“Into the Wilderness”
A Sermon Series in the Book of Exodus
“Everyone knows that you don’t eat bananas until they turn yellow. The internal transformation of the fruit inside the peel is what causes the yellowing effect indicating when the fruit is ripe (https://www.scienceabc.com/nature/bananas-change-colour-upon-ripening.html). Because we are God’s people, the work of Jesus changes our lives from the inside out. His grace transforms our hearts and minds, overflowing to our actions.”This morning we will look at how our faith in Jesus should change us from the inside out.
Freedom to Serve the Father (vv. 18-23)
18 Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 And the LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand. 21 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”
In the first five verses of this section the phrase “went back, go back” is repeated. This is the account of Moses leaving Midian and going back to Egypt.
(v. 18) When Moses was forty-years-old Jethro brought him into his family, and he lived with until here where Moses is eighty-years-old. Moses has is grown man, he has a wife and two sons, who themselves could be almost forty years old. He can go and do whatever he wants, but out of respect and honor to his father-in-law he asks permission to go and do what God has told him to do. He wants Jethro’s support.
(v. 19) Again, God comes and speaks to Moses, “And the LORD said to Moses in Midian” He is told that those seeking his life were dead, so it was safer to return, and then God comes to Moses again and speaks to him, “do the miracles, remember pharaoh is not going to listen, and gives him the words to say (that He promised He would earlier). Moses has already been told, and here he is told again, that pharaoh’s heart will be hardened (v.22) “But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” In response to the pharaoh’s hard heart, Moses is to do “all the miracles that I have put in your power.”
Israel is described as God’s firstborn son, (v. 22) “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son” God’s people were described as firstborn sons, and the purpose of the firstborn son was to serve the father, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” By enslaving God’s people, pharaoh demanded that they serve him, and prevented them from serving their father.
This is what sin does to creation. We are made in the image of God, we are designed as God’s creation to serve Him, to have a relationship with Him – but sin enslaves us, it lures us to serve false gods – to live a life that is contrary to our calling and design. In sin, we give our lives in service to that sin. Salvation is a releasing from this enslavement to sin, and it frees us to serve our true heavenly Father and have a relationship with Him.
Also, notice the relationship – God will free his people from slavery, but God is not stealing Pharoah’s slaves to make them his slaves. God frees his people, but as sons – we become the family of God. Yes, the son serves the Father, but it is rooted in a relationship of love, not forced submission. Ephesians 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” It is right for children to obey and serve their parents; it is right for the children of God to serve their heavenly father.
Our submission to God is voluntary, and together we join the mission of God – we go to what God is doing and willingly join in and seek to serve Him. But these children and the father must be about the same business. In the case of God and His son, the son must follow the clear instructions of the father – the mission of salvation is too important.
We have already seen the God Moses encounters in the wilderness at the burning bush is a holy God. You cannot just enter into His presence, the unholy has to be made holy in order to get close to Him. Exodus 3:5 “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
God has come to Moses multiple times; he is talking with him regularly. But God does not change – He is always holy. We may be set free, we may join Him in mission, and we may become comfortable in His presence, but wisdom should always remind us – God is holy, and He does not change.
(v. 23) In verses 22-23 there are two first-born sons represented. God’s first-born son and Egypt’s first-born son. There is a distinct line between them. “On one side are grace and life. On the other side are judgement and death. There is no middle ground or third option.”
Fear of the Lord In His Service (vv. 24-26)
24 At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.
The family consists of Moses, his wife Zipporah, and their two sons. As the family is making their way from Midian to Egypt, they stop at an inn. While they are at the inn, something happens to Moses that the family comes to realize is a life threatening and is directly coming from the Lord. “However, the real question is not how God assaulted Moses but why?”
Those that had wanted to kill Moses in Egypt are dead, but now God is his enemy? God had just given him another round of instructions for what to do when he had gathered the elders of Israel together (vv. 21-23). Moses was the one who God appeared to in the burning bush, and called to lead God’s people out of Egypt – why now, would God seek to kill him?
This passage has many challenges to interpretation – but there is one big idea that anyone seeking to understand what is going on here sees. Circumcision is important to God at this moment in history.
Genesis 17:9-14 helps us to understand what is happening, “And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 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.”
Moses had not circumcised his son – he had not kept the covenant. So, Zipporah grabs a stone knife and circumcises the son Gershom, and then places the piece of skin at Moses’ feet. When Moses gives excuse after excuse God patiently gives answers and seeks to reassure Moses, “I will be with you.” But when Moses neglects to circumcise his son, that becomes a matter of life and death. By Moses not following the word of God given to Abraham he “shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Moses almost lost his life because he did not follow the Word of God.
God’s people are identified as His people by the following of His law.
