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Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 4

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And Moses answered. Moses relates in this chapter how hesitatingly he obeyed God, not from stubbornness, but from timidity, for he does not shake off the yoke, as unruly beasts do, but shrinks away from it, that it may not be placed upon him. (50) And hence we may better perceive under what infirmity he labored, so that his faith was almost stifled. On the one side, he was willing and ready to obey; but when the arduous difficulties of his task presented themselves, he could not escape from this conflict until he had exhausted all efforts to escape. Nor indeed can we greatly wonder that he resisted for a time, since he could see scarcely any advantage in his undertaking. I admit that he ought to have proceeded according to God’s command, even with his eyes shut, since on His will alone all believers are bound to depend; he ought not to have judged of a thing (in itself) incredible, from his own reasoning, but from the voice of God. Nor, in point of fact, did he either refuse to credit God’s words, or wish to reject the burden imposed upon him; but when, on the other hand, he beheld dangers from which he could not disentangle himself, his mind was thus a prey to distracting feelings. Neither is there any believer who is not often drawn into such harassing discussions, whenever his mind is darkened by the perception of obstacles. There was, therefore, in the mind of Moses, willingness and zeal, though alacrity and firmness were wanting; because through his weakness he was compelled to hold back by the hinderances which presented themselves. We must carefully distinguish between the timidity which delays our progress and the bold refusal which is allied to contempt. Many, in flying from trouble, are so withheld from duty, that they grow hardened in their inactivity; while those who desire to act rightly, although through anxiety and fear they apparently recoil, still aspire to ulterior progress, and, in a word, do not so far alternate as to withdraw themselves altogether from the command of God. Moses seems, indeed, to murmur, and to enter into altercation with God; but whether this were audacity or simplicity, there was more of modesty in it, than as if he had hidden himself in silence, as we have said that many do, who by their silence only strengthen themselves in the liberty to disobey. This was clearly his object, that he might afterwards be more fitted to proceed. The holy man was very anxious, because he knew from experience that his countrymen were depraved, and almost intractable; disburdening himself, then, of this anxiety into the bosom of God, he desires to be confirmed by a fresh promise, so that he may be freed from this impediment, and proceed with alacrity.

(50) “Pensant qu’il ne luy peut estre approprie;” thinking that it cannot be fitted to him. — Fr.

Verse 2

2.What is that in thine hand? In accordance with the idiom of the Hebrew language, Moses now explains more fully, and more distinctly pursues, what he had before only generally alluded to respecting the signs. In the three signs which he refers to we must consider their respective meanings The pastoral crook, which he carried in his hand, is flung on the ground, and becomes a serpent; again it is taken back into his hand, and recovers its original nature. I doubt not but that God wished to shew him, that although his condition was abject and despicable, still he would be formidable to the king of Egypt. For his rod was the symbol of a shepherd; and what would be more contemptible than for a keeper of sheep to come up from the desert, and to oppose to the scepter of a most powerful king that crook, by which he could scarcely protect himself and his flock from wild beasts? But God assures him, that although deprived of earthly splendor, wealth, or power, he would still be terrible to Pharaoh; as much as to say, that he need not fear lest Pharaoh should despise him, or take no account of him as a mere rustic, because his rod, turned into a serpent, would inspire more terror than a thousand swords. As to what Moses says, that he himself fled from it in alarm, unquestionably God intended to affright his servant, that he might the better estimate from his own feelings what would be the power of God to terrify that proud king. This, then, was the object of the miracle, that there was no occasion for mighty armies, since Pharaoh would tremble at the sight of the simple rod; and that the rod need not be wielded and violently agitated, because it would inspire sufficient terror by its own movement and agitation. The one part of the miracle, where the rod returned to its former shape, was intended to shew Moses, that what was to be hostile and injurious to his enemy, would be an assistance and safeguard to himself. Therefore, the same rod which encouraged and emboldened Moses, depressed and overwhelmed his foe. But that he dares, in immediate obedience to the voice of God, to lay hold of the serpent, is a proof of his remarkable faith; and this appears more manifestly from his sudden change, that he fears not to provoke a poisonous and noxious animal, by taking hold of its tail, when he had so lately fled from its very sight in consternation. His timid mind, then, was capable of great courage, and his timidity and piety brought forth their fruit alternately. And this is especially worthy of remark, that Moses was strengthened by the presence of God; but that he was weakened when he turned his eyes to the untameable minds of his own race, and to the proud tyranny of Egypt. The question now arises, whether the change of the rod into a serpent was real, and actual, or whether the outward form only was changed? Although I should be unwilling to contend pertinaciously for a thing of little consequence, I embrace that opinion which is more probable, that not merely an image or vision appeared, but that God, who created all things out of nothing, gave a new nature to the rod, and again made a rod out of the serpent, which was in no degree more difficult than to change Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26.) Since this was easy to God’s power, it does not appear likely to me that He had recourse to the illusion of visions. As to the imitation of the magicians, we will speak of their sorceries in their proper place.

Verse 5

5.That they may believe. This spectacle, then, was not shewn to Moses once only, but the power was imparted to him also of frequently repeating the miracle; both to acquire credit from the Israelites, and to repress the audacity of Pharaoh. For although the sentence is incomplete, there is no ambiguity in the sense, viz., that Moses is armed with power from heaven to make his vocation sure, and that none may doubt him to be a Prophet divinely commissioned. It would be tedious here to dilate expressly on the use of miracles, suffice it briefly to lay down, that they sometimes serve as preparatives to faith, sometimes for its confirmation. We see an example of both in the metamorphosis of the rod, by which Moses was the more animated and encouraged to gather strength, although he already believed God’s promise; but the Israelites, who were both incredulous and unteachable, were prepared and compelled to believe. Besides, the miracle opened a door of faith with the Israelites, that, being persuaded of his prophetical office, they might submit to be taught; whilst he was himself led on to greater assurance and perseverance. For although the Almighty begins further back, and refers to the adoption of the patriarchs, and this was calculated to lay the foundation of their hope of redemption, it still does not follow that they were prepared to receive Moses, until the authority of his ministry had been established. Wherefore, I have said, that their faith was commenced by the miracle.

