And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life.
And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.
With mixed feelings Moses saw the fire of God’s presence fade from the bush on Horeb, looked at the gentle sheep quietly grazing about him, gathered them together, and began his journey back to the camp of Jethro. He had stood in the presence of the Most High God, and with awesome wonder he pondered the fact. He had heard that Israel was soon to be delivered, and he rejoiced exceedingly, for he had ever hoped for such deliverance to come. He had been commanded to go forth and lead the children of Israel, and he trembled at the thought, for through the years he had learned to know his own weakness and sin. But Moses went. He had no choice. The Lord his God had commanded him.
Upon returning to the camp of Jethro, he went immediately to his father-in-law. When he had joined himself to the household of Jethro, he had placed himself under Jethro’s rule. Now that the time had come for him to leave, it would not do for him to ignore the rights of this man. Respectfully he spoke, “Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive.” Only in the most general terms aid Moses intimate his real reason for returning to Egypt. He had learned through the years that Jethro, although undoubtedly a child of God, had no real understanding of or concern for the need of Israel being delivered from Egypt. Jethro was of the sons of Keturah, and through the years they had lost much of the feeling for the importance of Israel in bringing to pass the promised redemption of God. Thus Moses did not deem it wise to share with his father-in-law’s family the deep, spiritual experience and revelation through which he had just passed. Nonetheless, Jethro was satisfied with Moses’ request and answered, “Go in peace.”
Still Moses did not leave the land of Midian immediately. Was it perhaps fear of the task that lay before him that made him linger unnecessarily long in the home of Jethro? But God was watching Moses, and with Him there was no allowance for such procrastination. He came and spoke to Moses to urge him on and to assure him against all unnecessary fears. “Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life.” God had waited over four hundred years in bringing Israel forth out of Egypt, but now that the time was come there was no more room for delay. Moses must learn to respond promptly to the commands of the Lord. It was not for him to linger.
There was solemnity in the occasion when that small group of people set forth from the house of Jethro. Upon a beast of burden sat a woman with two small children; before them walked the man with a shepherd’s crook in his hand. The children were young and did not yet realize what was taking place. The woman was clearly troubled. She too did not understand, and she felt no desire to leave her father’s home for the alien land of Egypt. She was going only because her husband said it was necessary. The man was lost deep in thought. He pondered the duties and responsibilities which were lying before him. In his hand he held the shepherd’s crook, but not carelessly as he had in former years. This rod had taken on a new and special significance for him. It had been appointed of God as a symbol of his newly acquired power and authority. With an awe approaching reverence he held his staff as they traveled.
They had not gone on very far before the Lord came once again to Moses. Moses had been called to a very special position as the prophet of God. It was to become a very frequent, at times almost daily experience for him to receive special revelations from God. This intimate communion with God was to characterize his life more than that of any other man. It would be written of him, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10). Through these repeated revelations God gave to Moses constant guidance and assurance in the tremendous task. In this particular revelation He instructed Moses with a general outline of the working but of the gospel as he would experience it in the immediate future.
First God said to Moses, “When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand.” These works would be of utmost importance in establishing Moses as the prophet of God and in setting forth the truth that Moses was sent to proclaim. God would reveal Himself in Egypt as the I AM THAT I AM, the Almighty God who always performs His own will. Moses would come as God’s prophet with the rod as a symbol of God’s power in his hand. Each work performed in the Name of God would be unmistakably adapted to show forth the greatness and the power of God. Only the blind would refuse to acknowledge the God of Moses to be the I AM THAT I AM whose will can not be withstood.
But to this God added a warning concerning the reaction of these works upon Pharaoh. “I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” Pharaoh was of the blind of the world, who have eyes but will not see, who have ears but will not hear, who have hearts too hard to understand. God had raised him up and set him upon the throne of Egypt just exactly to reveal the immense perversity of the human heart. With the truth so clearly set before him in unquestionable signs and wonders, he would deny that it was real. He would not acknowledge it to himself or to anyone else. He would suppress the truth and hold it under in unrighteousness. In utter folly he would in the face of the truth uphold the lie. But let no one think that by so doing he would be withstanding the will of God. This, indeed, Pharaoh would try to do. His boast would ever be that he did not need to recognize the Lord, that he could withstand the God of Israel; but that very fact would be the highest illustration of the pervasiveness of the almighty power of God. Behind the hardened heart of Pharaoh was the eternal counsel of God which had ordained that it should be so. This God made clear to Moses by telling him before it ever happened, “I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.”
