Description / Transcription
This sermon originally delivered by Kevin DeYoung at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan
Pray with me one more time as we come to God’s Word. O heavenly Father, as we now turn to Your word, we ask that You would give us ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts that believe, heads that understand, and wills that obey. Speak, O Lord, for Your servants are listening. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Exodus 4:18-31. This starts a somewhat disjointed series of stories of Moses making his way back to Egypt, but I think you’ll see that there’s a pattern here. Exodus 4:18:
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.’”
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.
27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him to speak, and all the signs that he had commanded him to do. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. 31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.
Last we saw Moses, he was arguing with God about going back to Egypt. As arguments with God tend to go, Moses lost. He said, “Who am I to lead these people?” God said, “It doesn’t matter who you are. What matters is who I am.” Then he said, “Okay, but who are You?” And the Lord said, “I am who I am. I am the Lord—Yahweh—Jehovah.” Moses said, “But the people won’t listen to me.” God said, “They will listen to you. I’ll give you signs.” Moses said, “I’m not very good at speaking. I’ve got a problem with my mouth.” And the Lord said, “I made that mouth. You’ll be fine.” And then Moses finally said, “Look, would you just send somebody else?” Then the Lord’s anger was kindled, and He said, “Look, I’m not joking around here. I’ll give you Aaron, but you need to get going to Egypt.”
Moses has now submitted himself. He’s ready to go, but there are still some things that the Lord wants to teach him before he gets down to this Exodus business. Isn’t that the way that it usually goes with the Lord? You may wrestle with Him for a time over a sin or a calling—or just over following Him in the first place. Then you think, “Okay, God. I give up. You win. I’ll do it Your way. I submit myself. I commit myself to you.” And just when you think then God is going to give you an easy path, He says, “I’m so glad that you’re willing to follow Me. Now there are a few more things that you need to learn.”
You’ll sometimes find that when people first become Christians (maybe that’s some of you here), there’s a long period of restless struggle and fighting, or overcoming some sin. When you finally say, “Okay, Lord. You win. I follow You,” sometimes we think, “Well, now that I signed up to follow Christ, the hard stuff is behind me”—but, of course, that’s not the way that it works. The good news is: God is not done with you. The hard news is: God is not done with you! He keeps at us. He keeps working. Whatever you are, or whatever new journey you’re beginning, you have to realize that He who began a good work in you has more work left to do to complete it. It isn’t enough to just line up at the start line, however impressive that may be.
I just signed up this week for the Turkey Trot. Maybe some of you will be there at Lansing. I’m sure, given Pastor Jason’s sermon last week, that he will be there (with a kickball and his band of misfit toys, as I understand it) as they are running the race. I expect to see him there. But whether you sign up or not, that’s a start, not the race. And you may be wrestling with it: “You can do it. You can do it. Let’s sign up and get up early and let’s do it on Thanksgiving.” You can line up there. It’s cold, and you’re all ready to go, but you haven’t gone anywhere yet. You haven’t moved. You actually have to move through and complete the course.
Moses has now said to the Lord, “I have set my foot on the starting line, and I will head back to Egypt.” But, on the way, God has some lessons to teach him. There were five lessons that Moses needed to learn on his way back to Egypt—five lessons that apply to all of us whenever we let God be God and agree to follow Him no matter the cost.
Lesson 1: the First Step is Often the Hardest
It’s one thing to talk to Pharaoh. It’s another to tell your father-in-law, “I am taking your daughter and your grandchildren. We are going far away, and we may never come back.” Moses does the right thing—a necessary step, especially in that culture, where it would have been expected that the father-in-law (in whose house they were living) would give permission before they could leave and move in such a way.
