After church this past Sunday, I took my children to Showtime Video to pick up some DVDs. On our way out, the Starbursts, Skittles, and Kit Kat bars summoned my daughter’s salivating mouth over to the candy counter.
“Can I have some candy, Dad?” she asked holding out a handful of her own quarters. “I have my own money.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, I said, “NO!”
Before you start casting stones in my direction, I should alert you to the fact that my children—by the power of suggestion—gave up sugar for Lent. It’s been rather difficult to remove ALL sugar from our diet. However, candy is a no-brainer.
Cue Dad’s unwanted lecture:
“You’re sad. I get that. You gave up something you really want for 40 days. It wouldn’t be a sacrifice if you didn’t want it…and giving up something during Lent is about making a sacrifice. Believe me…I REALLY want a Mountain Dew right now! When you desire candy or cookies, I want you to recognize that you made a sacrifice and then reflect on the sacrifice Jesus made for us…so that we can live with God as His children forever. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was a MUCH bigger sacrifice than you giving up candy, or me giving up Mountain Dew!”
As I read Exodus 4 today and reflected on my unilateral conversation with my daughter, I realized that as followers of Jesus and children of the Promise, sacrifice is nothing new…and definitely not something we just do during Lent!
When God first made “The Promise,” He commanded Abraham to circumcise his male descendants when they were eight days old. Circumcision would forever be a sign symbolizing one’s submission to God and the responsibilities therein. Circumcision was also a constant reminder of God’s Promise to preserve and protect His children (Psalm 42:2). For 500 years, Abraham’s children would tread in the very cloudy, enigmatic waters of monotheism. Prior to Moses, the exodus from Egypt, and the Law given by God on Mt. Sinai, there was only one religious requirement for the Hebrew people to worship the one true God of their fathers…the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: circumcision.
To the Hebrew man, circumcision reminded him never to compromise his devotion to God…not under any circumstances. He had to sacrifice all of his desires and priorities. God needed to be number one on his priority list…above his possessions, his family, his wife, his children….even his firstborn son.
In Exodus 3 and 4, God called Moses and convinced him to embrace his purpose—to lead God’s people out of Egypt and into “the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). Moses was about to lead these monotheistic infants with only one religious law out of the frying pan and into the fire. God understood the magnitude of Moses’ role. Moses would become the liaison between God and God’s people—giving them the proper religious rites, festivals, laws, worshiping procedures, and social organization. All the guidelines Moses would present to the Hebrew people would ratify the spiritual purpose of circumcision—to cut into the very heart and soul of the believer and impress upon the believer to sacrifice all he or she has in order to make God number one. Listen to the words of Moses several years later:
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.”
God called Moses from the burning bush, argued with Moses, managed Moses’ reluctance, and sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver His people from bondage. Then:
“On the way to Egypt, at a place where Moses and his family had stopped for the night, the LORD confronted him and was about to kill him. But Moses’ wife, Zipporah, took a flint knife and circumcised her son. She touched his feet with the foreskin and said, “Now you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” (When she said “a bridegroom of blood,” she was referring to the circumcision.) After that, the LORD left him alone.”
My Intro to Biblical Studies professor threw this passage out into the fields of ambiguity on our first day of my freshman year and said, “Go play some tug-of-war on that one!” Debates ensued. I’ve heard everything. It is important to note what we don’t know:
- We don’t know if God was about to kill Moses or Moses’ son.
- We don’t know why Zipporah circumcised her son or how she knew that circumcision would save whoever was about to die.
- We don’t know if she touched her son’s feet, Moses’ feet, or God’s feet with the foreskin.
- We don’t know if “feet” really means “feet” or if it’s a euphemism for something else entirely.
- We don’t know if God was really going to kill anyone.
Here’s what we do know:
- We know God called Moses to perform an enormously important task.
- We know Moses—for some reason—hadn’t circumcised his son.
- We know that by circumcising her son, Zipporah prevented the attack.
Prior to the attack, God had informed Moses that the result of Pharaoh’s hardened heart would be the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son. God takes obedience seriously. Moses, the future lawgiver, had failed to obey the only law required of him. While living in Midian, Moses had compromised his beliefs in order to appease his father-in -law…or his wife…or both. Whatever the case may be, Moses hadn’t sufficiently followed through on the only required demonstration of his devotion to God—up to that point.
I’d like to think that this verse in Scripture is foreshadowing the Passover, where God passes over and refrains from killing the firstborn sons of the Hebrews who have slain the innocent lamb and painted its blood upon their doorposts. Even more, this is a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God…the Firstborn over all creation…whose blood was shed so eternal death would pass over all who believe and confess that Jesus is Lord.
Exodus 4:24-26 is a difficult passage. If anything, it speaks to me regarding my own gratitude and priorities. Have I compromised my beliefs in order to keep the peace with my family, friends, or society? Have I handed my firstborn…and second-born over to God? Have I expressed my sheer gratitude to my own “Bridegroom of Blood,” Jesus Christ?
Here it is—plain and simple: Like Moses (and Moses’ son), I’m a sinner and deserve death! Like Zipporah, Jesus stepped in, circumcised my heart, and protected me from my own deserved death.
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Let’s face it! Moses didn’t deserve redemption and neither do we. In a passage that—on the surface—paints a grim depiction of God, we discover God’s grace and mercy emerge from within. In response to God’s great love, my prayer is for the strength and aptitude to circumcise my heart, sacrifice everything I hold dear under the Lordship of Jesus, and love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.