The narrow path of obedience is strewn with many obstacles. We may overcome them through faith in God’s promises, a thankful response to the little encouragements he gives us along the way to remove our fears, but most of all by moving ahead in determined obedience. If we wait to obey God until everything is just right in our circumstances, relationships, or feelings, we shall be tempted to give up before we barely begin our course. We live in a fallen world. Everything is upside down and broken, including us. Our earthly pilgrimage will have many tough stretches. As we struggle to obey God, we must rejoice in the active obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ. His path was filled with insurmountable obstacles – the unrestrained malice of the devil and the mountain of our sins that he carried on his back all the way. The cross ever loomed before him. Setting his face like flint in the way of obedience, he has buried all our sins in the depths of the sea, and therefore the path of our obedience is made much easier. He rose to newness of life so that we would have the Spirit of holiness and power within us, who intercedes and encourage us every step. Even so, we can learn much about loving and obeying God our Savior from the difficulties Moses’ encountered and was able to overcome because God was with him. He is with us more, for Jesus has ascended to heaven to minister in the heavenly sanctuary. He will help us overcome all the tribulations we face in the world (John 16:33).
Fulfill Family Responsibilities (v. 18)
Our Lord warned that family commitments must not come before love for him and obedience to his claims and calling upon our lives (Matt. 10:37). This is not an excuse to disregard parents or to withhold honor from them. Our Lord gave an equally strong warning against fifth commandment sins, even in the case of adult children (Mark 7:11-13). When it comes to confessing and following Christ, we must not love father or mother, spouse or children, more than him. We cannot use them as an excuse to disobey or deny God. At the same time, we cannot use service to God as an excuse to neglect our family responsibilities. When the heart is right with God and guided by his word, serving God and honoring one’s parents will agree well together. The sole exception is when parents (or another family connection) demand to be first in one’s life or require that one’s confession and service to God be forsaken. Then, we must obey God rather than men. This occurs much more rarely than some would like to imagine. When a believer finds himself truly confronted with the choice of God or family, his heart will be broken, not haughty. He will do all in his power to appeal humbly to all the authorities in his life. Failing in this, he will seek the support and counsel of other believers to certify that he is indeed being persecuted for righteousness’ sake and not simply being stubborn.
Moses teaches us another aspect of family love. An unbelieving parent-in-law does not justify our acting arrogantly. While Jethro may have been a priest and man of wisdom, he was also a Midianite. Even so, Moses did not simply take his family and return to Egypt without first giving Jethro some explanation. After all, he had lived with Jethro’s family for forty years. He did not relate the burning bush visitation or God’s call upon his life. This was not dishonest but wise. Moses knew that Jethro would not likely understand or agree with God’s command. If Moses had fears and objections, how would Jethro have responded? He told his father-in-law enough to warrant his return to Egypt. Every episode in Scripture is not an example for us to follow, so we should not think Moses’ holding back of information justification for children to lie to parents or spouses to withhold things from each other. It is a justification for us to be as “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” We can overshare, especially in the Lord’s dealings with us or the desire for others to enter into our feelings and experiences too completely.
Rejoice in God’s Encouragement (v. 19)
This seems haphazardly introduced, but when we set out to obey the Lord, even if we do not know the way or have many obstacles before us, he will give us sufficient encouragement. Moses is remembering his own history as he writes under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. He is remembering his fear of a nation that now lay in ruins. He is teaching us by his example that we must follow on to know the Lord (Hab. 6:3) and walk humbly before him (Mic. 6:8). If we do, he will help us. Nothing was said on Horeb about Moses’ flight from Egypt. To omit this objection was surprising. Perhaps fear of man was his main reservation, but Moses stored it for later or feared to bring it before the Lord. It must have haunted him. Were the authorities still looking for him? He had been the prince of Egypt. It was highly unlikely that his sudden return would be well-received. The Lord therefore told him that all who had sought his life were dead. He removed Moses’ fear and taught him to rest upon the Lord’s perfect knowledge of all aspects of the situation.
