Exodus 4:24–7:24. Moses in Two Crises.

Key Notes: Fumbling and failure at first. Precedent-setting transgression and consequences. Seven promises. Genealogies. If we fail, then what?

Moses came  away from Midian committed to do God’s will for Israel. The very next thing that happened is so abrupt and shocking, that we are tempted to read past it. It is also extremely terse, so that we have difficulty interpreting it, much less making an application. The context of this episode is God’s warning to Pharaoh through Moses that if Pharaoh refuses, God will slay his first-born son.

4:24–26 God met with Moses at a rest stop and he was suddenly near death under God’s hand!  Zipporah quickly circumcised her adult son (we assume this was Gershom) under protest and put the bloody tissue at Moses’ feet. She used a flint knife since that was the only sharp and clean tool available. (The Israelites would not have iron tools for several more centuries. (I Sam.13:19–22). That laid the responsibility on him and her words let him know what she thought of the procedure. He fumbled and Zipporah had to pick up the ball and run with it. Moses recovered and went on his way. She returned with her children to her father’s house until the Exodus was completed months later. (Ex.18:2).  There clearly was distance between them.

This was Moses’ first crisis. ( If we consider his original resistance to God, it was his second.) We assume that Moses knew the Law given to Abraham.

“This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised”  
“He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations….”
“Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant. “ (Gen.17:10–14)

The importance of circumcision of all the men of Israel to the covenant relationship was later spoken to Joshua:
            “This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you. “ (Josh.5:9).

None of the generation that grew up in the wilderness had been circumcised and the nation could not go on to conquer Jericho and the land of Canaan until this purification was carried out. Josh.5:1–9

Evidently Zipporah, his Midianite wife,  had opposed the circumcision of her son at his birth, and Moses did not press the issue. However, when he was put in the position of leadership in the covenant relationship, God demanded his compliance, but also put him out of action. Zipporah was  now compelled to do what she had previously resisted, and what Moses should have done himself.  She was the daughter of a God-fearing priest (Ex.18:10) but now has had a startling interaction with God whom she may not have known.

We are witness to a holy God and He is no respecter of persons! Moses is God’s chosen servant for the central act of salvation in the Old Covenant, but he is not exempt from God’s law either. We are not accustomed to thinking of God as demanding, and exacting. However, any casual reading of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua will reveal God’s demands for holiness and meticulous obedience to His commands. We do not really know God if we think otherwise about Him.

God's punishment of disobedience was often most intense at the beginning of a venture. The transgressions were precedent-setting, and so were the punishments.For example:
*Israel' murmured about lack of food in the wilderness. Ex.16.
*A golden calf Idol made by the priest. Ex.32
*First work detected on Sabbath. Num.15:32
*Revolt of Levites against Moses. Num.16
*Worshipping Baal with the Moabites. Num. 25
*Looting after conquest of a city. Josh.7
*Saul's disobedience as Israel's first king. ISam.15
*In the early Church, lying to the Holy Spirit. Acts.5:1–11

D.A. Carson's comment on Ananias and Sapphia (Acts 5) is helpful:
"...in times of genuine revival, judgment may be more immediate than in times of decay. ...when God responds to sin with prompt severity, lessons are learned and the church is spared a worse drift. " (For the Love of God. D.A.Carson; Crossways. 1998. Vol. II. July 18.)

4:27–31 Aaron was told by God to go to the desert to meet Moses. Aaron may have had no information that his brother was still alive, and no reason for walking over to Mt. Sinai.  God was in this move; they had a reunion at Sinai. Moses briefed his brother and together they went to a meeting of the elders of Israel in Egypt. Aaron repeated God’s message and performed the miracles. The initial reaction was good. The people believed and worshiped the Lord.

5:1–9 Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh with the demand that Israel be released to worship JHWH in the wilderness. Pharaoh, like any other pagan head of state, would not acknowledge the Lord or release Israel. He had a slave labor force to do his royal construction and he was not going to let go of it. Moses and Aaron repeated their petition more mildly and this time Pharaoh hit back. He ordered his foremen not to provide straw for bricks, but to demand the same brick quota from the Hebrews. Straw in brick provides tough fibers that strengthen the clay-mud-sand mix, and slow its drying, making the brick stronger and less likely to crack.

That Moses and Aaron should suggest to Pharaoh that their God could be against them (5:3) was counterproductive and out of order. God had said no such thing.

5:10–23 The Hebrew foremen protested this additional burden to Pharaoh directly. When they heard his verdict, they turned on Moses and Aaron who were waiting outside.  They prayed God’s judgment on them for making their situation worse. Moses cried out to God in his frustration. God was not helping them at all.  The Israelites would have been better off if he had not spoken a word. He has just gotten them into worse trouble.
This was Moses’ third crisis. (He will have many more—at least a dozen.)

6:1–13  The Lord now gave Moses another full confirmation (3:7–10, 16–22)  of His intent to free Israel, promising that Pharaoh would drive them out. He knew that Pharaoh’s resistance would be fatal within the year. Four times He said “I am the LORD.” (6:2, 6, 7, 8). The seven promises are in linked sequence.
            I will bring you out.
            I will free you.
            I will redeem you with great acts of judgment.
            I will take you for My people.
            I will be your God.
            I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
            I will give it to you as a possession.
But the people did not listen to Moses. Their spirits were broken; they were “short of breath” under their cruel bondage.  Moses was told to go back to Pharaoh, but he, too, was discouraged and filled with guilt—“a man of unclean lips”—as Isaiah complained of himself centuries later. Isa.6:5

6:14–27 The next passage is a remarkable genealogy which establishes the pedigree of Moses and Aaron, and their credentials to be the Lord’s messengers. The birth-order is respected, so the tribes of Reuben and Simeon are mentioned first. Then the tribe of Levi, son Kohath, son Amram, his sons Aaron and Moses, Aaron’s son Eleazar and grandson Phineas are spelled out.  Three times in 6:26–27 Aaron and Moses’ selection to be the deliverers of Israel is emphasized: “this Aaron,” “this Moses”.

Genealogies were of great important in Hebrew society. The lists of people in the OT seems burdensome to us who may not wish to say our family name. But the Eastern American landed gentry sometimes record their lineages as if they were breeding horses! The story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is full of detail about marriages and their outcomes. Jesus’ lineage is cited twice in the NT and His connection with David is pointed out in many places. Reuben and Simeon are passed over in preference to Levi (also no saint).   Moses and Aaron belong to the high priestly family. Our families are also important, more important than we realize.

7:1–3 Further, God told Moses that he would be as God to Pharaoh and Aaron would be  as a prophet. God again stated His intention to harden Pharaoh’s heart (4:21) in spite of signs and wonders and to bring Israel out with Egypt under His hand.  So Aaron (age 83) and Moses (age 80) went back to work again. 

“If it isn’t fun, we’re not doing it right” is a rule of thumb for all kinds of work. It plainly did not apply to Moses in this setting, although he would be able to rejoice soon. He was commanded to do a monumental task that he had no heart for in the first place. God challenged Moses’ covenant status and set him back on his heels. His first efforts failed.  Pharaoh sneered at him and put a vise-grip to his people. The people he was to liberate shook their fists at him, and Aaron and he wished they were in some other line of work.  They feel helpless, caught between opposing forces.

My first reaction to a failure in Christian work is to stop and try something else. Surely God would not ask me to do something that was generally denounced. How can we know we are doing God’s will? He will confirm it to us again and again, as He did with Moses and Aaron.