Finally God added these instructions, “And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: and I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.” This was the ultimate meaning of the truth that God would reveal through Moses. The expression of God’s love would not be without purpose and direction. It would be directed in Fatherly love and affection to His son. Israel as a nation was dear to Him. In the seed of Abraham it was chosen and adopted to belong to Him. So it had been from eternity; so it was and would be in time. When Pharaoh persecuted Israel, he persecuted the object of God’s love. When he would refuse to let Israel go, he would be seeking to deprive God of the rightful service of His own son. Thus in righteous judgment God would strike back. With many infallible proofs He would show His love for His chosen. He would show His power over Pharaoh by depriving him of his son.
In this way God was preparing Moses for the conflict which was to come. The powers of evil were already arrayed for battle. In the days to come they would exert themselves to the utmost. But the outcome was sure. The power of God’s love would be made known. The lines of battle were before-ordained in the divine counsel. Unto Moses it was made known what they would be that in due and proper time the glory might be only unto God.
While pondering this all, Moses stopped for the evening at an inn on the road to Egypt. His mind was still full of all that he had heard, and therefore it was quite unexpected that the Lord came to meet him again at the inn. But this appearance of God was quite different. This appearance was not to Moses individually but to Zipporah his wife as well. Moreover, this appearance was not primarily concerned with Moses’ future work, but with his present personal life. The Lord appeared and sought to kill Moses.
Moses had entered into married life while dwelling in the house of Jethro. There true faith in God was maintained, for Jethro was a descendant of Abraham through Keturah. However, in certain matters of faith this household had become weak and wavering. One of their most grievous shortcomings was the failure to maintain the rite of circumcision. It was a bloody ritual which they considered too painful to observe. Thus they failed to maintain the outward sign of the covenant which inwardly they still kept. Thus, when Moses’ two sons were born, Zipporah had opposed the subjecting of her children to this painful operation; and Moses had submitted. This had been his sin.
But now Moses was returning again to the children of Israel to lead and instruct them in the will of the Lord. One of the things which he would have to teach the people was the necessity of circumcision. But how could he insist that others observe what he had not observed himself. One primary requirement of effective leadership is that a man do his utmost to observe himself what he would require of others. This Moses had not done. In the most forceful terms God pointed this out to Moses. He told Moses and Zipporah his wife that if Moses would not strive to live blamelessly before the ordinances of God, he would be of no use to Him at all as a leader and redeemer of the chosen people. In fact, if Moses in his household did not keep the commandments of God he would die.
Zipporah had no choice. While the Lord threatened the life of her husband, she took a sharp stone and performed the required operation. But in her heart she held only resentment and bitterness. Among her people this bloody practice had not been observed for many years. She could not understand the need of it and she detested the thought of subjecting her own children to such a painful practice. Her inner feelings boiled in rebellion. She had not wanted to leave her father’s home, and now she was required to treat her own children with cruelty. The Lord withdrew His threatening hand from her husband, but her bitterness remained. She cast the bloody foreskins at Moses’ feet and said, “Surely a bloody husband art thou to me, because of the circumcision.”
To Moses it became evident that he could not go on in this way. A wife who resented the high duties of his calling could only interfere and not help. Sadly he returned to the home of Jethro with his wife and children, there to leave them until his work had been completed. He could not allow even his own wife to stand in the way of the calling which he had received from God. Again he left for Egypt, alone.
God saw the loneliness of Moses’ heart and made provisions for him. He appeared to Aaron, Moses’ brother, in Egypt and said, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” There on the way the two brothers, separated for so many years, met. With joy they kissed each other and went on together. As they went Moses related to his brother all that he had learned of the Lord, and Aaron encouraged Moses in his calling. With this brother by his side, Moses would have the courage to stand in the great and wonderful calling which was his.