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When Yahweh Shows Up To Eat You

• Greg Boyd

In this sermon we continue our look in to scripture passages that often get dismissed because of their obscurity, seeming contradiction, or relative weirdness. This week Greg examined Exodus 4:19-28 which describes a strange encounter Moses and Zipporah had with God on their way from Midian to Egypt involving threat of death, circumcision, and the smearing of blood. This encounter, although interpreted through a warped view of God’s character, foreshadows the Passover later in Exodus as well as the spiritual circumcision available to all through Christ.

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There can be a real payoff and treasure when digging in deep to scripture that might not have an obvious interpretation and meaning. It’s important when coming across sections of scripture that don’t make immediate sense to start with honest questions. Exodus 4 presents one such section of scripture which describes a strange encounter Moses and Zipporah have on the road from Midian to Egypt. The first section of scripture that needs some explaining is about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. It’s important to keep in mind the pattern in scripture we see of God only being able to reveal as much truth as people can handle at the time. This leads to many early primitive interpretations of what God was like and how he interacts with His people. People at that time in history attributed everything as an act of the gods, so even though it had already been revealed that Pharaoh hardened his own heart four times, this act gets attributed to God. God may have strengthened Pharaoh’s resolve in order to use him for God’s purposes even though he didn’t actually harden his heart.

The next section in which Moses and Zipporah interpret God showing up to their camp on the way to Egypt to kill them takes more explanation. We know from earlier sections of scripture that Moses had not circumcised his son. We also know from Genesis 17, which introduces circumcision as the sign of the covenant, the punishment within the Jewish context for not doing this was excommunication or cutting off from the community. It’s important to know a few things about circumcision as it related to this story:

  • The practice was already being done in other cultures at that time in history. God just took the practice and re-purposed it.
  • When this command was given to Abraham and Sarah, they came from a place in the world where people thought it was their role to assist the gods by doing your part. This is what led Abraham to have a child with Haggar as an effort to help God keep his promise of offspring.
  • One way to think of circumcision being connected with the sign of the covenant is as a reminder from God to Abraham that he doesn’t need Abraham’s help in keeping his promise. God is basically saying if I wanted to cut the whole thing off and still keep my promise I could, but I’ll just have you remove the foreskin as a reminder of my promise.
  • The male organ was also seen as the center of power for the man in its ability to pass on his lineage, so circumcision can be seen as an important consecration of person’s life.
  • Since Moses was raised out of a Jewish context he probably didn’t see the urgency in keeping to the circumcision code. Perhaps Zipporah talked Moses out of what she saw as unnecessary pain that would be inflicted upon an infant. There is reason to think this given how she seemed to know exactly why God might visit them and her speediness to jump to action.

Given this context, as well as three other key facts: (1) deserts were thought to be filled with demons and haunted during this time, (2) the smearing of blood was seen to be apotropaic (warding award evil spirits), and (3) people often confused God with the destroying angel, it’s no wonder that Zipporah reacted the way she did when God showed up. He didn’t even say anything about why he was there and they immediately acted as if circumcision and smearing of blood was the obvious way to save themselves from being killed.

Moses does need to learn about the power of both the sign of circumcision and smearing of blood to prepare for the Passover, and God likely used this opportunity, even given their primitive understandings of what was happening, to prepare them accordingly. It takes time for these large-scale shift ideas to sink in, so God works with his people to move from physical to spiritual. We see this in the New Testament with the reframing of physical circumcision to a spiritual act of leaving the old life behind via baptism as a spiritual circumcision. Jesus ushered in a new economy of grace in which we’re no longer covered by the physical blood of sacrifice and circumcision, but rather by the metaphysical blood of self-sacrificial love Jesus showed on the cross.

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Topics: Baptism, Calling, Faith, Judgment

Sermon Series: Loose Ends


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Focus Scripture:

  • Exodus 4:19-28

    The Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead.” So Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt; and Moses carried the staff of God in his hand. And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that 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 firstborn son. I said to you, “Let my son go that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son.’” On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met him and tried to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then she said, “A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.”

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