Verse 6

6.Put now thy hand into thy bosom. By this sign Moses was instructed that what is in the greatest vigour withers away at once, at the command of God; and that what is dry is thus restored to its original vigour; in a word, the statement of Paul was confirmed by it, that God “calleth those things which be not, as though they were.” (Romans 4:17.) It was, so to say, a kind of leprosy, when Moses was banished from the court into the land of Midian, where he led his flock through wild and rough places, among thorns and brambles. After he had passed forty years like one half-dead, having no dignity or name, he regained, as by a restoration, (postliminio) what he had lost. Therefore God now promises him that he would soon restore what He had taken away. This is the simple connection of the sign with its effect, with which sober readers will be content, without giving heed to the subtleties of others. For this was particularly needful to be understood, that all men stand or fall according to God’s will; that when theyseem most strong, their strength suddenly fails, and they waste away; and, again, as soon as God pleases, they return from their deformed and failing state to rigor and beauty. In this way the holy man learnt that, as he had lain in obscurity for a time, because he had been withdrawn, by God’s hand, from the society of men, and had been cast into solitude, so he need not despair of becoming a different man by the same hand. This condition, too, in some measure, pertained to the whole body of the people; but because it better suits the person of Moses, it is preferable to retain this exposition; lest, only considering his present position, as a mean and humble shepherd, he should distrust his capacity for undertaking his office, and that he should expect dignity and boldness to be given him by God. Moreover, God did not mean to instruct Moses individually only, (as we have said,) but to raise him above the contempt of the people, that the exile by which his dignity had been marred, should not detract from his influence and authority; but, because the calling of God shone forth in him like a resurrection, that he should, at the same time, be invested with weight and reputation.

Verse 8

8.And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee. In these words God took away from Moses every handle for doubt; as much as to say, that he was sufficiently provided and strengthened to overcome the stubbornness of the people; and yet, heaping up the measure to overflowing, he afterwards added a third sign, from whence Moses might attain full confidence, and that no further hinderance should oppose his pious desires. This, too, is a remarkable evidence of the kindness of God, that he deigned so liberally to add sign to sign, and to contend with the evil heart of the people, until with a strong hand he drew them out of their torpor of incredulity. Surely, if they neglected the first miracle, they were unworthy to have another proof of his power set before them by God. It was, then, a wonderful exercise of longsuffering still to persevere in arresting their dullness. With equal clemency does He now overlook our sluggishness of heart; because, when with far less reverence than we ought we receive the testimonies whereby He manifests His grace, He avenges not our foul ingratitude, but rather adds new remedies for the cure of our unbelief. As by the two former miracles God shewed the power which he willed to exercise by the hand of Moses, so in this third He taught them what would be His dealings with the Egyptians. And then, both from within and from without, Moses was confirmed before all the people. The conclusion is, then, that when God should lift up His hand against the Egyptians, so far would they be from having strength to resist, that the very strongholds in which they proudly trusted should be felt to be adverse and injurious to them. We know how many and various were the advantages they derived from the Nile. Their land, on one side, was rendered, by its opposing barrier, safe and invincible; its many ports enriched their nation by their convenience for the importation and exportation of merchandise; the fertility of their fields arose from its inundations; in a word, Egypt attributed the chief part of its prosperity to the Nile. But now God gives warning not only that it should not profit the Egyptians, but that it was in His power to turn all its advantages into injuries; nay, that the very stream which used to fertilize their land by its irrigation, should cover and defile it with blood. With respect to the words, the “voice of the sign” is figuratively applied to mean a demonstration of the power of God, by which the Israelites might be taught that Moses was sent them by God as their deliverer. For although the rod turned into a serpent could not speak, yet very loudly, indeed, did it announce, that what the Israelites deemed altogether impossible, would not be difficult to God. Others thus resolve the particle את, (51) “If they will not believe your voice, because of the sign;” but the former interpretation is more correct. The meaning of the expression, however, is added soon afterwards, in this distinction — “If they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice;” as though God had said, that His power cried out, or thundered in His miracles, to obtain a hearing for the teaching of His servant.

(51) את the noun substantive translated a sign, and את the particle indicating an accusative case, are the same word in Hebrew, if points are not used. Hence Calvin has called the את here a particle, though avowedly commenting upon its purport as a noun. — W

Verse 10

10.O my Lord. Moses catches at every word of escape, so as to force himself from the task imposed on him, not that he desires to refuse the command, but because he trembles at its importance. It is this distrust of his own powers which makes him so hesitating and timid. The remedy was obvious, that he should assure himself, since he well knew that he was undertaking nothing rashly, that God, whose command he obeyed, would supply him with ample strength. In this, then, lay the fault, that he did not cast all his cares on God, and, setting aside his own weakness, hope against hope, like Abraham, who

“considered not his own body now dead; neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb; being fully persuaded that what God had promised, he was able also to perform.” (Romans 4:18.)

