Moses Returns

Scripture: Exodus 4:18-31


Title: Moses Returns



  • Introduction
  • Assurance
  • Briefing
  • Correction
  • Deployment
  • Conclusion



Make peace with your past so it won’t mess up your present


Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 4, verse 18 – page 63 toward the front of your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series on Moses
  • A couple of weeks ago we heard how God spoke to Moses through a flame in a bush, calling him to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery
  • This morning Moses returns to Egypt in obedience to God
  • By returning to Egypt Moses is facing his past


From verse 18 of Exodus 4 we read…


[Read Exodus 4:18-31]


May the Lord meet us in this reading


Please turn with me to the back of your newsletter

  • We could think of Moses’ return to Egypt in four parts – A B C D
  • Assurance, briefing, correction & deployment
  • First let us consider how God gives Moses assurance in verses 18-20…



When Robyn and I were in our last year at Carey College training for ministry Tawa Baptist called us

  • Robyn & I are not from Wellington – most of our family live in the Waikato & Bay of Plenty
  • We were leaning toward coming to Tawa but hadn’t fully decided – there was still a significant element of faith involved both for us and the church
  • I remember driving along the southern motorway into Auckland around that time and the car in front of us had a personalised number plate which read, ‘2tawa’
  • What are the chances of seeing that on the Auckland motorway?
  • Now we didn’t base our decision to come to Tawa solely on that number plate but it was one thing that gave us assurance to proceed
  • God does things like that at certain crossroads in our lives
  • We might feel like we’ve heard from him but we doubt ourselves a bit and so he (in his grace) gives us assurance – he guides us in the direction we should go

Assurance is different from insurance

  • Assurance is something we can rely on – it will definitely happen
  • By contrast, insurance covers something that may or may not happen
  • So we have car insurance just in case we have an accident and need to replace the car
  • But we have life assurance, because it is certain that we will die one day and when we do our loved ones will get a pay out


In verse 18, after Moses has talked with God, he goes back to Jethro, his father-in-law, & asks permission to return to Egypt to see if his relatives are still alive

  • Jethro is Moses’ insurance
  • God is asking Moses to do a big thing here and Moses doesn’t know how the future will pan out
  • He needs to keep his relationship with Jethro good because if everything turns to custard Moses will need a home base to return to
  • So Moses takes care of the relationship by asking Jethro’s permission
  • Moses doesn’t burn his bridges


In verse 19, while Moses was still in Midian, the Lord spoke to him again saying: Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead

  • God gives Moses assurance
  • You will remember how Moses had left Egypt in a hurry, after killing an Egyptian slave driver
  • God knew that Moses was a bit anxious about returning to Egypt because of this – Moses was concerned his past might catch up with him
  • So God effectively says to Moses, ‘Now is a good time to return to Egypt, you are no longer an outlaw – no longer a wanted man’


Sometimes making peace with our past is simply a matter of time

  • Sometimes we just have to be patient and wait – time has a way of washing away ill feeling


With God’s assurance, Moses packs up his family and returns to Egypt on a donkey

  • This reminds us of another holy family travelling by donkey in the opposite direction, from Egypt back to Israel (Jesus, Joseph and Mary)
  • In that story God gave Joseph assurance by sending an angel in a dream to say Herod was dead and it was okay to go back home.


Returning to Exodus 4. At the end of verse 20 we are told Moses was carrying the stick God had told him to take

  • This stick is a tangible reminder of God’s assurance to Moses
  • It’s an assurance that Moses can literally hold on to
  • We also have these little tokens of assurance, don’t we
  • Perhaps a favourite Bible that we take with us everywhere
  • Or a cross on a necklace, or prayer beads, or some other physical reminder that we don’t travel alone – God goes with us



Every day around the world 11 or 12 people are either killed or injured because of land mines or other explosives left behind after war [1]

  • There are literally hundreds of millions of unexploded mines and bombs, in the world, left over after past wars, just waiting to be disturbed
  • The work of de-miners is a very practical way of making peace with the past so it doesn’t mess up the present


Sometimes making peace with our past is simply a matter of time

  • Time heals some wounds but not all wounds
  • There are some things which need special attention
  • Some things which don’t go away with time but in fact become more dangerous – like unexploded bombs
  • Part of the problem is that people don’t always remember where these ordnances are buried
  • If we forget our past then we may find ourselves walking through a mine field in the present
  • Pharaoh forgot Egypt’s past and consequently he led his people into danger


After giving Moses assurance to return to Egypt, God then briefs Moses, in verses 21-23

  • In this briefing God tells Moses the plan and what to expect
  • Unfortunately the briefing doesn’t make a lot of sense


God says to Moses, you do all the miracles

  • And I will make Pharaoh stubborn so that he won’t let the people go


Now, I imagine Moses scratching his head at this point thinking

  • Isn’t the whole idea to get Israel out of Egypt safely?
  • Why is God going to make Pharaoh stubborn so that he won’t let the people go? Hmmmm?


