Sermon by Rev. Nollie Malabuyo | Preached by Rev. Lance Filio
Beloved congregation of Christ: Once someone asked me about our text today in Exodus. His pastor told him that the LORD sought to kill Moses because he was sick and could not perform his mission of leading Israel out of Egypt anymore!
The three verses above are very brief and the details are sparse. Thus, many questions are inevitable. Why did the LORD want to kill Moses? Why does the next verse say that Zipporah cut off her son’s foreskin, and then called Moses “a bridegroom of blood”? Finally, why did the LORD relent from killing Moses?
This incident also seems disconnected from the immediate context. The LORD had just commissioned Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt (Exod 3:1-4:23). So, on his journey from Midian back to Egypt, Moses stopped at a lodging place where this incident takes place.
This Lord’s Day, our theme is, “Bridegroom of Blood” which we will meditate upon in three points: (1) Moses is the ”Bridegroom”; (2) Zipporah Despises the “Blood”; and (3) The LORD Requires “Cutting Off” with “Blood.”
Moses is the “Bridegroom”
Last week: the story of the birth of Moses through his calling by the LORD as Israel’s redeemer. In Ex 3:1-4:17. Burning bush. Signs for Israel to believe in him: a staff that turns into a snake; a leprous hand that instantly heals; words of the LORD out of his mouth.
80 years preparation; married Zipporah, a Midianite woman; had a son named Gershon.
Traveled from Midian back to Egypt. Along the way, at a “lodging place,” the LORD “met him and sought to put him to death.” Why? We will find out in later verses.
Zipporah learned of this incident. Immediately, she took a knife made of flint and circumcised their son. Then she touched “his feet” with the foreskin, and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”
Whom did Zipporah touch the feet with the foreskin? Whose feet were touched by the foreskin? Differing views because of the use of pronouns only: he, him, his. Is it Moses, or Gershon, or someone unnamed? Some have proposed that God “met” [encountered] him means that God struck Moses with a grave illness because of God’s displeasure with his disobedience, that he couldn’t even perform the circumcision. But the Hebrew language has a specific way of saying that God has struck a person sick (1 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 1:2).
Another interpreter said that she touched “his feet” with the foreskin to show that the circumcision has been done (Childs).
But most interpreters agree that it was the feet of Moses that Zipporah touched with the foreskin. There are no other male characters in the story, except for Moses, his son, and God. And it doesn’t make sense that Zipporah would touch the feet of her baby. Ronald
B. Allen proposes that the pre-incarnate was the one who sought Moses, and that Zipporah was very angry at the God of Moses. So knowing that the LORD commands circumcision of eight-day-old infants, she touched the feet of the pre-incarnate Christ in anger. But would anyone be so disrespectful of one whom she knew as God himself?
So, the best interpretation would be that the “bridegroom of blood” is Moses. But why did Zipporah say that Moses is a “bridegroom [or husband] of blood”?
Zipporah Despises the “Blood”
Note that in Exodus 2:22, Zipporah bore Moses a son named Gershon, which means, “a sojourner in a foreign land.” In Exodus 4:20, Moses took his wife and two sons back to Egypt. In Exodus 18:2-4, two sons of Moses are named: Gershon and Eliezer, “the God of my father was my help.”
From this, we learn that by the time God called Moses back to Egypt, he had a second son named Eliezer. Gershon then was most probably circumcised on the eight day. But Eliezer was not. Why? Because Zipporah is a Midianite, and for most of the ancient Near East, circumcision was a rite of passage for adolescent boys, just like in the Philippines. They did not circumcise eight-day-old infants.
So Zipporah agreed to circumcise Gershon, the first son, on the eighth day, but not the second. So Moses compromised. This is the big disadvantage in being “unequally yoked” with an unbeliever. Things may be great during the first few months or years of the relationship, but later, disagreements crop up. Sometimes, disputes start right at the wedding: where will be the wedding? Catholic or Protestant? Will our children be baptized or dedicated? Catholic or Protestant baptism? Are we going to send them to Protestant or Catholic schools?
This teaches us too that true believers who marry unbelievers for any reason are in a heap of trouble. From Adam to Moses to the Israelites at Baal-Peor to Samson to Solomon to Ahab to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and to Jim Bakker, this is the oldest story in the world. Husbands acquiescing to their wives’ desires to keep the peace usually swallow the bitter pill of trouble with God and neighbor.