It was an act of modesty in him to reflect on the defect which he mentioned, if he had but asked for succor from God; but when he proceeds further, and requests to be altogether discharged, he does an injustice to God, as if He would lay a greater burden on His servants than they could bear, or would give any inconsiderate command. This over-anxious caution is, therefore, deservedly condemned, although it may have some admixture of virtue; because whatever difficulty we encounter, this ought to be a sufficient encouragement to us, that as often as God chooses men as His ministers, although they are in themselves good for nothing, He forms and prepares them for their work. It is, indeed, lawful to fear in perplexities, provided that our anxiety overcomes not the desire to obey; but whatever God enjoins it is never right to refuse on any pretext. Moreover, we see that the instruments which seem but little suitable are especially employed by Him, in order that His power may more fully appear. He might, if He had chosen to use Moses as His ambassador, have made him eloquent from the womb; or, at least, when He sends him to his work, have corrected his stammering tongue. It seems a mockery, then, to give a commission of speaking to a stammerer; but in this way, (as I have said,) He causes His glory to shine forth more brightly, proving that He can do all things without extrinsic aid. Interpreters vary as to the meaning of the words. Some think that the clause “since thou hast spoken to thy servant” is added in amplification, as if the tongue of Moses began to be more slow than ever since the vision had appeared; but since the particle גם, (52) gam, is thrice repeated, I interpret it simply, that Moses had never been eloquent from his infancy, and that he was not now endued with any new eloquence.

(52) גם, properly also Here rendered since in A V. ; the margin of which exhibits, otherwise, the Hebrew idiom with exactness. — W

Verse 11

11.Who hath made man’s mouth? Here the cause is expressed, why the hesitation of Moses was worthy of reprehension; viz., because arrested by his own infirmity, he did not look up to God, who, being above the want of any human aid, easily accomplishes whatsoever He has decreed, and subduing all the obstacles which terrify men, obtains in any direction assistance according to his will. Moses objects his stammering as a cause for holding back; God replies, that it is He alone who governs the tongue which He has created; therefore, that if some be tongueless or dumb, and some quick and eloquent of speech, the difference is all of His good pleasure. Whence it follows that all nature (as it is called) is subject to his government, so that He easily finds means of the things that are not; and, on the other hand, remove far out of the way whatever impediments interpose, and even forces them into obedience. But He not only asserts his right and power of government in the general course of nature, but teaches that it is of His special grace alone that some exceed others in eloquence; and not only so, but that it is in His hand to make wonderful changes, so as to strike the most eloquent dumb, and to fit the tongue of the dumb for speaking. And this experience also shews, that sometimes those who excel in readiness of speech, want words; and, on the contrary, that the stammering and slow of speech plead a single cause with admirable dexterity, although the power may be wanting to them in every other case. Since, then, it is in God’s power to bind or to loose men’s tongues at any moment, it was wrong of Moses to hesitate, as if in surprise, because he possessed not natural freedom of speech; as if it were not possible for the author of nature to remedy this disadvantage. But while it is good to magnify the immense power of God, in removing all the hinderances which oppose us, so must we beware of resting upon it indiscriminately, as though it were subject to our fancies. For we see men, whilst they too boldly undertake whatever their own lusts suggest, shielding themselves with this thought, that all means and events are in God’s hands, so that nothing may stand in the way of their impetuosity. But the power of God is basely profaned by this rashness; and, therefore, this truth is not duly applied to its legitimate purpose, unless a vocation and command clearly invites us on. We must, then, mark the connection: Go, where I shall send thee. Am I not Jehovah, who gives to men speech, and sight, and hearing? the tendency of which is, that Moses, confidently trusting to the bounty of God, should devote himself earnestly to his work.

Verse 13

13.Send, I pray thee, by the hand. Those who interpret this passage as alluding to Christ, (53) as though Moses said, that His power was needed to accomplish so mighty a task, introduce a forced and far-fetched sense, which is contradicted by the context, for God would not have been so aroused to anger by such a prayer. I see not why others should suppose it to be spoken of Aaron; (54) for there is no weight in their conjecture, that Moses preferred his brother to himself. The third sense is more probable, viz., that God should stretch forth his hand to direct whomsoever he destined for the work. In that case, the relative must be in the masculine gender; but in order to avoid all ambiguity, I prefer the feminine, as I have translated it. (Mitte per manum per quam.)For there is no doubt but that Moses desires the task, too weighty and difficult for himself, to be transferred to some one else; just as if he had said — Since there are multitudes at hand whom thou mayest employ, choose whomsoever thou wilt of them, provided only it be some other, and that I be excused. There is an implied antithesis between Moses and others, in which he hints at his own natural disqualification, and says that others are endued with dexterity, industry, and activity; and thence he argues that it will be absurd that God should reject the hands which are adapted and ready for the work.

(53) Cornelius a Lapide in loc. “Multi patres, ut S. Justinus, Tertll., Cyprian., Euseb., scribentes contra Judaeos, et Rupert. putant Mosen hic petiisse adventum Messiae; hujus enim nomen erat missus vel mittendus, etc. Hic sensus valde probabilis, et accommodatus est, quicquid objiciat Absolen. et audacter nimis tantis patribus obstrepat Eugubinus: ita enim olim alii patriarchae in gravibus causis semper ad Christum promissum respiciebant, et ad eum suspirabant, ut patet de Jacob. Genesis 49:10.” The gloss in the Geneva Bible is, “i.e., (by the hand or ministerie) of the Messias, or some other that is more meete than I.”

(54) “Quia frater Aaron suus erat eo senior, et eloquentior, eum desiderabat habere socium sibi a Domino assignandum,” — Nic, de Lyra Com. in loco. So also R. Sal. Jarchi.