Well, it’s like St. Augustine said in the fifth century:

  • “If you understand it, then it is not God”


We will explore what it means for God to make Pharaoh stubborn when that comes up again in a few weeks

  • For now it is enough to know that God is giving Moses a heads up that things are not going to flow smoothly
  • He is in for a trying time with Pharaoh
  • God is giving Moses fair warning so he doesn’t become discouraged at the first hurdle


God goes on to say to Moses…

  • When the Pharaoh digs his toes in and refuses to let my people go I want you to say from me, ‘Israel is my first born son. I told you to let my son go, so that he might worship me, but you refused. Now I am going to kill your first born son.’


That doesn’t sound very nice – why does God want to kill Egypt’s first born?

  • Well, I don’t think God wants to kill anyone
  • The problem is Pharaoh has made some decisions which have limited God’s options


Pharaoh isn’t able to make peace with his past because he has forgotten the past

  • He has forgotten how Joseph (a Hebrew) saved Egypt from starvation and made the country rich during a famine
  • For Pharaoh to make peace with his past he would have to admit the injustices of his regime and make reparation
  • Pharaoh’s injustices lie scattered over the land like unexploded mines
  • But Pharaoh doesn’t want to face his own failure as a leader which means God doesn’t have much choice
  • God’s only option is to remind Pharaoh of Egypt’s injustice by visiting on Pharaoh the same treatment he has dealt out to Israel
  • The only way that Pharaoh is going to get the message is if God explodes some of the mines

To make peace with the past we must first remember the past – not as we would have liked it to have been, but as it actually was


Two aspects of good news we shouldn’t lose sight of here…


Firstly, Israel is God’s son – not Pharaoh’s son

  • Israel belongs to God – not to Pharaoh
  • Pharaoh has no right to hold Israel prisoner


Secondly, Israel is not an only child

  • Israel is God’s first born
  • Other nations will (and actually have) become God’s children too, through Christ


So the question for us is, ‘whose son, whose daughter, are we?’

  • Do we belong to Pharaoh or do we belong to God?
  • I believe we belong to God – although not everyone realises it
  • You are not the property of the bank or the company or the government
  • You are not a slave to market forces or technology or the opinion of others
  • You belong to God, as his child, and God wants you to be free of Pharaoh
  • (Whatever form Pharaoh may take)


Having given Moses assurance to proceed to Egypt

  • And having briefed Moses on what to do and what to expect in Egypt
  • God then corrects Moses in quite an alarming way



What do you reckon – is one person by themselves better at remembering or are all of us together better at remembering?


[Wait for people to respond]


Yes – I agree with you – all of us together are better at remembering

  • We remember better together


In verse 24 of Exodus 4 we read how the Lord met Moses [on his way to Egypt] and tried to kill him

  • Whaaat? God tried to kill Moses?
  • Why would God do that when he has gone to so much trouble in sending Moses to Egypt to set Israel free?



Well, Moses’ wife Zipporah seemed to understand

  • Before Moses can face the future he must first make peace with his past
  • Moses needs to get his own house in order before he tries to sort out Pharaoh’s house because it seems Moses has forgotten his past too
  • Fortunately for Moses, Zipporah remembers


In Genesis 17 God made some promises to Abraham saying…

  • “You also must agree to keep the covenant with me, both you and your descendants in future generations. You and your descendants must all agree to circumcise every male among you. From now on you must circumcise every baby boy when he is eight days old…”


Apparently Moses had not circumcised his own sons as God had instructed the descendants of Abraham

  • Circumcision was the sign of the covenant
  • A covenant is a sacred agreement – it is more than a contract
  • You put your signature on a contract but you cut a covenant
  • Hence the cutting of the foreskin as a sign of the covenant


Perhaps another reason God chose circumcision as a sign of the covenant is that the men at least would be regularly reminded of the covenant – every time they went to the toilet or had a bath

