Understanding Exodus 4:24-26 (Moses’ Firstborn)

I have been reading in Exodus this morning and found my way into Exodus 4, where God is commissioning Moses to go into Egypt to lead His people out of captivity.  I came to vv.24-26, which I have read many times before, but never actually understanding what was going on.

It’s a strange scene: God has just stripped Moses’ of his final excuse as to why God has the wrong man; Aaron will go along as Moses’ mouthpiece.  Moses bids farewell to his wife’s family and leads his small family on the journey from Midian to Egypt.  It is on this journey that God prophesies to Moses how the Egypt encounter is going to go down:

When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.  Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.  So I said to you, “Let My son go that he may serve Me”; but you have refused to let him go.  Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.‘”
-Exodus 4:21-23

God’s and Pharaoh’s Firstborns

The killing of the firstborns of Egypt–and especially the killing of Pharaoh’s firstborn–is God’s final plague on Egypt, representing judgment on the Egyptians and deliverance for Israel.  Pharaoh has taken advantage of and subjected God’s firstborn son, Israel.  The cries of the Israel have reached God’s ears, and now the Father has come to demand the return of His son.  He will have restitution.  But Pharaoh’s overestimates his position, thinking he, with the collective strength of the God’s of Egypt, has it in himself to resist the demands of the God of Israel.  Pharaoh refuses God’s demands and keeps God’s people–His firstborn son–in slavery.  His stubbornness will cost him dearly.  The first nine plagues, awful as they will be, will prove merely inconvenient in comparison with what will come in the tenth plague: Because Pharaoh has not released and returned God’s firstborn to Him, it will ultimately cost him his own firstborn son, at which point his will–and the will of his own people–is broken.

Moses’ Firstborn

That is all straightforward: a battle of wills with rights to firstborn sons on the line.  God prevails, and Pharaoh pays up.  What follows in the next three verses is so unexpected, however, that I really haven’t been able to follow it for years.  Until now.  God has called Moses forward as His representative deliverer.  Through Moses, God will deliver His people out of bondage, make them into a nation, and bring them into the land which He has promised and prepared for them.  And then one of the strangest events in all of the Bible happens: God ambushes Moses’ family on the road to Egypt.  He is bent on taking the life of Moses’ firstborn son.  And as I read it, I am left wondering: Whaaaaat? Why?

The answer is simple: Moses has failed to consecrate his own son to the Lord.  The covenant made with Moses’ forefather Abraham was clear: Every male descendant of Abraham shall be circumcised (Gen. 17:10); circumcision will be the sign of the covenant (v.11); even household servants shall be circumcised (v.12); and any male among God’s people who remains uncircumcised “shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (v.14).  Moses knows this ordinance; it’s the most basic ordinance of all of God’s people.  Even his Midianite wife Zipporah seems to know this ordinance, as she is the one quickly races to circumcise the boy, Gershom (whose very names means “a stranger there”).

While Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s household and spent 40 years as a stranger among the Midianites, he knows his ancestry.  It bothered him to see Egyptian slavedrivers abusing the Hebrews, because they were his brothers!  It bothered him to the point that he killed one–the whole reason he had fled from Egypt in the first place.  He knows that Aaron, a Hebrew, is his brother.  And clearly Moses himself has been circumcised, because God is coming after his son and not him.

It is time for Moses, who grew up as a prince among the Egyptians and lived as an alien among the Midianites, to embrace his true identity: a son of Abraham and member of God’s covenant people.  It is also time for him to recognize what God is going to declare through the events of the Passover and the Exodus: He is all-powerful, and He is all-possessing.  Everything belongs to Him.  Every field and every river.  Every plant and every creature.  In Exodus 13, in His instructions for the Passover, God makes the declaration that every firstborn of every womb belongs to Him as well.  A redemptive offering for every firstborn son will be made, on the understanding that it all belongs to God.  To this point, Moses has not submitted his own firstborn to God.  I am all to familiar with being “partially all-in”, but that is not what God is calling for.

Doing God’s Work while Neglecting God’s Commands

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord” and not do what I say?  Lord, did we not prophesy, cast out demons, and perform miracles all in Your name?  As Moses might have reasoned, Am I not going to Egypt on your orders to stare down the most powerful man in the world and deliver Your judgment to him?

I totally resonate with Moses here.  My job is “the Lord’s work”.  I minister to students and their families.  I spend hours at the church, hours at school events, hours among students.  I try to be a role model, positive influence, pastor, teacher, advocate, encourager, counselor, and friend.  I strive to be a good husband and father.  But how easy it is to try to do many and great things for God, while neglecting to obey the things He has called me to do!  How easy it can be to neglect time with God–in Bible reading, in prayer, in Scripture memory, in practicing the spiritual disciplines–while filling up my schedule with countless “good things.”

