12. Hebrew Worship: The God Who Kills

I knew things were not going well for me at that job and I was a little concerned, but I was quite shocked when I was abruptly fired.  I had not been there very long and had no idea how tolerant or intolerant my boss was of my growth curve.  Apparently his fuse was shorter than my ignorance and incompetence.

Kids tend to be much smarter than I was.  They can usually psyche out their parents and know whether “Johnny, come here” means “Move fast” or “Wait for two more commands.”

Figuring out God is quite another matter.  First of all, He tends to have a very long fuse.  After listing more than 600 rules for the Hebrews, He cut to the core of the matter and said, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  Exodus 34:6  NIV

But when He comes to the end of His mercy, it is not pretty.

He put up with the Amorite iniquity in Canaan for well over 400 years, but when He was done, He required them to be eradicated.  We don’t know how long He put up with sodomy in Canaan, but when He was done, He was quite done.  He put up with Judah’s iniquity for centuries, but when He was done, they went to Babylon, no matter what the false prophecies were.  And He will put up with mankind as a whole, but when the Tribulation is scheduled, it will happen.

Against this backdrop, we have the challenging story of Moses.  God called him to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, then while he and his family were at a motel on the way there, in obedience to the command of the Lord, God met him and attempted to kill him (Exodus 4).

At issue was Moses’ failure to circumcise his two sons.  The circumstances seem to suggest that he had failed to do it when they were born because his non-Hebrew wife didn’t care to see her babies bloodied up for the sake of some other religion’s preferences.

When God was so savage toward Moses, Zipporah had to do it on the spot in order to save Moses’ life, and she was furious over it.  In fact, it seems to have broken their marriage irretrievably.  She took the boys and went home while he went on to Egypt.

He connected with them again after the Exodus, but shortly thereafter, he picked up a second wife, which suggests that the reconnection with his first wife didn’t work very well.

Still . . . kill Moses because he failed to circumcise his sons?  Maybe a bit harsh, God?

I have a theory.  Or two.

On the surface, one explanation could be that God was dealing with the fear of man.  For Moses to be the leader God needed, he could not be looking over his shoulder wondering what anyone else was going to say.  In the matter of a few short days, the elders of Israel would celebrate him as a savior and then reject him as an inept mess-maker.

In the face of national rejection, Moses needed to be able to stay on task and look only at God.

So, God may have set this situation up to show Moses how intensely God feels about people who defer to other people when God has given a clear command.  This played out with his wife, since that is one of the weakest spots for men.   God made it clear that the biggest danger his future kings were going to face was pressure from their wives.  God feared that facet of the culture – the wives of the kings – more than all of the outside conflict.

It is easy to apply that lesson to all of us.  Fear of man has most likely cost just about all of the readers of this blog some point of authority somewhere along the way.  Now, as then, fear of man does little to enhance the effectiveness of a Noble Subject of the Great King.

Let’s broaden the lesson though.  My other theory is that every single one of us has a specific lesson we need to learn deeply, early on in our lives, before our whole life story is in play.  He takes each one of us to the wall in an emotionally ripping situation to position us for success later on.

The situation in question is usually extremely exaggerated.  I can’t find any other place in Scripture where God came personally and threatened to kill a man if his wife did not circumcise his kids on the spot.  In fact, quite the opposite.  God allowed an entire generation to spurn the issue until Gilgal.

But, for the issue that will be THE issue in our life, God puts us in a savagely yanking situation early on to anchor some truth.

For me, it is the issue of “Let history be your judge.”  Early on there was that infamous kangaroo court where church leadership decided I was persona non grata because I believed Christians could have a demon, and I believed that I could actually kick the (non-existent) demon out of them.

At the time, I felt deeply betrayed by God because He did not come through and vindicate me in any of the ways I thought He could, or should, and He let me experience that profound injustice.

Once I was spurned by that group, God promptly took me to a highly demonized place and had me begin doing more deliverance in more extreme ways than anything I had ever done before.  He gave me good success.  I learned a lot.  And still I pondered the “abandonment” back in the day.  It was clear God believed in me and in my theology, but He didn’t defend me when I needed it.

