Moses Heads Back [Exodus 4]
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Moses Heads Back – 05.08.2022
Our God is a holy God. He is all powerful and all knowing. This book, that we call the bible, helps us to understand him – enables us to know Him better, and in so doing helps us to love him. But WOW there is some weird stuff in this book! As you may have noticed during the reading of our scripture – we have some strange and mostly unknown ground to cover today. You thought you knew the story of Moses and the burning bush and going to Egypt to free Israel from slavery. But I’m guessing, let’s do a quick show of hands – how many of you have heard that bit about Moses getting attacked and Zipporah saving his life by circumcising their baby? Today is part three in our sermon series called “There and Back Again” which is about Israel’s journey into and then back out of slavery in Egypt. My dear friend Tramell got us started a few weeks back talking about how God is watching over us, even when bad things happen. Sometimes we need to let him untie the crazy knots we tie ourselves up into. And then last week, with her preaching debut – Chloe carried the story into the presence of God with the burning bush. (quick side note: isn’t it such a wonderful demonstration of the presence of the Holy Spirit when a young person is able to present the good news of God’s love, and so eloquently. Our church is truly blessed with some excellent preachers). Chloe brought us that good word that God wants to work through you, even when we’ve made mistakes. Come on Moses, get your shoes on.
Now, to get into chapter four, I just want to admit from the beginning, this is a bizarre and challenging text. I found some really beautiful stuff in the text this week, and I’m going to do my best to explain it to you – because I know it can give you hope. But I want to admit from the beginning, I do not have all the answers for this passage. It’s weird. I know it’s weird. And I promise I’m not going to make any jokes about circumcision while we get into it. Let’s start at the beginning.
Now, the first half of the chapter is actually still taking place at the burning bush. Last week God calls to Moses, but this week he’s still standing there next to the burning bush and we get to watch him squirm and try to wriggle out of his calling. [read v.1]. Now, of course, this is Moses talking to God about a very specific job that God gave to Moses. Go set my people free from Egypt. But when I was reading it, I saw myself in the text, I saw myself in Moses’ excuses, and I think we can all do that. If God came to you and said, “Hey I need you to do this thing. It’s big and it’s scary, but it will set people free and help them worship me.” Would you do it? Or would you say, “I can’t talk about God, nobody will believe me.” His fear of failure is paralyzing him. He doesn’t want to put himself out there, because people might not agree with him. They might not believe what he’s saying.
So then God gives Moses a series of signs. First, he takes his shepherd’s staff and turns it into a snake. Moses throws the stick down and it turns into a snake. And then he grabs it by the tail, and it turns back into a stick. Then he says, if they don’t believe you – I’ll give you another miracle. Now, I’m just going to put it out there. If a man throws down a wooden stick, and it turns into a literal living snake, I think it’s fair to say that he would have my attention. And if he picks it up and it turns back into wood- he would have my undivided attention. But maybe I’m just easy to convince. God gives Moses a second miracle. He puts his hand in his cloak, and when he pulls it out it’s covered in a horrible skin disease, and then when he puts it back into his cloak and pulls it out a second time – the disease is gone. This one has some risk to it, right? Like, you better hope part two of that miracle works out – because that would be a really terrible act of the divine if it stopped halfway through. “And for my next miracle, tadah! You have leprosy!” But no, the disease comes and then it goes. And then, as if two miracles was not enough, God gives Moses a THIRD miracle, just to have in his back pocket, just in case. [read v.10]. Now there is something important to note here. This is not just about convincing people that Moses really was sent from God, right? One miracle is probably plenty for that. But what we are going to find all throughout this story is that God’s purpose here is not just to free his people, but to demonstrate his power and holiness. To use the lingo of the young people, God is being very “extra” to make sure the message is clear. By the end of this story we will know how powerful God is, and how much he loves his people.
Moses says, “nobody will believe me,” and God responds – “oh no, they’ll believe you.” So then Moses switches excuses, verse 10 [read it]. And God doesn’t even have time for this one. He looks at Moses and said, “you get tongue tied? Who made your tongue? Next question.” And again, I see echoes of our own excuses. When God tells us to do something and we say, “oh no, I’m not good enough. I don’t know how to speak or what to say.” But here’s the key – we have to be very careful when criticizing the handiwork of the creator. You say, “I’m not good enough.” And God says, “really? Who made you?” You are the handiwork of the creator, and he knows better than anyone what you are capable of. If he believes in you, that’s all you need. When you look in the mirror, I want you to be careful when criticizing the handiwork of the creator.