But essentials cannot be ignored or put aside merely to do things that are good.  As Jesus exhorted the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” May the strange little story of Moses, Zipporah, and Gershom remind us of that.

 

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WNW – 5/18/16 (1 Corinthians 13 – Love)

My message last night was 90% devotional/10% sermon.  It’s one I find myself going to quite a bit at the end of years and closing of chapters.  It boils down to this:

If I dot every “i” and cross every “t” in living out the Christian but fail to abide in the love of God along the way, I have missed the whole point.  Without love, language loses meaningfulness; prophecy profits nothing; knowledge, wisdom, and faith amount to nothing.  Jesus said that there is no greater love than this: A man laying down his life for his friends.  Paul comes back with some commentary on that, that even the sacrifice of oneself, if not driven by love, means very little.  To bring it into the language of contemporary language, I could check off every one of these boxes:

  • Consistent tithing, even giving above and beyond out of generosity
  • Never skipping out on church
  • Sharing my faith and going on mission trips
  • Praying regularly
  • Getting into the Scriptures daily
  • Demonstrating profound theological depth and insight
  • A really cool Christ-centered tattoo (okay, maybe not so much the last one…)

And still miss out on the point of the Christian life.

Love is the fulfillment of all of God’s commands.  Love is the demonstration that we know God and belong to Him.  Love is the testimony by which the world will know that we belong to Jesus Christ.  Love holds the church’s fellowship together.

When we know the love of God, we are no longer afraid, because love casts out fear.  Love covers a multitude of sins.  The love of Christ controls us, taking us to levels of obedience and compassion and sacrifice far beyond our natural capacities.

In love God predestined us for adoption in Christ as His sons and daughters.  In love He sent Jesus to die for our sins.  Because of His great love for us, when we were dead in our sins, He raised us to life in Christ.  Because of the depth, height, length, and width of His love, we know that we are totally secure in Him.

Love is patient, kind, generous, selfless, enduring, forgiving, truth-loving, and serving.  Love is everything that we seek and so rarely find in the course of life in this sin-sick world.  Because God is love.  Love is the perfect expression of who God is.  And when we abide and walk in His love, we become living demonstrations of the power and presence of God among His people.

My prayer for you is that you know would know how deep the love of God is for you and that, resting in that love, you would live it out.

 

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WNW – 5-5-16 (Brent Hockman Testimony)

Last night, Brent Hockman, resident J-3 at FBC, came and shared about his own pursuit of God’s call on his, which has taken him from Missouri to the jungles of the Amazon and right here to Arkansas, even as he prepares to ship out to New Orleans in a couple of weeks.

He talked about his time as a journeyman, taking 2 years after graduating from college, to go and carry light into dark places.  He talked about bringing himself to a right understanding of surrender–either Christ is Lord, or He is not; either God calls the shots or He does not.  He shared Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your works to the Lord, and He will establish your plans,” and how coming to grips with that verse altered his view on pursuing God’s will: We are called to commit our (present) works to Him–and the leave the (future) plans to Him.  Not vice versa.  We work in the present, entrusting the future to God.

Brent also urged our students to pursue maturity–but by no means attempt to rush.  When we attempt rush maturity, which only comes with time through the trials of experience, we only deceive ourselves with outer trappings.  Pursue the Lord now and live faithfully to Him now–and He will bring maturity in its due time.

Let me just say–this was our best Wednesday of the semester.  What a blessing Brent was to our students, our adults, and absolutely to me.

Now, may we also hear the call to “GO” and live on mission with God.

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WNW – 4-20-16 (The Great Commission)

It is kind of fun to write a wrap-up to a message that I didn’t teach.  Last night Josh Mauldin continued our series on the call to Go.  The week before I taught on bearing the fragrance of Christ to the world from 2 Corinthians 2 (and then forgot to write a wrap-up to it).  This time Josh took us to the consummate call to missions from Matthew 28.

As he put it, the foundation for the call to missions comes from Matthew 28:18, in which Jesus makes a massive claim, that he bears complete authority over every created thing in every created space.  It is foundational to the cause of global missions for a few reasons:

  • It overrides every other authority (governments, cultures, religions) that would otherwise say we cannot speak of Jesus Christ.  Because all authority ultimately belongs to Him, we are free to obey Him.
  • It gives us confidence even in the midst of cultural and spiritual darkness, when we find ourselves up against overwhelming odds in terms of influence, to know that ultimately no culture is supreme and no darkness is impenetrable.  Christ is in control.  And so we can proceed.
  • It reminds us that the call to Go, Make Disciples does not come to us as a suggestion for when we get some free time or as an aspiration for only a committed few, but as a command from the Most High God to every disciple who would bear the Name of Christ or call God his father.  Christians make Christians, disciples make disciples.  It’s what we do; it’s who we are.  Every Christian is a Great Commission Christian.

