Exodus 4:24–26, “And it came to pass on the way at the lodging place, that Jehovah met him, and sought to kin him. Then Zipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely, a bridegroom of blood art thou to me. So he let him alone. Then she said, A bridegroom of blood art thou, because of the circumcision.”
Here is a text that makes the casual reader of the Bible stop, wonder for a moment, and feel he is confronted with an insoluble mystery. The common reason for not understanding the importance of the events of the text usually lies in a failure to understand the importance of the ordinance of circumcision in God’s program of revelation unto salvation. The context is to be sought in all that Scripture reveals concerning the development and fulfillment of the covenant of grace.
The seal of the covenant before Christ was circumcision. That was God’s specific order. The manner in which God operates the covenant is exclusively his. The pattern is not man working through God, but essentially God working through man. It is important to sense this distinction. The Author of salvation is God alone. His grace alone must be glorified.
In developing the theme: Moses’ Redemption for Mediatorial Service, let us consider its historical setting, its covenant basis, and its spiritual instruction.
I. The historical setting of God’s redemption of Moses here is of a very specific nature. Moses had been wonderfully called from the deserts of Midian, where he had been in exile for forty years, to go down to Egypt and bring out God’s people. He was to redeem Israel. He had excuses for not returning to Egypt. He could not have forgotten how Israel had rejected him forty years before. They said then:“Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?” Moses had been faithful in casting his lot with them, rejecting the wealth of Egypt to suffer affliction with the people of God. But what had that readiness to suffer the reproach of Christ gained him? Forty years of exile in Midian. Poor fellow! Giant of faith that he was to become, he was also the victim of profound disappointment. So God’s command to go down to Egypt was met with an understandable reluctance, and there is an apparent readiness to leave Israel in the land of bondage.
But God has a covenant with that people—a covenant whose sign and seal was the holy sacrament of circumcision. Moses may offer excuse, and Israel may despair, but Israel’s God does not change. He is ever-faithful and never-failing. Moses’ arguments are brought to nought. He goes.
It is interesting that Moses does not give Jethro the real reason for going down into Egypt. He said only that he was going to see if his brethren were yet alive. This may indicate his own lack of knowledge of the importance of this business.
Moses packed his family and began the long journey to Egypt. Then, just before the event recorded in our text, God sets forth to Moses that he is going to bring severe judgments on Pharaoh. In fact, all the first-born of Egypt will die. God thus reveals to Moses that salvation and judgment belong together. That same truth will be pin-pointed in the redemption of Moses, as told in our text. To look ahead, we may say that in the process of Israel’s salvation, Egypt’s firstborn must die. But Israel’s first-born must die, too. And lest God does not at once slay all of Israel’s first-born, Israel must forever remember the sign of death, not only in the Passover but also in circumcision. Only when tho great First-born of Israel fulfills all righteousness will these ordinances be fulfilled.
Moses and his family have bedded down for the night and Moses became fatally ill. In fact, “Jehovah sought to kill him.” Now, the text doesn’t tell us why Zipporah at that moment proceeded to circumcise her son. Perhaps God told her though this is not recorded. It is also possible that there had been some disagreement in past days between Moses and Zipporah in this matter of circumcision. That seems to be indicated by the reluctance with which Zipporah performs the circumcision, witness the fact that she threw the foreskin at Moses’ feet, in disgust repeating the words: “a bridegroom of blood art thou to me, because of the circumcision.”
Zipporah’s disgust with circumcision as a holy rite had its background. She was a child of Abraham’s family like Moses. However, she was a Midianite born of Keturah, while Moses was an Israelite born of Isaac. God had been very specific when, in his covenant formulation he announced to Abraham: “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Zipporah had no regard for the special privileges of Isaac. To her these were absurd. She would say, “In what, Moses, are you better than I? You, an exile from your own people, and your family a measly lot of slaves down there in Egypt; and you believe that circumcision really sets you apart? Circumcision! Man forget it! It’s nonsense.” And Moses had evidently been influenced by her argument. He seems to have been tempted to think like Zipporah, and to wonder what good there could be in circumcision. But now, according to our text, God comes to him with a refresher-course in the basic lessons of Genesis 17. He seeks to kill Moses.
