Tag Archives: Fire

Isaiah 1: The Consuming Fire

Standard

I remember the first time I learned about God as the all-consuming fire. It was when I first heard about Moses (the un-cut version – not the nicey-nice children’s version). Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy groundIt was such a strange and foreign image to my mind – God being a fire. But I was young and have since learned more about this consuming fire.

The next time I remember reading about fire in the Bible was when I read about the Hebrews in Babylon. They would not bow down, so they were thrown into the fire. But then there was a fourth person in the fire! And when the three men came out (yes, they walked right through the blazing inferno), not even a hair was singed on their bodies. Okay, make a mental note: not only is God an all-consuming fire, but He can rescue His faithful followers out of a fire. (You have no idea how much I want to continue talking about this amazing story…but I digress.)

In college my Old Testament professor drove home the image of fire as a metaphor for judgment. For some reason this concept has stuck with me more than all the others. It seems like fire is sprinkled all throughout the Bible: God as the pillar of fire. Elijah at Mount Carmel. Endless sacrifices. The refiner’s fire. The tongues of flame at Pentecost. The fiery pit of hell (and those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head). Aside from these examples, the largest majority of references to fire actually pertain to judgment (whether from God or man). Frankly, I see why fire is used as a metaphor for judgment. The imagery is frightening. I can’t think of a worse way to die either – to be burned alive in a fiery blaze.

It’s with all these pictures in mind that I read through the first chapter of Isaiah. First my eye caught the words “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” (v. 9-10), and I recalled Genesis 19:24:

Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. (ESV)

Terrifying reminder number one. Surely the Judahites’ ears perked up a little when they heard Isaiah speak the name of those two condemned cities. And then in Isaiah 1:10 he calls them “you leaders of ‘Sodom'” and “people of ‘Gomorrah.'” I’m sorry, did he just refer to us as the leaders of the worst cities ever? Why yes, I think he did.

He goes on to describe their self-centered approach to worship, calling it sinful and false (v. 13).  Now those are fightin’ words, Isaiah. We’re just doing what’s in the Law. We’re following our religion. And how’s that working out for you? God says He wants none of your sacrifices, He’s sick of your offerings, He gets no pleasure from your animal sacrifices, wishes you’d stop bringing your meaningless gifts, is disgusted by your incense offerings, hates your celebrations and festivals, believes all of this is a burden to Him and He cannot stand them (v. 11-14). He even refuses to look when they lift up their hands in prayer because their hands are covered with the blood of the innocent (v. 15). If we’re being honest, maybe Sodom and Gomorrah is a fitting description for them after all.

Following this laundry list of all the things appalling to God, Isaiah (God) tells them “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of My sight. Give up your evil ways.” (v. 16, NLT)

Anytime someone says “get out of my sight,” it’s usually uttered with absolute contempt or disdain. And usually, the person isn’t joking around. It’s a serious matter and requires an immediate response. I suppose you could call it an ultimatum. Do X or else Y will happen to you. Isaiah goes on to tell them what they should do (v. 17) and in verse 18 we read a familiar passage:

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as  white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool. (ESV)

But we often miss v. 19-20, “If you will only obey Me…But if you turn away and refuse to listen, you will be devoured by the sword…” (oh boy, another judgment metaphor). He tells them, I don’t care for all your “religious”, lack-luster, disingenuous worship. I want your obedience. I want to take away your sins, and I want to make you holy. In v.24-26 Isaiah tells the people that God will use judgment or discipline to make this happen. He would even bring renewal through the appointment of godly leaders. Again in v. 27-28 He reminds them to repent (wash yourselves, be clean, give up your evil ways!) and if they don’t, they’ll be destroyed, consumed. And we finally arrive at the image of fire in v. 31:

The strongest among you will disappear like straw;
    their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire.
They and their evil works will burn up together,
    and no one will be able to put out the fire. (NLT)

Their own sins will set them on fire, and no one will be able to put it out. It’s one thing to have a blazing fire that can be contained. It’s a completely other thing to have a devouring fire that can’t be extinguished. That’s complete destruction. That’s an all-consuming fire. And that‘s how God describes Himself on several occasions (Deut 4:24, 9:3, Is 30:27, 33:14, Lam 2:3, Heb 12:29). What do I even make of this?

