Characteristics of a Hard Heart

Exodus 4:21-5:9

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2016

We have been studying the life of Moses.  He was born with a death sentence over his head. He survived a genocidal decree.  He survived being left in the Nile River.  He was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter and adopted into the family.  He was raised and educated in the palace.

At forty, he commits a crime and has an arrest warrant out for him.  He flees in fear to Midian where he changes his identity. He takes up a new occupation and lives in obscurity. God catches up with him and appears to him  on the backside of a mountain.

He spoke to Moses out of a burning bush and gave him a job to do.  He argued with God and made excuses but finally obeyed.  He headed back to Egypt to do God’s work.  He agrees to do what God called him to do.  He puts his wife and kids on a donkey and goes back to Egypt.

Last week, I gave an overview of the chapter.  Today, I want to look at two passages.  They are important for a number of reasons.

  • Moses and Aaron begin their ministry here.

Moses doesn’t do any miracles in this section.  We will not see that until Exodus 7 but they do begin their ministry.  Things looked good but not everything turned out good for Moses.

When he got to Egypt and delivered the message to Pharaoh, it was rejected.  He laughed at Moses’ message.  He did not take it seriously.  Things got worse for the Hebrews and God’s people came after Moses himself.  They were furious.

  • Moses almost dies in this section.

Moses was one of the greatest men in all of Scripture and he almost dies here. Once again, he is saved by a woman.

Moses has now been saved by four women: his mother, sister, Pharaoh’s daughter, and now his wife.  The other women saved him from Pharaoh’s anger.  Zipporah saved him from God’s anger.

  • There are three great confrontations in this chapter.

God confronts Moses.  Zipporah confronts Moses and Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh. Let’s look at our first passage. The first test is in one of the strangest passages in the whole book.

The Bloody Husband

 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!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision (4:20, 24-26 ESV).

This is a passage that does not seem to make much sense. Here God gets mad at Moses and wants him dead.  Moses almost dies in this chapter. Zipporah comes to the rescue.  Her quick thinking saved his life.  This is strange.  What did Moses do that was so bad? Why was Zipporah mad at Moses? Why God was mad at Moses?

Why did God want to kill Moses?  God appeared to Moses in a burning bush.  He spoke to him by name.  He gave him a job to do. Moses argued with him but finally agreed to do the job.  Moses is obedient to God.  He back to Egypt with the staff of God in his hand.  He goes back with the blessing and power of God.

On the way back, they get tired and stop for the night at a Days Inn (4:24) and God wants to kill him.  God had said that if Pharaoh does not let his people go, he would kill his firstborn son (4:23) and in the very next verse he almost kills Moses (4:24).  Before God was conversing with Moses as a friend but now he came against him as an enemy, as Matthew Henry said.   Why?

We do not have all the facts on this incident.  We have to do a little speculation here.  We have to make a bunch of inferences.  We know that Moses had more than one son at this point (4:20).  Two are mentioned by name.  The oldest son was Gershom (2:22).

The younger son was Eliezer (18:2-4).  Apparently, Moses circumcised his first son but he did not circumcise his second son Gershom.  We know this because Moses had two sons but only one was said not to be circumcised.

Why didn’t he circumcise him?  This is speculation again but he probably did not do it because his wife didn’t like it.  Moses did not marry a Hebrew woman.  He married a Midianite woman.

She had a slightly different culture.  The Midianites practiced circumcision but they did it at manhood, not birth. She may have thought the practice was barbaric.  She probably thought to herself, “What kind of a God would require you to cut a baby?”

Then on the way back Moses got really sick.  The text does not say it but we can infer it.  He almost died.  He almost died because he did not circumcise his second son and how he is too weak to do it, so Zipporah has to do it.

If she did not step in and circumcise her son, God was going to kill her husband.  She was forced to do something that she did not want to do in the first place.

She circumcised her son but she was angry about it.  She was mad at Moses.  We can tell that by her words and by her actions.  She called him “a bloody husband” and throws the foreskin at his feet (4:25).  It is almost as if she said, “You wanted me to do this.  You made me do this.  Here is the foreskin. Take it.”

Lessons from a Painful Circumcision

1) No marriage is perfect

Even the marriage of bible giants had problems.  This section brings gives us an inside look into the marriage of Moses and Zipporah.  Their marriage was no different from marriages today.  They had some arguments in their marriage.