But notice that Moses does not tell quite the whole truth. He says to Jethro, “Let me go back to my brothers in Egypt and see if they are alive.” Whether he means ‘my Hebrew brothers’ or he means physically, ‘my family’, that may have been partially true. But notice that he doesn’t’ tell Jethro anything about a burning bush. Or, “The Lord of the universe spoke to me. He told me that I was going to set free 2 million people. I have a stick with powers, and if I stick my hand in my coat it becomes leprous. I’m going to go back to Egypt, and I’m going to do all of these nasty things to Pharaoh, and then I’m going to lead all the people.” He didn’t say anything about all that—at least not that we have record of.
He’s at that all too familiar place (for many of us) between belief and unbelief. “Okay, God. I trust You. I’m willing to follow You, but I’m too embarrassed to tell anybody about it.” Have you ever been there? Caught between your desires to be a faithful Christian and to have some kind of respectability? Most of us will not be able to have both of those things—to be a faithful Christian and have respectability from your family, peers, classmates, colleagues, or the academy. “I want to follow Christ, and I want that to be good. Alright, God, I submit myself. I want to do things Your way. But I still want to save face.” Moses is caught here. “Alright, I need to go back to Egypt.” He tells Jethro this half-truth about his brothers without mentioning the whole reason that God is sending him back to Egypt.
Jethro’s response was especially gracious. Contrast it with Laban from the book of Genesis. Jethro was a Midianite. Laban was a Hebrew. But when Jacob wants to leave, Laban (Jacob’s father-in-law) says, “No, Jacob. You can’t go, because you’re good luck for me. I’m getting rich off of you, and I don’t want you to take my daughters, my grandkids, and everything with you.” So Jacob flees—and then Laban tracks him down. Remember what Laban says?
“The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine…
I hope that doesn’t sound like any of the parents here when your kids leave. “Hey, no, no, no. Why are you taking my grandkids away?” There are few things more difficult than letting go of a child. Now Laban was thinking of more than just his children, but that’s part of it. Jethro had to let go of his child and grandchildren. There are few things more difficult.
You don’t understand that until you’re a parent. I’m only a fifth of the way towards understanding it. I haven’t seen all the things that I have to see. But I’ll tell you this: I will never forget the night that we moved our firstborn from the bassinet next to our bed across the hall (when we were living in our little 900 sq. ft. house in Orange City, Iowa). His room was probably not as far away as that bowl there. We put him into his big crib—and my wife was a mess of tears. I was trying to pretend like I knew what was going on. I realized, “Oh, this is the first, but not the last, of hundreds and hundreds of times of letting your child go”—go across the hall, down the street, to a sleepover at a friend’s, to this school, or away to college.
So it’s a remarkable thing that Jethro does. No doubt there are some parents and children who would do well to notice what he and Moses did. Moses had the humility to speak to his in-laws. Now, even if there are different cultural expectations, depending on where you are, it is certainly the case that it is good humility and familial piety to go and to speak to your parents and your in-laws before something major like this happens. This is not what we are particularly good at in America. We’re sort of like, “Parents, I’m an individual. I get to do what I want to do.” Moses goes, “Dad—can I call you Jethro?” “No, don’t call me Jethro.” “Okay, Dad. I’ve got to go back to Egypt. I’m taking Zipporah and the kids. Can I go?”
Kids of all ages, take care how you leave. It’s a lot harder for Mom and Dad than you think. Even prophets and priests can be polite and talk to their parents and in-laws. What Moses did is a lesson—and also what Jethro did. He supports Moses going to Egypt.
Obviously, there are some decisions that parents cannot support. They cannot bless everything that their child ever wants to do. That’s called bad parenting. But when you have a child who wants to do something to bless people that is following the Lord, will you let him or her do that even when it is hurtful to you? What will you do? What will I do when a child—our beloved son or daughter—comes up to one of us and says, “Mom and Dad, I want to go to the hardest part of that big city. I want to go the 10/40 window where hardly anybody knows of Jesus, and I won’t be home for three Christmases. I want to go live among the rural poor. I’m looking at going somewhere far away, not to leave you, Mom and Dad, but because I want to follow God and serve Him. And I want to know—do I have your blessing?” It’s amazing how many times parents—really good, godly parents—lose sight of their good theology in moments like that. It becomes, “You’re going where? With what? With who?”