The passage in Deuteronomy tells us that God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. He refers to Himself as a jealous God several times as well (Ex 20:4-5, Deut 5:9, 6:15, Ez 38:19 and it goes on and on), and it’s almost always coupled with anger (as burning or kindled or smoking – in other words, like a fire). Perhaps we have a hard time with this fiery, jealous anger, because when we respond with jealous anger, it’s sinful. I believe we could have moments of divine jealousy, but I think those are rare. But God does not sin. His jealousy is completely legitimate and founded. His jealousy is the Lover’s jealousy written in Song of Solomon 8:6:

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame.

When the Bible speaks of God’s jealousy, it is usually a jealousy for His holy reputation and for those things and people who belong to Him – 1) God is jealous for His name, 2) He is jealous for Jerusalem/Zion, and 3) He is jealous for us (Ez 39:25, Zech 1:14, James 4:5). First, He is unwilling to share His glory (Is 42:8, 48:11). Interestingly God’s glory is known as the shekinah glory, and when He manifests His glory on earth, it appears as a brilliant light that blazes like a fire (Ex 30:44-45; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Ez 1:28; Matt 17:1-8). It is something that no man can behold in its fullness and still live to tell about it (Ex 33:20). Secondly, God is jealous for the place where He has said He would make His name, eyes, and heart dwell (1 Kings 9:3, 11:36; 2 Kings 21:7). This again is connected to His reputation. And finally, like the jealous lover, God is not willing to share His people (who also bear His name) with anyone or anything (Ez 36:22-32). He will defend the holiness of His name wherever He has made His name to dwell. We are caught up in a love that is as fierce as a fire.

This jealousy, though it is a burning desire for His glory, somehow manages to be great news for us. Actually it is our only hope. In the Ezekiel 36 passage, God declares:

23I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 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. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

His motivation is for “the holiness of [His] great name,” but we benefit from this jealousy as He makes us holy and gives us His Spirit who makes it possible for us to obey Him. The all-consuming fire came down to earth, but He didn’t devour and destroy. He came to save (John 3:16-17; 1 Tim 1:15). John 1:1-5, 14 tells us of the light that came down:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV)

This is the greatest news! This is the gospel. The people spoken of in Isaiah whose own sin had set them on fire have a God who is greater than their sin. They have a God who is greater than the Law which they were trying so hard to follow (Rom 8:1-4). Come, though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them as snow. Come, I will cleanse you, giving you a new heart and putting My Spirit in youCome, I have set My name on you as seal, and I am the jealous Lover. You are Mine.

Advertisements

Zipporah (A Heart of Sacrifice) Part 2

Standard

Exodus 3-4

As we read through the Exodus narrative, we come to the famous burning bush passage found in chapters 3-4.

Zipporah mt sinai

This is an image of a present day map showing where scholars believe Mt. Sinai (or Mt. Horeb) was located. The land of Midian is just to the east of that body of water, so this would mean that Moses would have shepherded Reuel’s flocks even beyond the traditional Midian borders. This is the place where Moses meets God for the first time and where God promises Moses that He will meet him when they leave Egypt.

Here is a picture (from Google maps!) looking out from one of the mountains in this region:

Zipporah Sinai

Remember the issue of polytheism? I believe that as we read these chapters, we can understand Moses’ response to God more accurately when read in light of his polytheistic culture and background.

Moses grew up in Egypt and would have been taught in the Egyptian ways. The Egyptian way was polytheistic (I’m thinking of at least four Egyptian gods as I’m typing this, and there were lots more!). He and Zipporah likely had a similar upbringing due to the polytheistic tendencies of the two nations. It is very possible that Moses knew NOTHING about the God of Israel, just as Zipporah knew nothing of YHWH.

