in false humanistic doctrines, such as egalitarianism and the myth of equality.
All men are different and endowed with different and varied graces. If we fail to recognize these things as gifts from God’s hand we can become prideful and persecute those with less. If we recognize all things as endowments from God and His grace, we can live humbly and gratefully, for the only thing that ultimately separates us from another man is the grace of God.
If it is difficult for us to comprehend God’s predestinating purposes we must remember that it is not our job to comprehend all the ways and mind of God, but ours is simply to trust Him and worship Him faithfully. But we must also remember that God has never sinned and He has never done anyone wrong. God is never wrong or unjust in His judgments. And sometimes God judges men by hardening their hearts and blinding their eyes.
As Rushdoony says, “God’s plan of judgment is moral.” God always does what is right. When He hardens and judges, He is doing right. We have to trust that.
It wasn’t as if Pharaoh was a kind and innocent man who sought to honor the true God. No, Pharaoh deserved God’s judgment in hell far before God hardened his heart. The Egyptians were a wicked people deserving of judgment for a long long time. And the fact is, so were the Hebrews. Everyone deserves hell, yet God in His abundant mercy has predestined not just a few, but MANY to salvation. There is no man or woman, boy or girls who is owed salvation and mercy from God, and yet God, in His riches of grace, has predestined from all eternity to drench a great number of sinners more numerous than the stars in the sky with his saving grace – to save undeserving sinners by the death of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross at the hand of sinners. God is to be praised for His mercy and grace, not questioned and accused because of His justice and judgments. God’s ways are not our ways.
So God says that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. Then He tells Moses to tell Pharaoh that if Pharaoh does not let God’s people go, then God will kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son. The firstborn son was the future of the family and the nation. So in this battle between Yahweh and Pharaoh it was a battle over the future. And in this God calls Israel His firstborn Son. God says, Israel is my firstborn son, if you don’t let my son go, then I will kill your firstborn son, Pharaoh. God says in the prophet Hosea, Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
So in this way, we can see that the Exodus and God’s judgment on Pharaoh and Egypt was in a way, God’s defense of His family – His defense of His son.
Since Israel was God’s firstborn son, this also proves that there was no wrong done to Pharaoh – none of his house or anything that belonged to him was being taken. As Calvin says, “…by calling them His sons, He claims liberty for them…”
If they are sons, they are free. If they are sons, they are not slaves.
God Sought the Life of Moses’ Firstborn
So now let’s look at verse 24-26. These are a difficult few verses to understand not only in content but also in translating the Hebrew wording and structure. So as Moses is traveling with his family it says that God meets him and sought to put him to death. Now, who was it that God sought to put to death here? It might seem like it was Moses. And that may be and a lot of people think that. But others, and myself included, see this as God seeking to put Moses’ firstborn son to death. There are several reasons why this seems to make the most sense. The first is that we should not separate verse 24 from verse 22-23. The Lord calls Israel His firstborn son, and tells Moses to tell Pharaoh that if Pharaoh does not let God’s firstborn son go, then God will kill his firstborn son. Then we see in verse 25, right after verse 24 that Zipporah cuts off her son’s foreskin, circumcising him. The second thing is that this shows us that Moses apparently failed to circumcised his son, as he would’ve been required to do being in the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision. Genesis 17 lays out this covenant, and it says in Genesis 17:14, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” So the punishment for breaking this covenant was being cut off from your people. And it says the one who is not circumcised is cut off. Which would be the son who is not circumcised. We might think, “well that’s not fair, it should be the father who failed to circumcise his son that is cut off. But we have to realize, if the son is cut off, then so is the father from inheriting the promises of that covenant. His son was his future. So in cutting off the uncircumcised son, the father is cut off. And that is what it seems like is about to happen here in Exodus. Moses failed in his responsibility, but God will not allow him to ride in judgment to Egypt, without first judging and purifying his own house. Furthermore, we know that later on in Egypt, when God judges the land, he judges all the firstborn sons. It was not only the Egyptian sons that were under judgment when God goes to kill the firstborn. Hebrew boys were not passed over because they were Hebrews. They were ONLY passed over if the blood of the lamb was on their doorpost. So it makes sense that judgment first comes to Moses, God’s mediator, before all the people. ALL the firstborn sons deserved to die, it was ONLY the blood that saved them. This judgment is foreshown in the judgment and salvation on Moses’ son here. We see here what judgment was to come AND how salvation was to come.
