Exodus 4:24
This mysterious passage in the life of Moses suggests various reflections. The facts are few. Moses, probably in deference to Zipporah's abhorrence of the rite, had neglected the circumcision of his child. This, in so eminent a servant of God, was a sin which could not be winked at. Least of all could it be overlooked at a time when the covenants were undergoing a species of resurrection, and when Moses was on his way to Egypt for the very purpose of giving effect to them. Hence this incident at the inn. Moses, apparently, was seized by an illness which threatened to be mortal, and a fatal result was only averted by Zipporah, who, at once divining the cause of the affliction, used a sharp stone, and performed the neglected rite. Thus was Moses taught that he who represents God before men must himself be blameless - guiltless of gross neglect of Divine commandments; taught also that service of God must be whole-hearted - that in the way of duty there is to be no conferring with flesh and blood - no pleasing of men at the cost of unfaithfulness to God. "He that loveth father or mother," etc. (Matthew 10:37). Besides these general lessons we draw from the incident such instruction as the following: -

I. GOD OFTEN TEACHES US THAT HE IS ANGRY WITH US BY VISITING US WITH AFFLICTIVE DESPENSATIONS, LEAVING US TO FIND OUT THE CAUSE. Even Moses, with whom God had so often spoken, received on this occasion no other warning of his displeasure than this severe illness which so unexpectedly overtook him. Huxley remarks on Nature's system of education "Nature's discipline is not even a word and a blow, and the blow first; but the blow without the word. It is left to you to find out why your ears are boxed." The words apply as fitly to the relation of outward providences to moral and spiritual conditions - a class of relations which this writer would reject, but which nevertheless exist.

II. CONSCIENCE, REMINDING US OF NEGLECTED DUTIES, OR OTHER SINS COMMITTED BY US, IS A READY INTERPRETER OF MANY OF GOD'S AFFLICTIVE PROVIDENCES. Zipporah guessed at once the cause of this trouble, and the result showed her guess to be correct. So Joseph's brethren (Genesis 42:21).

III. THE HOLIEST OF GOD'S SERVANTS ARE NOT EXEMPTED FROM SEVERE CHASTISEMENTS. We may wonder that God should have chosen this particular time to put a valuable life in peril. It was, however, the summons to depart which brought matters to a crisis. Moses was not ignorant of this neglected duty, and to set out on so grave a mission, and leave it still neglected, was a sin calling for sharp rebuke. This is another illustration of the truth that God. punishes sins in his own children with even greater severity than he does the like sins in others. Do we ask, What if Moses had died? The question is needless. The Divine arrangements had all the facts in contemplation from the first. Had it been foreseen that the anticipated effect would not have followed from the stroke - that the trouble would have had a different ending - everything else would have been different to suit. Yet we may not doubt that Moses' life was for the time really in peril, and that, had repentance not supervened, God would not have receded, even at the cost of a Moses, from inflicting upon him the extreme penalty of his unfaithfulness.


V. GOD IS ZEALOUS FOR THE OBSERVANCE OF HIS OWN ORDINANCES. It might be pleaded, this is only a ceremony, an outward rite; what great importance is to be attached to it? But God had commanded it, and had even made it the badge of his covenant; therefore neglect of it was an act of disobedience, and implied a low esteem of covenant-privilege. The sacraments may be unduly and foolishly exalted; but there is an opposite sin of disesteeming and neglecting them. - J.O.

Zipporah took a sharp stone.


III. THAT THIS NEGLECT OF DUTY ENDANGERED THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS RELIGIOUS WORK. Many a Christian worker is rendered feeble to-day by the sin of his past life. Let us beware how we imperil the freedom of men, and the work of God, by our own neglect. Freedom from sin is the great essential to the success of Christian work.

IV. THAT THE NEGLECT OF THIS DUTY WAS MOST FOOLISH, AS IT HAD AFTER ALL TO BE PERFORMED. Men will have to face their neglected duties again, if not for performance in this world, yet for judgment in the next.

(J. S. Exell, M. A.)


1. The very terms are confessedly startling. The Lord seeking and trying to kill! But His fatherly heart withheld His arm.

