At the present time a runaway bestseller on the market is a little book called, “The Prayer of Jabez”. This book (or booklet) was written by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson and is really just an exposition of one verse in 1 Chronicles 4:10. This verse which has become so popular and is so instructive is found in the middle of nine chapters of genealogical records. These are chapters most of us skim over because they are tedious to read. Yet, here in the middle of this record is a gem that can enrich our lives.
I wouldn’t say that our text this morning is as transforming as the Prayer of Jabez but it does teach valuable truth. But it is truth in an unlikely place because these lessons are found in a story that we may have often read, only to scratch our heads, and go on. Hopefully this morning we will see it in a new light.
Our passage picks up the story right where we left off. God told Moses it was time to head to Egypt and lead the people out of slavery to the Promised land. Moses presents his list of excuses but to no avail. Moses is the man God has chosen. So, Moses heads back home to request a leave of absence from his father-in-law, Jethro.
Before we get into our main text please note two things. First note that Moses doesn’t just walk away from his job. He requests Jethro’s permission and blessing. And by this simple act Moses reminds us that showing consideration is always a part of our Christian witness. A Christian should always be characterized by common courtesy.
Jethro took Moses in 40 years ago and gave him a job and let him marry one of his seven daughters. Moses owes Jethro the courtesy of an explanation. And Jethro not only grants the request but sends Moses, his daughter, and his grandson off with his blessing. It must have been difficult for Jethro, but this Midianite priest had a sense of God’s calling and released Moses from his obligations. I wonder how many people have been turned away from the faith because of rude and insensitive believers.
Second, notice that Moses doesn’t tell Jethro the real reason for his journey. Instead, he says, “Let me go back to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.” He doesn’t say anything about his conversation with the Lord. Now, of course, it is possible that Moses told Jethro all about his experience and it is simply not recorded in Scripture. All we have is the written record and in that written record Moses leaves out some key details. Why? I can think of only three reasons
- He didn’t think it was important. We don’t always have to tell everyone everything we know. But it is hard to imagine that Moses considered a conversation with God insignificant.
- He was afraid Jethro would think he was crazy and wouldn’t let him go. Put yourself in Jethro’s shoes. Would you have wondered if Moses had been in the sun too long? Would you have been a little concerned for the welfare of your daughter and grandsons?
- He was reluctant, skeptical and afraid to head to Egypt and doesn’t want anyone else to know his plans.. Maybe this explains what we read next,
Before Moses left Midian, the LORD said to him, “Do not be afraid to return to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.”
God understood that Moses was reluctant. When he left Egypt 40 years earlier he was a wanted man. His picture hung in post offices throughout Egypt and perhaps was even on telephone polls next to the pictures of lost donkeys. The Lord understands and graciously calms the fears of Moses by letting him know that the people who were after him have died. The outstanding warrants have expired. With new confidence in his heart, Moses loads up the family in the station wagon of the day (a donkey), and heads to Egypt.
It is during the journey that we read an odd account that I will focus on for the rest of our time. We find it starting in chapter 4 verse 24.
At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)[Ex. 4:24-26]
God sends Moses to Egypt and then along the way the great “I AM” strikes Moses down and was ready to kill him. There are three obvious questions,
- why did God send Moses to Egypt if He planned to kill him?
- how did Moses and Zipporah know that it was God who sought to kill him?
- why did Zipporah turn to circumcision as the “cure” for Moses? There are some weird things in some books on alternative medicine but I’m guessing you won’t find this remedy anywhere.
We are not given the answers to these questions but we can hazard a credible theory. It would seem reasonable that an angel or some other “theophany” (or manifestation of God) appeared and struck Moses down. It would also appear that the angel was quite specific that the reason for this assault was because one of Moses’ sons was uncircumcised. So, to save the life of her husband, Zipporah herself circumcises her son. After she does this surgery on her son she says to Moses, “surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.”