The call is big, but it is not one that we undertake alone.  As crucial as Jesus’ claim to have all authority is, it is just as crucial that He promises us, “I am with you always.” He gives us His presence, so we never walk alone.  He offers us His power, so we are never overwhelmed.

How great it is to connect the assertions of v.18 and v.20 that Jesus has all of the power and that He is always with us.  So as we go, we go in the company of the One who is in authority in every place that we go.  As the passage last week read,

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.
-2 Cor 2.14

We will never go alone, and we will never go without the supply of power that we need–so we must go.  We must go.

One final thought

The question came up last night, as it so often does when we talk about the Gospel, Heaven, Hell, and the nations, What about those who have never heard the Gospel?–with the implication, Will they really go to Hell?

There are two responses I want to provide to this question:

1) Yes, they really will.  If we actually believe Jesus in John 14 when He says that He is the only Way to the Father, Paul in Romans 1 and Romans 3 when He tells us that every person from every nation stands guilty before God and that God will by no means compromise His justice, and God Himself through Moses in Exodus 34:7 where He says He will “by no means leave the guilty unpunished,” then yes, of course, people who do not come to saving faith in Christ really will go to Hell.

2) We have got to stop asking this question, because inside of this question is an underlying assumption that we may not always recognize.  Think about the question one more time, and ask yourself what is assumed in it: Will those who never hear the Gospel really go to Hell?  ==> We are assuming the existence–and the continued, perpetual future existence–of this massive chunk of people who will live and die and never have the Gospel preached to them.  Does that group exist right now?  It does.  Does that group have to exist when our generation’s time here on earth is done?  It does not.  The aim of our generation by the time that we are done should be that the category of Unreached, Unengaged People Groups (UUPGs) ceases to exist.

This is how Charles Spurgeon responded to this very question: “Someone asked, ‘Will the heathen who have never heard the Gospel be saved?’ It is more a question with me whether we–who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not–can be saved.”

We must go.  Let’s be about Going together.

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WNW – 4-6-16 (Heaven and Hell)

Last night we delved into a topic which I believe is not addressed often enough anymore.  At least, I find that to be the case in my own teaching.  Heaven and Hell–what happens to people when they die?  Who goes to Heaven, and who goes to Hell–and on the basis of what?  What is Heaven like, and what is Hell like?  My outline last night looked like this.

  1. Hell
    1. Place of everlasting conscious torment and agony (Rich Man & Lazarus – Luke 16)
    2. Away from the presence of God (1 Thess. 1:9) ==> Utterly alone; without hope
    3. Eternal state of the Wicked (the goats of Matt. 25:33)
      1. Outer darkness; weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 22:13)
      2. Eternal, unquenchable fire (Matt. 25:41)
      3. Torment, fire, and agony (Luke 16:24)
      4. Furnace of fire (Matt. 13:41-42)
      5. Lake of Fire; second death (Rev. 20:10)
  2. Heaven
    1. Place of final, eternal rest; comfort; and joy (Heb. 4:8-11; Rev. 21:4)
    2. Perfect fellowship with God & direct knowledge of Him (1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:2)
    3. Eternal state of the Righteous (the sheep of Matt. 25:33)
      1. Heaven earned by our works then?
        1. None righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10)
        2. Christ is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30)
        3. The righteous are those who are washed and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14)
  3. Heaven, Hell, and the Call to Go
    1. Matt. 28 – Go, make disciples
    2. 2 Cor. 5 – Ambassadors for Christ; God making His appeal through us

The point of last night was this: What you believe about the afterlife dictates the way you live this present life.  If Heaven is the place of infinite joy and peace which cannot be taken away, then no cost will be too great to attain it.  If Hell is the place of infinite misery which never ends, then no cost will be too great to avoid it.  Unfortunately, the cost for each is beyond what we can pay.

But then there is the central truth of Christianity: Jesus Christ has already paid the cost for our bypass of Hell and our entry into Heaven.  When we personally trust Him, the promise of His blood–that we can be forgiven, washed clean, and made right–is applied to us.  That is the Gospel.  Heaven is the eternal dwelling place of the Righteous, but there is none who is righteous–except for the Righteous One of God, Jesus Christ.  On the basis of who He is and what He did for us, we too become the Righteous Ones of God.

This is the single history-shaping, life-changing, eternal destiny-altering truth: Jesus is the Way to the Father in Heaven.  Now, who in your life needs to hear that?

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