Jethro says to Moses three remarkable words: “Go in peace.” When our children make good decisions to follow Christ, but they are painful decisions for us, will we be able to say like Jethro, “Go in peace”? Jethro was gracious to Moses. God was gracious to Moses too. He gave him yet another assurance. He says, “Go back to Egypt. The men who sought your life are dead. You’ll be okay. And take with you this staff. There will be power there.” The first step is often the hardest, but Moses is taking that first step, however falteringly.
Lesson 2: God’s Plan is for His Glory, Not for Our Ease
God had already told Moses, “I’m going to give you some signs that will help the elders and the people of Israel to believe and follow you. I want you to give those same signs to Pharaoh.” “Okay, check.” “But listen, Moses. Pharaoh will not believe.” Notice what the Lord says. “He won’t listen. He won’t learn. He won’t let you go, because I will harden his heart.” You just have to wonder how Moses felt about this. “He’s sending me to Egypt, and it’s not like He says, ‘This might go poorly,’ or, ‘Just be prepared that your first encounter with Pharaoh may be a rough one.’ No, He says, ‘I want you to go speak to him, and I want you to know ahead of time that it won’t work, at least not initially. It might take you like ten times.’”
So often in the Bible, God sends His servants on seemingly impossible tasks in which He promises them meager results. We love Isaiah 6, when the Lord is filled with His glory in the temple and He calls Isaiah, and Isaiah says, “Here I am, send me.” But we often forget the next part of that chapter, where the Lord says, “You’re going to go to a people. They will be seeing, but they won’t really see. They’ll be hearing, but they’re not going to listen. They’ll be perceiving, but they’re not going to understand what you say. They are a hard hearted people and your message is just going to make them harder.” Who wants to go on that sort of mission trip? Who wants to be sent off by that sort of mission agency? “We specialize in hardening hearts and sending you to a people who will not listen.” But yet they went!
God promises that the truth will win out in the end, but ultimate success does not preclude immediate failure. And we see here, to make it even more difficult for Moses, that the Lord is promising that He is responsible for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. This is a major theme in the book of Exodus. This is the first time we’re introduced to it. I counted at least 18 times in the chapters ahead that speak of Pharaoh’s hard heart: 3 times where he’s said to harden his own heart, 6 times where his heart is said to become hard in a general way, and 9 times where God is the One who hardens (or promises to harden) his heart.
God was sovereign over Pharaoh’s heart, but not in a way that removes Pharaoh’s own personal responsibility and culpability. It was a divine hardening according to a rotten will, not in opposition to a humble disposition. We have to understand that. We don’t want to think of Pharaoh as sort of, “Oh, YHWH, I love You. I believe in You. I really want to do the right thing, and I want to let Your people go.” But God says, “No soup for you! I’m going to harden your heart. This isn’t going to work. Sorry.”
No, that’s not what it is. Pharaoh is hardening his heart, on one level, and God is also promising to harden his heart. Much more often (in the chapters ahead) we will see God’s plan to harden Pharaoh’s heart from the divine perspective. God is always bigger than we think. He has a plan that will make sense in the end, though along the way it may not be very comfortable.
You see, the Exodus was motivated by love, by compassion, and by God’s hatred for injustice. It was motivated by filial affection (a father for a son). But over it all and under it all, the Exodus was God’s plan to make His glory known to the nations, and that meant a grand unveiling of divine power. Shock and awe is well-deserved for a Pharaoh who turned his back on ten chances to open his ears and his heart. The Lord said, “I have a lot of things that I want to show to Egypt and the world. Pharaoh’s heart will be hardened so that I can give not just one, two, three, or four, but ten plagues before I finally let you go. I will show you the full extent of my power, and that means that Pharaoh will be hardened for the sake of My glory.” God’s plan was for His glory, not for the ease of Moses.