It is most likely that Zipporah said these words out of anger. It is like she was saying, “Look at what I had to do because of you!” The customs are strange to our ears, but the lessons we learn are potent for our lives. I see two valuable lessons.
“LITTLE THINGS” ARE IMPORTANT
The first lesson we learn is that little things are important to the Lord. Circumcision was a sign of a person’s participation in the family of God. I suspect that while Moses’ mother was raising him the symbol was explained to him. Yet, we can see why Moses might think it wasn’t that big of a deal. Though Moses would have been circumcised as an infant, he grew up in Egypt. Later he moved to Midian. In both locations circumcision was not important. Moses may have considered it a little thing. He was wrong.
Jesus told his disciples,
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. [Luke 16:10]
If Moses was going to be a leader he must be a leader in the little things before he could lead in the big things. If he was going to be faithful in the big tasks, he had to learn to be faithful in the everyday decisions of life. If we want to serve the Lord we must show our faith through the little things such as,
- reporting our business expenses accurately
- listing our hours honestly
- avoiding things like gossip, exaggeration, and “white lies”
- being on time for work
- maintaining purity in public and in private
- keeping your promises and fulfilling your commitments
- being faithful in our worship and our giving.
Our society may consider these things unimportant. They may adopt the attitude that right and wrong is a matter of what you can “get away with”. But this is not to be the way with God’s people. Serving the Lord begins in the little things.
This makes sense if you think about it. In the mundane things of life we develop the habits that really determine our character. Think about it this way: suppose you were sending a rocket to the moon. And suppose you were one degree off when you set the trajectory of the rocket. One degree doesn’t seem like much. However, by the time you get to the moon that one degree will lead to a thousand mile miss of the target.
So it is in our spiritual lives. If we want to honor and serve the Lord we must begin by honoring and serving Him in the little things. If we are off in the little things it will lead to our drifting in the big things. Satan is much more likely to attack us in the little things than the big things. He will seek to unravel our private life even as the world cheers for us in our public life. We may look spiritual to those around us while the cancer of neglect eats away at our spiritual vitality from the inside out.
So, let me ask: how is your private life? Are you getting lazy in the little things? Are you putting all your effort into putting on a good show for the world while the cancer of disobedience eats away at your life from within? Maybe it is time to do a personal inventory.
- do you make promises you don’t intend to keep?
- does your spiritual life consist only of the public times of worship or are you developing your personal relationship with God?
- would you be ashamed if people knew what you did in private when no one was looking?
- Is there something in your life right now that is gnawing at you? Something you know isn’t right but you keep making excuses for it?
Little things matter to God because they are the foundation for the rest of your life. Any builder knows, if the foundation of a building is bad it doesn’t matter how wonderful the rest of the structure looks . . . eventually the building will have problems . . . all because the foundation was bad.
FAITHFULNESS MUST BEGIN AT HOME
I think there is a second lesson here. Before Moses could faithfully serve the Lord in Egypt he had to have his own house in order.
We are told that Moses loaded up his “sons” (plural). Why was only one circumcised by Zipporah? It seems only reasonable to conclude that one son was circumcised and one was not. Maybe he had begun to drift a little in his faith since he had been away from his family for so long. Maybe he received grief from his family after the first circumcision and sought to avoid conflict by not circumcising his second son.
To not circumcise his son was like the President of Chrysler motor company appearing on television to talk about the superior products and Chrysler and then drive away in a Toyota. It is inconsistent. In the same way, to talk about the Lordship of Christ and not make Him Lord in your home is inconsistent.
The apostle Paul understood this principle. He told Timothy,
Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) [1 Timothy 3:2-5]
You cannot lead others until you are able to lead your own home. Notice how prominent the family is in the qualifications for leadership
- he is to be a husband of one wife. Joe Aldrich writes, “A one-wife kind of man has eyes for no other woman than the one he married. There is no room for a sensual ladies man on a leadership team. Many men have never divorced their wives or been “unfaithful,” but they are not one-women men, and their wives know it.” [Life Style Evangelism p. 148]
- he is to manage his own family well. Aldrich remarks that “The greatest challenges, the greatest pressures we face are behind the front door!” In fact, Paul writes, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”
- his children obey him with proper respect.
