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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:In seeking to kill Moses, the Lord teaches Moses his need for God's redemption
Text:Exodus 4:24b (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Text: Exodus 4:24b "...the LORD met him and sought to kill him."
Scripture Reading:
Exodus 4:18-31
Romans 3:21-25a

Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise" Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 60:1,2
Psalm 85:2,3
Psalm 40:5,7
Psalm 130:2,4
Hymn 24:1,5,7
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

This text, to us, does not make much sense. We heard last week that the Lord God set out to deliver His people from Egypt, in order to work the promised salvation in Jesus Christ. To perform that first step in His intended plan of salvation, God picked up the tool of His choice - Moses, the Egyptian refugee in Midian, the prince with the tarnished record. Now we read, in the very next paragraph of Scripture, that "the Lord met [Moses] and sought to kill him."

It leaves us puzzled. Does God flip-flop? Does God pick up a tool one day only to attempt to destroy His tool the next? God gives us tasks in His kingdom - be it as parents or teachers, school board members or secretaries, office-bearers or orchardists. Does He call us one day to office - only to seek to kill us the next? What sort of God is this?!

No, my brothers and sisters, the Lord does not flip-flop. With heavenly wisdom He picks up the tools of His choice -be it Moses or you or me- so that through us as His instruments He might accomplish a particular step to the coming of the Savior. But the tools He uses are at the same time persons He wishes to save; they're sinners need deliverance from their sins and misery. So God confronts Moses with his sinfulness, so that in turn Moses might delight in the redemption God prepares in Jesus Christ. So the tool of God's choice is fine-tuned, equipped for better service in God's hand - made more able to lay the gospel before the people of Israel.

I summarize the message of our text with this theme:


Why God sought to kill.
Why God did not kill.

1) Why God sought to kill

It happened on the way to Egypt. According to the command of God, Moses gave up his job as shepherd for Jethro his father-in-law, and traveled the road back to the land of his birth. His wife and two sons accompanied him on a donkey. The coming of night meant it was time to stop; accordingly Moses rested his family at a campsite along the way. Were Moses and Zipporah with the boys chatting around the campfire before bed? We're not told. But the peace of the campsite was broken by the Lord's effort to kill Moses. Through a fight? Did Moses health suddenly fail? Again, we don't know and the details are not important. Important is only what the Lord has told us; "at the encampment, . the Lord met him and sought to kill him."

Yes, we're puzzled by God's attempt on Moses' life. For Moses was a chosen tool of the Lord, through whom God determined to carry out a specific task in His kingdom. Moses had objected, five times over, that he wasn't the man for the job, that he didn't have the required gifts, didn't have the courage, etc, but God wasn't to be swayed by Moses' objections; he was the tool of God's choice. Yet scarcely has Moses set out to do God's bidding, and see, God seeks to kill the very man whom He'd called to perform a particular task! Is there not great inconsistency here? Can God be trusted?

Our text, congregation, does not spell out in so many words why God sought to kill Moses. Yet there is sufficient evidence in the passage for us to discern the motive of the Lord God. For when God met Moses and sought to kill him, his wife Zipporah -I read in vs 25- "took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son." Then, after Eliezer was circumcised, then the Lord let Moses go - vs 26. So one needs to conclude that the Lord was displeased with Moses because Moses had not had his son circumcised, and therefore sought to kill him.

This conclusion needs more color. We need to recall that Moses knew full well that his boys were to be circumcised. The author of the letter to the Hebrews was moved by the Holy Spirit to describe Moses like this:

"By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward" (Heb 11:24ff).

The implication of this statement is that Moses, certainly when he went to see how his people were doing 40 years ago, was a man of faith. Faith includes that one knows and accepts the promises of God. Well now, those promises of God to Israel -including Moses!- were caught in the sacrament of circumcision. Moses knew, as God had said to Abraham in Gen 17, that circumcision was "a sign of the covenant between Me and you" (vs 11). Precisely because of the riches captured in the sacrament of circumcision, God insisted in that same chapter of Genesis that

"he who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house . shall be circumcised" (Gen 17:12).


"the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant" (vs 14).

Moses knew the meaning of circumcision, and had embraced it in faith. That's why he'd "choosen rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt" - Heb 11.

The evidence indicates too that after his departure from Egypt forty years ago, Moses for some time clung to this faith, worked with this faith, practiced this faith. For when God sought to kill Moses at the campsite, Zipporah "cut off the foreskin of her son." Notice the singular; she cut off the foreskin of one son, not two. The implication is that the other son was already circumcised. And that in turn suggests that Moses, at the birth of his first son, had carried out the command of God to circumcise every male born within his house; Gershom his first born was circumcised (cf Ex 2:22).