Notice how He warns in verses 22 and 23 that the last plague will be the worst. He introduces this principle: a son for a son. The Lord says, “Israel is My son, My treasured possession, the one on whom I have set all of My affection. I love my beloved son. Pharaoh, you’ve enslaved My son. You’ve persecuted and mistreated My son, and I’m giving you an opportunity to let him go. If you don’t let him go, here’s what it will come to, Pharaoh: Your son for My son.”
Notice He says, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” The opposite of bondage is not autonomy, but service to a more benevolent deity. Becoming a Christian, for example, is not setting aside one burden so that you can be completely free to do whatever you want. No, you set aside this burden of enslavement for a burden that is light and a yoke that is easy in service to a far better Master. And it has always been, and always will be the lie of the devil to tell you: “You can’t trust this Master, you can’t trust this God.”
That was the lie in the Garden. “Hey, God said not to eat that fruit, but you know why He said that? Because when you eat it, you’re going to be like Him. God’s keeping good things from you.” These are the sort of whispers that come from the serpent. “Look, if you don’t do what every college student does on the weekend, you’re not going to have fun. You’re going to miss the best four years of your life.” “If you follow God—if you save yourself for marriage and do things God’s way, the hard way—look, you’re going to be miserable.” That’s the lie. The truth here is that when you set aside the bondage and the yoke of oppression in Egypt, you are set free to serve a God who is for you, not against you. God’s plan was for His glory and for our freedom, but not for our ease.
Lesson 3: Being Called is No Excuse for Being Compromised
Do you see the connection? We’re talking about God’s son, Israel, and then Pharaoh’s son, who will be killed if he does not let Israel go. Then in verses 24-26, we look at Moses’ son. If you have your Bibles open, and you were coming here this morning hoping for an absolutely iron-clad, completely confident interpretation of what’s going in these three verses, then you are going to be disappointed. These are three of the weirdest verses in the Bible. They are difficult.
Here are just some of the things that are not clear. First, and perhaps most importantly, who is the ‘him’ in verse 24? Now some of your translations may say Moses, but the ESV is right to translate it more ambiguously:
24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death.
Well, who is the ‘him’? Some people think it was Moses’ son, Gershom, because we were talking about God’s son, then we talked about Pharaoh’s son, and now we’re looking at Moses’ son. The covenant curse was to cut off the one who was not circumcised, so we’re talking about him. God was seeking to kill Moses’ son.
Most people don’t think that, and I tend to agree with them. It would seem strange. We haven’t been talking about his son Gershom. He has not been on the radar screen at all. We have been talking a lot about Moses, so (most naturally) the ‘him’ would refer back to Moses. God was sort of firing a shot across the bow: “Moses, you’d better get your act together, or this trip back to Egypt is going to be a real short one.”
Here’s another confusing thing. Verse 25:
25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it…
In the ESV, it has a footnote that says that in Hebrew it’s ‘his’. We don’t know whose feet we’re talking about. Is it the feet of the son or is it the feet of Moses? Her next comment about a bridegroom of blood seems to me to be a reference to Moses, so it’s his feet. And yet some people say that’s not even the best translation. It’s really saying that you are a relative of blood to me, and so it may be talking about the son, not the husband. It’s all very confusing.