You may have noticed in Ex. 3-4 that when God spoke to Moses, he wanted to know what name he would give to the people to let them know which god was coming to their rescue BECAUSE THERE WERE SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM! I almost sympathize with him being hesitant because this seems to be Moses’ first encounter with the God of Israel.

Fred Blumenthal writes, “To have been so conditioned, and yet to see, hear and accept the revelation at the Burning Bush was an accomplishment probably unequaled in the history of mankind.

God tells Moses, (Exodus 2:23-25) I’ve heard the cries of His people. And I’m sending you, Moses, to deliver them.

Ernest Neufeld writes about the irony of God choosing Moses for this mission:

How ironic that a Hebrew child, the adopted grandson of Pharaoh, brought up in the Egyptian way of life in the royal court, was the one whom the God of Israel chose as His instrument to deliver His people from the hands of the god-king of Egypt!

God could have chosen any other Israelite, including Aaron! He could have found someone who was not so hesitant or who felt more qualified for the job. The irony is in the transformation that takes place in this all-but-assimilated Hebrew into an uncompromising champion and defender of God’s chosen people. Thus did God redeem Moses from his bondage for the redemption of the Israelites from theirs. (From The Redemption of Moses by Ernest Neufeld in Judaism)

Can you imagine how the conversation went when Moses goes home to Zipporah: (after Exodus 3:1-4:17)

“Honey, you’re never going to guess what just happened to me!” with a hint of smoke on his clothing.

“I saw a bush on fire that didn’t burn up!”

“I know, it doesn’t make sense!” “And then the bush spoke to me.”

“I swear! I’m not making this up!”

“But that’s not even the craziest part.”

“So the bush, I mean, God, He wants me to go lead His people out of slavery in Egypt.”

“No, I have no idea how that’s going to work.”

“No, I don’t know why He asked me to do it. I’m telling you, I TRIED to get out of it!”

“So do you feel like going on a trip with me? I really think this is going to be a BIG deal!”

Again, we have no such conversation recorded in the Bible, so it’s hard to know what Zipporah’s reaction would have been.

If we could recap, we’ve gotten a glimpse of who Zipporah is and some of the roles she plays. She’s a Midianite, a shepherdess, a daughter, a sister, wife, and mother. But do you get any sense of her relationship to the God of Israel?

Not really.

We just barely get a sense of Moses’ relationship with God after this encounter.

18 Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand. 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” 24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision. Exodus 4:18-26

IDENTITY: Sojourner

After Moses returns he goes to Jethro in 4:18 (yes, his name has changed. He was called Reuel in Ex. 2) and asks permission to leave so he can complete the mission God Himself has called him to do. And why would he do this?

Moses had been in Midian for FORTY years (Acts 7:29-30). That’s half of a lifetime! He was 80 years old at this point in time! Also note that Moses probably realized that he would be leaving this place of refuge, his father-in-law’s home, for good, never to return. He was still the foreigner, a sojourner in the Midianite land, returning to Egypt, the foreign land in order to bring them out to the Promised Land. It was likely out of gratitude for Jethro’s hospitality in taking him in as his son-in-law that Moses returns to take leave of his father-in-law’s household. He wanted to show him HONOR.

Isn’t it interesting that Moses gives Jethro no details concerning why he was to go back to Egypt. He just had this amazing encounter with God and says absolutely nothing about it to his father-in-law. In fact, he kind of lies about it by saying: “I’m just going to check and see if they’re alive.” !!

What is more startling is the way in which Jethro responds to Moses’ request. “Go in peace.” I’m guessing Moses breathed a sigh of relief that his father-in-law was not like Laban!

Are you surprised to read anew in verse 20 that Moses took his wife and sons with him to Egypt? By the way, he does have 2 sons but we haven’t heard about the other son, Eliezer, yet! He doesn’t show up formally until Gen 18:4 (which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs).

Regardless of how this happened, I had always pictured Moses and Aaron in Egypt, by themselves. But now we must picture Moses heading out with his family.

What kind of thoughts went through Zipporah’s mind as she trudged along beside her husband, the God-appointed champion for the Israelites?

