The Cleansing of the Instrument
Exodus 4:4-31

Whenever a person sets out to walk with God, life may be filled with surprises. God will feel free to intervene in
any part of life at any time that pleases Him. The strange little incident that we have before us is an example of

Moses is on his way to Egypt in obedience to God. He has made a visit with his father-in-law in which he received
the blessing of Jethro. He journeys toward Egypt with his wife Zipporah and their two children. When they stop
for the night on their journey at some unnamed inn, God confronts Moses and imposes a deadly illness upon
him. It is not until Zipporah has reluctantly circumcised their son that the deadly illness is lifted from him. Many
have wondered about this story—why would God seek to kill this man that He has just called and commissioned
to go to Egypt and to deliver His people. Why did this incident not take place before God met him at the burning
bush? While we will probably not find answers to all of our questions, we can easily receive the lessons that are
to be learned by this encounter between Moses and the God of Israel.

The lessons embodied in this incident are timeless. They are applicable to all of us who are committed to
knowing and doing the will of God with our lives. The bottom line in this incident seems to be that the instrument
God has chosen to use in the deliverance of His people from Egypt must be cleansed before God can use it.
There is a part of Moses’ life that needs a serious adjustment. Could there a part of your life in need of such an
The divine order is followed in the case of Moses. God usually calls a man before He is fully prepared for the
task God has assigned him. While Moses had been prepared by training in the schools of Egypt, and by looking
after the flocks of Jethro, there are still matters in his spiritual life to be addressed. So God stops his journey
toward Egypt until this matter is addressed. Some of us could share testimonies of painful meetings with God in
which we were more perfectly prepared to fulfil His calling upon our lives.

1.        Cleansing from omissions in obedience.
The confrontation with Moses was not about some glaring transgression of the moral law of God, or some
debilitating habit that had become a part of his life in a crippling way. Rather it had to do with a duty omitted.
Even though he was a circumcised descendent of Abraham, circumcised on the eighth day by his father, he
neglected to circumcise his son. This will be a glaring problem when he goes to Egypt to lead the people out of
Egypt. It will give them a basis to question his full commitment to the covenant God had made with Abraham. It
also reflects a lack of full appreciation for the significance and importance of the covenant in the life of the nation.

We do not say enough about sins of omission. This incident is a reminder to us that God counts them as serious
matters. Each sin of omission involves disobedience to God. Moses was very familiar with the instructions that
God had given to Abraham concerning circumcision. Whoever was not circumcised would be cut off from the
fellowship of the people of God—they would have no part in the covenant with Abraham. This omission on the
part of Moses put his son in serious jeopardy spiritually.

Are there omissions that God may have to address in your life before you can be used in His service? It is not
unusual for God to call someone who still has areas of their lives that need to be cleansed—they are often
matters of disobedience. You may have been negligent in matters of stewardship. God has called many a
person who had to learn the joy of tithing after their call. It may involve your devotional life. God had to teach me
the discipline of a devotional life after He had called me into ministry. It may be faithfulness in witnessing—I had
to learn this after I was called into ministry. The principle we are observing is that usually cleansing follows calling.

2.        Cleansing from wrong priorities in relationships.
Why had Moses neglected the circumcision of his son? Evidently it was because of the objection of his wife.
While her father was a wise and good man, her family did not practice circumcision. She evidently saw it as an
unnecessary act of violence against an innocent child. We gather this from the way that she reacted to the
circumcision of her son. Even though she personally took the sharp stone knife and cut away the foreskin of her
son as Moses instructed her, she did it under protest. When she had cut away the foreskin, she threw it down at
the feet of her sick husband and called him a “bloody bridegroom”. This was another way of labeling him as a
man of violence. Moses had allowed the objections of his wife to keep him from obedience to the Lord. While a
man should be concerned about the feelings of his wife, he must not allow her feelings to keep him from faithfully
doing the will of the Lord. Our relationship with the Lord must take priority over every other relationship in life.
Having the relationship with the Lord correct should enrich every other relationship of the Lord in time.

We should learn from this the importance of marrying someone who shares our commitment to God. Zipporah
was not a Hebrew. She was a stranger to the faith of Israel. This probably explains her reluctance to see her little
boy circumcised. It made no sense to her. The young among us should learn from this—find a mate for marriage
who shares your heart for God. It will save you much pain later.

This is an area of life that the Lord will have to correct or cleanse in the life of many that have been called. He
does not wait for us to have every relationship in order, but rather will work in the life of those He has called to
bring about cleansing. In the case of Moses He did it by imposing upon him a life-threating illness. How has God
done this in your life?