It is a hard for us to learn not to lean upon our own understanding, in fact, to distrust ourselves so completely that we bring every decision to the Lord and wait upon him to make the matter clear. Some things that pertain to this life require us to move forward almost by rote – like taking care of ourselves and our property. Even in these matters, however, we should at least commit our ways to the Lord and ask him to enlarge our steps under us so that we do not slip, forget our need of him, or trust ourselves. In the larger matters, fear can easily creep in, especially the fear of man, anxiety about our affairs in this life, and anxiety about the future. We must tell the Lord our fears and cast our cares upon him. Then, we must trust that he knows the situation far better than we do. This will free our hearts from sinful anxiety and worry, which in turn will allow for more clarity about the situation so that we make wise and God-honoring decisions. Above all, we must trust that if we will resolve to obey the Lord, even if we are not sure exactly how, he will give us sufficient encouragement and teach us that we have nothing to fear – but him. The fear of the Lord, however, is life, wisdom, and joy (Prov. 14:27; 19:23).
Trust Our Father’s Sovereignty and Love (vv. 20-23)
God’s Sovereignty Settles and Amazes
Having received Jethro’s blessing, Moses set out for Egypt. He had the rod of God in his hand; it was no more Moses’ rod but had a new name. Strange is the power with which the Lord would deliver his people – a stick! Moses had little idea of the trouble that awaited him. Neither do we; all we can do is to trust the Lord and determine to obey him with all that is in us. Notice how wisely the Lord deals with us. He did not tell Moses everything at the bush. He revealed more to Moses along the path of obedience (John 14:21). The Lord is about to go to war against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Moses will perform God’s wonders, but the Lord will harden Pharaoh’s heart. He will not let Israel go. The Lord similarly warned Isaiah that Israel would not repent. Our Lord Jesus warned his disciples that they would endure much tribulation. The Lord is honest with his servants. He wants us to trust his power and faithfulness. He does not want us to be discouraged if we do not enjoy instant success or encounter opposition and delay in seeing the fruits of our sowing and working for his kingdom. The frequent use of the sowing-reaping metaphor, encouragement of patience, and warning of trials are so that we do not take the broad and easy path or think that God’s kingdom will be built in a day.
This has far-reaching implications for our praying, as we need great persistence in seeking the Lord, even when we have a promise to support our petition and know that he would be glorified in answering it. When raising a family, we must seek the grace of daily faithfulness, over months and years, for God does not form our children’s characters or fulfill his covenant promises other than through faithful use of the means he has ordained to these ends. And when planting churches or engaging in kingdom works in the church and society, we must expect trouble, so that we are encouraged to live by faith in God’s promises and strength. Moses had a long walk ahead of him. The Lord did not hold back the trouble waiting him. This walk and wait were important crucibles for Moses’ faith.
When we are trying to serve the Lord or face troubles or hear of others’ troubles, it is tempting to turn everything inward. How does this make me feel? What am I to do? The Lord turns Moses outward. This is what I am doing. I will harden Pharaoh’s heart. We shall encounter this hardening throughout the Lord’s war with Pharaoh. Sometimes the Lord does the hardening; at other times, Pharaoh hardens his own heart. The Lord’s hardening was judicial. It was punishment, not only for Pharaoh’s rebellion in the present but also for his wickedness in the past, as well as Egypt’s. Then and now, the Lord is the governor of the nations (Ps. 22:28), and he judges wicked men and nations. This is much truer now that Jesus Christ has entered his kingdom and glory. There was no injustice in this hardening. Pharaoh did not want to repent. He hated the true God and would not submit to his word, even when he had abundant earthly incentives to do so. How about simply saving his land from judgment? He would not. He hardened his heart against the Lord, and the Lord hardened his heart.
Some complain against this hardening work of the Lord, but you may as well bark at the moon for all the good it will do. God’s sovereignty includes and establishes the free and contingent acts of his creatures. There is only conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom if you try to understand their relation on the foundation of unbelieving philosophy and static categories of causality. In God’s world – and make no mistake, this is his world – he sovereignly and eternally ordains what men freely choose to do. Both are true. That we cannot put them together is utterly irrelevant. Of course we cannot, for we are not God. God reveals even this snippet of his glory not so that we solve him but so that we worship him. As an aside, however, if God has not defined and interpreted all things, if he has not foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, then human freedom is an utter illusion. Each choice we make would be upon the watery foundation of absolute chance. This is not freedom but slavery to chaos. No, we shall leave the dead to chew on these old bones. For us, nothing more settles our hearts in good cheer and confidence than God’s declaration of total sovereignty. We can be at peace and courageous because he reigns and directs all things according to his purposes.