She didn’t have the experience of the burning bush. She couldn’t see herself as an Israelite like her husband. Did she even care about them? Was she angry about leaving her home country? Or feel privilege about having Moses as a husband? Did she wish she could have talked with God like her husband did? Did her religious experiences as a daughter to a priest serve to prepare her heart for what she would encounter on her way to Egypt before the one true God? As far as we know, she had no knowledge of the God of Israel.

Is this perhaps why Moses brings her and their sons along with him, to be able to allow them to see firsthand what the God of Israel was like? How He had chosen the Israelites to be His special possession over all the people of the earth?

The only thing we know is that she went. She followed her husband as an act of submission to his leadership. She became a Sojourner too. I’ll go wherever you go. Your people my people.

Have you ever been there before? Maybe God called you to obedience in some area of life. Or maybe, like Zipporah, God called your husband to obedience and you got to go along for the ride because you are one flesh after all, so his story is your story.

My best example of this my current circumstance! How ironic! About 4 years ago Eric felt God pressing his heart to follow in obedience to seminary and beyond. As his wife, I was not a fan of this decision. I felt like God hadn’t told me anything! It was a difficult and long process for me to come to terms with seminary as a reality for our family. It would mean long hours of my husband studying in an office and not time spent with our family. It would mean fewer opportunities to get out and do outings with friends or family because that precious little time would need to be spent with our family. It would mean I might feel like a single mom at times because he would not be available to help. (I’m really not looking for anyone to feel sorry for me. I’m truly throwing a tantrum.)

To top it all off, getting to go back to school has been a dream of mine for years. I could be a professional student for the rest of my life and be completely happy with that arrangement. But it would not be me sitting in those classrooms and reading those books or writing those papers. (Some of you are thinking, “who would really want to do this anyway?!”) No, it would be my husband, the one who had no desire to sit in classrooms or read books much less write those papers.

But I saw God work in ways that made no sense in order for Eric to be able to go back to school. He showed Himself as the sovereign God over our circumstances and dreams. I became a sojourner on a journey which was communicated not to me but to my husband.

Thank you God, for this story about Zipporah. I can relate.

IDENTITY: Heroine

Then verse 24 completely throws us off our guard. What in the world is going on? First Moses is exiled, then he’s married, before you know it, he’s talking to God who gives him an important mission, and now God wants to kill him? Did I miss something here?

The phrase in v. 24 “sought to put him to death” is the same phrase used of Moses in Ex. 2:14 when he killed the Egyptian and of Pharaoh who “sought to kill Moses” in Ex. 2:15.

Victor Hamilton makes a great point that God left room for mediation, allowing time for Zipporah. We see Zipporah spring to action as if she knew exactly what needed to be done! But how could Zipporah have known what to do or that what she was doing would work? Did she know about the covenant that God had made with Abraham about the circumcision?

Douglas Stuart writes that the many people groups in the ancient world practiced circumcision, including the Midianites. So Zipporah would have grown up understanding how circumcision was done and what its significance was. (NAC on Exodus)

He also writes that when she said “bridegroom of blood” (v. 25) or “relative of blood”, this phrase very well could have been the official phrase used when performing the rite of circumcision. This would have legitimized the deed. (It would be similar to the phrases we use when performing a baptism: “In the name of the Father…, buried with Christ…raised to walk…”)

If we take a step back and look at these THREE verses as a whole (v. 24-26), we find even more questions: The original text does not specify who is being referred to in these verses. The only names in the verses are God and Zipporah. Whatever translation you’re reading has already taken the liberty of deciding these factors. So there’s the confusion about who God sought to kill and who was being circumcised and who was the bridegroom of blood.

It is no wonder that David Penchansky says “Biblical scholars love this passage because it is totally incomprehensible.” (From Hamilton Exodus)

Here are the two major theories of interpretation:

  1. God was seeking to kill Gershom because he was not a part of the covenantal people yet (being uncircumcised). This theory is tied into the dialogue between God and Moses about God planning to kill the first-born son in verses 22-23. God seeking to kill Gershom would be symbolic of God seeking to kill the firstborn of Egypt.