Then in verse 13 we finally get to the heart of it. You see, what we are watching is God relentlessly pursuing Moses’ heart. Moses is throwing up excuse after excuse but the real truth is that he just doesn’t want to. God, I don’t want to do, what you’ve asked me to do. Do you hear the echoes of your life, in Moses’ words? God is just clipping the excuses one by one until we get to the real heart of the matter. [read v.13]. And so God gets angry with Moses and reluctantly invites Aaron the Levite. But I want you to understand something. The original plan was that God would work directly through Moses. Aaron sort of acts like a priest, like a connection between Moses and God. But the original design was for God to be connected directly to Moses. This really is a narrative of God wanting to draw closer to Moses, and Moses throwing up constant roadblocks.
Now here’s the problem, this next passage is so stinking weird. When I read it, you’re going to be confused and think, “what on earth is going on?” If you’re a first time visitor, I’m so sorry – we’re into one of the weird parts of the bible today, I promise sometimes we talk about normal stuff. But one thing I hope I have taught you as your pastor is that when the bible gets weird, we don’t throw it away, we don’t ignore it and we don’t run. When the bible is weird or confusing or you’re not certain what to do with it – you are invited to look closer. To dive deeper into the text and every single time you’re going to find something incredible. Burning Bush, God takes away all his excuses sends Moses back to Egypt. Moses gathers up his wife and sons and they get started on the journey.
And here we go, [read v.25]. Hey Moses, Go to Egypt. “no, I don’t want to.” God spends a bunch of time convincing Moses that he should go. And now that you’re on your way, I’m going to kill you. What? But wait, it gets weirder, [read v.26]. Uh, wow. I just want to make it through one sermon series without talking about circumcision. God attacks Moses, so his wife, real quick circumcises her baby and then she takes the foreskin (which, okay – ew), touches it to Moses’ feet and says, “now you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” It finishes up, [read v.27]. Okay, now before I get into this I want you to know that scholars have been trying to explain this weirdo story for hundreds of years and there is no consensus. I found something beautiful in the text that I want to show you – but please understand that this is just my best effort.
I think the best way to understand this text is through covenant and metaphor. It seems very foreign to our modern sensibilities, but the power of ritual and symbolism in this ancient story is so important to finding understanding. To oversimplify a covenant is like a promise, but it deeply held. Like marriage is a covenant, a deeply held promise of commitment. And in the bible there are covenants between God and his people. At this time they were using the Abrahamic Covenant, the covenant between God and Abraham – which was very simple. I will be your God, you will be my people, and we will confirm that covenant with circumcision. To be one of God’s people, you had to be circumcised. In the modern world we have a New Covenant, which comes through the blood of Jesus. In the New Covenant it’s “believe in Jesus and you are one of God’s people.” Now a covenant gives you a new identity. With the old covenant, through circumcision you become one of God’s children. With marriage, you become a husband, you become a wife. With Jesus, we become one of God’s children. You leave the old self behind, and you step into your new identity. But here's the secret – Moses was not circumcised. Moses was not a part of God’s people. Because of the way he was born, and hidden in the basket and raised in Pharaoh’s house – he had not gone through the rituals of the Jewish people. God called Israel “my firstborn son,” but Moses is not a part of that.
So when his wife takes her son and circumcises him, and touches that foreskin to Moses, and says, “you are now bridegroom of my blood,” what she is saying is “Moses, you are now a part of this covenant. Through the blood of your son, using the symbol of the old covenant, you are now a part of God’s children.” She was giving Moses a new identity. Claiming him as a part of God’s family, changing his status in front of God, changing who he was. Moses you are a different person now. The old you wasn’t going to make it. All that fear and doubt, all that running away, the sins of your past – Moses, you needed a new identity in front of God. God wasn’t going to let you go on this journey while you were still on the outside of his family. God came to kill the old Moses, and he did. By giving him a new identity in the family of God, through the blood of his son.
Now let me stop for a second and ask, “do you hear the echoes?” This story was designed to reach through time. Because there is a new covenant, where there was a son whose blood was shed to give you a new identity. The old self wrestles with God, the old self dies and we put on a new identity. And do you know what the most common metaphor for that son, the one whose blood will change your identity, do you know what they call him? The bridegroom. The church is the bride and Jesus Christ is the bridegroom. And they call heaven the wedding feast of the lamb. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – only God could write a story that has that many interconnections. God sent Moses to do something impossible, but he wasn’t going to make it outside the family of God. And so through covenant and ritual, God gave Moses a new identity as a part of his family, and with that new identity – Moses is now ready to do the impossible.