Yet Moses' second child was obviously not circumcised when he was eight days old; Zipporah circumcised him at the campsite. Why had Moses failed to carry out God's command when his second son turned eight days old? Possibly the attitude of Zipporah as recorded in this part of Scripture gives us the answer. For when she cut off her son's foreskin, she touched Moses' feet with the severed skin, and then spoke in repulsive terms of Moses being a "husband of blood". Indeed, it's because of the circumcision that Zipporah calls Moses a husband of blood. That suggests in turn that Moses' wife was much offended by the whole concept of circumcision; it seems she found it so repulsive that she prevented Moses was administering the rite to her second son, Eliezer..

However that may have been, the fact is clear that Moses did not obey the command of God in Gen 17 to have his son circumcised. Though Eliezer was a child of the covenant, Moses as father did not give to him the sign and seal of the covenant. God in Gen 17 calls that failure a breaking of the covenant. Though we might be able to explain the reasons why Moses didn't obey the command, might even be able to understand possible domestic tensions leading up to Moses' decision, the fact of the matter is that here was sin on Moses part. The man whom God chose as His tool for a particular task in His kingdom was distinctly not above criticism. Indeed, so open to criticism was this tool of God's choosing that God Himself met him and sought to kill him. And God let him go only when Zipporah performed on the boy the circumcision Moses should have performed long ago.

It makes one think, brothers and sisters. Is failing to circumcise really so terrible a sin as to deserve this attack from God? Circumcision, like baptism, does not essentially change a person's standing before God. Like baptism, circumcision does not make one a covenant child; rather, one receives the sacrament because one already is a covenant child. Why, then, make such a fuss over the matter? Does God really insist on obedience to even the small details of His law - when such obedience will produce nothing but hassles? It seems so. But: what kind of a God is the Lord then?!

We can easily loose ourselves in numerous questions, even conclude that God lacks understanding of human situations. Yet it is not for us, congregation, to look at events from a human point of view but rather from God's angle.

God seeks to kill. Killing implies putting someone to death. Already in Paradise God had said, "in the day you eat of [the tree] you shall surely die" (Gen 2:17). Man had eaten, in Adam each man had eaten - Moses too. More, ever since the fall into sin each person was sinful, sinned every day - Moses too. And God's word stood fast; the wages of sin remains death (cf Rom 6:23). So God, while Moses was at the campsite, approached this sinner, 'meets' him, as our text says. And that word 'meet' implies that God saw Moses face to face, looked him in the eye (cf Gen 33:8; Ex 4:27, etc). What God saw when He looked closely at the tool of His choosing was nothing else than that this man Moses was sinful, was a sinner, and consequently deserved to die. The fact that Moses did not circumcise his youngest son was evidence of sinfulness; here was a depraved man - perchance using the reasoning of his depraved mind to save the peace in his household. But in the process he lived in explicit disobedience to God's command.

Sinfulness, depravity: that's written all over Moses' conduct. That God sought to kill Moses is then, beloved, not so surprising. Moses -as everybody else- was a sinner, and therefore -as everybody else- deserved to die long ago. Such is the consequence of God's holy identity as God, the consequence of man's broken identity as sinner. At bottom, what is surprising is not that the Lord sought to kill Moses; what is surprising is that God hadn't killed him before!

What we shall learn from God's attack on Moses? That failing to circumcise is so terrible a sin that God breaks forth in anger? Or shall we learn that God is fickle, that one day He picks up a tool and the next day He seeks to smash it because of its brokenness? No, beloved, it's not these things that we shall learn. What we shall learn is that God shows no favoritism. The wages of all sin remains death. Regardless of who the sinner is. Moses was a covenant child. He also received a special task in God's kingdom. But God saw sin in the man, and therefore -despite the fact that he was a chosen tool in God's hand- God treated him as every sinner deserves to be treated; each should die. You see, God shows no favoritism. No matter how high a calling one receives in God's kingdom, the wages of sin remains death!

And we, yes, we have received a high calling in God's kingdom. In sovereign wisdom God has made some of us parents of His covenant children - surely there's no higher task in God's kingdom than to be entrusted with the care of God's little ones! Others of us receive a task from God to be tools in His hands in the boardrooms of the market place, tools in His hands in the boatyard, tools in His hands in the grocery shop. God picks up still others of us in order to use us in the special offices of the church; "noble work", Paul calls it (I Tim 3:1). To be tools in His hands - what privilege beyond compare! But never, beloved, never does the fact that God picks us up to be tools in His hands mean that we're above criticism! God Himself found fault with Moses, and so sought to kill him. And God does not need a microscope to find fault with us either; on the contrary! Whether in our task as parents or in our task in the boardroom, whether in our task as students or as office-bearer
s makes here no difference; none of us is above reproach, all of us worthy of God meeting us in the consistory room or in the boardroom or in the bedroom and seeking to kill us. The surprise is not that we're worthy of God's judgment; the marvel is that hasn't killed us.

