Moses Returns to Egypt
4:18Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Let me go back to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.”
Jethro said, “Go, and I wish you well.”
19Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead.” 20So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.
21The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’”
24At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. 25But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)
27The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the desert to meet Moses.” So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28Then Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had sent him to say, and also about all the miraculous signs he had commanded him to perform.
29Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, 30and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, 31and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.
In the previous sections, God called Moses to service. Moses resisted this call to service by giving God as many reasons as he could think of as to why he was not suited to serve God. God answered every objection so now, in this chapter, we first see Moses’ preparation to return to Egypt to lead the children of God out of bondage: “Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, ‘Let me go back to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive’” (vs. 18).
Even those who are called to serve God should show common courtesy to their fellow men. Moses showed consideration for Jethro by getting his permission to leave. “This act of Moses was very commendable. Jethro had taken him in while a fugitive from Egypt had given him his daughter to wife, and had provided him with a home for forty years. Moreover, Moses had charge of his flock (see 3:1). It would, then, have been grossly discourteous and the height of ingratitude had Moses gone down to Egypt without first notifying his father-in-law… This request of Moses manifested his thoughtfulness of others, and his appreciation of favors received. Let writer and reader take this to heart. Spiritual activities never absolve us from the common amenities and responsibilities of life. No believer who is not a gentleman or a lady is a true Christian in the full sense of the word. To be a Christian is to practice Christliness, and Christ ever thought of others” [Pink, 39].
Interestingly, Moses did not mention to Jethro the direct call of God. Did he omit it out of modesty? Or was he afraid the incredulity of it would lead Jethro to conclude that Moses made it all up? We are not told why Moses did not mention it, and Moses was never chastised by God for not revealing to Jethro the call of God upon his life. It could well be that Moses showed godly wisdom in the way he handled the situation, that to mention the call of God would have complicated matters, thus endangering his mission. As it was, Moses obtained permission from Jethro to leave: “Jethro said, ‘Go, and I wish you well’” (vs. 18).
As Moses was preparing to leave, God spoke to Moses, reiterating his mission: “Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead.’ So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand” (vss. 19–20). In addition to telling him to go back to Egypt, God reassured Moses that “all the men who wanted to kill” him were dead. God must have known that it was a fear of Moses’ that his life was in danger from those who knew him. In fact, this may have been a reason that Moses offered up so many excuses not to go back to Egypt. “Perhaps some secret fear of falling into their hands was at the bottom of Moses’s backwardness to go to Egypt, though he was not willing to own it, but pleaded unworthiness, insufficiency, want of elocution, etc.” [Henry]. Whatever the case, God in His grace assured Moses that he would be safe from his former enemies.
Even after Moses stepped out in faith, God continued to speak to him of his mission: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son”’” (vss. 21–23). God laid it all out for Moses to know ahead of time. God even told Moses of the resistance he would face from Pharaoh, as Pharoah heart was hardened. God is and always has been forthright with his servants, frankly letting them know that, even though they are servants of the Most High God, they will face opposition and adversity.
Before Moses was to fully enter into God’s service, there was a bit of unfinished business God had to deal with: “At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,’ she said. So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said ‘bridegroom of blood,’ referring to circumcision.)” (vss. 24–26). This passage seems a bit obscure, but with a bit of study, and a dose of inference, we can figure out what’s going on. It seems that Moses had neglected to circumcise a son of his, apparently because Zipporah objected to the rite. Perhaps Moses had performed the rite on the first son, and the witnessing of it caused Zipporah to object to circumcising the second son.
Circumcision was commanded for all male descendants of Abraham, as God told Abraham: “My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:13–14). Thus, by not circumcising his son, Moses was in flagrant disobedience of a commandment of God. This disobedience was all the more serious because circumcision was the sign and seal of the covenant between God and His people; and then, Moses was to be the leader of God’s people, serving God as the covenant promises made to Abraham were fulfilled, so such a lapse in obedience could not be tolerated by God, in Moses’ case.
And so, God threatened Moses with death. We are not told how God made this threat, whether through the voice of the Angel of the Lord, or through the voice of conscience, but it was clear to both Moses and Zipporah that the threat was made. This threat showed Moses the “earnestness God demanded the keeping of His commandments” [K&D]. God was to show no favoritism to Moses, even though Moses was to be the leader of God’s people. On the contrary, God demanded a stricter obedience from Moses, that Moses might set an example for the people. In the same way, God demands of all His servants a strict obedience. We get no special favors where the Law of God is concerned, just because we serve Him. “Before God suffered Moses to go and minister to Israel, He first required him to set his own house in order. Not until this had been attended to was Moses qualified for his mission… As a general rule God refuses to use in public ministry one who is lax and lawless in his own home” [Pink, 40].
Moreover, though it seems it was Zipporah who convinced Moses not to circumcise the boy, “nevertheless, it was Moses, the head of the house (the one God ever holds primarily responsible for the training and conduct of the children), and not Zipporah, whom the Lord sought to kill. This points a most solemn warning to Christian fathers today. A man may be united to a woman who opposes him at every step as he desires to maintain a scriptural discipline in his home, but this does not absolve him from doing his duty” [Pink, 40].
As Moses was journeying towards Egypt, God was at work in Egypt, preparing for Moses’ return: “The Lord said to Aaron, ‘Go into the desert to meet Moses.’ So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. Then Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had sent him to say, and also about the miraculous signs he had commanded him to perform” (vss. 27–28). “This is another example of how when God works, He works at both ends of the line: Moses was advancing toward Egypt, Aaron is sent to meet him” [Pink, 40]. God in His wisdom and grace sent Aaron to meet Moses. This must surely have made it easier for Moses, a stranger to the Hebrews after having been gone for forty years, to step out in front and lead them. “When it comes to serving the Lord, two are better than one (see Eccl. 4:9)” [Wiersbe, 22].
When Moses reached Egypt: “Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped” (vss. 29–31). When asked to serve the Lord, Moses expressed to God his fear of the people’s reaction to him: “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” (Ex. 4:1). God, in His faithfulness, set up the circumstances and prepared the hearts of the people so that they did believe Moses. So, the fears of Moses were allayed right away. And not only did they believe Moses, but his presence and the mission he was sent on by God caused the people to “bow down and worship” the Lord. What better reward for a servant of God is there than to be able to bring people into reverence and worship of God?
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