Today, that theological issue is laughable.  While the specific church in question still holds that view, Christendom as a whole has shifted massively toward understanding the need for deliverance.  And not only has Christendom pivoted on the issue, but I am flooded with requests (which I don’t take) for ministry for deliverance from demons.  My vindication has been quite a bit more extravagant than is comfortable for me.

But it took about ten years to come.

Today the whole story makes sense to me.  That was hardly the last time God has called me to announce a truth from Scripture and to be widely rejected for it, then to become the official standard carrier for that concept sometime later.  Cycles of medium term rejection are pretty much de rigueur for me.  The only question is who I offended with which issue this week.

But having gone through the fire back then and having established the fact that God confirms His presence with me through power, not popularity, none of the subsequent rejections, which have usually been much more intense, have caused me the pain of that first one.

In retrospect, the kangaroo court was really stupid.  The people, the logic, the accusation, the theology, the pettiness – simply ridiculous for grown up people to act that way in the name of God.

But God allowed that first fire early on in order to anchor me in walking forward, regardless of whether anyone approves or not.  “Let history be your judge.”

So today we will worship the God who deliberately hurts you strategically in a dry run, before you hurt yourself permanently in a must-win battle in life.

12. Hebrew Worship: The God Who Kills

Copyright September 2015 by Arthur Burk

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  1. Megan Caldecourt says

    Talk about a different frame to put on things! And a whole new area to express gratitude to God.


  2. says

    Wow. This so hit home, gave me an explanation that I have been desperately looking for, as well as the correction I needed. A constant question of why the pattern of rejection and abandonment has followed me. I wanted to be accepted. I know now that I don’t need the answer because the answer to that is their problem. I just need to be acceptable to God. Sometimes I’m wrong and He corrects me. Sometimes I’m right and still found unacceptable by people. He said He would never abandon me or forsake me. That is enough. Thank you for being so open with your life, it so helps to know that someone else has been there.


  3. Beth says

    When David numbered the people, two different passages give two different Prime Movers as the inciting factor:

    “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” (i Chron. 21:1) and

    “And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1)

    We know God does not tempt people to evil, per James 1:13: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”

    Is it possible that the writer attributes this interruption to God, when it was actually Satan?

    If He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and Jesus IS the fulfillment of the law, seen in a way inconceivable to the OT people; if John 10:10 is true (“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”), then does it make sense that He chose Moses and then suddenly went all schizo?

    It makes sense to me that a pagan woman would know how to appease a legalistic pagan entity. It does not makes sense to me that God became a death-dealer.


  4. Bonnie Meyer says

    I have always seen it as a covenant issue of who you will align with. Men were as to be circumcised in an outward way. The woman/Church is to circumcise your heart, which is an internal issue. Hence the rebuke for Sarah when she laughed internally. Even though Abraham had said the same thing outwardly. For Zipporah, how could they go forward in covenant without the sign of the covenant, and so she fulfilled the sign when her husband had failed to or was unwilling to identify with the covenant of the Hebrews and not just the God of the Hebrews. So as I look at the church there are signs of the covenant that have not been fulfilled in her that limits us corporately in our usefulness to the Lord until our obedience is complete.


    • says

      I hear your words, Bonnie, but it just doesn’t hold true that they could not go forward without the sign of the covenant because and entire generation in the desert walked with God and experienced the blessings of the covenant without the sign of the covenant. So clearly the sign of the covenant is always desirable in the eyes of God, but there is a bigger picture here as to why He enforces it intermittently.


  5. Patricia Lawson. says

    Stunning and timely for the situation I faced 2 years ago and which is about to be raised this afternoon prior to a new way forward with the same people. I was told back then I had to change m theology (which I refused) and I have been out of that church since then. However, a new minister has come and is coming to see me this afternoon. He is ex-army chaplain decorated for bravery for going into all the dangerous areas with the men. It will be interesting. Thanks Arthur.