Moses needed to learn that faith begins at home. And let’s face it, it is a message that we need to remember as well. How often do we live double lives? We proclaim Christ’s goodness but our home is falling apart. We serve Christ in the public arena but there is no sense of His Lordship in their household.
As you look through the Bible you will see that when this principle is violated disaster results. The priest Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. They were dishonest and perverted the things of the Lord and God had them killed. We read on several occasions that Eli knew what the boys were doing but said nothing. He fell down in his ministry at home and it cost him his sons.
The great prophet Samuel also had two sons that were corrupt. Is is possible that Samuel spent too much time on the road and not enough time at home?
In the story of David we read that David’s son, Ammon raped his half-sister Tamar. David heard about what happened, but did nothing. As a result Tamar’s brother Absalom killed his half-brother Ammon and all kinds of turmoil began in the household of David.
The home is the laboratory of faith. It is in the home where we learn about love, forgiveness, grace, accountability, fiscal responsibility and so much more. It is more difficult to be a Christian at home. Why? Because it demands a greater level of consistency than is needed with the rest of the world. We can pretend when we are in public, but we can’t pretend at home. We must learn, like Moses, that our first responsibility is the home.
How are things at home, my friend?
- are you practicing the values you profess?
- are you spending too much time at work and not enough time with your family?
- are you leading others to Christ while your own children drift toward the Devil?
So, here we have it. One of those odd stories that we find in the Bible. But as usual, when we think about what is going on and why, we find that God is teaching us things we really need to know. This morning we have focused on two very important principles of discipleship.
First, we were reminded that discipleship begins in the little things. Is there some matter that you need to get right before the Lord?
- a debt that needs to be repaid
- an apology you need to extend
- a sin you need to address
- a wrong you need to right
- a promise you need to keep
If so, don’t wait for some dramatic event to get your attention. Avoid the heartache by taking care of these things now.
Secondly, Discipleship begin at home. Does your home life square with your profession in the church? Are you honoring God by
- cherishing your spouse
- training your children in the things of God
- using your time and money responsibly
- making worship a priority in your home even when it conflicts with other things we like to do
- praying for and with your family
- honoring God and others in your conversation at home
- supporting God’s values in the things you watch, read and listen to
- making time for your family even though it means saying “no” to other things
The Lord is not looking for plastic Christians. He is looking for those who serve Him with their whole lives. They serve Him in their private life and public life; in their home and in the church. They don’t pretend to have it all together, because they know there is still work to be done. But they are willing for God to work with His surgical precision in their heart and their life.
Are you that kind of Christian? Or are you one of those people who has said you believed in God, but you have never really entered into a relationship with Him? Perhaps you’ve been going through the motions, doing religious stuff, and doing what you can to quiet your conscience. If that describes you, it’s time for you to take the gospel seriously.
Jesus came so that you might have new life. He died so you might be forgiven and He gave His Holy Spirit to live in us and to work in us. What God asks from you and from me is that we trust Him. He asks that we surrender those notions that we could ever earn Heaven. He asks that we abandon the thought that we can “do it on our own”. Instead He asks us to rely on what He has done for us through Christ and what He will do through us in the future.
Have you made that decision? Have you received His gift of grace and life? If not, why not use this quiet moment to open your life to Him? Be honest about your heart, your home, and the struggles you have. Bring these to Him and lay them at His feet. And then receive the forgiveness and new life that He extends. Your life probably will not change over night, but if you are sincere, if you begin to follow Him in public and in private, your life will change. Day after day he will be working to create in you a new heart, a new life, and a new hope.
This passage in Exodus may still be somewhat confusing to you. But I hope you’ve seen this morning that you never know where you might find truth that could change your life.