This is so because after the Fall, one of the pronouncements against Eve is, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). Women will always desire to subvert the natural order that God has established between husband and wife—that of male headship in marriage—and the result is most often disastrous. Notwithstanding your pious and grand intention of bringing your BF or GF to theLORD, marrying an unbeliever is always a bad idea. Because God did not set his people apart from the world so they will intermarry with the world and be “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (Deut 7:3-4; 1Kgs 11:2; 2Cor 6:14). In fact, it’s an extremely horrible idea: to marry an unbeliever is equivalent to having an agreement with Satan! “What accord has Christ with Belial?” (2Cor 6:15).
Zipporah despised the bloody circumcision. But why is it important to Moses, and ultimately to the LORD? Because 500 years back, God commanded Abraham to circumcise all the males of his household when they were eight days old. It was a sign of the covenant God made with him:
This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised… it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised… So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 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 (Gn 17:10-14).
God chose Abraham and his descendants to be his covenant people, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant … “ (Gen 17:7). And the sign of being in this covenant is circumcision.
We know from verse 25 that this is exactly the reason why God sought to kill Moses: he did not circumcise his son. Zipporah knew this, so she immediately circumcised (“cut off”) her son to appease God’s wrath. But in her repugnance against this covenant sign, Zipporah touched Moses’ feet with the foreskin, and then called Moses a bloody husband, “a bridegroom of blood,” in her displeasure. So as soon as the child was circumcised, the LORD relented from killing Moses, “So he let him alone” (v 26).
According to covenant theology, neglecting infant baptism is a deadly sin. Many uninformed evangelicals think that God is so loving and merciful that he would pass over such minor sins as Moses not circumcising his son. Since there is overwhelming
Biblical data on the connection between OT bloody circumcision and NT water baptism (see No. 5 below), it is also “a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance” (Westminster Confession of Faith 28:5)
Not that you’ll be struck dead by God if you don’t have your infant baptized by the eighth day, but it’s still a great sin, and I shudder at the thought of giving an account to God on Judgment Day why I despised the sign and seal of membership in the covenant of grace, of “righteousness by faith” (Rom 4:11). This is why Baptists would rather not talk about covenant theology (and also early church history), and if they do, they would arbitrarily say that there is no continuity in the covenant signs of circumcision and water baptism.
The LORD Requires “Cutting Off” with “Blood”
What if a member of the covenant people is not circumcised? He and his father shall be put to death, “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” (Gen 17:14). To “cut off” means to put to death (Gen 9:11; Exod 31:14; Isa 53:8). There are several things we derive from this circumcision:
1. God is not what your church taught you. He is not merely a God of love. In addition to the speculation that Moses had a terminal disease, the pastor of my friend also added that God is not so cruel and arbitrary as to kill Moses for such a trivial thing as circumcision. And this is what we hear today in most evangelical churches—that God is a loving, merciful God who wants you to be happy and blessed and prosperous.
No, God is not only a God of love. He is also a holy and just God who cannot wink at sin. His holiness demands that his created human beings also be holy. He is wrathful against evildoers, and hell is full of people from Sodom and Gomorrah and Noah’s flood. In fact, used water twice to illustrate salvation by being “baptized into” his ordained mediators. Those who perished during Noah’s flood went through the waters of baptism. What? The flood was the waters of baptism? The apostle Peter says so, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1Pt 3:20-21). Noah’s family was “baptized into” him in the ark “as he led them through the waters of salvation.
The second event in Biblical history that illustrates “baptism into” was the crossing of the Red Sea. Contrary to popular teaching, there is an explicit text about infant baptism. Paul says about this event in 1Corinthians 10:1-2, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Isn’t there one infant or little child among hundreds ofthousands of Israelites who were “baptized into Moses” in the sea?
And both events also tell us today about the mode of baptism. Who were baptized? And who were the ones who were immersed? In the Bible, confirmation of God’s covenant always involved the sprinkling of blood on the people (Exod 24). Salvation is also pictured mostly by sprinkling () or pouring (Ex 24:7-8). One of the clearest texts, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezk 36:25; cf Is 52:15). In the NT, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hb 10:22). This is why we did not immerse Xian Bryle today.
