Bible lessons Spiritual leadership

Why does the Bible say the Lord was about to kill Moses? A lesson for parents and pastors.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

It was the Lord God who instructed Moses to leave the land of Midian and go back to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to release the Hebrews. Yet, while Moses and his family were traveling to Egypt, they stopped for a night to lodge when:

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.) (Exodus 4:24-26)

Why was the Lord “about to kill” Moses that night, when it was the Lord himself who sent Moses back to Egypt?

For 80 years, the Lord had protected and prepared Moses for the very purpose of leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt. The Lord interceded and saved Moses as an infant from the Pharaoh’s command to kill the newborn Hebrew male babies. Then, from his childhood into adulthood, Moses was raised in the palaces of Egypt and trained in the ways and knowledge of Egypt. Moses’ background, training, and skills were unique among the Hebrews. God fashioned all this.

Even so, as Moses traveled to Egypt, the Lord’s anger was so roused against him, the Lord considered killing him. What had Moses done, or failed to do, that so angered the Lord?

Moses had neglected (disobeyed) an imperative covenant commandment that God had given to all Hebrew parents. That was: Moses hadn’t had his son(s) circumcised.

This was God’s commandment to all Hebrews, as given to Abraham:

“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. . . 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. 17:1-14)

The Midianites, who were also descendants from Abraham, apparently hadn’t kept God’s commandment to circumcise their sons. But that didn’t excuse Moses. Moses should’ve had his sons circumcised when they were eight days old; but, having failed to do so, Moses particularly shouldn’t have started back to become a leader of God’s people until his sons were circumcised.

It was Moses’ responsibility as a Hebrew father to have his sons circumcised. Moses knew it, but He didn’t do it. Instead, Moses adapted to the ways of the Midianites, over the commandment of the Lord. Although Moses knew the Lord’s covenant commandment, He forsook it. And that was a grave offense in the Lord’s eyes.

Fathers are called to be spiritual leaders in their households. They have God-given responsibilities to teach and train their family in obedience to God’s Word. “Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

The Lord said to the Israelites, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:6-7). For parents to neglect this responsibility is a serious thing to the Lord.

Further, if a man is negligent in upholding God’s instructions in his role as spiritual leader of his household, he isn’t ready for ministry over God’s people. For, “if anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church” (1 Tim. 3:5).

However, when Moses started back to Egypt, he still hadn’t met his spiritual leadership obligation for his own sons. That is why the Lord considered killing him.

Moses set out to take on a religious leadership role for the people of Israel (God’s people), yet he remained negligent in his responsibility as spiritual leader of his own household. That disobedience was so serious to God that if Zipporah, Moses’ wife, hadn’t stepped up, Moses would’ve died there, without God allowing him to return to Egypt.

That is difficult for us to understand because we know how the Lord had prepared and called Moses for this role. And, we know the man who Moses would become after this. Yet, what we know about Moses from looking back, the Lord knew about Moses in foresight.

Even so, God was angry enough that he considered removing Moses and calling someone else to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. As difficult as this is for us to understand, it should emphasize to us how important it is to God that a man first meet his role as spiritual leader over his family. It magnifies the significance that God holds to a father’s responsibility for upholding God’s instructions within his household and before his children.

God holds parents accountable for training their children in God’s ways and instructions. That is an important lesson for all parents who are believers—and even more so for men called to church leadership positions.

The role as a spiritual leader over God’s people must begin at home, as a husband and father. If a man is negligent in that, the Lord will not settle him into a leadership role inside a church until he actively strives to care for his responsibilities at home. God can, and will, at any time revoke a man’s calling and call another up if a man neglects his spiritual role at home. That’s how important the role of a father (and mother) is to the Lord.

This account further gives us a picture of being saved from death—after being touched by blood. For when Zipporah touched Moses with the foreskin cut from their son’s body, it would’ve had their son’s blood on it. So, in essence, Moses’ life was redeemed by the shedding of blood (and the faith of Zipporah).

Zipporah then used a phrase “bridegroom of blood.” This is a foreshadowing of our position in Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. And He purchased His Church by His blood. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). In Christ, we are saved from everlasting death by His shed blood. “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph. 1:7).

Another thing we know from this passage is that Moses had been circumcised by his parents because Zipporah would’ve otherwise had to circumcise Moses at that time as well. So, Moses’ parents, Amram and Jochebed, had been faithful to the Lord’s commandment and had him circumcised on the 8th day of his life.

That was done even though it could have cost them their lives because Pharaoh had commanded that all newborn Hebrew boys were to be thrown into the Nile River. Disobedience to that command could mean death. However, Amram and Jochebed were more “fearful” of remaining in obedience to the Lord’s command, than they were in fear of Pharaoh.

They obeyed God, over the fear of man. They had Moses circumcised on the 8th day of his life, which was well before he was laid in a basket and placed among the reeds along the banks of the Nile River. Moses wasn’t placed in the basket until several months after he was born (cf. Exod. 2:1-3).

(Although, in the movie, “The Ten Commandments,” Moses learned he was Hebrew after discovering a piece of Hebrew woven cloth, that’s not scriptural.) Moses knew he was Hebrew because he was circumcised. Hebrew males were circumcised, while the Egyptian males were not. So, Moses would’ve figured out he was Hebrew as he grew up because the evidence of his heritage was marked on his body.

Moses knew of his heritage because of the obedience of his Hebrew parents when he was an infant. We, as Christian parents, have a responsibility to impress and imprint God’s commandments and ways to our children. For that is both God’s command and expectations for us as parents, and the highest heritage that we should desire for our children.

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