The reason this is important is that, “If Moses [was going to] plead for God’s firstborn, if he [would] represent God at all, then his own first-born must be an Israelite. Otherwise his non-Israelite first-born will perish, as will all first-borns not protected by the blood of the Covenant. Gershom [had to] enter the Covenant in order to escape the coming [Angel of Death].” (Howell)

Also, remember the phrase about the bridegroom of blood? Howell writes that once Gershom is circumcised, he is a bridegroom (relative) by means of blood both to YHWH and to Zipporah. He states, Zipporah’s identity with the covenant community was wrapped up in her marriage to Moses. Moses was a blood relative because of genealogy and circumcision. Because Zipporah obviously could not be circumcised … her identity with Israel existed through her identity with Moses. Zipporah was considered a member of the people of Israel because of her marriage to a circumcised Israelite. Now that Gershom was circumcised, he too was a member of the people of Israel. Therefore, it is reasonable that Zipporah would say, ‘You are a relative by means of blood to me. (From Firstborn Son of Moses by Terry John in The Journal for the Study of the Old Testament in ATLAS)

  1. Another view indicates that God sought to kill Moses because he failed to circumcise his son. John Calvin’s commentary on these verses is in line with this view.

However this view also raises some serious questions. For one, did Moses even know about the covenant God had made with Abraham (since he was raised in Egypt) AND if he didn’t know, how could God punish him in his ignorance? In addition to this, why would God choose to punish him now instead of correcting him in their earlier conversations?

The suddenness of the attack might be explained if it were the case that Zipporah was pregnant with Eliezer as they traveled, then gave birth, and after the 8 days commanded by God for the act of circumcision they chose not to do it, thus incurring God’s wrath.

However, many question whether death was an appropriate punishment for remaining uncircumcised. The covenant made to Abraham is in Genesis 17:14:

14 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.

Some scholars believe that to be “cut off” meant only to be “excluded from the covenant” or dismissed from the nation.

Robinson explains that, “The omission of the rite of circumcision seems to me to provide an inadequate motive for the attack for the following reasons. The command to circumcise had indeed already been given, to Abraham (Gen. xvii), but the punishment for remaining uncircumcised was stated to be exclusion from the covenant (Gen. xvii 14), not death.” (p. 11 Robinson)

Still other scholars believe that when someone was “cut off” they were killed. If you look up the word “cut off” (occurs 283 times!) and visit all of the cross references, some (but not all) seem to indicate death as in the Ex 31 passage:

Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Exodus 31:14

So your view about what it meant to be “cut off” from the nation will determine whether or not you believe death was an appropriate punishment for remaining uncircumcised.

Other scholars who discard the circumcision argument give other reasons for God seeking to kill Moses but quite frankly, they are a bit of a stretch!

One of these views claims that Moses was the object of the divine wrath due to his lack of enthusiasm and willingness to obey God’s word. And it was by the blood of his son’s circumcision that Moses’ sin is atoned for.

Still another view comes from scholar, William Propp, who explains the reason God sought to kill Moses was because of his sin of murdering the Egyptian. If you take on this view, you must read something into the text that isn’t obviously there, trying to explain a difficult passage with ideas that aren’t directly apparent in the text itself.

Regardless of which view you believe is most plausible, I want to direct your thoughts to Zipporah and her role in this narrative. Zipporah is portrayed here as the heroine (v. 26), and Jewish folklore praises her as a heroine, not just here, but in their traditions concerning her. (In fact, one tradition taught that when Moses fled to Midian, Jethro feared the wrath of pharaoh, and had Moses thrown into a hole. Zipporah tended to him for 10 years after which point Jethro found him still surviving and Zipporah then demanded that he be taken out and given to her as her husband.) (From Encyclopedia of Jewish folklore and traditions by Raphael Patai; Hayah Bar-Yitshak)

Zipporah is the one who saved Moses (or her son) from the divine wrath. In fact Hamilton writes that we might find a parallel between the women in Exodus 1-2 who saved Moses from the wrath of Pharaoh, and Zipporah who saves Moses from the wrath of the Lord. Another parallel could be the shedding of blood via the act of circumcision averted divine wrath just as “touching” the blood to the Hebrews’ houses in Egypt turned away God’s wrath from them in the night of the first Passover (Hamilton).