Now, a lot of times people read this and think that Zipporah circumcised her son and then takes the foreskin and throws it angrily at Moses’ feet in verse 25. I think what is really happening here is that she circumcised her son and then she places the foreskin on her sons’ feet, or legs could be another way to translate it, in order to display the blood. And to display to the angel of the Lord that her son is covered by the blood. It is showing the angel of the Lord that it has been done. And the big thing here is that in most of our English translations it says that she touched Moses’ feet with the foreskin. But if you look, you probably have a footnote there in your bible that says, the word Moses’ in verse 25, is not actually in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew text just says “his.” So it should read, “Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched his feet with it…” So her displaying the blood, on her son, whom the Lord was after, makes total sense here.
The other part of this is that people usually think Zipporah is angry with Moses, throws the foreskin at his feet and calls him a “bridegroom of blood” as a derogatory name. By why would it be derogatory if this blood saved her son’s life? Furthermore, if it wasn’t Moses’ feet that she placed the foreskin, that means she said this to her son. Verse 25, “Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched his feet with it and said, ‘surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’” Verse 26 says that she said this after God let him alone and did not kill him. So it seems to me that this is a statement of relief about her son.
But furthermore, she says that you have become a bridegroom of blood TO ME. Which seems to indicate that Zipporah thinks his blood saved her life, like she also might have been killed. Or maybe she is just thinking in terms of the future of her family. But in some way she seems to indicate that this blood was also for her.
Now I can’t help but think of Mary here. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was saved by the blood of her firstborn son, which means that Mary is also part of the bride of Christ. Mary’s Son was a bridegroom of blood to her.
And just thinking in broader terms in regard to the themes of redemption that run throughout the Old Testament into the New, the woman represents the bride. The daughters become the future bride. And here we see that the woman is saved by the blood of the firstborn Son. The Bride is redeemed by the blood of the Son. This of course is all about the Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive work. All this blood and strangeness is teaching us about the blood atonement of Jesus Christ, that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, Hebrews says. And it was the redeeming shed blood of the Son of God, the Firstborn Son Jesus Christ, that purchased and saved the woman, the Bride, the Church of Jesus Christ – you and I.
Jesus is our Bridegroom of Blood. The righteous anger, wrath, and justice of God was focused and aimed at the Lord Jesus as He hung on the cross for our sins. Though Moses failed to circumcise his son, the anger and justice was coming down on the son. Likewise, though we are the ones who have sinned and rebelled against God, and we are the ones who have transgressed the law, and have been derelict in our duties as covenant breakers, the wrath, justice, and punishment comes down upon The Son. He is put to death for us. His blood is shed for us. And it is faith that says, “Christ surely is a bridegroom of blood TO ME.” HIS blood was shed FOR ME.
Now matter how weird, or strange, or unjust that it may SEEM to US, this is God’s WAY: blood atonement. And it is the blood of the firstborn Son that saves the bride.
God’s People (v. 27-31)
Finally and briefly we see God’s people. God sends Aaron out to meet with Moses. Moses and Aaron return to the elders and people of Israel. They tell them all that God has told them and show them the signs that God had given to Moses. And how beautiful it is, verse 31, “And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.” They humble themselves before God in worship.
So what is that we are supposed to do when we are confronted with this big, awesome, almighty, sovereign God that we can’t understand all of His ways? We are to humble ourselves, bowing in worship before Him. The greatness, power, and sovereignty of God is to humble us before Him, and His compassion, mercy, and blood shed by His Son is to create worship in us, as we are humbled before Him.
We are to see that His ways are accomplished, that they are beyond our comprehension or understanding, and that in them all He is all good, and we are thus to be confronted and reminded of our smallness, we are creatures and dust, but to humbly submit to the great God of all the universe, and that is the most safe place to be – to be humbly submitted before Him, trusting and resting only blood of the Son that was shed for us and our sins and our rebellion and our back talking to God. That is the only place that we will find rest and peace and comfort. If we try to venture out from there in pride and arrogance we will go crazy, we will be driven to madness, and to hardness of heart.
So come and rest in Jesus Christ today. Come and rest in that God has shed the blood of Son on behalf of sinners, on behalf of His bride, and so we are spared. We are saved. We are redeemed. And Jesus Christ is surely a bridegroom of blood to us! What relief. Amen.