We are Baptists, specifically Southern Baptists – we are described as being “people of the book.” God’s Word is sufficient for every endeavor we set our hand to do, and will not come back void, it will accomplish its’ purpose in our lives. Moses has incurred the wrath of God upon his life because he didn’t pay attention to what was required. What am I supposed to get from this passage? We have to pay attention as we enter into the presence of God (Moses removing his sandals at the burning bush), and we have to pay attention as we enter into service of God (Moses as he travels to Egypt). We ignore God’s Word to our peril.
Zipporah takes the bloody piece of skin and smears it across Moses’ foot. Later, God’s people will take blood from a lamb and smear it across their doorposts. These are blood signs that they are seeking to follow God’s commands (circumcision and lamb’s blood). Jesus’ blood would be smeared across an old rugged cross. What must God’s people do to be saved from the angel of death? What must Moses do to be saved from God’s wrath? Blood has to be shed in a way that God accepts.
“Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with his people. Within the covenant there is grace and life. Outside the covenant are judgement and death. Moses by not circumcising his son is acting like an Egyptian, rather than a member of God’s covenant people.” These two groups go all the way through human history and on which side of the line you are standing on is eternally important – on one side will be eternal grace and life, and on the other will be eternal judgement and death.
Deuteronomy 10:8 “At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day.” The Levites were to carry the ark, there were rings on the side, and long poles slid through the rings, and it was lifted up and carried. Later the ark was stolen and David and his troops recovered the ark, and were celebrating it’s return. But, someone decided to just put the ark in a cart to get it back home.
2 Samuel 2:6 “And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.” God does not change, He is the I AM WHAT I AM, Being in the presence of God is dangerous. He has given us a means to be safe, but His Word have to be followed.
(v. 26) Moses’ wife says that Moses is “A bridegroom of blood,”— Moses was adopted into pharaoh’s household. He grew up in the Egyptian ways of education and training. Acts 7:22 “And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.”
When his eventual wife first met Moses after his fleeing to the desert, she referred to him as an Egyptian. When does Moses become a Hebrew, one of God’s people? He was more than likely circumcised on the eight day of his life – we are told that his parents were people of faith. But true circumcision is a matter of the heart.
Romans 2:28-29 “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” When did Moses give his heart given to the Lord?
There is a fundamental life lesson that Moses needs to learn before he leads God’s people. God has established a blood covenant with His people. “First, God showed Moses the wages of sin by placing him under the wrath of God. But then God’s deadly wrath was turned aside – or “propitiated,” by the blood of circumcision. Blood is mentioned specifically because of a sacrifice and thereby identified with it. It was not a full sacrifice, but it represented Gershom’s entire person, offered in Moses’ place. Moses was saved from God’s wrath by the shed blood of a substitute.”
Hebrews 9:22 “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
God is wanting to show His people how to be saved. This salvation story goes all throughout all of the Bible, but it includes the Abrahamic covenant – which Moses apparently ignored and failed to keep. Every human being is a sinner who stands under the wrath of God. The only way to be saved from eternal death is for God’s wrath to be turned aside, which can only be done through an act of blood.
By Jesus dying in our place, he turned aside the wrath of God against us. For the Israelites their covenant sign was circumcision – this is an act done to associate themselves with God and with His covenant. But what about Christians? How do we (today) show our association with God?
Colossians 2:11 “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” In the OT the covenant of association was circumcision and in the NT the covenant of association is baptism. But just like circumcision doesn’t make you a follower of God, getting wet in baptism doesn’t make you a Christian – it has always been and will always be a matter of the heart.
So, imagine a leader of the church standing up and teaching or leading in some area, but then you discover they have never been baptized. It’s the same as Moses going to lead the Israelites and never circumcising his son.
Moses’ life has to reflect the faith that he is leading the people to toward.
The sign that was given to Moses was that one day, in the future, God’s people will be on the mountain worshiping and serving God, the leader who will lead them back to that mountain was expected to worship and serve along with the people. Exodus 3:12 “He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
Matthew 29:19-20 is the great commission – we are to share how a person can come to Know Jesus, and then we teach them how to live a life before God that is pleasing to Him, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” How are you going to teach a disciple how to live a life pleasing to God, if you yourself are not living that same life? How is Moses going to lead God’s covenant people, if he himself was not following the covenant?
James 1:25 “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” And then later in James 2:14 “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” Works don’t save us, but our faith in Christ should become a changed life. We are changed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Have you been washed in the blood, the soul cleansing blood of the lamb? Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?
 Hebrews 2:11-12 “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he (Jesus) is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
 Tim Chester, Exodus For You (India; The Good Book Company, 2021) 49.
 Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word, Exodus (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Publishing, 2015) 117.
 Chester, 49.
 Ryken, 119.