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Author:Rev. Joe Poppe
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Congregation:Redeemer Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:The LORD threatens to kill His appointed redeemer Moses, because of his covenantal disobedience
Text:Exodus 4:24-26 (View)
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Confession of Dependence and Divine Greeting


Ten words of the covenant


Prayer of confession and illumination


Ministry of the Word

Reading: Exo.4:18-31; Gen.17:1-14


Text: Exo.4:24-26

The LORD threatens to kill His appointed redeemer Moses, because of his covenantal disobedience.  We’ll consider:

1.      Moses’ mutiny.

2.      Ziporah’s mediation.

3.      The LORD’s mercy.



Administration of baptism


Prayer of thanksgiving



Divine blessing

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Joe Poppe, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

            In the first chapters of Exodus we have seen the faithfulness of the LORD.  God had promised to make Abraham into a great nation and to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan as their own possession.  According to the LORD’s promises, Jacob’s small company of about seventy people who entered Egypt had grown into a great multitude.  The LORD was raising up a redeemer for His people.  He had charged Moses to bring His people the Israelites out of Egypt.  Moses was God’s appointed mediator; a type and shadow of the Christ who was to come.

            Some forty years earlier, Moses had gone out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour.  He had come to the aid of one of the Israelites, when oppressed by an Egyptian.  Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.” (Act.7:25).  Because he killed the Egyptian, Moses was forced to flee to Midian.  He spent forty years in the wilderness, caring for his father-in-law Jethro’s sheep.  Years of training that the LORD used to prepare Moses to serve as the shepherd of Israel.

            Now Moses has been called to serve as the deliverer of God’s people.  On his way back to Egypt, a startling event occurs.  In it the LORD was about to kill Moses.  Why raise up this special child from birth, have him educated according to the wisdom of the Egyptians, and trained to serve as a shepherd - only to kill him?  What is going on in our text?  Our text relates how Zipporah, Moses’ wife, took a flint knife and circumcised her son.  What was behind her action?  And what is the significance of her touching Moses’ feet with the foreskin of her son?  What is the meaning of Zipporah’s words, “you are a bridegroom of blood to me?”  Why is it that after this the LORD let Moses alone?  Our text is a reasonably obscure and difficult passage.  Yet the point it makes is clear and very applicable to our lives today.  I preach to you the Word of God under the following theme:

The LORD threatens to kill His appointed redeemer Moses, because of his covenantal disobedience.  We’ll consider:

1.      Moses’ mutiny.

2.      Ziporah’s mediation.

3.      The LORD’s mercy.

 Our text begins by stating, “At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him.”  Some commentators suggest that God’s encounter with Moses was not a personal meeting, but rather that God sent some kind of sickness on Moses.  However, the Hebrew has a clear way of speaking about physical illness or injury (1Kin.17:17; 2Kin.1:1).  The word “met” is a particular word that is always used in Scripture to refer to a significant personal encounter.  Consider Exodus 4:27 where Aaron is instructed to meet Moses, and where he met and kissed his brother.  In 1 Samuel 25:20 it is used to describe the meeting of Abigail, the wife of Nabal, with David and his men who were coming to kill Nabal.

The LORD encountered Moses to kill him.  His meeting with Moses was similar to the wrestling match of the Angel of the LORD with Jacob in Genesis 32.  It was a sudden personal revelation, in which the LORD took hold of Moses and was about to kill him.  This is confirmed by what our text says in verse 26.  It does not say that the LORD then made Moses better.  No, it says, “the LORD let him alone.”  Literally the Hebrew verb used means “to sink, drop, or withdraw.”  Thus near the end of our text the LORD lets go of Moses, He withdraws from His intent to kill Moses and allows him to go on in his journey to Egypt.

So now we are faced with the all important question: why did the LORD meet with Moses?  Why did He grab hold of this servant whom He had raised up as Israel’s deliverer, with the intent to kill him?  Why would God undo eighty years of preparation and slay his appointed mediator?  From our perspective this does not seem to make any sense.  We feel uncomfortable with this text; it would suit us quite well to pass it by.  We know that Moses is the author of the first five books of the Bible.  And we wonder, why did he feel it necessary to record this account for God’s people?

We find the answer to these questions in verse 25 of our text.  There we see that Zipporah, Moses’ wife, “took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched his feet with it.”  This makes clear what the issue was.  One of Moses’ sons had not been circumcised.  The LORD was terribly displeased with Moses because of this.  Displeased enough that He was about to kill Moses.  Again we ask: what was the big deal?  Why was the LORD about to kill His ordained servant, the redeemer of his people, for this?

To answer this question we need to go back to Genesis 17.  There the LORD reaffirmed the covenant that He had previously made with Abraham.  The LORD promised to establish His covenant as an everlasting covenant between Himself and Abraham and his descendants after him, to be Abraham’s God and the God of his descendants.  The LORD promised to give the whole land of Canaan to Abraham as an everlasting possession.