Verse 14

14.And the anger of the Lord was kindled. This passage confirms, by opposition, that expression, that there is no better sacrifice than to obey the voice of the Lord, (1 Samuel 15:22,) since God is so grievously offended with the hesitation of Moses, in spite of his specious excuses. But nothing is more pleasing to God than to maintain the authority of his word, and that men should suffer themselves to be guided by this rein. God had pardoned His servant’s slowness and unwillingness to the work; but beholding that he obstinately refused, He spares him no longer. Hence we are warned cautiously to beware, lest if God bear with us for a time, we give way to self-indulgence, as if we were permitted to abuse His patience with impunity. Still it is a mark of His fatherly kindness, that in His anger He contents Himself with reproof. As to His saying that he knew that Aaron would be his brother’s interpreter, it is questionable whether He had intended from the beginning to employ him in this way, or whether He conceded thus much at length to the diffidence of Moses.

It is indeed true, that God does nothing which He has not decreed by His secret providence before the creation of the world; yet sometimes second causes intervene why this or that should be done. Either view is probable, — either that God affirms Aaron to be already chosen by Him to be an assistant to Moses, or that He says He will grant this concession to the infirmity of Moses. The latter pleases me best, that Aaron should be added in anger as his brother’s companion, and that part of the honor should be transferred to him; when Moses, by his own repugnance, had deprived himself of some of his dignity. But why is he called “the Levite,” as if he were an unknown person? Some reply, that there were many among the Israelites of that name; but this simple solution satisfies me, that it was not any indifferent individual of the children of Israel who was promised to Moses as his companion, but his own brother; one who, by his close relationship, might exercise greater familiarity with him. Unless, perhaps, God looked forward to the future calling of the tribe of Levi; for he tells us, by the mouth of Malachi, that His covenant was with Levi, that his descendants should be the keepers of the law and of the truth, and the messengers of the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 2:4.) Thus the sense would be very satisfactory, that God would restrain His wrath, and although aroused to anger by the refusal of Moses, he would still take an ambassador out of that tribe which he destined to the priesthood. Moreover, no slight confirmation is added, in that Aaron would come forth to meet his brother in the Desert, and would receive him with great joy. It was as much as to shew that whilst God was pressing forward His servant from the land of Midian with the one hand, He would stretch forth the other to draw him into Egypt. Though the vision ought to have quickened him to perform God’s command, yet because it was necessary to stimulate his inactivity, Aaron was sent, as if God openly put forth His hand to excite him forward. For he had neither come into the Desert for pleasure, nor by chance, nor from vain curiosity; but Moses knew assuredly that a banner thus was set up for him by God, to shew him the certainty of his way. So by the coming of Ananias the vision seen by Paul was confirmed, and placed beyond the reach of doubt. (Acts 9:17.) This was, indeed, extorted from God by the importunity of Moses. According to His infinite goodness He willed to elicit from the sin of His servant materials for His grace; just as He is accustomed to bring light out of darkness. (2 Corinthians 4:6.) God mentions his brother’s gladness to Moses, in order to reprove his own indifference; as much as to say, Aaron will willingly come forth, and will receive you with joy and gladness; whilst you, depressed with sorrow and anxiety, or stupified by distrust, can scarcely be induced to stir a foot.

Verse 16

16.And he shall be thy spokesman. God destroys the pretext for his exemption, by assigning to his brother the office of spokesman, and yet does He not put the other in his place; nay, so merciful is the arrangement, that while He yields to His servant’s prayer, He yet confers honor upon him in spite of himself. The offices are thus divided — Moses is to have the authority, Aaron is to be the interpreter. Thus Moses is set before his brother, from no respect to his own dignity; because the grace of God was to shine forth conspicuously in the head no less than in the members; as it is expressed in these words, that “Aaron should be instead of a mouth, and Moses instead of God;” i e. , that he was to dictate what Aaron should faithfully report, and to prescribe what he should obediently follow. By this example did God bear witness that the gifts of the Spirit, as well as our vocations, are distributed by Him at His own good pleasure; and that none excels either in honor or in gifts, except according to the measure of His free bounty. But that the first-born is made subject to the younger, and is only appointed to be his spokesman, whereas God might have accomplished by his hand and labor, what he rather chose to perform by Moses; hence let us learn reverently to regard His judgments, because they are incomprehensible to us, and like a deep abyss. “To be instead of God” is the same as to lead or to direct, or to have the chief command; as the Chaldee Paraphrast (55) renders it, to be the chief or master. It is a very weak calumny of the Arians to abuse this and similar passages, in order to refute the proofs of Christ’s divinity, because there is a great difference in speaking of one as God simply and absolutely, and with circumstantial additions. For we know that the name of God is attributed to every potentate, improperly indeed, yet not unreasonably; as when the devil himself is called “thegod of this world,” (2 Corinthians 4:4;) but wherever mention is made of the true Deity, Scripture never profanes that sacred name.

(55) In the Targum of Onkelos, who has employed רב for the אלהים of the Hebrew. — W

Verse 17

17.And thou shalt take this rod. There is no doubt that God chose this shepherd’s rod to be the instrument of his power, in order the more to confound the pride of Pharaoh. For what but shame and reproach could it bring to Moses, that he should bear with him the crook with which he had heretofore guided his sheep in their folds and hovels? This symbol, then, of a rustic and contemptible occupation, was opposed to the scepter of Pharaoh, not without humiliation. In this respect, therefore, the obedience of Moses is worthy of praise, because he is not ashamed of a mean and humble appearance, but willingly carries his rod, and thus makes himself as nothing, and glorifies God. So is God usually wont to hide his treasures in earthen vessels, and to choose “the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.” But from Moses being commanded to work the miracles with the rod, we gather that outward signs are often made use of by God, when He works by His own hand; not to derogate at all from his power, or to obscure his praise, but to make it manifest that the whole world is subject to him, and that he freely applies to whatever use he pleases, things which are otherwise of no account.

