Monday, September 21, 2015

Exodus: A Great Salvation -- Our Bridegroom of Blood

In the next sermon in this series, which will be posted later this week, we'll talk about the call of Moses, and since we have limited time in the story of the exodus, I cannot address everything in chapters 3-4. One of the things that I had to skip in the sermon is the rather difficult verses of Ex. 4:24-26. In the context of the story, Moses has argued with God about taking his call to bring the people out of Egypt, but by 4:17 Moses finally accepts his call. Then, in 4:18-20 Moses gets permission from his father-in-law to leave, and in 4:21-23, God tells Moses that Pharaoh will not agree to let the people go, indeed God Himself will harden his heart (cf. Ro. 9:14-18). So, things seems to be tracking along just fine. But, then, seemingly out of the blue, 4:24-26 comes into the story:
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.
When we come to that, reading through the story as normal, we are generally surprised by it, even after knowing the story, because we wonder, "What is God doing here? God has just called Moses to deliver the people, so why does He seek to kill him here?" It does not seem to fit at all, at least as first brush.

We must first ask, "Why is God angry at Moses?" Well, the text does not say directly, but it seems pretty clear that God is angry at Moses for not circumcising his son--Gershom. That's clear enough to Zipporah, for she immediately acts to correct the sin without any overt prompting from God Himself, and she saves Moses' life. (By the way, one thing I have not had time to bring out so far is that throughout these first four chapters, all the heroes in various situations of dire need have actually all been heroines, i.e. women. This is one thing that sets the Scriptures apart from almost all other ancient documents: it is not afraid to show God working through women, who were not at all seen as equal to men in these ancient cultures. To make a woman the heroine would have been embarrassing to almost all ancient cultures, certainly ancient near eastern cultures. Such a factor lends to the historical veracity of these stories because if an ancient person were making them up, they would not put these "embarrassing" details in the stories.)

But, that prompts the question: Why was that so important that God would seek to kill Moses for not doing circumcising Gershom? Moses argued with God, and He was patient with him. Yet, when he did not circumcise his son, He became angry to the point of death. Why is that? To answer that, we have to remember that circumcision was no minor thing with God but the distinguishing mark that set apart His people who were part of His covenant community. It was the visible proof of being one of God's people that went all the way back to Abraham in Ge. 17. Therefore, if Moses intended to serve the God who was about to deliver His people based on His covenant promise to Abraham, Moses needed to fulfill his covenant obligations and circumcise his son. In fact, later on, the Hebrews all have to do the same thing before they celebrate the Passover and are delivered from Egypt (Ex. 12:43-49). Not doing so is kind of like wanting "to have your cake and eat it too": i.e. I want the covenant benefits but without fulfilling the obligations. In fact, even here we can be pointed to the gospel obligations of obedience to Christ: if we want Him to be our Savior, He also must be our Lord (cf. Js. 2:14-17; 1 Jn. 3:10). This does not mean our salvation is at all dependent on our works, for it is most certainly by grace through faith alone, but faith that does not seek to obey Christ is "dead faith" as James says, and not true, saving faith. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says in 11.2: "Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love." Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone.

Now, getting back to Moses: not only did Moses need to be obedient to the covenant if he was to be the leader of God's people but circumcision also had a lesson in and of itself that Moses needed to learn. One of the reasons God instituted circumcision as His sign that set His people apart as His covenant community is that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (He. 9:22). In other words, God was teaching Moses through this encounter the basic element of salvation: the shedding of blood. Moses was placed under the shadow of death for his sin of neglecting God's covenant sign and then saved by the blood of that sign. Moses needed to learn that sin cannot be forgiven without the shedding of blood. In fact, this whole experience was a test (much like Abraham learned in Ge. 22 when he was called to sacrifice Isaac), showing Moses firsthand what ultimate salvation would require--the shedding of the blood of a Substitute. But, who is this Substitute?

As odd as it may sound, these verses point us to Jesus Himself. Every human is under God's wrath because we have failed to keep His laws in total. As Paul says in Ro. 3:23-25, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." A "propitiation" is a sacrifice that satisfies God's wrath against sin. That was what was needed temporarily for Moses, and it is what is needed for all who would desire peace with God. Yet, in our case, we do not have to shed our own blood or the blood of an animal (for those can never take away sins altogether, He. 10:4), but the very blood of Christ Himself satisfies God's wrath for us. Jesus is, in a sense, our "bridegroom of blood," who satisfied God's wrath with His blood for us, so God relented just as He did with Moses. Jesus is the ultimate and final Substitute. It was the "circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11) that satisfied God's wrath against us. Let us praise Him for His sacrifice, and even in this strange text, be reminded of what He has done for us.

By His Grace,

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