  • Perhaps the women didn’t need such regular reminders


In any case, God’s covenant with Abraham was incredibly important

  • And, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, God doesn’t like it when we mistreat or ignore or forget what he considers sacred and important
  • By not circumcising his sons Moses had forgotten God’s covenant and God was not pleased – he tried to kill Moses


We don’t know exactly what this means – perhaps Moses became really sick and was close to dying

  • The fact that God didn’t kill Moses instantly shows us God’s grace
  • “God leaves room for mediation, [he] allows time for Zipporah to act,” [2] to save Moses – which she does
  • Zipporah cut off the foreskin of her son and touched Moses’ feet with it
  • In this way Zipporah made peace with the past by keeping the covenant
  • And so the Lord spared Moses’ life
  • This is not the first time Moses has been saved by the quick witted courage of a woman


Terence Fretheim makes the following observation of Moses’ near death experience…

  • This is a divine demonstration of the seriousness of the matter upon which God & Moses are about to embark: a life-and-death struggle in which Israel’s very life will be imperilled. That Israel or Moses will emerge unscathed is not a foregone conclusion. Israel will be dependent upon God’s decision and action on its behalf, yet Moses’ own obedience is integral to the divine mission. [3]


In other words our salvation is a serious matter and we can’t afford to take God for granted

  • Yes, he loves us, but that doesn’t mean anything goes
  • We are dependent on God to save us but at the same time the choices we make matter


As Christians we are under a different covenant

  • Ours is not the covenant of Abraham, so we don’t have to be circumcised
  • Ours is the new covenant established by Jesus
  • Later in the service we will share communion and you will hear me talk about the cup of the new covenant
  • We take communion to remember the new covenant with God made possible by Christ’s sacrifice
  • Or said another way, communion reminds us how Jesus enables us to make peace with our past and peace with God – so that we can have hope for the future


One of the cool things about communion is that we take it together, or more accurately we remember together – memory is more reliable that way


We don’t take communion lightly – it is a serious matter and God is not pleased if we misuse it. As the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians…

  • It follows that if anyone eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonours him, he is guilty of sin against the Lord’s body & blood. So then, everyone should examine himself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. For if he does not recognise the meaning of the Lord’s body when he eats the bread and drinks from the cup, he brings judgement on himself as he eats and drinks. [4]


God has assured Moses it is okay to return to Egypt

  • God has briefed Moses on what to expect when he confronts Pharaoh
  • And God has corrected Moses on his way to Egypt
  • Now God deploys Aaron to go with Moses to Egypt
  • A B C D



Verse 27 of Exodus 4 reads…

  • Meanwhile the Lord had said to Aaron, “Go into the desert to meet Moses.” So he went to meet him at the holy mountain; and when he met him he kissed him.


Sometimes making peace with our past is a difficult thing – like defusing an unexploded bomb or some other life & death struggle

  • Other times it is a joyful thing – as it was when Aaron and Moses were finally reunited after probably about 40 years apart


Making peace with your past can also mean re-doing things again – only this time properly

  • The first time Moses had tried to save his people he had acted alone – without God and without the people themselves
  • This time though Moses goes with the Lord and with Aaron
  • And he involves all the leaders of Israel – he takes the people with him


Aaron does the talking and Moses performs the miracles

  • The people believe and bow down in worship to the Lord for he has come to them and seen how cruelly they are being treated
  • It’ a beautiful thing when God lets us know that he understands our pain
  • Knowing that God understands goes a long way in helping us to make peace with our past




This morning we’ve heard that making peace with our past can mean different things


Sometimes it means simply letting go – not chasing after the past but allowing time to do the work of healing

  • Waiting for the enemies of bitterness and revenge to die


But time won’t fix everything

  • There are some things which need special attention
  • Some things which don’t go away with time but in fact become more dangerous – like unexploded bombs
  • In those cases, to make peace with the past we must first remember the past – not as we would have liked it to have been, but as it actually was
  • If we forget our past (as Pharaoh did) then we may find ourselves walking through a mine field


The other thing to keep in mind when it comes to making peace with our past is, we don’t have to do it alone

  • Moses had help to face his past
  • Zipporah helped him to remember the covenant and put things right with God
  • And Aaron helped Moses to approach the task in a proper way, involving the leaders of Israel
  • Moses & Aaron & the Lord worked together to restore hope to the people






[2] Terence Fretheim, ‘Exodus’, page 79.

[3] Fretheim, page 81.

[4] 1 Corinthians 11:27-29