Verse 18

18.And Moses went. It is surprising that Moses should have suppressed the vision whereby the mind of his father-in-law might have been most inclined to let him go; for he speaks merely of human feelings, that he desired to revisit his brethren and relations. Yet it must have been disagreeable to his father-in-law to lose his services, and that diligence and industry by which he had largely profited; nor could it have been pleasant to send away his daughter and grandchildren to a foreign country. Whether he was forbidden to do so by God, or whether he was silent from fear and shame, is uncertain; but I incline rather to this supposition, that he dared not speak of his vocation, lest its incredibility should cause him to be suspected of falsehood and vanity. Since, then, it would have been difficult to obtain belief as to his vocation, he preferred making a pretext of his natural affection. But Jethro being persuaded more by divine inspiration than by that excuse, was easily prevailed on; although I make no doubt that for forty years Moses had been giving such proofs of his honesty, that he was exempted from every evil suspicion. We know how much respect is gained by long experience; since, then, Moses had so long manifested his integrity, his father-in-law could have no fears of his levity, or fraud, or deceit. By this example believers learn ever to seek to obtain a good reputation; for there is nothing which so greatly facilitates the transaction of all affairs as the constant course of an upright and innocent life. For, from whence arises so much difficulty in obtaining what each may want from his neighbor? Whence such hinderances, such reproaches on one side and the other, but because, while every one would be believed, no one labors to obtain credit by his integrity? But although Moses had conciliated his father-in-law by his upright and holy life, still he was confirmed in his vocation by the readiness with which his demand was complied with, for the permission was full of courtesy and kindness without any sign of unwillingness or regret.

Verse 19

19.And the Lord said (56) unto Moses Some connect this sentence with what follows, as if God had spoken to his servant after permission to return had been given him by his father-in-law; but my opinion rather is, that what had before been omitted is here inserted out of its place. Such repetition is frequent in the Scriptures. (57) Moses, therefore, adds to what he had already said, that the fear of danger was removed, since God had testified that the recollection of his having slain the Egyptian had ceased. For this would have been a stumblingblock at the very outset, if Moses had supposed that this accusation would have met him; not because his conscience smote him before God, but because he would have been rejected by the perverse judgments of men. Therefore, on this point, also, God provides against his fear, assuring him that the enemies were dead who had plotted against his life. And, perhaps, he now particularly notices this, because in asking for leave to depart, he could safely speak of it; for it is probable that Jethro, before he had married his daughter to an unknown foreigner, had demanded the cause of his exile; since it was easy to conjecture by his wandering in the Desert, that he had been expelled from his country. Having then confessed that he fled from the wrath of the king, he now says that he is recalled by divine revelation, and that a safe return is promised him. Nor is he guilty of falsehood; for, amongst other things, God had promised him that no danger awaited him from his former enemies.

(56) Lat. , “had said.”

(57) And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, i e. , at a different time from that when he appeared to him in the wilderness at Mount Sinai. Things are not always recorded in the sacred writings in the order in which they happened.” — Rosenmuller in loco

Verse 20

20.And Moses took his wife. By taking his wife and children with him, Moses clearly and freely professed, that he was returning to Egypt, to dwell there. The ass upon which he set them, is a plain proof how humble was his condition, and how slender his substance. For it is improbable that he left either money or silver vessels or precious garments with his father-in-law, so as to present himself to his people in poverty and nakedness. But as he had been content in the land of Midian with his indigence and coarse fare, he continues in the same simple estate; nor is he ashamed in his contemptible and common habit to mount the stage on which his poverty would be conspicuous, which in the Desert had been concealed. It is well known as a matter of experience, that the poor are led to crime more by the fear of shame than by hunger, cold, and other discomforts. Wherefore Moses withstood a very heavy temptation, when he cared not for being laughed at, and despised, and presented himself without any earthly splendor. But there is here an implied antithesis between “the rod of God” and the appearance of the humble and despised man, without any other equipment whatever; it is as much as to say, that it did not trouble him that he was without everything else, as long as he had the rod, which abundantly compensated for all deficiencies. Therefore, although he perceived that he would be exposed to the scorn of high and low, in leading the ass, burdened, as we have been observing, still he thought himself well, and more than well provided in his rod, the instrument of divine power, by which he should magnificently triumph, and could afford to dispense with the pomp of royalty. And surely the marks by which God would have his servants distinguished, deserve this honor, that we should require nothing to be added to their dignity. We must observe the epithet applied to the rod; it is called no longer the rod of Moses, but “the rod of God,” because it is not used, as of old, to conduct his flock, but (58) to represent the power of God. For since it was by the sovereign power of God that it worked miracles, whatever concerned their glory is truly and properly ascribed to God. Elsewhere, indeed, it is called the rod of Moses; inasmuch as God communicates his own titles to the ministers chosen and created by himself, since he supplies them with the efficacy of his Spirit.

(58) Pour estre lieutenant de Dieu. — Fr.

