The Learning & Turning Corner

Spiritual Instruction for Those Called to Restore Israel


Two Parables of the Restoration

Arye Powlison (1995)


We can learn much from the Scriptures about the return of the Jewish believer to the practice of the Law, for both the Law and the Prophets - and also the New Covenant - speak of it. 

Here are two pictures that were recorded for us (yes, for us - Rom. 15:4), so that we might profit by them.

Parable 1: Directed to the Gentile Church

The first one is an incident that happened when G-d sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver Israel from their bondage.  Many believers are perplexed by this strange story, because the Gentile church (and the Jewish believers who have been spiritually raised in the church) are not taught much concerning physical circumcision, its significance and its importance to the G-d of Israel.

Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Lord met him [Moses] 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.  At that time she said, "You are a bridegroom of blood" because of the circumcision.  (Exod. 4:24-26)

Why Should G-d care?

We see here that G-d for some reason was seeking to kill Moses, until his wife Zipporah circumcised their son; then He left him alone.  After a look at the context, we realize that no other motive is apparent for G-d to be attacking Moses than this -that he had not yet circumcised his son.  If it was because of his previous refusal to go back to Egypt, He should have attacked him earlier, and not when he was already on the way.

We then must ask: Why did G-d choose this time to force the issue, and not when the boy was nine days old?  The significance of this time is that Moses was on his way back to Egypt to free Israel from bondage.  While Moses was in exile with the Midianites, G-d did not make an issue of circumcision.  But now that Moses is going back to his people, G-d is more willing to put Moses to death, the man He had chosen in spite of his objections, rather than to allow him to free Israel without keeping the Covenant of Circumcision.

Why Should Zipporah Mind?

As the story is presented, Zipporah seemed to carry out the circumcision of her son only under Divine pressure, and only at the last possible moment.  Then her compliance was accompanied by a little name-calling in Moses' direction.

How did Moses and Zipporah know the reason for the attack?  We are not told, but we may assume that since Moses was a prophet, the Lord had showed it to him, and that he told Zipporah.  This would also explain why Zipporah's name-calling was directed at him.

If she circumcised her son with resentment after such revelation, she must have had a very strong revulsion to his being circumcised at all, which was surrendered to G-d only when He presented it to her as a life-and-death issue.

The Result for Moses

Apparently Moses had compromised for Zipporah's sake in not carrying out G-d's command to circumcise all sons of Abraham.  Why then did she end up performing the circumcision herself?  We must conclude that Moses was by that time too ill to do it.  He must have been bedridden as a result of the Lord's attack, and near death; that is why the Bible says that the Lord was seeking to put him to death.  We see, then, another example of Moses' great humility: not being willing to offend or hurt his wife by insisting, he was willing to die rather than circumcise his son against Zipporah's will, because it was so repulsive to her.

The Result for Zipporah

At some point after this incident and before the Exodus, Moses finally had to send Zipporah back to her father, and we are not told why or when; maybe the Israelites were too foreign for her.  They were not reunited until Jethro came to Moses at Mt. Sinai, bringing both her and the children with him.  There Jethro acknowledges the greatness of the Lord, the G-d of Israel, and makes a sacrificial feast for Moses and the elders.

What is G-d's Message to the Church?

Moses was only allowed to bring redemption to Israel after his wife Zipporah accepted circumcision.  This is a parable for the church. 

Zipporah was the daughter of Jethro, the priest of the Midianites, who were descended from Abraham; therefore she is a type of the Gentile believer who has grown up in the non-Jewish church.  Moses, who saw the Lord in the burning bush, is a type of the Jewish believer, who has seen Him on the cross.

Circumcision represents obedience to the Law, as it did for Paul (Rom. 2:25-27).  The Jewish and Gentile believers are going out to the world to free their enslaved Jewish brethren, according to the command of the Lord.  However, the Gentile believers are repelled by the Law, and strongly object to the Jewish believers observing it; and in order to keep peace, the Jewish believers do not, even when G-d begins to pressure them on it.