Here’s something else confusing. Are the feet here really feet or (as is likely) are we dealing with a euphemism for sexual organs? Feet, in the Old Testament, can be a euphemism for genitalia. Genesis 49:10 says a scepter will not be removed from his ‘feet’. Deuteronomy 28:57, speaking of a woman giving birth, says that her afterbirth comes out from between her ‘feet’. Judges 3:24 is the story of Ehud, the left-handed man, and Eglon, who was a super-fat king. All of the little boys love that story. He stabs him and then it gets all swallowed up. When they find him, they say he is in his chamber relieving himself. He’s using the bathroom. But actually, it says he was covering his ‘feet’. It’s a kind of euphemism. Some people even think that the angels in Isaiah 6 with the wings and two to cover their ‘feet’ is a reference to covering what needs to be covered. Or Ezekiel 16:25 speaks of an adulterous woman who opened her ‘feet’ to everyone who passed by. These are rather graphic images where ‘feet’ seem to be a euphemism, a kind of Hebrew idiom, for sexual organs. So, when it says she touched his feet, it may mean that she touched the son’s sexual organ or it may mean she took the foreskin and threw it on Moses’ lap. Said, “You’re a bridegroom of blood to me.”
Here’s another confusing thing: is Zipporah a hero, or is she largely to blame for this problem? A lot of older commentaries think Zipporah was probably largely to blame, because Moses must not have circumcised his son because Jethro and Zipporah (being Midianites) wouldn’t have liked it. And so she says, “You’re a bridegroom of blood to me. I can’t believe we have to do this messy circumcision thing.” Now that may be the case. That seems overly speculative to me.
I’ve always read it with Zipporah as acting the heroine to come in at the eleventh hour and take care of business, so that Moses (and perhaps his son) doesn’t die. It seems to me that she’s the one who is averting this certain death.
And then there’s this phrase, ‘a bridegroom of blood’. You can read in the commentary that some people think this is a term of endearment. Try it out this afternoon and see how it works. That really is not a nasty thing. It’s just like saying that you are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. We’re blood. We’re relatives. She may be saying this to her son.
It seems to me to be more of a cry of frustration and exasperation for the fact either of circumcision itself or the fact that Moses hadn’t taken care of the circumcision. This is a very confusing little story with lots of ambiguities. Whenever you have a story like that, it’s best to not make major points based on the points that are most ambiguous.
Here’s the point that I think is clear. Moses had not been faithful to keep the covenant. Back in Genesis 17 is where we see this covenant of circumcision. Verse 10:
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.”
There’s the covenant warning of the covenant curse: if you do not receive this sign of circumcision, you too will be cut off. Moses, and perhaps his son, was in danger of having a very short trip back to Egypt.
There are two places in the Old Testament where the Lord is said to be angry and it’s not really clear why. This is one of them in Exodus. The other one is in Numbers 22:22, with the story of Balaam. You have to fill in the gaps. Balaam meets the king of Moab—Balak, the son of Zippor is his name. There is probably meant to be some connection in the Israelites mind as they are reading these stories between Moses and Balaam, who are both mysteriously confronted with a very angry God, because, though they had a divine calling, they were doing something to lack integrity in that calling. You have Moses, who is saved by his female wife Zipporah as he veers off the path; and you have Balaam, who is saved by his female donkey, as he goes to meet the son of Zippor, Balak. Surely some connection was to be made here.
God’s anger is kindled again with Moses because, although the Exodus may have been a job for someone with a speech impediment, it was not a job for someone with an obedience impediment. “Okay, Moses, you’re not good at speaking. I can work with that. Alright, Moses, you’re not good in front of people. That’s fine. I can handle that. Moses, you’re not very confident. Moses, you’ve got a sketchy past. I can handle all of that. But if you’re not going to be a person of integrity, then I guess I’ll find somebody else.” The fruit of the Spirit is always more important than the gifts of the Spirit. Godly consistency is more important than a sense of God’s calling. A passion for God’s people was no excuse to neglect his own family.
We sometimes talk about weakness in a sloppy way. It’s very biblical that God uses weakness, that He overcomes weakness, and that He’s strong in weakness. But the weakness that God is happy to use is the weakness of our ability, of our natural skill, of our pedigree, or of a broken history or tarnished past. It is not the ‘weakness’ of sin. Let us not talk carelessly about how “God loves to use weakness, so I’ll just keep on sinning, drinking, doing the porn, and treating my wife like I’m a big oaf. I’ll keep doing those things—and you know, God just likes to deal with weakness.”
