If there was ever a man who appeared to be indispensable to God’s purposes in the Old Testament, it was Moses. After an 80-year preparation process, God appeared to Moses in a supernatural encounter, gave him miraculous powers, and commissioned Him to lead God’s people out of bondage (Exodus 3 & 4). He went on to prophesy the plagues of Egypt, part the Red Sea, receive the Ten Commandments, habitually speak with God face to face, and perform many other incredible works. He was God’s greatest ambassador since Abraham and it is doubtful whether there has been another quite like him since.


And yet, just after his commission, before he even reached Egypt, God was ready to put Moses to death. Why? What could Moses possibly have done to provoke such anger? Moses failed as a father. Exodus 4:24-26 says:


“Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, ‘You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.’ So He let him alone.”


God sought to put Moses to death because he had not circumcised his son, Gershom. But was God really concerned about Gershom’s foreskin? No, this was about something deeper. Moses’ outward negligence pointed to the fact that he did not spiritually circumcise Gershom. He was not an engaged father. (Moses himself taught that outward circumcision points to having a circumcised heart in Deuteronomy 30:6.) This is an incredible reminder of the value God places on family. Even though millions of people were going to be affected by Moses’ ministry, God almost ended it before it even began because of his failure in this one crucial area.


This may seem like a strategically foolish move by God unless we realize this key concept: Moses’ call to fatherhood was the foundation of his authority. Look at what God said to him immediately before almost putting him to death (in verses 22-23):


“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.’’”


Notice how God framed everything He was planning to do through Moses in the context of fatherhood. Israel was God’s firstborn son. Pharaoh would refuse to let God’s firstborn son go free. Therefore, God would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son.


This is why fatherhood was the foundation of Moses’ authority as Israel’s deliverer. How could Moses honestly identify with the Father’s love for His firstborn son, Israel, if he was not even fathering his own firstborn son? How could Moses feel compassion and brokenness when he told Pharaoh his hard heart would cost him the life of his firstborn son, and countless other Egyptian sons, if he was not fathering his own firstborn son?


The apostle Paul affirmed the vital connection between fatherhood and ministry in 1 Timothy 3:5, saying, …if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” The only thing that saved Moses was his wife Zipporah intervening and fulfilling his responsibility for him. She saw that Moses’ negligence was about to cost him his life. She also saw what it was doing to Gershom. The fact that she circumcised Gershom, I believe, indicates that she also took it upon herself to spiritually circumcise him.


Moses’ Troubled Marriage

The Bible seems to draw a contrast between Moses’ relationship with Zipporah and his relationship with Zipporah’s father Jethro. Moses treated Jethro with respect. When God commanded Moses to go to Egypt, he asked for Jethro’s permission. By contrast, all scripture says about Zipporah’s role in this decision is: “So Moses took his wife and sons and mounted them on a donkey, and returned to the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 4:20) Zipporah was made to take her children, leave her home and her family, move to a new nation, and it appears she wasn’t even consulted in the decision. On top of this, Moses was so consumed with his divine mandate that he neglected to be a father. It wasn’t long before Zipporah separated from Moses and took their children.


Later, in Exodus 18, Jethro brought Zipporah and the children to visit Moses in the wilderness. Again, Moses treated Jethro with great respect. He bowed down before him and shared everything the Lord had done in Egypt. He also listened to Jethro’s counsel to delegate some of his responsibilities and stop taking on so much. By contrast, it is unclear whether Zipporah was even willing to see Moses. Nothing in scripture indicates that Moses treated Zipporah as a partner or valued her input.


God entrusted Moses with immense responsibility outside his home. Unfortunately, he allowed the weight of it to dominate his life and he became unavailable to the ones who needed him most. If Moses had been intentional to invest in his family, I believe he would have found in Zipporah a wise, loving partner who could help bear his burdens. God gave Moses a helper, but instead he tried to do it alone.


It is well worth noting that Moses never fulfilled the greatest part of calling – leading Israel into the promise land (Numbers 20:12). Perhaps if he had been more open to Zipporah’s input, this would not have been the case. Perhaps he would have dealt more fully with his anger problem so that it didn’t resurface and disqualify him (Numbers 20:12). Perhaps he would have seen the wisdom of delegating some of his responsibilities to other leaders sooner so he didn’t exhaust himself (Exodus 18:14). With Zipporah’s and his children’s refining influence, perhaps Moses would have enjoyed a much longer, more glorious rule over Israel – especially since his eyes had not dimmed and his strength had not abated, even at 120 years old (Deuteronomy 34:7).


We Can Learn From Moses’ Failures

Moses is one of the greatest saints in history, but he was not a perfect man. His mistakes are recorded in scripture for our sake, so we can learn from them. Does God take a father’s responsibility to spiritually circumcise his children seriously? You bet He does. Is a great spiritual leader immune to destroying his marriage by not treating his wife as a partner? Or by taking on too much outside his home so that he can’t be a present husband and father? Clearly not.


Other than our 1-on-1 relationship with God, nothing is more foundational to a man’s life and ministry than his inside-the-home calling. If a man fails to lead his first disciples – his wife and children – can he really call his ministry a success? Just as God framed Moses’ mandate in the context of fatherhood, how we steward our relationships inside the home is the foundation for our authority outside the home. If we impact millions for Christ, but fail with those closest to us, we fail with the more significant part.


What if Jesus had only ministered to the multitudes, but didn’t devote himself to spiritually fathering the disciples and the women who were closest to Him? Most of the fruit of His ministry would have been lost since they were the ones who would carry His legacy forward for generations to come. The same is true of us. Our greatest eternal fruit is borne out of our closest relationships – family members and those we father or mother spiritually. Even though Moses failed with biological sons, he at least became a spiritual father to Joshua, who carried Moses’ mantle into the Promise Land. 



Some of the Bible’s most powerful lessons and warnings about raising children can be seen in Isaac and Rebekah’s lives. What are they? We’ll cover them in the next chapter.