2. The character of the sufferer makes it still more remarkable. To cut short such a life as that of Moses — how strange!

3. Considerations of time and circumstances only deepen the wonder. God had just spoken to Moses as a friend, and expressly engaged him for an exceptionally important work.

4. The prominence and emphasis given to the record complicates the mystery. It is God speaking to all generations on things belonging to their peace.


1. Moses' compliance with Egyptian custom of circumcising only adults.

2. So long as he discarded the national seal or sign of the covenant made with Abraham, he was essentially unfit to take the place of recognized champion and deliverer of God's people.

3. His position was that of a rebel, determined not to submit to an ordinance acknowledged to be Divine. God would sooner "kill'" Moses than allow him to enter on a work in a state of hardened impenitence.

III. IMMEDIATE RESULTS. Moses yielded, and God "let him go."

1. Though up to that moment there seemed no hope of escape, the instant there was confession on one side, there came forgiveness on the other.

2. Henceforth there is not simply a change, but a marked improvement in his entire spirit and character.


1. The disease was instantly arrested.

2. Thereon followed another token for good, to cheer and to strengthen his heart (vers. 27-29).

3. In further evidence of complete reconciliation, think of the wonderful and unparalleled success with which the mission was crowned.CONCLUSION.

1. To such as are in vigorous health, the moral is — boast not thyself of to-morrow.

2. To such as may recently have passed through heavy affliction, it suggests the wisdom of much earnest self-scrutiny.

3. Of the large class of almost Christians, "not far from the kingdom of God," it asks with special solemnity "Why halt ye between two opinions?"

4. To those of us who call ourselves Christians, and profess to be aiming at public usefulness, its unmistakable voice is — "They should be clean that bear the vessels of the sanctuary." Sins unforsaken, however secret, or however deplored, are sins unforgiven.

(H. Griffith.)

1. After greatest encouragements may bitter discoveries be made from God to His servants.

2. In the way of obedience, God's servants may meet with the sharpest temptations.

3. The place intended for rest by us may be turned into a place of trouble by God. The inn.

4. Jehovah Himself may meet His dearest servants as an adversary.

5. God may seek to kill, when He purposeth not to kill His servants.

6. It is some sad defects in God's servants that put Him upon such attempts (ver. 24).

(G. Hughes, B. D.)

1. That a law, the fitness and utility of which we cannot discover by our natural reason, is more a test of the spirit of obedience than a moral requirement that commends itself to our judgment as good and proper; because our compliance with the latter may be but a compliment to our own intelligence, and not at all an act of deference to the Divine authority. Of what use is circumcision to the child? Or what good can it do to apply a little water to a child's face? Surely, the guilt of neglecting such rites as these, if there be any, must be very small. It is not of small account that ourselves and our children should be in the Church of God, and have, by covenant with God, a part in its rich privileges and blessings. And God can surely appoint His own form of entrance into it, and His own mark of membership in it. To neglect these rites is trampling on God's love, and spurning His favours; and though He may not now, as in old time, visit our offence with physical disease or other visible inflictions, He will surely not hold us guiltless.

2. Sickness, or danger of death in some form, is here sent as a reminder of a past neglect of duty. Is not this often its office?

3. But it is far better, surely, to forestall such medicinal sufferings by a voluntary revision of our lives, and a voluntary supplying of those things that are wanting, by a remedying of neglects as far as it can be done, a supplying of deficiencies as far as opportunity is given us.

(B. A. Hallam, D. D.)

I. IF WE GIVE OURSELVES TO THE LORD IN CONSEGRATION, WE MAY BE SURE THAT BEFORE WE GET FAIRLY TO OUR WORK WE MUST REPAIR ANY OF THE WASTE PLACES IN OUR LIVES THAT ARE APPARENT. And if we have overlooked any, we may expect that the Lord will meet us with a drawn sword, and hold us prisoners to Himself, until we make the crooked thing straight. Every person who has sought to walk in the consecrated way has found out the truth that "judgment must begin at the house of God." In other words, if we are to bring other people out of Egyptian bondage, we must show in ourselves that we ourselves are delivered. How can a man bring another up out of the bondage of strong drink, if he is indulging in that drink himself? How can a man or woman lead another out of the Egyptian world of pleasure and self-indulgence, if they are living in pleasure themselves? One has said, "If you want to lift a soul out of the pit you must first get a good solid footing out of the pit yourself."