What the Gentile believers do not realize at first is that, even though their partner is chosen by G-d for his mission, G-d will bring death to the Jewish believer - to his identity as a Jew or possibly even his physical life - rather than allow him to bring spiritual life to Israel without the Law.  Even when Gentiles do realize it, and begin to support the Jewish partner's obedience, they will generally not feel completely comfortable.

Eventually there will be a split, and the Gentile "wife and her children" will be sent back to the church that does not accept circumcision for Jewish believers.  Maybe the Jewish partner's death to the world she knows, and his denial of self by taking on (what are for her) strange customs and obligations, will be too much for her.  They will only be reunited after salvation has come to Israel and they are beginning to walk with the Lord together.  The Gentile church will then be willing to come to Mt. Sinai, and they will share the Lord's Supper with the Jewish leadership in the Jewish framework.

Parable 2: Directed to the Jewish Remnant

The second picture comes just after Israel has crossed the Jordan by Jericho, before they begin to conquer the land:

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, "Make for yourselves flint knives, and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time."  So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Giv'at Ha'aralot...  For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised.     (Josh. 5:2-3, 5)

Returned from Exile, But Not Yet Presentable

Here the wilderness represents for us the physical exile of Israel's believers.  The followers of Yeshua who were first exiled were Jews who observed the Law.  But those who were born again in exile were not; in Paul's terminology, their circumcision had become uncircumcision (Rom. 2:25).

Those who rebelled against Moses and died in the desert are those who, although circumcised, did not believe G-d enough to enter the land of the New Covenant.  The only ones who went through the whole desert experience and entered the land were the two who, along with their circumcision, had believed the Lord: Caleb and Joshua.  They represent the tiny minority of Jewish believers who preserved their Jewish practice in exile.

"The Second Time"?

Joshua himself is now charged with circumcising all those who had been born in exile.  Israel has miraculously crossed the Jordan, just as long before, their parents had miraculously crossed the Red Sea, and they are ready to begin the conquest of the land.  They represent for us the non-observant Jewish believers from the exile who have been sent to win Israel to the Lord.

Why does G-d call this circumcision "the second time", when it is clear that their fathers had never circumcised them?  It must be that these who had come through the desert in faith had somewhere during that time been circumcised in their hearts; hence their ability to walk in obedience.  This is also the state of the modern Jewish believers which they typify.

Rolling Away the Reproach

But before this generation begins their mission, they must be restored to Jewish observance.  Even though G-d had not bothered them about it while they were wandering among the Gentiles, now that they are to possess the Land He again requires it of them.  G-d's description of their uncircumcised state as a "reproach" (Josh. 5:9), in spite of their obvious faith in Him, confirms that non-observant Jewish believers, even while moving in the Spirit, carry in their flesh a reproach in the eyes of unbelieving Israel, which G-d must remove before effective ministry to Israel can take place.

Necessary Pain to the Flesh

There is another aspect of this incident worth considering here:

Now it came about when they had finished circumcising all the nation, that they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed.  (Joshua 5:8)

Circumcision, like the beginning of Jewish practice, is very painful at first to the flesh, and time is needed before the wound heals.  Unless a believer's flesh is already mostly dead, he will experience much discomfort as he returns to the Covenant of the Law.  During this period the Jewish believer is not fit for battle, and he should remain in his place until the pain is gone.

G-d's Challenge to His People

One of the most burning questions in the Body of Messiah over the centuries has been how to be instrumental in bringing the nation of Israel to her Messiah.

In spite of the many Scriptures that show G-d's passionate desire for this to take place, the best efforts over the centuries by Jewish and Gentile evangelists, teachers and scholars have resulted in only a trickle of Jews coming to Yeshua, or worse, have caused a hardening of Israel's position against Yeshua.  The dream of seeing a first-century type of revival (in magnitudes of thousands) among the Jewish people remains out of reach.

What did the first-century apostles have that we don't have?

The Scriptures show how Yeshua and the apostles taught, by word and by example, that submission to the Law of Moses and the "customs of the elders" (another name for rabbinic tradition) is what results from having G-d's Law on your heart.  We believe that only when this teaching is restored will we see the national salvation of Israel.

An excerpt from the book My Law on Your Heart: Living Yeshua's Jewishness
by Arye Powlison © 1995 Jerusalem
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