Well, He loves to save us from sin. He loves to forgive sin. He loves to let us put the sin in the past so that we can serve Him freely. But He doesn’t just chalk it up to weakness. God calls us, but calling is not an excuse to be compromised. Moses had a mission to do, but he also had a character to embody.
It’s like the famous Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne said.
“What my people need from me most is my own personal holiness.”
Dads, that’s what your family needs most. Mom, that’s what your family needs most. My personal holiness is what you need from me. It’s what people at work need from you, even though you don’t know it. It’s what your classmates need. They need your personal holiness, a walk of integrity with the Lord. That’s what Moses was lacking here until Zipporah saved his skin, literally.
Lesson 4: Don’t Waste Your Time and Energy with Worry
Remember how anxious Moses was? Go back to chapter 3. The Lord made these promises in verse 16: “Go and gather the elders of Israel together. Say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, has appeared to me.’ And I promise I will bring you up out of affliction and into a good land.” Verse 18: “And the elders will listen to you.” And Moses says in chapter 4, verse 1, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to me.” God says, “I want you to go. Talk to the elders. They’ll listen.” Moses says, “I don’t know. What if they don’t? What if they don’t listen? What if I don’t have signs? What if they say, ‘Who are you’? What if they say, ‘Well, you’re the guy who killed someone’? It’s been forty years. God, what’s going to happen? I don’t know!”
And then do you notice what happens rather matter-of-factly at the end of chapter 4? Verse 28:
28 And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord…
29 Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel.
31 And the people believed…
Wouldn’t you know it? Things happen just as God has said. It helped that Aaron was there. Maybe he bridged the gap. He was someone they were familiar with. I think we actually have an example here of Moses’ humility. There’s a verse in Numbers 12 that says Moses was the most humble man on the earth, which was probably an insertion by a later editor of the Pentateuch. It’s hard to write about yourself that you’re the most humble person on the earth. It kind of defeats the purpose. But, assuming somebody else put that in there, we can see Moses’ humility.
Remember, Moses is writing the book of Exodus, and he just keeps writing more and more unflattering things. Is that what you would write in your autobiography? You know, telling your friends: “Let’s get all the stories together. No, no, I don’t like that. Let’s start with some stories of when I was dumb. You got any of those?” All the hands go up. “Okay, okay. Not all at once. You write them down. I argued with God and that didn’t go well. Then I doubted God and that didn’t go well. Then I didn’t circumcise my son. I almost died because of that. And then I was really freaking out about the elders and they weren’t going to listen and then, you know what, they believed.”
He had to grow up. He had to mature. He had to be refined and shaped. He had to learn that God could be trusted. Wasn’t there a famous man, many years later, who said, “Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life”? The doctor never comes into the office and says, “You know what? Nothing we can do now. Just worry.”
You know what? You worry about things. You live out the future before it gets here. That’s what anxiety is: living out the future before it gets here. You go through in your mind all of the bad things that could happen to you and to your family. You know what? You get to those incidents and sometimes it’s worse. And what if it’s worse? You never think, “Well, that was so much worse, but at least I worried.”
A lot of the times, it’s not nearly as bad as you feared. The conversation goes a lot better, and those things didn’t happen. And you think, “God, why’d I get myself so worked up about this?” Don’t waste your time and energy with worry.
Lesson 5: It’s Never too Soon to Worship
31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.
Remember where they are! They’re still in Egypt. They haven’t been set free yet. They’re still waiting for their deliverance. Things are about to go from bad to worse as they have to make bricks without straw. And they would, in the future, often doubt God and complain to Moses, but here at the outset, they respond just as they should. They worship, even in the waiting.
It’s true: when you work with suffering people—and all of us will be suffering people and will have to care for suffering people—you can’t rush them to see God’s providence. You can’t just throw Romans 8:28 in their face: all things work together for good! That’s a precious truth. It’s just sometimes not the first truth that people can handle in the midst of suffering. You have to be patient with people. It takes a while to get there—to trust God, take Him at His word, and see His character. It takes a lot of patience to deal with people in the midst of suffering and uncertainty.