II. THERE IS A STILL DEEPER MEANING IN THIS TRANSACTION. So soon as the rite of circumcision was complied with, in the person of the son of Moses (who, I must think, stands for himself in this case, because it was a denial of the truth on his part to have allowed the rite to lapse in that son, as much so as to have neglected it in his own body), "the Lord let him go." "So, the Lord let him go," is significant. We are made free, in meeting the Lord and fulfilling His will. It will be seen that the drawn sword was, after all, the sword of life. For in fighting against our uncircumcised flesh the Lord is fighting against the death that is in us. He never slays, but to make alive. And if we accept His judgment against ourselves and die to the flesh, by being crucified with Christ, behold, we live!

(G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

1. That God takes notice of and is much displeased with the sins of His own people, and that the putting away of their sins is indispensably necessary to the removal of the Divine judgments.

2. That no circumstances of prudence or convenience can ever with propriety be urged as an excuse for neglecting a clearly commanded duty, especially the observance of sacramental ordinances.

3. That he who is to be the interpreter of the law to others ought in all points to be blameless, and in all things conformed to the law himself.

4. That when God has procured the proper respect to His revealed will, the controversy between Him and the offender is at an end; the object of His government being not so much to avenge Himself as to amend the criminal.

(G. Bush.)

There is no need that the man in a skiff amid Niagara's rapids should row toward the cataract; resting on his oars is quite enough to send him over the awful verge. It is the neglected wheel that capsizes the vehicle, and maims for life the passengers. It is the neglected leak that sinks the ship. It is the neglected field that yields briers instead of bread. It is the neglected spark near the magazine whose tremendous explosion sends its hundreds of mangled wretches into eternity. The neglect of an officer to throw up a rocket on a certain night caused the fall of Antwerp, and postponed the deliverance of Holland for twenty or more years. The neglect of a sentinel to give an alarm hindered the fall of Sebastopol, and resulted in the loss of many thousand lives.

Moses had, perhaps, yielded to the importunities of his Midianitish wife in this matter; she may have been tempted to think that it was a very slight thing after all. But he must learn to know no one but God, when duty is in the ease; and in the very outset of his ministry, he must have it impressed upon his heart that nothing is little which God has thought it important enough to command. There is a temptation to be encountered at the beginning of every enterprise; and according as we meet that, we demonstrate our fitness or unfitness for entering upon the undertaking. When you are starting out on some new and noble work, with aspirations kindled at some flaming bush of Divine revelation to your soul, "be not high-minded, but fear." Look for some test to be administered to you just then, and look for it in no great affair, but rather in some such common thing as the getting of your daily bread, or in some such domestic matter as the government of your children; for by these God may be determining your fitness for the work you covet; and if you fail in the trial, there will come no second probation.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The Egyptians, according to Herodotus, Strabo, and other writers, practised circumcision. "This custom," says the former, "can be traced both in Egypt and Ethiopia to the remotest antiquity" (1. ii. c. 104). At what age it was performed by the Egyptians is uncertain; but it is worthy of remark that the Arabians circumcised their children when they were thirteen years old, because the founder of their nation, Ishmael, was circumcised at that age (Genesis 17:23). The Midianites, though descended also from Abraham by Keturah, omitted it, and this explains the reluctance of Zipporah to perform the rite upon her son. To save her husband's life, however, she consented to it, and herself performed the operation, using for the purpose a sharp stone, or knife of flint, which, as Herodotus tells us, was preferred to steel for purposes connected with religion, and especially for making cuttings or incisions in the human person (Herod. 2:86). Specimens of these knives, both broad and narrow, have been found in the tombs at Thebes, where they were used in the preparation and embalming of mummies, and may be seen in collections of Egyptian antiquities.

(T. S. Millington.)

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