Text for the Week: Protecting God’s Firstborn

Scripture: Exodus 4:21-31

21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power, but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son. 23 I said to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son.’ ”

24 On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met him and tried to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, touched his feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went, and he met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him and all the signs with which he had charged him. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 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.

Theme- Before Moses can intercede for God’s people he must completely identify with God’s people


  1. What does it means that God will harden Pharaoh’s heart?
  2. Who is the one being attacked in vv24-26 Moses or his son Gershom?’
  3. Why is God attacking Moses’ family on the way back to Egypt?
  4. How is it that Aaron is able to leave Egypt and meet Moses on God’s mountain?

Helpful Information

Related Texts: Jeremiah 3, Psalm 2, Acts 4,Colossians 1, Hebrews 1

Verses 24-26 are vague about who is God “tried to kill” it could be either Moses or his son Gershom.

The language of verse 24 is that God “sought to kill”, this is the same language used of Pharaoh’s attitude toward Moses in verse 19. It does not inherently mean trying to kill but having a desire.

There is a thematic tie between vv 21-23 and vv 24-26 around the importance of the firstborn son.

Aaron met Moses at the Mountain of God, presumably this is Horeb/Sinai, which indicates that this event happened prior to vv 21-26 when Moses is traveling back to Egypt from Midian

For my video on the background to the text click here


God has rebuffed Moses’ objections to going back to Egypt and freeing the Hebrews, and now he is set on going back. One more time God visits Moses this time presumably at his father-in-law’s house rather than the mountain and reminds Moses of his calling. Here he adds one detail about Israel that has not yet come up- Israel is God’s firstborn son. One of the curious themes o the Bible to this point is that the true firstborn son has not yet inherited the blessing God has intended for the family. From Adam through Joseph’s son’s no firstborn son has been elevated, instead it has always been a younger son. Yet, throughout much of history there has been a special place reserved for the firstborn, particularly the firstborn son. This son was supposed to inherit the father’s blessing and possessions as the one who would lead the family in the future. Consistently this concept has been undermined in the one family tasked with continuing God’s blessing. I think part of the reason that Ishmael, Esau, and Rueben were overlooked comes out in this verse, no biological firstborn was to claim the blessing because it was a symbol of how the whole people act as God’s firstborn. The true firstborn was denied the right of inheritance so that son would not be able to dominate over his brothers who were to have the same status as God’s firstborn.

God is now sending Moses to Pharaoh not simply to find worshippers, God can find those in the rocks, but to reclaim the most valuable member of the household. Moses’ job is to recover the one who will inherit creation as the heir of God’s estate. This is a powerful metaphor for us because it shows just how much God cares about those who are identified as God’s people. It is quite easy to overlook this relationship in the text of scripture and simply view God as a distant sovereign who rules divine subjects. But this line reminds us that such a metaphor for God is very limited because it lacks the family intimacy which God desires for us. Israel’s liberation is person to God because Israel is part of God’s household and needs to be restored.

The intimacy God desires for Israel comes into the next paragraph which can be for many one of the most difficult scenes in the Bible. As Moses’ family is traveling back to Egypt God becomes angry and we are told “desired to kill him”. We are not told whether the “him” in question is Moses or his son Gershom, however we are told it is because Moses has not circumcised his son. This might seem an overreaction to us, but circumcision was the defining element of God’s covenant with Abraham’s descendant’s. By not circumcising Gershom, Moses is leaving his own firstborn son outside the covenant between God and Abraham. How is Moses supposed to intercede for Israel if he does not care enough to enter into the covenant. Given this I think it is best to understand that God desired to kill Gershom; but not out of rage or hostility but as an object lesson to Moses. Much like what will happen later in the story when God confronts Pharaoh, Moses is confronted with the death of his own firstborn as a way of revealing to him how much Israel means to God. Moses is forced to either fully integrate into the covenant or sacrifice his firstborn, and though this is a gruesome decision for Moses, it also points out how important it is to fully connect to God’s people. To this point Moses has never fully identified with the Hebrews, now if he is going to continue he will fully commit to Israel or God will take away the parts Moses withholds.

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