This is Zipporah’s first “encounter” with the God of Israel (that we know of). So this first encounter would appear to be, well, not so pleasant! What kinds of images must have come to mind as Zipporah tried to wrap her mind around the God of Israel? Did she see Him as a vindictive, scary god, out to destroy her and her family? Did it occur to her that Yahweh was not just some obscure deity that she was accustomed to worshipping? That this God was personal and had created her and loved her? Did she realize that He was the One True God?

In my Dictionary of the Pentateuch, under family relationships, I read that while blood kinship played a key role in determining your personal identity, it was in fact the issue of covenant that truly determined your status or membership in a group of people. Zipporah had no chance of being an Israelite unless she fell under the covenant of her husband (because after all, she couldn’t be circumcised).

As we think about her encounter with God, consider the customs of her time. A woman in the ancient Near East would worship the god of her father, and then, once her marriage contract had been arranged and she officially joined the new household of her husband, she would transfer her allegiance and her worship to the god of her husband.  (Dictionary of Pentateuch)

Up to this point, Zipporah and Moses were still under Jethro’s authority. Now that they have left her father’s household, she had a decision to make concerning her allegiance to God. We can’t really know for certain what truly happened in her heart, but it would make sense that this terrifying encounter could serve as a catalyst for determining her heart’s loyalty. Think about it, if you had every possible god to choose from in your worldview, and then you encountered the God of Israel in this way, wouldn’t you determine then and there that no other god could possibly be the one you would commit to follow? You might believe and know He was and is sovereign over ALL.

Here is where I see the real issue surface for this story. What was Zipporah’s experience with the gods? You perform the sacrifices, you appease the gods. When you make them angry, and they don’t give you any rain for a season or they give you destructive locusts that destroy your crops, you must offer them something to turn away their wrath. OR you offer sacrifices with hopes that you can manipulate your god into doing something for you – fertile crops, fertile wombs, better rains, etc. OR you do all these “religious” things, perform these sacrifices, to be seen as a good daughter, mother, wife, etc. But what does God say?

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. Psalm 51:16

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 1 Sam 15:22

Perhaps this night was God’s way of clarifying any misconceptions about who He, the One True God, was. He was not like those other gods and would not be treated as such. He desired love and obedience and a true knowledge of who He was. He didn’t want His people to simply offer a sacrifice while their hearts were far from Him. He wanted them to obey. To LISTEN to His Voice.

This woman with a heart of sacrifice would learn quickly that a heart of obedience is better.

Before Zipporah could see Him as the God coming to rescue His people, she first needed to see Him as the Almighty God, just in all His ways, and terrifying in His holiness.

God is fierce. He inspires awe and fear.

One of my favorite quotations is from C. S. Lewis, Mr. Beaver speaking of Aslan says, “’Course he isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (ch. 8, The Lion, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).” After Aslan leaves, Mr. Beaver tells the children, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion. “ (ch. 17, The Lion, Witch, Wardrobe)

Can you imagine Moses meeting with God that first time on the mountain, and God presents Himself as a tame, fluffy bunny? No way! He revealed Himself as a Consuming Fire in a bush!

And how did the Egyptians feel about God when they were the recipients of His judgment? I’m certain they were filled with fear, even terror, at the mention of His name.

How did God appear to the Israelites as they wandered and camped in the wilderness? Not as a golden calf or a bronze snake or any other metallic or wooden object but as a Pillar of Fire and of Cloud (more like Smoke). These were not objects that could be conjured up with human hands, the Fire and the Cloud symbolized His very presence and it was terrifying.

And when God gave the people His Law on the mountain, He spoke and it sounded like THUNDER and that mountain QUAKED and SMOKED and appeared as though it would BURN UP because God. Was. There.

He is not safe, but He is good. The people were terrified of God and begged for Him not to speak to them but to have Moses speak on His behalf.