That brings us to our second point:

2) Why God did not kill Moses

Yes, Moses was spared. The text does not say that the Lord met Moses and killed him; rather, the Lord met Moses and sought to kill him. And we read in vs 26 that, after the boy was circumcised, God "let [Moses] go." What that means? Does this suggest that God's judgment is not to be taken too seriously after all; after an initial explosion of wrath, God's anger relaxes and He lets His intended victim go?

We know better. Yes, God sought to kill Moses. Yet He didn't do it -why?- because Zipporah circumcised that uncircumcised boy. Yet it was not her reluctant act of removing the foreskin itself that appeased God's anger against Moses. Twice in that paragraph reference is made to blood. And there's the point; God sees blood, and therefore lets Moses go.

The Scriptures make plain, congregation, that the shedding of blood means death. Specifically, shed blood spells out the coming death of Jesus Christ. This was God's plan: though all deserved to die because of sin, God's wrath on sin would be poured out not on the sinners who deserved it, but on His own Son who would be made sin in place of sinners. The blood of this circumcision of Ex 4 -like the blood of every circumcision in Israel- foreshadowed Calvary, and because of Calvary God lets Moses go. Christ would die on Calvary, that Moses might not die at that campsite. Christ would pay for sin on Calvary so that Moses would not have to pay for sin through his death at the hands of holy God. Christ would die on Calvary, so that the sinner Moses might be declared righteous before God, justified, seen by God to be without sin, innocent. Not Zipporah's desperate handling of the flint knife secured Moses' release from God's attack, but Christ's death on Calvary did. God, we heard
last week, moved to bring about the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, and the first step on that road was to pick up Moses as the instrument of His choice to deliver His people. But the instrument of His choice was a sinful man, and so the need for the Christ was underlined the more; Moses himself so desperately needed the Savior God was intending to send! The brokenness of the tool cried out for the coming of the Redeemer.

Is God's fury real? Need one fear God in His anger against sin? Before Moses left for Egypt, the Lord said to him that He would slay Pharoah's first-born son if he refused to let Israel go. Did God do it? Or was Pharaoh's son let go? We know full well what God did; "at midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle" (Ex 12:29). He did it. But the first-born of Israel was spared. Why? Because they were covenant people? Because they served the Lord so zealously? Because they had a special task in God's plan to bring His Son into the world? No, beloved, No! Being a covenant child in itself does not save anybody! Serving God as best as you can does not save anybody! Being a tool in God's hands to do a particular task in God's kingdom does not save anybody either. Every first-born of the Israelites would have died too
-regardless of breeding or task or zeal, etc- if there were no blood around the door of their homes. Blood! Calvary!! There is wrath on all sin, on every sinner; there is judgment for all and God shows no partiality. But that judgment is for some deflected onto Jesus Christ, and so the person who deserves judgment is spared. None is let go just like that; none is let go unless Jesus Christ stands in his place to receive the just wages of sin.

So we are confronted here, congregation, with the promise of the gospel and with its demand. Here is spelled out that God's judgment on sin is very real and there is one way of escape apart from the blood of Christ - no matter who you might be. Here is illustrated what Paul writes in Rom 2 -that none escapes the judgment of God; there is no partiality- and what Paul writes in Rom 3 -that there is righteousness before God only through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. To quote Paul:

"There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [and] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (3:22ff).

We, like Moses, deserve to die - irrespective of how God may be pleased to use us as tools in His hands. That reality can and must lead to humility on our part; we live by His grace alone. And that grace is so real, so abundant, so present! Moses was spared because the blood of Jesus Christ was shed to cover for his sins, and we are spared for the same reason. That is the gospel; Christ died for us, died in our place. You live, I live, because Christ died.

Do you believe that, my brothers, my sisters? God met Moses at the campsite and sought to kill him. When Christ comes back, He'll meet you in your office or in your kitchen. Or maybe at your campsite. He'll look you in the eye and see your shortcomings, see your sins, see your failures. And Christ Jesus will recall the words of God in the beginning, that if you eat you die; the wages of sin remains death. The task God has given in His kingdom, what sort of tool we may be in His sovereign hands, shall make no difference, for God shows no favoritism. Whether God uses us as parents of His covenant children or as boss in the workplace or as office-bearer in His church shall be irrelevant. We shall escape eternal death only through the blood Christ shed on Calvary - a blood imputed to us as often as we by true faith accept the promise of the gospel.

The Lord meets you on the path of life. You do believe in the only Savior, don't you? You see, God declares blessed only those who seek refuge in Him. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:,24b.htm

(c) Copyright 2000, Rev. C. Bouwman

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