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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 4

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

Verses 1-31

Signs Attesting the Commission of Moses. His Return to Egypt

Moses still hesitates, and now objects that the péople will not believe him when he tells them that Jehovah has sent him. He is granted the power of working three signs by way of substantiating his commission.

2. A rod] probably his shepherd’s staff.

3. Fled from before it] A graphic trait, showing that the change was real, and that Moses was not prepared for it.

4. By the tail] Snake charmers usually take snakes by the neck to prevent them biting. It is much more dangerous to seize them by the tail. When Moses did so with impunity his own faith would be strengthened as well as that of the people: cp. our Lord’s promise, Mark 16:18.

6. Leprous as snow] i.e. as white as snow. Leprosy was common in Egypt. The form here meant is that in which the skin becomes glossy, white, and callous. This is the worst form of leprosy and was regarded as incurable. This incident, taken together with the fact that the white leprosy was most common among the Israelites, may have given rise to the tradition, related by the Egyptian priest and historian Manetho, and quoted by Josephus, that Moses was a leper, and that the Israelites were expelled from Egypt because they were afflicted with the same disease.

9. The river] the Nile. This sign is similar to the first of the plagues (see Exodus 7:20), with the difference that here only part of the water is changed on being poured out on the dry land.

10. Moses now pleads his want of eloquence. Jewish tradition says that he had an actual impediment in his speech, being unable to pronounce the labials. His words here, however, do not necessarily imply any positive defect of this kind. He wishes to be excused, and urges that a more eloquent man than he is required to persuade the king of Egypt to release Israel, and the Israelites also to trust themselves to the guidance of Jehovah. For this he is rebuked, but not excused. Aaron is given to him as spokesman.

12. Cp. Jeremiah 1:6-9; Luke 21:14, Luke 15:13-14 This request is equivalent to a refusal to go. Moses says, ’send some one else, but not me.’ Accordingly ’the anger of Jehovah was kindled against him.’ His punishment takes the form of diminished privilege. Aaron henceforth shares in his distinction. The Levite] This means not merely the ’descendant of Levi,’ but ’the priest,’ as the tribe of Levi was afterwards consecrated to the service of the sanctuary. The title is here used by anticipation.

16. Cp. Exodus 7:1. Instead of God] Because Aaron would receive God’s message at the mouth of Moses.

17. Signs] RV ’the signs,’ i.e. the appointed signs.

18-26. Moses takes leave of Jethro and returns with his wife and children to Egypt.

19. Cp. Matthew 2:19.

20. His sons] Only one has been previously mentioned, but a second had been born in Midian: see Exodus 2:22.

21. I will harden his heart] God proposes to harden Pharaoh’s heart, in order to have the opportunity of displaying His power in the deliverance of His people, and exhibiting His character to the Egyptians. Some take the expression as due to the Eastern and fatalistic way of regarding all that happens in the world as the result of the direct intervention of God. On this interpretation it is simply synonymous with ’Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ (Exodus 7:22), and ’Pharaoh hardened his heart’ (Exodus 8:15). Where we speak vaguely of the operation of moral and physical laws and of secondary causes, the Oriental frankly says that ’God did this.’ He says ’kismet’: ’it was fated to be’: see on Exodus 4:24. We prefer to say that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was due to his own obstinacy in refusing to yield to the warnings he received; the Eastern moralist means the same when he says that God hardened his heart. The inevitable result is regarded as the divine purpose. It happens in accordance with laws which God Himself has ordained. ’He will not ’leads inevitably to ’he cannot’: cp. Romans 1:28. It should be observed that this, however, is not equivalent to a denial of moral responsibility. It is a man’s own fault if he allow himself to be entangled in this chain of inevitable consequences. He is, therefore, responsible for the ultimate hardening of his heart through repeated acts of wilful transgression: see on Exodus 10:3.

22. Israel is my son, even my firstborn] This expresses God’s choice of Israel as His peculiar people: cp. Deuteronomy 14:1-2; Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:9, and see on Exodus 19:5. The term ’firstborn’ indicates the high honour conferred upon Israel, and at the same time contains a hint of the ultimate inclusion of the Gentiles also in the covenant.

23. For the fulfilment of this warning see Exodus 12:29, Exodus 12:30.

24. In the inn] RV ’lodging-place,’ not necessarily a building. Sought to kill him] This probably means no more than that Moses was struck with some grievous sickness and was in danger of death. It is another example of the Eastern way of attributing whatever happens to the direct interposition of God, referred to in the note on Exodus 4:21. It would appear from this mysterious incident that Moses had neglected to circumcise his youngest son, on account perhaps of the mother’s objection to the rite. Circumcision was not peculiar to the Israelites, but they alone circumcised infants. What Zipporah objected to, therefore, may not have been the rite itself, but its performance at such an early age. But now seeing the danger her husband was in, and recognising that his sickness was the chastisement of disobedience, she overcame her reluctance and performed the ceremony herself, with the result that Moses’ life was spared (Exodus 4:26). The incident is designed to show the importance of circumcision as the sign of the covenant between God and His people and the sin and danger of neglecting it.

25. A sharp stone] Even in later times than this flint knives were employed in circumcision, being regarded as purer than knives of metal: see Joshua 5:2, where ’sharp knives’ should be ’knives of flint,’ as in RV. Flint knives were used by the Egyptians in opening bodies for embalming. They are said to be carried by the Bedouin of the Syrian desert at the present day. A bloody husband art thou to me] RV ’a bridegroom of blood.’ As the Jews to this day call a circumcised child a ’bridegroom of the circumcision ’it is possible that Zipporah’s exclamation was addressed to the child. It is usually, however, understood as addressed to Moses, whom his wife reproaches as being the cause of bloodshed.

26. He let him go] i.e. God let Moses go, removed his sickness and allowed him to recover. It was probably at this time that Moses sent his wife and children back to the house of his father-in-law. They rejoined him at Sinai after the exodus from Egypt: see Exodus 18:2-5.

27. The mount of God] Horeb or Sinai: see on Exodus 3:1. The two brothers had not met for forty years previous to this.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Exodus 4". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/exodus-4.html. 1909.
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