And just because God took on flesh and revealed Himself through His Son doesn’t make Him tame. The fierceness of His character did not diminish.

Jesus is portrayed in Revelation as having eyes that were like a flame of fire, His voice like the roaring waters, with a sword coming out of His mouth and riding on a horse like a victorious and yet fierce King against His enemies. (Rev. 1, 19)

Do you hear the hoof beats? They thunder and strike fear in the heart of the enemy.

Even as He walked on earth, He was anything but tame. He cut through people’s hearts with His words and confronted the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He drove out the money changers. He calmed the storms. He drove out demons. (And you better believe those demons feared Him!) He expelled sickness. He raised the dead! And He died on the cross, defeating our worst enemies, sin and death.

Who else but our fierce, fearless, terrifying God could do any of that?!

Our God is terrifying and we stand in awe and wonder fully knowing what He can do and yet aware that He stays His hand, showing mercy because of the sacrifice of His Son.

HE is no less terrifying in Moses’ time than He was when He came in flesh than He is now.

And just because we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 10:19-22) does not mean that He is not to be feared. It just means the encounter with Him is that much more awesome because we aren’t consumed.

His mercy that much greater because we aren’t destroyed.

His hand that much more powerful because we know He uses such great restraint.

His love that much more meaningful because of what it cost Him.

So yes, we can approach God with confidence but ONLY because of the sacrifice of the Son for by it alone are we given access to Him. The penalty paid to the only Holy God. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because He FIRST entered the inner place behind the curtain, going as a forerunner on OUR BEHALF (Heb 6:19). He always goes before us to ensure our way. He is the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb 7:22), our Great High Priest forever (Heb 6:20).

The fear of God truly is the beginning of wisdom. Because it takes a wise person to know where she stands and where HE stands. And who stands in her place.

This God can be feared and yet stir affection in our hearts for He is also perfect in love. He is terrifying and yet full of love and affection for His people. It is next to impossible for us to fathom this balance because we are incapable of being perfectly loving (though I’m sure we can be perfectly terrifying in our anger!).

While God delivered judgment after judgment on Egypt, He also displayed His perfect love for Israel, His first-born Son, by rescuing them from Egypt. At Mt. Sinai He displayed His awesome power, striking fear in their hearts while still showing love to Israel by choosing them as the nation He would bless. Terror and Love mingling together in perfect harmony.

Zipporah learned the fear of God that night. He would not be mistaken as a tame, easily-manipulated god like those she was accustomed to serving. Neither was He reckless or malevolent.

He is not SAFE, but He is GOOD.

The errand, the great mission, which God sent Moses to do was a serious matter, not to be taken lightly. He would show His great power over Egypt and show His saving hand to the Israelites. But neither nation would mistake Him as a man-made god. And Zipporah and Moses needed to know this before they arrived. They needed to know who they were dealing with, and that He wasn’t messing around.

Because what happens next is the terrifying judgment on Egypt. Exodus 5-17 details all that occurred to the Egyptians. We do not know whether or not Zipporah was there to see what God did because the text never mentions her in these chapters. There is no explanation of when Zipporah left to return to Midian, but we know she did based on Exodus 18. Scholars are again divided over her whereabouts. Some believe she was in Egypt for a time until Moses sent her home for safety reasons, while still others believe she was sent home right after their terrifying encounter with God. I’d like to go with the view that she went to Egypt, at least for a time. So following in Exodus 4-17:

Ex 4:27-31 The Lord tells Aaron to go to Moses and they form their plan. Then they go to the elders of Israel and the people believed.

What did Zipporah see as she waited in Egypt?

Ex. 8 God sends frogs

God sends a plague of gnats

Ex. 9 Pestilence on the livestock

God sends a plague of boils/sores

God sends a plague of hail (flashing fire) “Um, Moses, can I go home now?!”

Ex. 10 God sends a plague of locusts

God sends the plague of darkness

Ex. 11 Plague of the death of the firstborn son

Ex. 14 God divides the Red Sea

Ex 16 God gave them manna from heaven and quail to eat.

{Stay tuned for Part 3 – Exodus 18}