THERE TO MY HEART
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There’s a word for the situation in which Moses finds himself in our text this morning. Moses is between places. He’s in a situation over which he has no control. He’s in a situation in which he has to depend on intervention. A mediator if you will. He’s in what’s known as a liminal space. Liminal is a word that comes from the Latin word limen which means threshold. A liminal situation is one in which you are thrust out of your comfort zone. It’s one in which you aren’t able to depend on the resources upon which you usually depend, or the resources upon which you usually depend are found lacking. A mission trip is a good example of a liminal space, as is a weekend retreat (depending on the retreat).
This passage has been described as “one of the most enigmatic and troublesome passages in the Hebrew Bible.” There is much we don’t know in the passage, and much that is left unexplained. I want us to look at the passage though, in light of the story that it tells, and the story within which it is contained, and hear what God has to say to our hearts with regards to our story and our stories.
Moses and his family are on the move. This comes after an extended conversation between God and Moses which goes from chapter 3 into chapter 4. Moses has given three objections. “What if they don’t believe me?” is the first. God shows Moses that he will work through signs to aid belief. Moses then objects “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” God assures him that it is God who gives speech to mortals and in a great phase promises “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” In a “Here am I, send him” moment, Moses then simply blurts out “O my Lord, send someone else.” We read that the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses at that point. It is decided that Moses’ brother Aaron would serve as Moses’ spokesperson.
And so with his family – Zipporah, Gershon and Eliezer- a donkey, and the staff of God in his hand, Moses sets out into the wilderness. This image of people of God being on a journey is one I want us to consider for a few moments. It’s an image that goes all the way back to Abraham, leaving his homeland and stepping out into the unknown, following the call of God. Early followers of Christ were known as followers of the way. We are traveling. We‘ve not yet arrived. Much like Moses and family are traveling here. Someone has written about two models of the church. One a commissary, one a caravan. The commissary model is described like this – “This is the model for an institution which passes out grace from its stock on the shelves to people who come to it only when they have need for them. They come to the Commissary with the proper coin of exchange to get what they need. Their only responsibility to the Commissary is to obtain the coins so they may obtain the ‘graces’ – the goods, services, and benefits from the Commissary.” The second model is that of a caravan. We’re traveling. Here’s the description of the caravan – “The other model is that of a ‘Caravan’, a walking caravan, ‘a group of people banded together to make a common cause in seeking a common destination, following the dream, in Exodus terminology, pursuing the ‘pillar of cloud by day (and) the pillar of fire by night… A Caravan has its existence only in a continual becoming, a following of its Lord on his way toward the Kingdom.’”
So we are on a journey friends. The journey is the destination. Being transformed. A continual becoming. A continual transformation into the image of Christ as we travel together. I believe that what God has to tell us through this story this morning is of ultimate importance. I believe that this story has something to tell us about depending on God. On our need for a mediator. I don’t think Moses was ready to lead when he set out on this journey. Despite continual assurances from God about God’s presence with Moses. Despite assurance of how God would bring his people out of Egypt, about the signs and wonders that God could perform. Despite assurance that is God who gives speech - and indeed everything and that everything is ultimately upheld by God.
The thing is, Moses did not yet know what it meant to be helpless. Moses did not yet know what it meant to be without resources. Without control.
This story points to our need for outside intervention. It points to Christ. Look at the language that is used in verses 19 and 20. Compare this to Matthew 2:20-21. Something is going on here and it has to do with Christ. It has to do with questions of ultimate importance. It has to do with the question of “On whom or on what are we going to depend? Who are we going to worship?”
When we read v24 we can’t answer the question “Why?” “On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the LORD met him and tried to kill him.” If that seems harsh, one commentator notes that the use of “tried” softens the divine action. It leaves room for mediation. We don’t know why God tried to kill Moses. Some say that it was because he had not circumcised his son. We don’t even know if the “him” here refers to Moses or one of his sons. We don’t know what it was about Zipporah’s action that made God relent.
What then do we know?
We know that Moses was facing a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of life and death. When you hear someone say those words you know that things just got serious. Things got real, as they say. As I read this story, I read that Moses did not yet know what it meant to need to rely on something beyond himself. He was not yet ready to lead. He had faced a threat to his life sure, a couple of times. He had not yet faced a situation which would lead him to turn to God in absolute trust and say “I’m casting myself on you.” Richard Rohr has done a lot of work on male initiation rituals, which are sadly lacking in our culture. They often involve the wilderness and the need to depend on resources beyond oneself. He says “Unless a man knows what it is like to be powerless he will abuse power.” Moses at this point knows what it is like to be powerless and this will change him.
Have you known what it is like to be powerless? To receive a phone call? Someone has died. The test results have come back positive. Your relationship is over. You are sick to the point of death. Matters of life and death. If you don’t know you will. You may ask the question why but there’s no good answer, any more than there is in this story. It took me 34 years to know that feeling. That feeling that I was facing a situation that was beyond me. Beyond my own resources. Have you ever been in a situation in which only one thing mattered? I’m talking about the most important thing in the world friends. We’re told that other things are important. We’re talking about the need for something transcendent.
Not the kind of faux transcendence we find in places like professional sports. There’s a reason people look for transcendence in such places. It’s a basic human need. It’s part of the human condition. We need something outside ourselves for when we are in a situation in which only one things matters. As Rohr puts it – “When we are in a situation where only one thing matters, that is when new things happen.”
Again thank God for the women. Woman in this case. Intervention is needed. A mediator between God and Moses is needed. Thank God for the daughter of the Midianite priest. Who would have thought? “But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” Who is she talking to? We don’t even know.
This is what we know. Zipporah became a mediator between God and Moses. She took a risk. Wielding a flint knife in the middle of the wilderness was risky. She applied blood. “There to my heart was the blood applied” as the old hymn goes. Glory to his name!
There is a mark of dependence on God here. The operation was risky, as I said. The operation leaves the one being operated on incapacitated. Think forward to the people of Israel crossing the Jordan into the land of promise in Joshua 5. What is the first thing they do after setting up 12 stones of remembrance? The males who were born during the 40 years in the wilderness are circumcised. Not the best military strategy considering they’ve just entered a land in which they are surrounded by enemies. All the males incapacitated. Indisposed. Out of action. It’s as if God is reminding them – “Your deliverance is of me.” Don’t fear those instances of finding ourselves beyond our limited resources, because it is in them that change happens.
Because someone stood in the breach for us. The blood that’s applied here points forward to the Passover when the Israelites would apply the blood of the lamb to their doorposts. This points forward to the blood of our lamb.
Upon whom we depend. Upon whom we are learning ever more to depend as we travel along in this caravan. Nothing else in the world could be more important. The ultimate matter of life and death. I set before you life and death, Moses will later tell the Israelites. Blessings and curses. Which will you choose? On what will you base your life, and what will turning toward God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit look like?
For the Israelites, it was belief and worship. Aaron came out to meet Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. The brothers are reunited. Ready to start. But first Aaron spoke to the elders of Israel. Aaron recounted all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and performed the signs in front of the people. We are invited to have the same reaction they did. “The people believed, and when they heard that the LORD had given heed to the Israelites and that he had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.” As one writer puts it, this was a gospel message. A message of good news. A message of God “having seen their affliction and becoming active on their behalf.” God became active on our behalf in the person of His Son. God is active on our behalf and will be active on our behalf. This is the Christ that we are gathering around this table to be thankful for and to remember. May we each accept this invitation to believe, to trust, and to worship Him.