In the past 2 studies, we've been reading about Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush. God revealed HIs rescue plan of the Israelites and what Moses had to do. This is all that has been taking place so far:
How does Moses respond after that encounter? What lessons can we learn?
(A) Moses answers the call in obedience (Exo 4:18-20)
Moses returns to Midian, to his father-in-law. Moses wanted to receive his blessing and permission to return to Egypt, and also wanted to return the flock (Exo 4:18). This probably reflected some deference to authority and Moses seemed to respect his father-in- law enough to do so. After all, Jethro housed him when he ran away, and also gave him a wife. Furthermore, Moses’ wife and sons were in Midian. Moses did not abandon his family after receiving the call.
Moses was probably also a bit uncertain and doubting. Perhaps he also wanted to see if circumstances would allow it. Notice how he omits certain things from what he says to Jethro. He did not tell Jethro about the specific mission and revelation from God, but that’s perhaps natural to hide from Moses.
Jethro blessed him, saying “go in peace” (Exo 4:18c). Jethro was really gracious, giving his permission to Moses to bring his daughter and grandchildren to Moses. Don’t forget how Egypt is not the best place for a Hebrew. Moses also received a further assurance from God, who assures him that it is safe to go back. “All the men who were seeking (his) life are dead” (Exo 4:19). God is clearing away all the obstacles in the way. Moses has no more excuses.
Moses responds in obedience and sets off for Egypt with his family (Exo 4:20). There is definitely residual uncertainty, but nevertheless, he obeys God! How often does this happen in our lives? When God calls, He wants us to obey. But we often struggle with doubt and uncertainty. These verses also show us that it is important to exercise godly wisdom. It could come in the form of consulting those that God has placed over us in authority. It also means praying and asking God for the wisdom to discern His purposes. Exo 4:20 also tells us that Moses set off with the "staff of God". Whose authority is contained in this staff? It’s God’s, and Moses set off with this assurance.
(B) The God who calls is a God in control (Exo 4:21-23)
God reminds Moses to do all that God had told him to do in obedience. God also tells Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exo 4:21) and the people will not be able to leave. This is the first time that God reveals this to Moses. There are 2 other ways that this is being described. In Exo 8, Pharaoh hardens his own heart. In Exo 7, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Interestingly to the Israelites, there are no contradictions. God is the first cause of everything. God is also showing that He is sovereign over all, even over the great Pharaoh of the great empire! Charles Spurgeon uses a great analogy: "The same sun which melts wax hardens clay. And the same gospel which which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins. " We need to realise that God did not harden a humble heart. It’s the hardening of a rotten heart that was also already against God. This should also stir up gratefulness towards God! Despite our rebellion, He gave us new hearts of flesh instead of hardening our hearts. With this new heart, we can worship Him and also seek Him out.
When Pharaoh rejects Moses' request, God tells Moses that he is to issue a more severe warning. God makes a claim over a nation of slaves and captives. He identifies Himself with these people, and claim that they are His firstborn (Exo 4:22). This is a special relationship, and shows His care. We also see that God desires His people to be free to serve Him (Exo 4:23). Thus, the people were to be freed, but not freed to do as they pleased. When Pharaoh rejected, God also promised that He will act on something precious to Pharaoh. There will be a son for a son and this principle plays out years later in Jerusalem on a hill. Just as the death of the firstborn is required to release God’s people from slavery, God would also achieve the exodus and permanent deliverance of God’s children through the death of His Beloved Son. The life of the Son of God is the price for our sonship and reconciliation and being brought back to Him.
(C) A curious case of (dis)obedience (Exo 4:24-26)
The next 3 verses seem to be a curious insertion in to the narrative. In fact, if we remove these verses, the story does flow quite nicely. But why are these 3 verses in the Bible. It’s certainly there to tell the readers (then and now) something.
God acts against someone in Moses’ family (“sought to put him to death”) on their way back to Egypt. It could be Moses or another male in his family. Verse 25 tells us that Moses did not circumcise one of his sons. (c.f. Gen 17:10-14) Circumcision was a sign of Israel’s belonging to God. For some reason, Moses had failed to obey God’s command. In this narrative, it appeared that Zipporah knew this and tried to rectify the situation (Exo 4:25). This was a frantic, desperate and even bloody situation. But when Zipporah obeyed, God ceased from seeking the life of him.
What are we supposed to learn from this? We are not told if Moses knew but he had unconfessed sin and was living in disobedience before God. God would not allow this sin to go unnoticed. Eventually Moses was the one who gave the law! Thus, Moses had to be in right standing before God before beginning his mission. Will it take a drastic measure from God to make us turn from our sins? Will we force God’s hand to act in such a way? Do we take his mercy and forgiveness for granted? These verses show us that God desires His people to be free to serve and worship Him! What should we be free from? We should be free from sin that separates us from God. We who believes in Christ have been set free, and God also desires our total and complete obedience in all aspect of our lives. He will not tolerate our excuses for sins. We also cannot pick and choose the areas of our life we’d like to obey in. We cannot assume that obedience in one area can make up for disobedience in other areas.
If we’re in Christ and still struggle with the remnants of sin, how should we respond? Let us ask God to search our hearts and show us our sin, so we can repent of it. Ps 139: 23 reveals the Psalmist’s desires, and should be our prayer too as we read this encounter between Moses and God even as Moses was obeying the call.