They had one on circumcision.  Zipporah was furious with her husband.  She was so mad, she took the sons back to Midian after this happened.  This is another inference.  We are not told that she did this but in Exodus 18:2-3 we are told she was sent back home.

Moses apparently gave in to his wife. Moses could stand up against Pharaoh but he could not stand up against his own wife. He might have been intimidated by his wife.  Moses and Zipporah argued about circumcision and then Moses gave in. Zipporah got her way.

He wanted to keep peace in the home.  He may not have thought the practice was that important. He may not have thought the practice was that important.

It was just a religious ritual.  He may have thought “I can give in to my wife because it is really not that important and no one will see it anyway.  God looked on this a little differently.  To Him, it was a big deal.

Genesis 17:11-14 says, “both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 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.”

2) God judges believers when they sin.

He did not just Pharaoh, he judged Moses.  He judges Ananias and Sapphira.  They were killed for lying.  The Apostle Paul says that some believers who live in unconfessed sin get sick and some die (I Corinthians 11:30).  Of course, He does not do this all of the time or there would be very few people in church.

3) It is possible to obey God in one part of your life but not in another part

Moses obeyed God in one area of his life, his ministry.  He was heading to Egypt to lead the Jews out.  He disobeyed God in another area of his life.  He did not circumcise his son.  Moses learned some deep lessons in the backside of the desert for forty years.  He learned another important lesson at this inn.

4) We cannot be a spiritual leader unless we are a leader in our home.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (I Timothy 3:5 NIV). Moses failed to lead in his home.  It almost disqualified him from ministry.

It almost disqualified him from being Israel’s leader. He was the head of the family. He didn’t do it and God held him responsible.  He did not hold his wife.  Moses was the one who almost died.  It almost cost him his life and his ministry.

Moses is called to lead the Jews out of Egypt to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant and circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant.  He could not be a leader of the Jews and not circumcise his kids.

5) Christ must be first in our life.

The problem is that he put his wife ahead of the Lord, just as Eli honored his sons above God (I Samuel 2:29).  Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

That applies to loving a husband or wife more than Jesus.  We have to put Christ first in our life.  Moses put Zipporah first.

The Meeting with Pharaoh

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” (5:1-4 ESV)

Now this was interesting.  No one could be more sure of God’s will for their life than Moses and Aaron.  They were God’s men with God’s message.  God was with them and had the power of God to prove it.

They begin their ministry right and fell right on their face.  Where was God?  They did not expect to get the response that they got.  We know that from what Moses says at the end of the chapter.

Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” (4:22-23)

We think that God is working when things are going great.  When everything was going bad here, Moses was right in the center of God’s will. In fact, God said this would happen.  He predicted it (3:19; 4:21) but Moses did not hear those words, like the disciples did not hear the words that Jesus would die on the cross.

We could call them “the dumb disciples” but we do the same thing today.  When we become a Christian, we are on fire and full of joy but when problems come we forget that Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble”.

What did Moses and Aaron say?  Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go. He did NOT say, “Let the Hebrews go”.  He did NOT say, “Let YOUR people go”.

He said, “Let MY People go”. They were His people, not Pharaoh’s people.  Pharaoh viewed these slaved as his property.  Let my people go.  It is one of the most prominent sayings from the Bible and it always taken out of context.

Many see this just as a great anti-slavery passage.  No one ever quotes the rest of the verse. Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”  It is not just about freedom from slavery.  It is about worship of the true God.

They did not say, “We need some time off.  We do not just need a vacation.  They said, “We need some time off to worship our God.” Moses is not just a freedom fighter.  He is a religious reformer.

The message of Moses and Aaron was AUTHORITATIVE.  It was a message from God. They do not say “It would be a good idea if you do this. We do not just ask.  God demands it of you.” It was not a request but a command.  This was God’s word to a pagan king.  It was God’s message to a powerful king.  Pharaoh was the most powerful man on earth at that time.

It was INSPIRED.  They didn’t speak their own ideas. They said “Thus says the Lord”.  It was the first time in the Bible we see those words.  Those were the words of a prophet in Scripture.

