2015 Servant Team Retreat - Leadership Lessons from the Life of Moses

Moses on the Way to Egypt

Exodus 4:24-26

Teaching t13239


After God calls Moses and before he gets to Egypt, God initiates an encounter with Moses at their camp-site (read passage).

This is a highly compressed text. Therefore it contains some ambiguities:

Was God really intending to kill Moses, or is this observational language? How did God communicate this – sickness, seizure, attacking? More importantly, why is God doing this to the man He just chose to lead His people?

How should we understand Zipporah’s action and words – positively or negatively?

What is going on here, and what leadership lesson does it teach?


Circumcision was the required rite of the Abrahamic Covenant, signifying consecration to God and trust in God to keep His promises. Uncircumcised Jews were to be cut off from their people as covenant-breakers (Gen.17:14).

This seems to be parallel to an event 40 years later, recorded in Josh. 5:2-7. A whole generation of Israelite males hadn’t been circumcised during the wilderness wanderings. But then God commanded that they be circumcised before entering the Promised Land. He called on them be consecrated to Him to have His protection and empowering.

In the same way, Moses hadn’t circumcised his son even though he knew of this command. Why? Judging by Zipporah’s response, she (a Midianite) was against this practice, and Moses evidently compromised to keep peace with her.

But now God dramatically insists that he consecrate his household before He will empower him to confront Pharaoh and deliver Israel: “No further until you deal with this!”

Zipporah evidently complied reluctantly. Her response is almost certainly negative: “Your commitment to God has brought bloodshed into our household.”

God “let Moses alone” after he complied – He quit trying to kill him. More positively, God resumed His powerful support of Moses to confront Pharaoh and lead the Exodus.


On the one hand, this passage confirms that God elects us to leadership on the basis of His grace, not because of our righteousness. It’s not like this disobedience was a minor issue, or that it had just started. This is ongoing, serious compromise because of fear of man – yet God called Moses to be His leader knowing all about this. Later, God reminded Moses that His choice and support of his leadership was based on His mercy, not on Moses’ dedication (Ex.33:19). Paul applies this lesson to why God elects people to ministry roles (Rom.9:16), and also applies it to himself (1 Cor.15:9,10a).

Like Moses and Paul, God never elects us to leadership God because we are so holy or dedicated to Him. Hopefully, we are more sanctified than most of the people we lead. But like Moses, we have lots of sins and ongoing moral problems. Yet for His own reasons He calls us to lead anyway. This is God’s electing grace, which is just as amazing as (and more mysterious than) His saving grace! It is amazing that God chooses us and decides to lead His church through people as sinful and messed up as we are! Do you really believe this, or do you believe that God called you to lead because you’re more righteous than others? Is your appreciation of God’s gracious election of you increasing – or waning?

On the other hand, this passage teaches that God will require specific sanctification steps to progress as a leader. I’m talking about a specific sub-set of God’s discipline (Heb.12:6) and pruning (Jn.15:2b). And our response to these specific steps matters! What was at stake for Moses here? Apparently, he would not have been allowed to lead and deliver Israel if he had not responded to God’s insistence!

Robert Clinton calls these “integrity checks” which are a crucial aspect of God’s development of leaders.

“An integrity check is a test that God uses to evaluate intentions in order to shape character. This check is a springboard to an expanded sphere of influence. There are three parts to an integrity check: the challenge to consistency to inner convictions, the response to the challenge, and the resulting expansion of ministry.” (You can see all three aspects in this event.)

“Some do not pass integrity checks. (In 1Sam. 15) God told Saul to destroy the Amalekites utterly along with their possessions. Saul defeated them, but he didn’t destroy them or their possessions. He failed (this) check, but the real issue goes beyond obedience to the lack of integrity in Saul’s intentions.”

“Integrity testing is essential to a leader, especially in the early stages of ministry... An emerging leader who disregards this principle takes a great risk. Those who respond properly to integrity checks will move on in their leadership emergence.”

Can you think of other biblical examples of integrity checks?

As with Moses, God’s integrity checks often require taking specific stands for Him with our families vs. compromising our commitment to Him to keep peace in our families. This may be part of what Jesus means in Matt.10:37.

Maybe it is taking a stand with your parents (EXAMPLES).

Maybe (as with Moses here) it is taking a stand within your marriage (EXAMPLES). Some of us have frequent marital conflict over inconsequential annoyances and personal preferences, but are unwilling to engage in conflict over following the Lord.

Maybe it is taking a stand with your children – taking tough disciplinary stands (EXAMPLES), insistence on church involvement with minors vs. giving into their neglect for school or sports, confronting/not enabling carnal adult children, etc.

The principle here is Josh.24:31. We cannot make our family members follow the Lord, but we can obey how God wants us to stand for Him in our families. The requirement for elders in 1Tim.3:4,5 emphasizes the connection between church leadership and integrity in families matters, and implies the importance of passing integrity checks in this area.

Integrity checks often insist on a different response to a besetting sin. He may bear with a low level of acknowledgement or change in these for a long time. But when He calls for more seriousness about one of these and/or gives us specific steps to take, we need to cooperate with Him (MOSES’S MAN-PLEASING; PERSONAL EXAMPLE).

Integrity checks often insist on cooperating with God for deeper healing of past damage. He may bear with our repression and/or “survival strategies” for a long time. But when He calls on us to face them and take difficult healings steps, we need to cooperate with Him. I think this is one of the common sifting issues in the “middle mile” (EXAMPLES).

So integrity checks are a key part of our personal relationship with God! God works with each of us individually, so there is no formula on issues or timing. But when He puts His finger on something and says: “Take this stand,” or “Give this to Me,” or “Cooperate with Me in this way,” His empowering and the fruitfulness of your ministry may be on the line (maybe as a slow-leak; maybe as a dramatic blow-out)!

Are you in the midst of an integrity check? What does God want? How will you respond? Talk to another leader/worker about this! Determine before God to obey!

Have you failed a previous integrity check? This is not irredeemable, but there is usually some way you need to resolve this with the Lord (e.g., Peter after denying Christ). What do you need to do to resolve this? Is this another integrity check?

Is your spouse or disciple or co-leader in the midst of an integrity check? (QUALIFY: Reach this decision carefully and prayerfully.) How can you help them? Go to them, warn them about what is at stake, tell them you’re praying Lk.22:31,32 for them, exhort them to obey God, and encourage them that it is worth it!

Why did Moses have Zipporah circumcise their son? Probably because Moses was incapacitated by God - too sick, engaged in wrestling with God like Jacob, etc.

J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader (NavPress, 2012), p.50.

J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader, pp.53,54.

J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader, p.54.