II. There is a covenant basis for this redemption of Moses. We spoke of Genesis 17. There circumcision is established as God’s eternal ordinance with Abraham. There it is stated, “And the uncircumcized male who is not circumcized in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.” There it becomes explicit that Sarah shall have a son, but only after Abraham is circumcised. And now some important observations are in order. Sarah’s “contention” had always been God’s battleground with Abraham. Instance only that Abraham had twice claimed her as “sister.” (Did he also suggest to himself, she might as well be only that?) Recall how Sarah said to Abraham, “Here, take Hagar, and give me the son through her.” As Pharaoh and Abimelech were dead men because of Sarai, Ishmael rejected, God ordains that Abraham shall be dead (as far as generation of the covenant seed is concerned) until circumcision is accomplished. The command in circumcision is, “cut off the flesh.” Such is the sign forever. Then God will work to bring his covenant to realization; life will come forth from the dead, and Isaac will be born.
And at the moment of our text there are millions of Isaacs down in Egypt. They are the promised seed, the seed of circumcision. Moses in far-away Midian is called to be the mediator of this people. But his wife had rejected the holy ordinance of circumcision, even that by which this people had come into existence. And Moses bad compromised, But God is changeless and so are his ordinances. Zipporah, your ideas wi ll have to yield! Moses, you are useless as you are, disregarding circumcision! If there is no circumcision there is no promise. If there is no cutting off of the flesh, there is no salvation. No wonder God sought to kill Moses. And all this was not only for Moses’ instruction but also for ours. It is no more possible for Moses to perform his task in Israel while disregarding circumcision than it is for us to be saved without the blood of Jesus. Moses’ sin must be undone.
It may be noted here that the part of man’s anatomy which was cut off in circumcision had to do with the generation of life. One day, when the true First-born of Israel will be generated, God will set aside not just a small part of the natural man; he will dispense with him altogether and by his Spirit generate the spotless Son of Abraham in the virgin womb. Every mouth must be stopped and all boasting excluded. “I, even I, am thy Savior, and beside me there is no other.”
III. The spiritual instruction which this passage offers lies on the surface. There are only two alternatives. Moses must die or the flesh must be cut off in circumcision. Why these alternatives, and what does it all mean?
The Scriptures are very plain. The basic law of the salvation which God gives is that in human nature there is only death. Salvation is of God alone. Moses, called to “redeem” Israel from Egypt, must first be redeemed from his error. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt is one of the great redemptive events of God’s Word. It is a picture of full salvation. But if Israel is to be redeemed, nature must be eclipsed, cut off, manifested as dead. That was just as important in Moses’ day, as it was for Abraham to be circumcised to generate Isaac. Only the Sovereign power of God can save. God saw to it that the redemption of Israel in Egypt was literally drenched with the manifestations of his power. Think of the nine plagues. And of the tenth. And of the Red Sea passage. Pharaoh must learn it to his sorrow, Moses must learn it to his joy that God only can save. God’s people must remember this to the praise of his power and glory forever.
So, Moses, either you must die or cut off the flesh. Death or circumcision! But the apparent alternative isn’t a real one. In God’s book there is no difference between death and cutting off the flesh. Circumcision is God’s own sign of death. Circumcision is the beginning of the death that will be concluded only on Calvary.
Abraham believed this too. He confessed by his own circumcision that he was undone; that God would and could give life to the dead. He continued to believe that even when God told him to sacrifice his one and only son. He believed that God was able even to raise him up again (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham had learned well the lesson of faith. And now, just at this juncture in Israel’s history, that lesson must be repeated.
Moses, the flesh must gal Isaac was not spared on Moriah because he was too good; he was rejected because he was not a sufficient sacrifice. God rescinded the order to Abraham, but in heaven the order was not rescinded. Later, Abraham’s great Son will be brought to another hill by his Father, and the sacrifice will be perfected. The flesh, at its very best, must be cut off.
Yes, Moses, Egypt’s first-born must die. But so must Israel’s. All Israel’s first-born. And if they die not, they must bear the sign of death in their flesh forever, until the blood of Christ be shed. No circumcision, no death; no death, no Mediator.
Paul clarifies all this even more when he says, “We had the sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead” (II Corinthians 1:9).
Christian, this is for you and me. We have that old inclination to turn away from the bloody sacrifice. We are like Zipporah; and too often we compromise, like Moses. God’s Word is clear. We have a Bridegroom and we can have him in only one way.
He is the Bridegroom of blood. We must look at our Bridegroom nailed to the cross. Not in disgust, but in wonder, love, and praise. There our best energy, our prized strength, our self-will, our flesh is crucified.
Thanks be to God for his immeasurable love, and for the glory of his power; that he has cleansed us from all sin and adorned us with the perfect obedience of Christ. Lord, do not slay me, as Thou wert ready to slay Moses! I accept the circumcision. I accept the blood. My Savior took my place. And now I will bow down to hear thy Word. I will rejoice in the salvation freely given. I believe also what thy Word says to me: “In him ye are made full, who is the head of all principality and power: in whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:10–12).