Recently, I was teaching a group of students studying for a life of ministry and leadership some basic principles of financial stewardship. This topic was the next in a series of lessons on Biblical Principles that leaders need to apply to their lives. We were about half-way through the lesson when a hand shot up and asked the question, “I know we’ve all heard this teaching before, but does anyone here actually do it? Don’t we all just sit through lessons like this, hear what we’re supposed to do, and then go one with our lives as usual without making any changes? No one really handles their finances this way!”
This student smugly sat back and waited for a mountain of voices to back his point of view. However, much to his surprise, there were several others in the class who responded, “No, we don’t see these Scriptural principles as optional. We’ve actually adjusted our lives to live within these boundaries.” The rest of the class centered on helping this student see how they, too, could make lifestyle adjustments and begin obeying the principles they were being taught.
Sadly, the student continued to make excuses instead of changes. Not only did they miss the point of the lesson on financial stewardship, but they missed an even bigger lesson about leadership. That’s the lesson we’re going to discuss this month as we continue our study in the life of Moses.
Last month, we began our study of the qualities that make a well-rounded leader by looking at the first lesson Moses had to learn as he answered God’s call to leadership: It wasn’t all about him.
As we continue our study this month, our good friend Moses is about to take his first steps toward the adventure of a lifetime. He’s packed up his bags and his family to leave his life as a shepherd behind and step into the new direction God has for his life.
However, he doesn’t get very far before God begins teaching him the next lesson he needs to learn about leadership. That lesson is: God takes obedience to His Laws and commands very seriously. To be a godly leader, you need to take it just as seriously.
Let’s rejoin Moses’ adventure in Exodus 4:18-26:
“Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, ‘Let me return to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.’
Jethro said, ‘Go, and I wish you well.’
Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.’ So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’
Moses has decided to follow God’s call to leadership. He’s kissed his father-in-law “goodbye” packed up his wife and kids and is headed off to obey God. Along the way, God again speaks to Moses and directs gives him direction about what he is going to face in Egypt. It seems like all systems are go for Moses to step into his new role in life.
Then the oddest thing happens. Somewhere along the road, Moses and his family stop at a lodging place to get some food and rest. Suddenly, Jesus appears before Moses.
Vs 24 At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him.
Jesus is about to kill Moses! What is going on here?
Wasn’t it God Who told Moses to leave his life as a shepherd and go to Egypt?
Hadn’t Moses just heard God speak to him again, laying out the strategy of what lay ahead?
Had God really led Moses and his family into the desert just to kill him?
Absolutely not! However, this moment in time was more than a rest stop for Moses and his family. It was a divinely appointed time for them to learn how serious God is about requiring His people to follow His Laws. In this case, the law that Moses had disobeyed was the law of circumcision.
Vs 25 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.)”
Before Moses could be the leader of God’s people, he had to rectify the disobedience in his own life and circumcise his son. It’s important to remember that although Moses was raised in Egypt’s palace, he was also familiar with the Laws and practices of the Israelites. I’m sure that, being devote Jews, Moses’ parents made sure that he was circumcised before he was given to Pharaoh’s daughter. Most likely, in his preparation to one day rule over the nation of Egypt including the Israelite slaves, Moses was taught all of the Israelite’s beliefs and customs, including the laws of circumcision.
So it wasn’t a matter of ignorance. Moses knew Israel’s history. He was familiar with the covenant that God made with Abraham back in Genesis 17:10-14 that every male in Abraham’s family and all of his descendants were to be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth as a sign that they were part of God’s covenant with Abraham. If a man was not circumcised, he was to be cut off from his people.
Yet, even though Moses knew this was God’s Law, he chose not to circumcise his own sons while he was living in Midian. Instead, he claimed “special circumstances”. Many of the commentaries say that Moses probably decided against circumcising his sons out of deference to his wife, whose attitude in this Scripture appears to be against it. However, I’m not so sure we should so quickly blame it on Zipporah---after all, God wasn’t trying to kill her. The Scriptures don’t come right out and say that she was against it. Quite frankly, I could understand her attitude of disgust after having to personally be the one to perform this surgical procedure on what was probably an older boy in the middle of the desert. Seriously, how gross!
Even if it was Zipporah who didn’t want to circumcise their sons in Midian, it wasn’t Zipporah that God held responsible for the sin of disobedience. No, God held Moses responsible because Moses was the Israelite who should have done the right thing no matter who objected. Before Moses could take one more step on his journey toward becoming the leader of God’s people, his sin of disobedience had to be addressed and he had to come in line with obedience to God’s Law.
Moses had to learn how seriously God takes His covenants and His Laws and how adamantly God requires obedience. Moses could not effectively serve as the deliverer of God’s people until He had fulfilled the conditions of God’s covenant and one of those conditions was circumcision.
As we see, after Moses’ son was circumcised, the danger was over and the journey continued. However, you’ve got to know that after this dramatic experience Moses had a completely different view of God than he did just a few days ago when he left Midian. From this moment forward, this fact was forever branded into Moses’ mind: God considers obedience to His Laws a very, very serious issue! His commands aren’t something to be trifled with or considered to be optional suggestions. No, obeying God’s commands can mean the difference between life and death and whether God is for you or against you.
This vital lesson changed Moses as a man and, more importantly, it changed him as a leader. It was a fundamental truth that he had to fully comprehend and embrace if he was ever going to fulfill the mission God had called him to accomplish.
Why was this lesson so monumentally important?
Frankly, because Moses was called to do more than just deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Even though it was definitely the most glamorous part of his job, it was really only lasted a few months. The larger part of his mission, the task that would consume the bulk of the next 40 years of his life, would be teaching God’s Laws and Commands to the Israelite people and training them how to live like God’s people rather than living like Egyptian slaves.
