“And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26)
This incident in the life of Moses as he makes his way back to Egypt has got to be one of the most peculiar events in the Book of Exodus, perhaps in the entire Word of God. We just do not read many instances of God “seeking to kill” His own in the Bible. What makes this all the more strange is the fact that we have just read a lengthy discourse between the Lord and Moses wherein God answered Moses’ objections and finally persuaded him to fulfill his calling as Israel’s deliverer. And now, not many days afterward, it seems that the Lord is ready to put Moses to death. Why?
“And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you…And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:9-11, 14)
It seems quite remarkable to find out that Moses, the man destined to be the instrument of God’s deliverance of the Nation of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, the man who would personally receive the Law of God atop Mt. Sinai, the great prophet who would lead the people back into the Land of Promise, had neglected so basic a commandment as ensuring that his son was circumcised according to the Abrahamic Covenant; but he had. From what we may gather from these three verses in Exodus 4, it seems that the wife of Moses, Zipporah, must have objected to having their son circumcised when he was a baby — apparently she found the rite to be repulsive and gruesome (“thou art a bloody husband…”). Moses must have heeded his wife’s disdain for the procedure and decided to refrain from obeying this commandment. The text does not clarify which son of Moses is being referred to (we learn in Chapter 18 that he had two), but since the narrative does not state that two sons needed to be circumcised, we can assume that this was likely Eliezer, the younger son. Gershom, the eldest, had apparently been circumcised according to the Abrahamic Covenant and it was only this second son who had not been. What a testament to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to not be “unequally yoked” (2 Cor. 6:14). As is the case in so many mixed marriages, the believing spouse starts out with the greatest of intentions regarding their continued obedience of God, their faithfulness to Him, and their passing on of a godly legacy to their children. Surely I can lead my spouse to faith in God; perhaps by my example they will inevitably be converted. And so, like Moses, they seek to honor God in the early stages of their marriage; yet the passing of time tends to erode even the strongest of faith to the point where apathy and compromise fill the void. It is our own over-inflated confidence that leads us to believe that we are impervious to the influence of a non-believing spouse and that, against the odds, we will pull them up before they pull us down. But such is rarely the case and far more often the Christian spouse will feel the toll of this constant tugging at their faith by the very one whom they love more than any person in the world. We can only speculate concerning the discord that permeated the household of Moses after Gershom’s circumcision, but it must have been sufficient to cause him to not want to push the issue when Eliezer turned eight days old (Gen. 17:12).
We also see in this incident the reality that no person is absolutely indispensable or irreplaceable in the Plan of God. Nobody. God’s choice for the position was Moses, the Lord wanted Moses to fulfill this office; but if Moses had not gotten this sin out of his life, God would have used someone else. At the death of Moses, we are told that his “eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated” (Deut. 34:7). Moses still had plenty of life left in him at 120 years old. There was absolutely no reason that he could not have been the person to do what Joshua would do and lead the people into the Land of Promise and take it. I believe that was God’s original intention. But Moses’ sin at Meribah-Kadesh (Num. 20:11-12) caused God to choose another (Deut. 32:51). It is difficult to imagine how else the Jews living in the Persian Empire would have been delivered from the decree of death had not Esther the Queen intervened, but Mordecai told her that their help would have come from “another place” if she refused to act (Est. 4:14). Even after the great lengths that God went to in order to put Moses in the position to deliver the Israelites, had Zipporah not circumcised their son, God would have chosen someone else.
There are those in the Lord’s service today who feel that they are too vital to the Plan of God to be replaced or “de-commissioned”, as it were. They feel that they can get by with sinfulness that others cannot because of who they are and the position they hold in the Church. They simply believe that they are far too important to God’s program to be moved aside. I don’t believe that this is how Moses felt, I believe that this was more likely an oversight on his part. But this definitely serves as a reminder that, if God could replace Moses, He can certainly replace any of us! It is interesting to note that it was not a question of Moses’ faithfulness in his ministry and service to God that caused the Lord to move against him on the way to Egypt, but rather sinfulness in his own personal life. This is the downfall of a great many of Christian workers in our own day. It is the sin that creeps into their lives, the sin that they never deal with that eventually disqualifies them from further service. Some very prominent and famous ministries have been absolutely rocked by scandal because a minister felt that they were too essential to God’s service to ever be publicly found out. But they were. Moses held the Rod of God in his hand (Ex. 4:20), he had the Words of God in his mouth (4:22-23), yet until he got the disobedience to God’s commandments out of his life, he was not ready to fulfill his calling. May all of us, in whatever manner we serve the Lord, be dilligent to deal with any sin that the Holy Spirit reveals in our lives lest we find that we have been sidelined from His service by it.