Moses probably was kept from performing the circumcision by his illness. This would ordinarily have been the
father’s responsibility, but under these dire circumstances Zipporah had to do it.  
Many of us would be prone to react to this matter with some skepticism. Surely God would not take such a small
matter so seriously—but He does. He is very thorough in the process.

1.        The bigger the responsibility—the greater the thoroughness of the cleansing.
Moses was not being called to some small task. He has received one of the greatest assignments that God has
ever entrusted to a mortal man. He is to be the leader for about two million Hebrew people presently enslaved in
Egypt. He is to bring them out of Egypt in freedom from the bondage the Pharaoh has placed upon them. He is
to challenge the gods of Egypt to a battle in the name of the Lord God of Israel. He is to guide them under divine
direction into the land that the Lord has promised to them. He will embody all of the expectations of the Lord as
he walks in and out among the people. Surely no known omission or disobedience can be tolerated in his life.
Too much is at stake!

James states this principle in the New Testament when it relates to pastors or teachers in the church. “Not many
of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more
strictly.” (James 3:1) This does not mean that God will tolerate more disobedience in the life of those who fill
lesser known positions in the work, but it does mean that the higher the calling the greater the degree of
cleansing that God will exact. So if God seems to be dealing more harshly with you than with someone else, it
may be that he has greater things in mind for you.

2.        Any defilement of conscience can be a big hindrance in the work of the Lord.
Moses could not plead ignorance in this matter. He knew what his duty was as a son of Abraham. Doubtlessly
there were times when it bothered him. He knew that it was not right to give in to his wife in this matter. God knew
that this one little violation of conscience could cost him a strategic victory at some critical moment in the years
ahead. So God forced him to deal with it, to cleanse his conscience before he stood before the elders of Israel
or the Pharaoh in his court.

This is the reason that Paul so often bore witness to his “pure conscience”. I wish I could make the same claims
that this beloved apostle made:
Acts 23:1
1        And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience
before God until this day.   

Acts 24:16
16        And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward
Moses was not ready until his conscience had been cleansed in this one small matter of disobedience. Is God
confronting you at the point of something that defiles your conscience? You should deal with it now before God
has to confront you at a deeper level.

Cleansing may not come easily to life. Whenever we get into a pattern of disobedience as adults, it will usually
take a crisis to shake us out of it. This was true in the case of Moses. We can learn from his experience.
1.        It may come through physical pain.
We are not told the nature of the illness that came upon Moses—only that it was life threatening. Evidently both
Moses and Zipporah thought it was the end of his life if something was not done. It was an illness that came upon
him from the hand of God for the purpose of cleansing him. Doubtlessly God had given other indications to
Moses that he needed to get this part of his life in order, but Moses had ignored them. The all-wise God knew
what it would take to get his attention so he sent this affliction upon him.

Some of us could give testimony to some experience in which we were cleansed, or led to cleansing by some
painful experience of illness. Our usefulness to the Lord is so important that He will use any means necessary to
bring us to it. You will have reason to thank God for those painful encounters. Think of what the world would
have missed if Moses had not been cleansed through this painful experience. This was a very profitable illness
for both Moses and the people of Israel, not to mention those who still benefit from the life he lived and the work
he did.

2.        It may come through emotional pain.
Evidently this experience led to a decision by either Moses or Zipporah. Either Moses decided it would better to
go to Egypt without her, or she decided that she did not want to go. It was more likely the former, given the way
things were in the world at that time. However, human nature being what it is, she may have decided to just go
home to her father. There is no reference to this in the text, but she is not mentioned until her father brings her
to meet Moses after they have left Egypt and they are on their way to Mount Sinai. This had to hurt! Moses must
have longed for the companionship of his wife and children during those trying days in Egypt. Going home to the
support of a family at the end of trying day can be a lifesaver, but Moses went home to an empty house. This
was a part of the price of cleansing. It may be costly.

The Lord did send him Aaron to be his fellow-laborer in the work, but a brother is never an adequate substitute
for your wife and children.

Is God working in your life in a cleansing way? Is He preparing you as an instrument to be used in some kingdom
assignment? Do not resist what He is doing. Rather move as quickly as possible to correct whatever needs
correction. God is about big stuff in this world and He needs cleansed and usable instruments. Will you invite the
Lord to so cleanse you that you will be more useable vessel or instrument in His hand?