Verse 21

21.When thou goest to return. Moses had not previously enumerated the wonders; but from this verse we gather, that whatever we shall presently read to be done, was already commanded by God. There is then, no doubt, but that God had already advised him of his whole course of proceeding, lest he might yield to the obstinacy of the proud tyrant, and when two or three miracles had been wrought in vain, might cast away his rod, together with the charge committed to him. Now, therefore, God exhorts him to perseverance; and although he might perceive after three or four miracles that the obstinacy of the king was indomitable, still that he should not turn back, nor be discouraged, but should continue even unto the end. This, then, is the sum, that he should not faint nor fail, when he saw the inutility of his first efforts; nor cease to contend boldly till he had fulfilled all the objects of his vocation. Moreover, lest he might think it the effect of chance, that he did not immediately obtain the victory, or might consider it strange that the miracles should be eluded with impunity by a mere mortal, as if he stood before God unconquered in his boldness, God himself foretells that he would be the moderator of all this contest, nay, that whatsoever should seem to oppose the deliverance of his people would arise from his own secret counsel. Thus he shews Moses the reason why he should not stop until he had performed all the miracles; because the tyrant must be gloriously conquered, and overwhelmed in so many hard-fought engagements, that the victory might be more splendid. In the meantime He declares that the king of Egypt would not be thus obstinate contrary to His will; as if He could not reduce him to order in a moment; but rather that He would harden his heart in order that He might violently overwhelm his madness. (59) The word which Moses uses signifies sometimes to apprehend, sometimes to restrain by force, sometimes to strengthen; but it seemed to me that I should best render its sense by the word “constringo, ” to constrain; since undoubtedly God would make it appear that he would be the President (60) (as it were) of all the contests in which Moses was to engage, so as even to control the heart of his adversary, and to harden it into obstinacy. Since the expression seems harsh to delicate ears, many soften it away, by turning the act into mere permission; as if there were no difference between doing and permitting to be done; or as if God would commend his passivity, and not rather his power. As to myself, I am certainly not ashamed of speaking as the Holy Spirit speaks, nor do I hesitate to believe what so often occurs in Scripture, that God gives the wicked over to a reprobate mind, gives them up to vile affections, blinds their minds and hardens their hearts. But they object, that in this way God would be made the author of sin; which would be a detestable impiety. I reply, that God is very far from the reach of blame, when he is said to exercise his judgments: wherefore, if blindness be a judgment of God, it ought not to be brought in accusation against him, that he inflicts punishment. But if the cause be often concealed from us, we should remember that God’s judgments are not without reason called a “great deep,” and, therefore, let us regard them with admiration and not with railing. But those who substitute his permission in the place of his act, not only deprive him of his authority as a judge, but in their repining, subject him to a weighty reproach, since they grant him no more of justice than their senses can understand.

(59) חזק. Constrinxit, revinxit; hinc roboravit, confirmavit; intransitive etiam invaluit, praevaluit. — Prof J Robertson Clavis Pentateuch, in locoW

(60) Agonotheta. — Lat. Le maistre du camp. — Fr.

Verse 22

22.Israel is my son, even my first-born. God thus refutes, by anticipation, the only pretext by which Pharaoh could justify his refusal to let the people go. For Jacob had spontaneously submitted himself and all his family to his government; he had then free power to retain the people, which, by the common law of nations, was subject to the dominion of Egypt. But if it be an act of impiety to violate the ordinance instituted by God, the demand of Moses might appear improper, that the legitimate authority of the king should be abolished against his own will. For what was the object of proposing the departure of the people, except to compel the king to renounce his own authority? In order, then, to shew that he took nothing away unjustly or unreasonably from Pharaoh, God alleges the privilege by which the Israelites were excepted from ordinary laws; for by calling them His sons, He claims liberty for them; since it would be absurd that God himself, the supreme Ruler of heaven and earth, should be deprived of the sons whom He had deigned to adopt. He, therefore, indirectly compares his own paternal power with Pharaoh’s earthly rule; because nothing could be less reasonable than that a mortal should refuse to yield to the Maker of himself and all the world. Still this is not applicable to all believers in general; as if it were wrong for them to be subject to kings, or as if their temporal subjection deprived them of their inheritance of the world; but mention is here only made of the special prerogative with which God had honored the posterity of Abraham, when he gave them the dominion of the land of Canaan. Therefore, not content with the simple appellation of son, He calls Israel his first-born. By this honorable title He unquestionably prefers him to the other nations; as though He had said, that he was raised to the degree of the primogeniture, and was superior to all the world. This passage, then, may be accommodated to the calling of the Gentiles, whom God had already decreed to bring into fellowship with his elect people, so that, although they were younger, they might be united with his first-born. I allow, indeed, that all the race of Adam was then cast off; but, because Adam was made in the image of God, his posterity were always reckoned, in a certain sense, to be the children of God; for, whilst I readily admit that the holy offspring of Abraham are here compared with the nations who at that time were still heathen, and that in this respect they are called his first-born, because they are pre-eminent in dignity; still we must come to Christ, the only head, in order that the adoption should be sure. For we must hold fast to that statement of St. Paul, that the blessing of Abraham was not promised to his seeds, but to his seed; because not all that sprang from his flesh are accounted to be children, but those that were called; as Isaac, Ishmael being rejected, and as Jacob, Esau being passed by. (Galatians 3:16; Romans 9:6.) But Christ is the root of our calling. Therefore, what in Hosea is spoken, as here, of the whole people, Matthew limits to Christ; and justly, since upon Him alone the grace of adoption is founded. (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15.)

Verse 23

23.And I say unto thee, Let my son go. This was not the beginning of the legation, but its final clause; for Moses warned the desperate man of his son’s death, when everything else had been tried in vain. The meaning is, then, that the obstinacy of the tyrant must not prevent Moses from pressing him even to this final act. Therefore this injunction was an exhortation to perseverance; as appears from the context, when God declares that he will punish the obstinacy of the tyrant, because he refused to obey the command to let the people go. Moreover, since this denunciation was very severe, and might very greatly awaken the tyrant’s wrath, therefore Moses is thus early commanded to prepare himself lest he should fail in this particular.