It was REASONABLE.  He does not ask Pharaoh to permanently release and free all of the Hebrew slaves.  He just asks for three days off to worship.   Even slaves should have the freedom to worship.  It is a human right.  This is where the battle begins.

Let’s look at Pharaoh’s response. “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”  You have to understand what is really going on here.

This was a conflict between two sovereigns.  This was not a conflict between Moses and Pharaoh.  It was a conflict between God and Pharaoh. Pharaoh was used to thinking he was god. Pharaoh was not just a political figure in ancient Egypt.

He was a religious figure as well.  He grew up believing he was a deity.  He was worshiped by people.  He was a “god-king” (son of the Egyptian god Ra).  In fact the word ra was the sun god in ancient Egypt.  Ra is in the word “Pharaoh”.  He was the incarnate sun god.  He regarded himself as the Lord.

He was the top dog in Egypt.  There was no one above him.  He was used to giving orders to other people.  His word was absolute.  Now, someone is commanding him and telling him to do something.  It is the Lord. Pharaoh did not acknowledge an authority above him.  He does not take orders from poor slaves and he says, “I don’t know your god”.

Characteristics of a Hard Heart

There is a disease called atherosclerosis.  It is a medical condition called hardening of the arteries. They have clogged arteries. It does not happen overnight.  It takes time but it can be deadly.

It can kill people.  It causes heart attacks and strokes.  Some people have spiritual atherosclerosis. Sin hardens people’s hearts.  Many who do not have physical heart disease have spiritual heart disease.

Are you like Pharaoh?  Pharaoh is a picture of many people today who are.  hardened to God and to the things of God. Pharaoh had a hard heart.  Are we like Pharaoh?  What are the symptoms?  We see some of them here. We see some characteristics of a hard heart here.

1. A hard heart is arrogant.

He answered “Thus says the Lord” with “Thus says Pharaoh” (5:10).  He said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him?”  Pharaoh was not an atheist. He does not say, “Who is God that I should obey him?” Egypt is a land of many, many gods.  His land was full of gods.  There were temples to gods everywhere all over Egypt.

In fact, Pharaoh thought that he was a god but he claimed to know absolutely nothing about the God of Moses or Aaron.  He did not know their God. He did not believe in their God or fear their God.

It describes many people today. It is a dangerous ignorance.  It is the kind of person who says today “I do not believe the God of the Bible exists but if He does I am not afraid of him.” I work with a man who says that.

One preacher called this question Who is the Lord? “The dumbest question ever asked in the history of mankind”[1]  He is the one who created the world and will determine our eternal destiny. Pharaoh set himself up against the most powerful being in the universe.

Pharaoh says, “Who is the Lord?”  He claims not to know Yahweh.  God is going to send ten plagues on Egypt so he will know exactly who he is.  He will find out who God is through these plagues.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth (9:13-14 ESV)

2. A hard heart mocks God’s Word.

He does not just reject God’s message, he ridicules it.  He slanders it.  He calls it “lying words” (5:9).  He slander’s God’s Word and God’s people.  He calls the Jews lazy (5:17).  He questions their motives. People who scoff at the Bible and Christianity are people with hard hearts.  A hard heart takes the truth and calls it error. It calls it myths and lies.

3. A hard heart is vindictive.

Not only is he not going to let them go, he is going to punish them for even asking the question.  He is revengeful.  A hard heart persecutes and enslaves God’s people.  A hard heart does not have a drop of compassion.

5. A hard heart is irrational.

He tells them to make bricks without straw.  That is impossible.  He commands them to do a job without giving them the resources to do it. He gives an order which does not even make any sense.

He wants the slaves to do a job but will not give them what they need to do it but still expects the job to be done and then punishes people for not doing it.  A hard heart is not open to reason.  It is completely irrational.

6. A hard heart is defiant to God.

I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”  God says, “Let my people go”.  Pharaoh says “I will not”.  It is a flat denial.  A hard heart is defiant to God.  It resists authority, especially God’s authority. People still do this today.  We all have a choice.  The question is, “who is the boss in your life?”  Do we let God run our life or do we run it?  Who is Lord of our life?

How many people do we know who say, “I know what God says about something but I am going to do what I want”.  It does not seem to matter if the Bible is clear.  There may be an explicit command on a topic but they reject that command to do what they want to do.

Zechariah says, “And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts.” (7:8-12)



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