With the covenant the LORD gave a sign of the covenant.  God said “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.  You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.  For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised... Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen.17:10-14).

Moses knew very well how the LORD required His people to circumcise their children as a sign of the covenant.  What is striking is that Moses was traveling to Egypt with his wife and sons.  Exodus 4:20 mentions “sons” in the plural.  Yet when Zipporah acts in our text, she cuts of her son’s foreskin.  Only one son needed to be circumcised at that point in time.  It is likely that the eldest, Gershom, had already been circumcised.  But Eliezer had not.  In neglecting to do this Moses was guilty of covenantal disobedience.  This was rebellion against a direct command from God.  It was insubordination; it was mutiny.

The LORD had said that “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen.17:14).  Yet it is not just the covenant status of Moses’ son that is at stake.  It is also the fitness of Moses himself to serve as covenant mediator, as the redeemer of God’s people.  He was returning to Egypt to take up his role as the LORD’s representative to Israel and to Pharaoh.  Therefore he had to be faithful to God’s requirements.  What was at stake was Moses’ fitness to be the LORD’s representative.

We wonder how Moses could reject so clear a command.  Why would he rebel against the LORD’s direct command that every male covenant child was to be circumcised?  To reject the sign of the covenant is to reject the covenant itself.  Why this outright mutiny?  We don’t know for sure.  But our text gives us some clues, to help answer this question.   Perhaps it was because of Zipporah, Moses’ wife.  She was a Midianite; it appears that she wasn’t too keen on this ritual.  In our text when she circumcised her son, she threw the foreskin at Moses’ feet and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.”  While the exact meaning of this statement is unclear, our text indicates that she made this statement referring to the circumcision she had just performed.

So, likely the situation was such that Zipporah was not happy with this rite of circumcision. It appears that among the Midianites circumcision was practiced, but only at entry into manhood, not at birth.  Zipporah found this act of cutting off the foreskin of an eight day old baby revolting, repulsive.  It was likely against her wishes that Gershom had been circumcised.  With the birth of another son, there would have been a great increase in marital tensions again.  Moses was in a quandary.  He knew that LORD’s command, but was not willing to face the tension and strife that would result from making an issue of Eliezer’s circumcision.

If we understand the circumstances, we see how Moses was faced with what every couple faces at times in their marriage.  Tension in the home, because of different perspectives on what is right or what should be done about some issue.  How often have you not been faced with a decision to be obedient to the LORD that creates tension in the home, or with your extended family?

At times we are faced with job opportunities in a place where there is no reformed church, or that require us to regularly work on Sunday.  At times we face significant pressure in married life because of conflicts in how to raise our children in the fear of the LORD.  Our teens may put on a lot of pressure to be allowed to do something that dad and mom don’t agree about.  And then we are tempted to neglect our duty before God just to maintain the peace in the home or family.

Obviously, we are called to do all we can to maintain peace and live in unity together.  But not at the cost of obedience to God.  In Matthew 10 the Lord Jesus uttered this warning.  He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword...  Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Mat.10:34-38). 

Moses failed to take seriously the covenant sign, and in doing so he was guilty of breaking the covenant.  Our holy God was terribly displeased with this.  So much so that He was about to kill Moses.  Because Moses did not seriously regard the holiness of God, and the necessity of obeying His covenant Word.  Scripture records other situations that are similar, which take place as warnings to remind us that our God is holy, and that He is a consuming fire against all those who spurn His Word.

Just think of how the LORD had Achan and all his household stoned, because he took of the devoted things to the LORD when Jericho was captured (Josh.7).  What a reminder to the young nation of Israel entering the Promised Land, of the necessity to respect God and obey His commands.  Or consider the manner in which God struck down Ananias and Sapphira because of the lies they told about the value of the land they sold and donated to the church (Act.5).  “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (Act.5:11).  Our God is holy, and He demands obedience to His covenant.  Judgment will come on those who rebel against Him, and refuse to repent.

In our first point we’ve considered Moses’ mutiny.  In our second point we’ll consider Zipporah’s mediation.  The LORD met Moses at a lodging place on the way; He had taken hold of Moses and was about to kill him.  In our text we see Zipporah come to her husband’s rescue.  She obviously discerned what the issue was.  Our text states that she “took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it.”  In this way she acts in as a mediator, on Moses’ behalf.

There are two significant things about Zipporah’s action.  If, as seems likely, Zipporah had been instrumental in delaying Eliezer’s circumcision, then here she now undergoes a test.  For Zipporah was now called upon to carry it out.  Moses was not in any position to do so.  The LORD had taken hold of him and was about to kill him.  So she had to carry out the LORD’s command to circumcise her son if she wanted to spare her husband’s life.  And she was obedient to this command.  Zipporah did not harden her heart.  She understood what God required, and did it.

That is quite something, beloved.  If you are in the midst of a marital dispute, and are very much opposed to something, it takes great courage to admit you were wrong and be obedient to the LORD’s command.  Our proud and stubborn natures often get in the way of humbling ourselves and being obedient!  Zipporah’s action was God-pleasing.