Verse 24

24.And it came to pass by the way. The expression, “the Lord met him,” is here used in a bad sense, for an adverse meeting, or hostile encounter; as though Moses should say that the hand of the Lord was against him to interrupt his journey. In what form He appeared we know not, except that the words pretty plainly imply that Moses was assured of His anger, so as to be aware that his death was near. For had he not been instructed by revelation or by an angel, it would not have at all profited him to be shewn the impending danger. Nevertheless the cause is not expressed for which he perceived that God was so angry with him; except that we may gather it from what follows. For why should Zipporah have taken a sharp stone or knife and circumcised her son, had she not known that God was offended at his uncircumcision? Certain Rabbins, then, are unwise in their conjecture, that Moses had provoked God’s vengeance on this occasion against himself, because he took his wife and children with him as being a useless charge, which would be likely to encumber him. They pronounce also, too boldly, on the nature of his scourge, viz., that he was afflicted by a severe disease, which endangered his life. Be it sufficient for us to know that he was terrified by the approach of certain destruction, and that, at the same time, the cause of his affliction was shewn him, so that he hastened to seek for a remedy. For, as we have just said, it would never have otherwise occurred to himself or his wife to circumcise the child to appease God’s wrath; and it will appear a little further on, that God was, as it were, propitiated by this offering, since he withdrew his hand, and took away the tokens of his wrath. I therefore unhesitatingly conclude, that vengeance was declared against Moses for his negligence, which was connected with still heavier sins; for he had not omitted his son’s circumcision from forgetfulness, or ignorance, or carelessness only, but because he was aware that it was disagreeable either to his wife or to his father-in-law. Therefore, lest. his wife should quarrel with him, or his father-in-law trouble him, he preferred to gratify them than to give occasion for divisions, or enmity, or disturbance. In the meantime, however, for the sake of the favour of men he neglected to obey God. This false dealing was no light offense, since nothing is more intolerable than to defraud God of his due obedience, in order to please men. There was a mixture too of distrust and ingratitude in it; for, if the favour of God had had its due weight, he would have been withholden by no fear from this pious duty. Let us then learn from hence to use reverently the sacraments, which are the seals of God’s grace, lest he should severely avenge our despisal of them; and at the same time we should remember that the external profession of piety, and the worship of God is a sacrifice so pleasant to God, that he will not allow us to omit the care of diligently testifying it as if it were a matter of small importance. Not that he cares for the ceremonies themselves, but because he would have honor paid to the pledges of his grace, in proportion to the benefit which is received from them. On this account Paul bears witness, that a pestilence raged among the Corinthians when the Lord’s supper was profaned, (1 Corinthians 11:30;) because it was an act of impiety that so precious a treasure should be lightly esteemed. But it is worthy of observation, that whereas Moses had two sons with him, mention is here only made of one; from whence is deduced the probable conjecture that one of the two was circumcised. (61) Some think that Eliezer, the eldest, was not so, because Moses had not dared to confess his religion so soon, and to awaken hatred on account of it. But I should rather imagine that when, in regard to one he had experienced the hostility of his family, he omitted it in the case of the second, to avoid the anger of his wife or his father-in-law; for if, in the lapse of time, he had attained more courage, he would not have hesitated to correct the former omission; but, worn out by domestic quarrels, he at last departed from his duty. By this example we are warned that we have daily need of God’s help to support our strength, lest our courage should fail us, and our zeal should gradually grow cold or luke-warm; for Satan is constantly devising many temptations, by which he may either destroy or lessen our diligence. Therefore, whosoever desires to approve himself to God in the whole course of his life, must prepare the armor and the strength for enduring this contest; for if Moses was deficient in perseverance, we shall be equally, or even more liable to the same failure, unless the Lord uphold us by his Spirit.

(61) The sense demands this translation, and the French Version confirms it; though the name is there omitted. As I presume there is no reason to doubt that Eliezer was the youngest, (compare Exodus 18:3, with 1 Chronicles 23:15,) an accidental substitution of one name for the other must have probably been made.

Verse 25

25.Then Zipporah took a sharp stone. Because the wife here improperly assumed this office, some of the Rabbins conjecture that this was done in the absence of her husband; but the context contradicts them; and therefore I doubt not but that she seized hold of a knife or a stone hastily, as is common in times of fear and confusion. For fear had so affected her mind, that she did not act with consideration. Moses, too, might have lain incapable in his anxiety. Certainly the child was not duly circumcised; and still it is plain from the event, that the ceremony thus rashly performed pleased God; for it is immediately added, that “He let him go.” For thus I interpret it, that the scourge of God ceased or was removed, because he was pacified by the repentance both of Moses and of Zipporah, although it was improper (62) in itself; not that imperfect obedience is pleasing to God absolutely, but relatively, through indulgence, it is sometimes approved. Thus punishment was remitted in the case of wicked Ahab, when for a season he was humbled, on account of his hypocritical tears. (1 Kings 21:29.) When, therefore, Zipporah, who had opposed her husband, circumcised her son with her own hands, although she had not yet seriously repented, yet God was contented with the suppression of her pride, so as to cease from afflicting Moses. Still we must not take this as an example, as if, by manifesting the signs of repentance, hypocrites would always find God merciful; but rather he sometimes graciously pardons the unworthy, as far as the infliction of punishment goes, that, by this kindness, he may invite us to true and sincere repentance. Let us conclude, then, that the confusion of Zipporah, and the stupor of Moses were pardoned; whilst she rashly hastened to circumcise her son, not out of presumption, but yielding to the fears of destruction threatened by God. Thus (63) their folly is confuted who wish to obtain a color for baptism by women from this passage; for they contend that if infants be in danger of death, they may be properly baptized by women, because Zipporah circumcised her son. But they will themselves allow that, if a man be present, a woman could not lawfully administer this sacrament. It is a perversion, then, to lay down a rule from a confused and hasty act.