And yet let’s not make an error in the opposite direction and think that rejoicing in the midst of affliction is somehow phony. “Well, you’re not real.” Or think that to have hope in the midst of oppression is just pie in the sky. Confidence in the promises of God is never misplaced. It’s never too soon to worship. They gave God glory, even when they were still waiting. What they knew is that God had a promise. He had heard. He had seen. He cared. Oftentimes, that’s all we know. “I don’t know why this is happening. I don’t know why this loss is there. But I know that God loves you. I know He has a plan. I know He hasn’t left you or forsaken you.” And so they worship.
Can you worship? Will I worship? As you wait, whether for marriage, for a child, for a job, for a move, for test results, for the chemo to be done, or maybe to get to the end of your life and the Lord to take you home—waiting is hard. Will you worship in the waiting? Will each of us worship as those who have so many more reasons to worship than even Moses and the people of Israel? Remember, I said earlier that God had introduced this principle: a son for a son. “You’ve enslaved My son, Israel. If you don’t let them go, then I’ll take your son for My son.” If course, if you know the story of the Old Testament, you know that God’s son, Israel, was a very faithless son. Just as Moses and his son had broken the covenant, so Israel the son would repeatedly break the covenant and God would have to send another Son to save that son.
“Okay, Israel. I’ve set the principle myself. A son for a son. And now my son is in bondage to sin. My son, Israel, has proved to be treacherous with me. My son, Israel, has proved to be a covenant breaker, and what will I do then to save my son? I saved my son by taking Pharaoh’s son. That won’t work this time. The only way to save my son, Israel, is to send my Son, Jesus.”
There are amazing parallels. Exodus 4:19. The Lord says, “Your enemies are dead. You can return to Egypt.” It’s almost the exact same Greek in Matthew 2:20. God says to Joseph and Mary, “Your enemies are dead. You can now leave Egypt,” because remember, the holy family had come to Egypt to flee Herod’s tyranny against the young boys. Both to Moses’ and to Jesus’ family: “Your enemies are dead. It’s time to go home.”
This makes sense of that obscure prophetic fulfillment in Matthew 2:15, where he quotes from Hosea 11:1:
“Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Matthew says, “Oh, that prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus and His family came out of Egypt and went back to Judea.” You may think, “Hosea wasn’t talking anything about that.” He wasn’t, and he was. He was talking about God’s son, Israel, being set free, and now Matthew understands by the power of the Spirit that Jesus will be a new Moses. Even more than that, He will be the true Israel, to do what the original Israel failed to do. And so yes, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” My only beloved, only begotten Son.
As one commentator said:
“The work of Christ is to bring the slaves of sin into the liberty of sonship.”
Moses was saved by the shedding of blood from a son. A millennium and a half later, God would send, not an imperfect deliverer like Moses, but one who was faithful to the end, without fault or blemish, to come and be the sacrificial Son—to save the wayward son—to be set free.
Do you see it? Do you know it? Will you worship? Maybe worship for the first time, as all of the pieces are being connected. “Yes, God sent His Son for my sins, because I have not been the son or daughter that I need to be.” Will you worship in the midst of blessing, in the midst of waiting, in joy or in sorrow, in fulfillment, and in anticipation? The most important lesson undergirding all of these lessons is that there is always reason to worship the Son, who is worthy.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, how we give thanks for the sending of Your Son and the shedding of His blood for our sakes. Wherever we are on the journey, whether just setting out to follow you, taking an about face to follow you again, or taking another tiny step of obedience in the same direction, keep at us, Lord. Don’t let us go. We want to keep learning and growing, even though it’s painful. Keep teaching us things. Help us to follow as You lead and to serve the Son who shed His blood for us. In His name we pray. Amen.