Think about it: There are at the most only 10 chapters in the Bible that tell the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. The rest of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy tell the story of Moses’ attempt to teach the people God’s ways, including the way He was to be properly worshipped, the way they were to live together, and the Laws of God that they were to follow. Basically, Moses’ main job was to train the Israelites how to live as a separate people holy to the Lord.
As we read through the books of the Pentateuch we see that sometimes Moses’ job involved receiving God’s Laws and teaching them to the people. Many, many times, Moses’ leadership role moved beyond teacher to disciplinarian as he had to enforce God’s Laws and allow those who chose disobedience to suffer the consequences. There were many days that this particular leadership function made Moses extremely unpopular---even hated. Still, it was Moses’ role and responsibility as leader to know God’s Laws, to teach God’s Laws, and to enforce God’s Laws without exception.
This was the role he was being prepared for during his near-death experience on the night his son was circumcised in the desert. Without it, Moses could not have effectively fulfilled his life’s mission.
Why do I say this?
For starters, it gave Moses a personal, first-hand experience with God’s perspective on His covenants and laws. From that night forward, Moses’ experience was no longer in the abstract form. That night He got an up-close-and-personal look at the intensity and passion that God has in regard to His covenants and commands. I think Moses’ near death experience made it clear to Moses that God wasn’t interested in his excuses or special circumstances. God expected complete and total obedience to His commands.
It was also a pivotal point in the lives of Moses and his family where they all made their personal choice to follow God’s commands. No more excuses, no more alternatives. From that point forward, it was God’s way or no way. They weren’t playing around anymore or considering God’s Laws as optional. From this moment on, they were all in---100% committed to being God’s people set apart for Him.
This was the type of commitment that was necessary for Moses to step into his new role as the leader of God’s people. You see, just like any other successful leader, Moses could not lead the Israelites where he was not willing to go himself.
He couldn’t say, “Leave everything you know in Egypt behind and follow God into the Promised Land” until he had first left behind his own life in Midian to follow God to Egypt.
He couldn’t teach people God’s ways and tell them to live according to the rules of God’s covenant until he first came into complete submission to the rules of God’s covenant himself.
This lesson in Moses’ life challenges each of us as leaders to ask ourselves the question, “Do I fully understand how serious God is about His Laws being followed and obeyed?”
We need to ask ourselves: “Do I fully understand that God’s Laws are not suggestions, they are not options for successful living, but that He expects wholehearted obedience to His commands from all of His people, especially His leaders?”
You see, I believe that one of the greatest dangers for those of us that God has called into positions of leaderships---whether it be in a spiritual or secular arena---is the temptation to make ourselves the exception to the rule. Far too often, like Moses, we know what God’s Laws are, we may even feel the convicting power of the Holy Spirit telling us that we need to stop disobeying and start obeying God’s Laws; but instead of repenting and immediately obeying God’s ways, we make excuses.
“That Scripture doesn’t apply to me because….”
“God knows my situation; He knows why I can’t do what He wants”
“You have no idea how much my family or friends will object if I ever made these changes to my life.”
On and on we follow Moses’ example, excusing our behavior while we live in disobedience to what we know God wants us to do citing “special circumstances”
I know from experience, the temptation to succumb to special circumstances is tremendous. For instance, a few months ago, we were sitting around the table at the car dealership trying to decide what to do. We knew we needed a dependable vehicle, the one we were driving had left us twice and even though it was repaired it was still quite old with a lot of miles. The deal that was sitting in front of us was unbelievable---without God’s help, there was no way we’d been looking at a price this low for a vehicle of this quality. Still, we had a decision to make. How were we going to pay for it?
For years, we’d been teaching about God’s Financial Principles---living on a budget, avoiding debt whenever possible, and saving for big expenses. But today, it was our turn to put our money where our mouth was and choose to obey the principles that we’d learned and been teaching.
Still, it wasn’t going to come without a price. Our summer budget was going to be TIGHT to say the least unless we took out a small loan on the vehicle. As we sat at the table discussing our options, the choice came down to: Are we willing to sacrifice to obey the principles we tell others to follow, or are we going to take the easy way out and be hypocrites?
In the end, we decided that we had to practice what we preached, take the step of faith, and make the sacrifice to stay out of debt. Ultimately we knew that we couldn’t ask people to follow where we weren’t willing to go ourselves. Surprisingly, after we made the decision, God arranged circumstances that lowered the price of the car even further. In the end, we were obedient and God was faithful.
We all need to realize that God has no room for the “special circumstance” clause. Just like He didn’t accept the “special circumstances” in Moses’ life, He isn’t accepting that excuse from His leaders today. Instead, the same God Who called Moses on the carpet thousands of years ago and demanded obedience is calling each of us today to learn this lesson and start applying God’s standards for obedience to every area of our lives.
Why? Because, just like Moses, WE CAN’T LEAD PEOPLE WHERE WE ARE NOT WILLING TO GO OURSELVES!
No matter if you’re a parent, the boss at work, the head of a committee, the teacher in a class or a minister in the pulpit---you cannot expect people to do what you say if they do not see you living it out in your own life. The mark of a godly leader is a willingness to first obey God’s Laws in their own lives and then teach others how to do the same. To do anything less is to be a hypocrite. The world doesn’t need any more of them. What it needs is godly men and women to first make the commitment to follow God in wholehearted obedience, and then lead others down the same path.
That’s the lesson Moses had to learn, and it’s the leadership lesson that each of us needs to learn and apply today: Before we can lead people in God’s ways and teach them to follow God’s commands, we need to be fully committed to learning and obeying God’s commands and ways in our own lives. It’s the price of being a leader---the question is “Are you willing to pay it?”