Pouring water on his head is sufficient to signify God’s covenant promises to him and to his parents.
2. Nothing has changed about sin since Adam. The penalty for disobeying God’s law is death. A few verses before this incident in Moses’ life, the LORD commanded him to go to Pharaoh and demand, “Let my son go that he may serve me. If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son” (Exod 4:22-23). There’s a bit of irony here: in breaking God’s covenant law about circumcising all covenant sons, Moses provoked the LORD to seek to kill him.
God was not in a joking mood when he warned Adam not to disobey on the pain of sure death. Or when he warned Israel that breaking any of his covenant laws would result in curses, exile and eventually, death. One act of disobedience resulted in the death of all human beings, because all have sinned in Adam. It hasn’t changed today, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).
3. God is not a respecter of celebrities. No one is exempt from sin, and no one is exempt from God’s wrath because of sin. Not Adam, not Abraham, not David, not Israel, not Peter. Surely not even Moses. Would he have been exempted from death because the LORD chose him as Israel’s leader? What would happen to God’s plan to redeem his people from Egypt if he killed their leader? But it is clear from this incident that God expected his appointed leader to be holy and righteous before him and the people. As leader, he has to be the role model of the people in obeying God’s covenant laws, especially his holy sign and seal of circumcision.
This should give pause to pastors, teachers, elders, deacons and other leaders in the church. No one is exempt from God’s displeasure in officebearers who fail in shepherding the flock according to God’s Word. They have more accountability to God.
God spared Moses’ life because of Christ’s work. Did the circumcision of his son itself caused God to spare Moses’ life? No, circumcision did not atone for the sin of Moses. Circumcision, the cutting off of the foreskin, involves the shedding of blood, and the shedding of blood results in death. Atoning for sin has always been through the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22).
Much more, circumcision was applied on the reproductive organ of males, symbolically cutting off the means by which the sinful nature was passed on from Adam, the head of the covenant of works, to the whole human race. Circumcision therefore is symbolic of God’s promise of forgiveness of sin through the shedding of human blood.
Paul says that we have been “circumcised … by the circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:11). This means that we have been “cut off” from bondage to Adam’s disobedience into freedom from sin and death because of Christ’s obedience. This he accomplished by willingly being “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isa 53:8; Dan 9:26). By his “circumcision” at the cross, Christ has united us to him in his life, death and resurrection:
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead (Col 2:11-12; emphasis added).
Notice that his death was his “circumcision” and his burial was his “baptism.”
Moses, therefore, was forgiven of his violation of God’s covenant law of circumcision by the “circumcision” of Christ. Like his father Abraham, Moses looked forward to the heavenly reward, “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Heb 11:26; see also Heb 11:10).
Brothers and sisters: After our children are baptized, we are to instruct them in the covenant promises and obligations. And it happens frequently that a child naturally grows into a deep love for God and a living faith in His Word. This is a blessing of growing up in God’s covenant household and congregation.
But it is also true that there are many exceptions to this. Not all those who are born into the covenant come to Christ in the same way, and not all those who are born into the covenant accept by faith the promises of the covenant. Even when our children turn their back on the LORD and His covenant promises, they can not remove the mark of holy baptism, and their baptism remains a constant call to them to return to the LORD and to seek His face. And God will not forget his covenant promises to them.
To all of you who have received the sign of baptism, it is also an urgent call. Young people, and all of you who have been baptized, the promise of the forgiveness of sins was given to you, and you are blessed to brought up in the congregation of God. But this privilege carries with it an urgent responsibility. The call to each and every covenant child is to respond in faith to the covenant promises and to live in holiness before the Lord.
And therefore let us hold fast to the doctrine of the covenant of grace, receiving in faith the promise of the gospel with joy and thanksgiving.
Should infants too be baptized? Yes. The promises of the covenant are given to them no less than to adults. Therefore by baptism they must be grafted into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. In effect, the children of believers who are not baptized are Gentiles, and must be considered as unbelievers.
The biblical doctrine of covenantal baptism is an important doctrine, with great consequences for the church and for our children. The children of believers are sanctified in Christ, set apart from the children of unbelievers, and heirs of the promise. And they have the sure sign and seal that the redemption from sin through the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit are promised to them no less than to adults.
Let us receive those promises in faith and live out of them to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.