Beloved Children of the Great King
But it is easy for us to get lost on these heights of God’s sovereignty. Many have plunged over the edge into the abyss, for they trusted their ability to search out the HOLY ONE, which it is folly to attempt. While we must be assured of God’s sovereign direction of all men, especially the heart of kings (Prov. 21:1), it is upon God’s fatherly love that we find our greatest consolation. This is the reason for some of the tenderest language we have yet encountered in Scripture: Israel is my son, my firstborn. Moses must tell Pharaoh to let God’s children go. If he will not, God will kill Pharaoh’s son – which he did. Now, there are so many glories in this little line. It is clear that God never for one moment entertained the idea of a merely formal relationship with his people. He envisioned and ordained a close indwelling with us. He loved us as his children and chose us in Christ. This was already being revealed through Moses to Israel. In sending his Son later and giving us the Spirit of adoption, God is telling us of his great love for us, his willingness to forgive our sins, and his grace in making us his holy children. And second, his judgments to redeem us are truly alarming. If the world harms God’s children, he will kill theirs. Has he not done this in Europe – two centuries of revolution and war to judge his enemies for the way the crown heads tortured his people? God’s fatherly love is our comfort; his love is doom for those who afflict the church.
We must, therefore, gain much clearer views of the basis and certainty of God’s love. We are told that nothing can separate us from it, but our earthly experience often looks very different from what we think it should if God loved us. We can pass by quickly the selfish and proud categories into which we would force God’s love – take this way from me; I should not have to suffer; this is not fair. Israel may have thought this, and perhaps Moses thought to himself – Israel is God’s firstborn son? This is the way God loves his children? God’s love, however, is so much higher and holier than we can understand. It aims at nothing less than our entire perfection and holiness and happiness with him in heaven forever. To arrive at the goal of his love, afflictions are necessary. The world’s hatred and persecution are often the very fires that purify faith and set us to seeking God’s kingdom and glory in the world. In the midst of all these trials, God does not stop loving us, even as an earthly father chastens his children because he loves them. Whenever, therefore, our circumstances tempt us to doubt God’s love or that we are his children, let us look upon him whom our sins have pierced, Jesus Christ. At the cross, God inverted the curse he pronounced upon Pharaoh. Sin and death would not let us go, so God killed his only Son to redeem us. This is love; let us sing and wonder!
Obey the Lord Completely (vv. 24-26)
This is a singular passage of Scripture. From giving him encouragements and revealing his glory, the Lord rose up to slay Moses. We are not told how, and the why can only be implied from what happened. Moses apparently had not circumcised his young son. Whatever the reason for his disobedience – fear of displeasing his wife or father-in-law is a common explanation – the Lord drew near to kill him. It may be that the Angel of the Lord approached with sword in hand. While each one of us must obey God promptly and sincerely, God’s servants and ministers must not think that their work releases them from obedience. Their hearts must be meek before God and an example to men of utmost consecration. This is the reason that the possession of evident grace is always a higher criterion for ordained office in the church than the presence of spiritual gifts. The devil can mimic and use the latter; he hates the former.
Neglect of God’s covenant signs is particularly dangerous. Perhaps Moses should have taken much greater care in his selection of a wife. Her actions before danger reveal carnal more than heavenly wisdom and seem to be motivated more by angry fear than by loving faith. She knew the reason for the vengeful visitation, took a sharp stone, and performed the circumcision herself. This is no warrant for emergency baptisms by females, or by anyone else for that matter. She undertook this to save Moses’ life, as it is evident that he was on the point of execution. Zipporah threw the removed foreskin at Moses’ feet and twice shouted at him, “A bloody husband you are to me!” It is evident that she did not want her son to be circumcised and did so only under great duress. She did not travel any further with Moses, but with her sons, returned to her father’s house until called for later. It is possible but rare that a man may have to leave his wife to do God’s bidding, but this was as much Moses’ fault as his wife’s, unless she was so adamantly stubborn in her refusal.