Yet there is something else that Zipporah does that needs our attention.  Our text notes that she touched Moses feet with her son’s foreskin.  Here we se her serve as mediator on Moses’ behalf.  He needed to be sprinkled with blood.  For Moses was guilty of breaking God’s covenant, and atonement could only be made with blood.

You see beloved, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  The LORD used this incident on the way back to Egypt to teach Moses the basic requirements of salvation.  Moses needed to learn the weightiness of sin – he was placed at death’s door.  He also needed to learn that sin can only be atoned for by blood.  When our text says that Zipporah touched Moses feet with her son’s foreskin, it uses the same word that is later used to refer to the application of the blood of the Passover lamb to the doorposts of their homes.  The basic message was that we are saved by the shedding of blood!

This is not because we serve a bloodthirsty God. It is not that God delights in sacrifice, bloodshed, or death.  God delights in life, in holiness, in all that is good.  But He detests all that is evil.  He hates sin.  And God is just.  He requires that a penalty be made for sin.  The wages of sin is death.  The life source of both people and animals is blood.  God requires blood as a penalty, because it shows the seriousness of sin.  The blood of circumcision sprinkled on Moses feet was symbolic of the blood that Christ that needed to be shed for our sins.

This brings us to our final point.  In it we’ll see the LORD’s mercy.  The result of Zipporah’s mediation is clearly stated in verse 26 of our text.  It says, “So the LORD let him alone.”  Literally the Hebrew verb used means “to sink, drop, or withdraw.”  Thus near the end of our text the LORD lets go of Moses, He withdraws from His intent to kill Moses and allows him to go on in his journey to Egypt.

Here we see the abundant mercy of our gracious God.  Moses had been guilty of breaking the covenant.  The result was that he deserved to have God’s covenant curses come upon him.  To be cut off from God, to be disqualified from his service as God’s servant sent to redeem Israel from slavery in Egypt.  But God was pleased with Zipporah’s action.  He accepted her obedience, and the blood shed through her son’s circumcision.  Thus the LORD turned away from His wrath against Moses and allowed him to live.

That was not just for Moses’ benefit.  Remember, he had been called to redeem Israel from slavery.  Thus the LORD opens the way for the redemption of His people, languishing in slavery in a foreign land.  The LORD’s mercy is seen in that He removes Moses’ sin so that he could serve as the redeemer of God’s covenant people Israel.  God’s action was motivated by a deep and abiding love for Hi people.  He was determined to deliver them from slavery, and bring them to the Promised Land.

Now ultimately, it was not the blood shed by Zipporah that atoned for Moses’ sin.  The Lord Jesus is the one who provided a perfect sacrifice for our sins.  He offered His life as a living sacrifice to God.  He lived a holy life in active obedience to the commands of God.  Never once did He leave anything undone.  He never tried to do things His own way.  That is why God could testify of Him, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mat.3:17).

Christ offered up His life as a blood sacrifice, not for His sins - because He never committed any, but for the sins of others.  He suffered the curses of the covenant as a covenant breaker, not because He broke the covenant, but because we did.  He removed the curse from us by becoming a curse Himself.  He underwent great redemptive circumcision when He was cut off from His people and cut off from God in order to reconcile sinners like us to God.  He was the atoning sacrifice for our sins, to restore us to communion with the Father!

It is only Christ’s blood that removes the stain of sin and turns away the wrath of God.  Yet since His blood has been shed, there is no longer a requirement for any blood to be shed today. That is why the sign of the covenant has changed from circumcision to baptism.  Baptism is not just a meaningless ritual.  It is not some sentimental practise that we do out of custom or superstition.  We have our children baptized to honour God’s command to do so, and to show that we consider our children to be God’s children.

The sign of baptism in the new covenant is so much richer than circumcision as in the old covenant.  It is not just for Jewish males.  It is for Jew and Gentile, for male and female.  Through baptism the LORD signs and seals His promises to us.  Rich promises that He is our God and we may be His children.  Yet the covenant also contains a call.  To believe the promises of God; to live obedient lives in holiness before God; to love and serve Him whole-heartedly.

Beloved, there are times and situations in our lives when, like Moses, we disobey the clear command of God and live in active rebellion against Him.  Just as the LORD would not allow Moses to continue in his service of God until that sin was dealt with, so we also need to repent from our rebellion and seek forgiveness for it.  For our God is holy, and He requires holiness from His children.

Let us live out of the promises our triune God has made to us.  Depending on our Father for His mercy and grace; seeking in Christ the forgiveness of our sins; relying on His Spirit to equip us to live holy lives in the service of God.  The LORD will bless those who walk with Him.  Just as He allowed Moses to continue on his way to bring Israel out of Egypt, so He will help us to continue on the way everlasting.  So that ultimately we too may enter the Promised Land, and enjoy eternal communion with our God.  Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Joe Poppe, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Joe Poppe

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