25.And cast it at his feet. The word נגע, negang, which some construe “she held,” is more properly taken transitively. For although, in some degree, as necessity compelled, Zipporah submitted herself to God, yet, aroused to violent anger, she turns against her husband, and fiercely reproaches him with being “a bloody husband.” Hence we perceive how far she was from a pious disposition to obey; since she thus furiously attacks her husband, and vents her wrath on him, on no other account but that God had extorted from her the circumcision of her son. Some think that she spoke this to her son, from an impulse of maternal grief or pity; but they wrest the words too violently; and it is better to keep to the natural meaning, viz., that she expostulated with her husband, because she had redeemed his life by the loss of her child’s blood.

(62) Praepostera — Lat. Vicieuse. — Fr.

(63) The conduct of Zipporah on this occasion, as well as the argument founded on it for lay-baptism, is amply discussed by Calvin himself, in his Institutes, book 4. chap. 16. 22. — Calvin Soc. Transl. , vol. 3, pp. 346, 347.

Verse 27

27.And the Lord said to Aaron. When, from the long lapse of time, Aaron must have supposed that his brother had died in exile, he now receives the joyful announcement, from the mouth of God, that he is alive; and not only so, but he is excited with the hope of His special favor; for, although God does not explain in detail what he had decreed to do and prepared, yet, by his revelation, he promises him something unusual and unexpected. But the brevity of the command is remarkable, for God says not a word of the deliverance, but desires him to be the disciple of his younger brother; and although, by his promptitude, he manifested the greatest zeal and anxiety to obey, still he is not put on an equality with Moses, who is slow, and dubious, and vacillating, and almost supine; but he is commanded to learn of him the design of God. Only, lest he should question his own and his brother’s vocation, he is instructed by a divine vision, that God is the author of the whole transaction, which serves as a recommendation of the verbal information he is to receive. For although Aaron was the messenger of God, and the organ of the Holy Spirit, we still see that he was not exempt from the usual condition to which we are subjected, of hearing God’s word at the mouth of man. If, then, there are any who object to be taught by the medium of man’s voice, they are not worthy of having God as their Teacher and Master; for it is soon after added, that Moses related all that was commanded him, as well as the great power which had been delegated to him of working miracles. But Aaron himself, although the elder, not only paid honor to his brother, whom he knew to be a Prophet of the Lord; but willingly submitted himself to him as to an angel. The kiss is mentioned as a sign of recognition, by which he testified the firmness of his faith.

Verse 29

29.And Moses and Aaron went. We are here briefly told how faithfully and religiously the two brothers executed the commands of God. They gather together the elders of the people, because the mighty multitude, as we are told they were, could not be collected in one place. Besides, God wished not to contend by means of the tumultuous and confused clamor of a mob, but with the miracles, which calmly breathed forth his divine power. But it is again worthy of observation, that Aaron is substituted to speak in the place of Moses. For if slowness of speech prevented Moses from doing so, why is not God’s discourse directed to Aaron? Wherefore is this circuitous proceeding, that he promulgates to the people not what he himself heard directly, but received indirectly through his brother, except that this mode is agreeable to God for the purpose of proving their faith? For while by this proof the humility and modesty of Aaron were exhibited, since he objected not to depend on his brother’s mouth, so also the tractableness of the elders appears in suffering the commands of God to be thus passed to them from hand to hand, and in not scrupulously inquiring why God did not directly address themselves, or thunder from on high. They were, (64) however, aided by the miracles, because they were so stupified by their miseries that otherwise simple preaching would have had no weight with them.

(64) “Cependant Dieu ait supplee a leur infirmite par l’aide des miracles;” still God helped their infirmity by the assistance of the miracles. — Fr.

Verse 31

31.And the people believed. Either this is a synecdoche, a part of the people being put for the whole, or else Moses signifies that after the announcement was published, all with one consent embraced the message of their deliverance. I prefer the former meaning; because their solemn adoration is immediately subjoined, which could only have taken place in a public assembly. But we shall presently see how fickle and infirm was their belief. It is plain, from its levity and inconstancy, that it was without any living root. But it is not unusual that the word belief should be improperly applied to a mere assent and disposition to believe, which speedily passes away. Thus Christ (Mark 4:15) speaks of the faith of many as transient. “The people,” therefore, “believed,” when they heard that their afflictions were regarded by God, since that statement carried with it credibility and authority; but it was such belief as might be dissipated by the first adverse wind; and so, indeed, it happened. This passage, then, teaches, that theirs is no great attainment, and that they are deserving of no great praise, who eagerly and joyfully receive what is propounded to them in God’s name, unless faith, being deeply rooted in their hearts, sustains itself boldly against the assaults of temptation. Some connect the clauses differently, (65) “The people believed; and when they heard that assistance in their calamities awaited them, gave thanks to God.” But the copula is here rightly resolved into the expositive particle, and the sense is — “When the people had heard what Aaron reported, they believed.” God’s visiting them here expresses the actual occurrence, viz., that God was willing to render them aid in their sore distress. Their “worshipping” was in token of their gratitude, because it was not enough for them privately and individually to reflect on the favor of God, unless they also openly manifested their religious feeling; not as if God greatly requires outward ceremonies, but because they are useful supports to our infirmity, and it is right, that not the mind only, but the body also, should be employed in the service of God.

(65) As in A. V. ; and this rendering is confirmed by Dathe, “Hi fidem habuerunt; et cum audirent,” etc.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/exodus-4.html. 1840-57.
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