We must give our children the mark of the covenant, the sign and seal of baptism. The apostolic practice was household baptism, and children are federally holy, set apart to God and in covenant with him, because of the faith and public profession of their parents. Baptism is God’s sign and seal of the covenant, and it is neglected to our peril. Beyond this obvious lesson, God will be honored by those who serve him. He will be esteemed holy, treated with reverence, and his name honored in the presence of his people. Moses had to learn this. It was part of his meekness training, which was not a piety addendum to the real work of delivering Israel. Without holiness and meekness before God, he would not be able to speak for God, rebuke Pharaoh, and lead Israel to liberty. God’s servants must be broken before him, for a broken and contrite heart is the offering he accepts. They must be of a meek and gentle spirit, like the Lord Jesus Christ, else they do not share of his Spirit and will harm rather than bless God’s people. Already, God was teaching Moses the holiness and fear that would be the hallmark of his life and the source of his unflinching obedience to God. He had to become a yielded and humble man.
Obey and Expect Assistance (vv. 27-31)
Upon losing his wife, Moses gained Aaron. When the Lord bruises, he binds up. Moses had vital work to do, and his unstable family would be a hindrance – let this be a strong motivation for a man who feels called to be a pastor or elder to consider his family to be a leading indicator of his fitness for the work. Instability at home hardly bodes well for stable leadership in the church or in society. Moses was endeavoring to obey, and the Lord sent the promised help to him. Moses told Aaron all that the Lord had told him, and Aaron evidently believed him. He either related or displayed the powerful signs that confirmed the truth of God’s word. They completed the trip to Egypt together, gathered the elders of the people together, and told them everything God had said. Aaron did the talking and likely showed the signs – although it may have been Moses. They did as the Lord commanded them, and the people believed. They worshipped the Lord – note his covenant name – for his faithfulness in delivering his people. When the Lord gives us a promise, we should worship him as if we had already received it, for he is faithful. We may depend upon his fulfillment of what he promises.
Note that this happy outcome to the first phase of God’s delivering work was the direct result of Moses’ obedience. It was not an easy path. He had to pass through the valley of his fears, personal sin in failing to give his son the mark of the covenant, and domestic division. We must not use our circumstances as an excuse for not moving forward in faith and obedience. The Lord chooses weak vessels. This has always been the case. We have more treasure than Moses did, for we have the Spirit and with him every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, but we are cracked and broken (1 Cor. 4:7). God uses the weak so that everyone will know that his power alone has done great things. And in our smaller great things, or so we think, let us be quicker than we are to give him praise. Perhaps he does not do as many mighty works to our way of thinking because we are so stingy in praising him.
The elders of Israel had been in Egypt for over four centuries and enslaved for over two centuries, but as soon as they heard the Lord’s word, they worshipped. They praised him. The Lord has done greater things for us, but we are slower than slugs when it comes to praising and thanking him. We fall to complaining, jealousy, and worldly envy. And then we wonder why the Spirit of holiness is provoked with us and withdraws somewhat of his power! God will be reverenced by those who draw near to him. He will be trusted for his mercy and love to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. He will have us cast ourselves upon his promises and move forward in obedience. Whatever we lack and need to complete his service, he will provide in his own way and time.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. What does Moses teach about respecting parents? How do we balance Matthew 10:37 w/ Mark 7:1-15?
2. What are your fears? How does the Lord direct you to deal with them? Will you commit to doing so?
3. Why was the Lord so honest with Moses about the difficulties facing him?
4. Have you taken seriously the Lord’s honesty with you? See, for examples, Acts 14:22 or James 1:2.
5. Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
6. What is one main explanation for the trouble that many have with the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility?
7. How is God’s providence the greatest of all comforts?
8. What is the shocking implication of God’s love?
9. What should we do when God’s declarations of love do not match our experience of his love?
10. Why did God almost kill Moses?
11. What can we imply about his relationship with Zipporah?
12. Summarize the ways Moses had to learn obedience before he arrived in Egypt?
13. Where do you need to learn obedience? Where would your spouse say you need to learn obedience?