The good news this morning is that God is dangerous to your old self. Whatever your old self looked like – living in sin, before we come to know Jesus – God is not safe for that person. Whether you life was filled with greed or pride, lust or envy, drug abuse or alcoholism, sexual immorality. God is dangerous to the old self – but hear this: God has put a claim on your life. God redeems you, washes you clean and claims you for HIS work. Like Moses, there is a calling on your life. Each of us is called to minister to this world, to share God’s love and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors. And like Moses, the old self has some excuses. Oh no God, they won’t believe me. Oh no God, I’m not eloquent, I don’t know what to say. Oh no God, please don’t send me. God is here this morning, speaking to us through this text – clipping all our excuses, pulling us into his plan for the world.
Let me see if I can explain it this way. Have you ever had that moment, where you felt like you should do something – but you thought to yourself, “I can’t. I don’t know how. I’m not good enough.” Maybe God was tugging on your heart to share the story of Jesus with that guy who lives up the road. Maybe God was nudging you to bring some groceries to your neighbor. Maybe God was pulling you to reach out to that co-worker you know is struggling. To let them know that they are not alone. And you held back. You said NO to the urging of the Holy Spirit because you were trying to pull a Moses, “I can’t. I don’t know how. I’m not good enough.” Now here's the big secret. You’re right. You probably can’t. You don’t know how. And you’re not good enough. Because you are still living in the old self. If you want to make a difference in this world – you have to stop running away from God. You have to step into your new self, let the old self die. God is dangerous to your old self. Find your identity as a child of God, joining the family through the bridegroom of blood – Jesus Christ. You have been given a new life of freedom. And it’s not just you anymore. It’s you and the Holy Spirit, working together.
When we do bedtime in our house, it’s kind of chaotic. We have four boys under the age of 6. They need to brush their teeth, put on jammies, read a story, say their prayers, turn off the light and go to bed. Especially Ezra, the two year old. I give him the toothbrush and I say, “okay, buddy. Brush. Brush.” And he gnaws on it, and chews on it for a minute. “I did it. I brushed. No, that’s chewing – not brushing.” So I help him brush his teeth. We brush his teeth, but it’s very obvious I’m doing all the brushing. And then we go to get jammies on. I let him pick out the jammies, and he’s all wriggly, and he “helps” me get his jammies on. And then we read a book together. He loves this little Thomas the train book, it has buttons that you push and it makes noises. Because the author hates parents. And we read through the story and I tell him, “okay, now push this button.” We “read” the book together, but it’s very obvious that I’m doing all the reading. And then it’s time to pray. And he folds his little hands together, and I wrap my hands around his. I’m not a big guy, but I absolutely dwarf his hands. And he closes his eyes and I say a prayer. He likes to say the “amen” part together. And before I put him into his bed, it's time to turn the light off. And he gets mad if I do it myself, he wants to be the one to turn the light off. But of course he can’t reach it. So I hoist him up, and I use his finger to push the light switch, to turn off the light. At this point in his life, almost everything he does is really me doing it, with his little hand. It’s like that with the Holy Spirit. You’re out there thinking, “well there’s no way I could do what God has called me to do. There’s no way I could live the way God has called me to live. The way of God is too dangerous.” But that’s the old self talking. Through Jesus, you are never going to do this stuff alone. God is with you every step of the way. It’s really God doing it, with your little hand.
Moses was living in the old self. God, there’s no way I could free the Israelites. There’s no way I could convince them, convince pharaoh, there’s no way I could lead them. And you know what? Moses was right! There’s NO WAY Moses could have done all this, but through covenant and ritual we are reminded that it’s not just Moses. And in your life, it’s not just you. Through the bridegroom of blood, through Jesus Christ you have been welcomed into the family of God and with the power of the Holy Spirit you will be able to do impossible things. So stop putting distance between you and God. Stop throwing up excuses. Get off the bench and back into the game. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you remember that when the bible is weird – we are invited to look closer to find understanding. May you let go of the old self with all it’s doubt and all it’s fear and sin. May you step into a new family through Jesus Christ – and start to change the world around you with the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.