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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 4

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-28


The Egyptian records refer to Moses. Rameses, said by many to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, built a great monument on which he made an inscription naming the nobility who were present when it was erected. Toward the end of the list he mentions “The ra-Moses, Child of the Lady and Priestess of the Sun God Ra.”

Note the peculiarity of the description. “The ra-Moses” means some distinguished ra-Moses, while “Child of the Lady” describes a situation and relation not unlike that of Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter. There are other corroborative data we have no space for, mentioned as a further hint concerning what archaeology reveals on the historicity of the Old Testament.

THE BURNING BUSH (Exodus 2:23 to Exodus 3:10 )

Observe the prelude to the oratorio of power and grace the next chapter reveals, which is found in the language of the closing verses of the present chapter: “God heard,” “God remembered,” “God looked,” “God had respect unto,” or took knowledge of them. His spiritual apprehension is limited who finds nothing for his soul to feed upon in this.

Observe in the burning bush a type of Israel afflicted but not consumed, because God was in the midst of her. Observe in Moses’ action (Exodus 3:3 ) an illustration of the purpose God has in a certain kind of miracle which He performs. This purpose is simply to arrest the attention of men to listen to His voice, that they may be convinced. Observe the name by which God reveals Himself (Exodus 3:6 ), and the identity it establishes with Israel’s past, awakening hope and confidence in Him as the God of promise.

What does God now propose to do for Israel (Exodus 3:8 )? Why (Exodus 3:9 )? How (Exodus 3:10 )? To what extent is Moses to be used, that is, shall he bring Israel out and in, or only out (Exodus 3:10 )?

THE GREAT NAME (Exodus 3:11-22 )

It is not surprising that when Moses, hesitates to accept His command (Exodus 3:11 ), God should encourage him with a token (Exodus 3:12 ), but is it not singular that the token shall not be realized upon until after the command has been fulfilled (same verse, last clause)? Did God mean that the burning bush was the token, or are we to suppose that the token was the event itself? In the latter case, it were as though God said, “Go, and try, and you shall find in the trial and its result that I have sent you.” The former view accords better with the Hebrew accents in the case and with our ordinary idea of a sign, but the latter is corroborated by later Scriptures, such as Isaiah 7:14 .

Have we ever met with this name of God before (Exodus 3:14 )? It is the expression of what God is, the sum of His being and the greatest of all His names. A commentator paraphrases the verse thus: “If Israel shall ask: What are the nature and attributes of Him who hath sent thee to bring us out of Egypt? Tell them it is the eternal, self-existent, immutable Being who only can say that He always will be what He always has been.”

Compare Christ’s words concerning Himself in John 8:58 and observe the identity of expression as well as the application of it made by the Jews, who understood Christ to appropriate this name to Himself.

Are you troubled about the ethics of Exodus 3:21-22 ? If so, you will wish to know that “borrow” does not imply a promise of return but signifies simply to ask or demand (compare Psalms 2:8 ). The Israelites were but receiving at last the fair wages for their toil which their oppressors had denied them. They shall not be ashamed who wait for God.


Moses’ long tutelage in Midian has developed caution. He is a different man from the one who slew the Egyptian in haste forty years before (Exodus 4:1 )! What is the first sign now given him (Exodus 4:2-5 )? The second (Exodus 4:6-8 )? Were these simply for his own assurance or that of Israel? What power was bestowed upon him with reference to a third sign? Doubtless there was an adaptedness of these signs to the purpose for which they were to be used in Egypt, but space will hardly permit a discussion of that feature.

In what does the backwardness of Moses approach the danger point of unbelief (Exodus 4:10-13 )? Light is thrown on the answer to this question if we reflect that Exodus 4:13 amounts to this: “Choose another, a better man to send.” No wonder God was angered, and yet how does He express His patience (Exodus 4:14-16 ) ? Nevertheless, Moses may have forfeited a certain privilege because of his waywardness. A rendering of Exodus 4:14 could read: “‘Is not Aaron thy brother the Levite?’“ By which we may understand that in consequence of Moses’ act the honor of the priesthood and of being the official head of the house of Levi was denied him and conferred on Aaron. If this be true, it teaches that those who decline the labor and hazard connected with the call of God to a special service may lose a blessing of which they little dream.

THE START FOR EGYPT (Exodus 4:18-28 )

How is Moses encouraged (Exodus 4:19 )? What peculiar designation is given Israel (Exodus 4:22 )? You will recall the harmony between this and what we have learned as God’s purpose in calling Israel for her great mission. She was favored beyond other nations not for her own sake but that of those nations to which she was to minister.

What mysterious incident occurred on this journey (Exodus 4:24-26 )? We do not know the meaning of this, but following we give the views of James G. Murphy in his commentary on Exodus:

The Lord had charged Moses with a menace of the gravest kind to Pharaoh and it was well that Moses himself should feel acutely the pang of death in order to comprehend the meaning of this threat. It appears that his youngest son had not been circumcised through some fault of his; the neglect of which was a serious delinquency in one who was to be the leader and lawgiver of the holy people. It was therefore meet that the perfection of the divine holiness should be made known to him and that he should learn at this stage of his experience that God is in earnest when He speaks, and will perform what He has threatened. Hence the Lord sought to kill him probably by some disease or sudden stroke. It is also probable from her promptitude in the matter that Zipporah was in some way the cause of the delay in circumcising the child. Her womanly tenderness shrunk from the painful operation, and her words seem to imply that it was her connection with Moses that had necessitated the bloody rite. It was doubtless a salutary and seasonable lesson to her as well as Moses. The Lord, who sought to put the latter to death, remitted the penalty when the neglected duty had been performed.


1. How does archeology testify to Moses in Egypt?

2. What is God’s purpose in certain miracles?

3. How would you define “I Am That I Am”?

4. Give an argument from John 8:58 for Christ’s deity.

5. How would you explain the word “borrow” (Genesis 3:21-22 )?

6. How does Murphy explain Genesis 4:24-26 ?

Verses 29-31


BEFORE ISRAEL (Exodus 4:29-31 )

What is the first step taken by Moses and Aaron on their return (Exodus 4:29 )? What “signs” are referred to in Exodus 4:30 (compare Exodus 4:1-9 )? How did the people receive their message (Exodus 4:31 )? What effect was produced on the people by God’s compassion?

BEFORE PHARAOH (Exodus 5:1-23 )

How does Moses limit his demand (compare Exodus 5:1 with Exodus 3:18 )? Do you think it was necessary to tell Pharaoh the complete purpose of God with reference to His people? In replying to this question, however, it is well to know that a “a three days journey” would take them clear out of Egypt, and that therefore there was no deceit in what Moses said. And by making this smallest demand upon Pharaoh did it not give him the least possible occasion to harden his heart?

How does he express his contempt of the demand (Exodus 5:2 )? What charge does he lay against God’s messages (Exodus 5:4 )? What new hardships are imposed on Israel (Exodus 5:5-14 )?

By whom are the messengers now reproached (Exodus 5:19-21 )? These officers seem to have been Israelites placed over their brethren in subordination to the Egyptian taskmasters. Their Hebrew name, shoterim, refers to managers who kept account of matters under their charge. What is the effect of this reproach on Moses, and how is his dejection expressed (Exodus 5:22-23 )?

BEFORE THE LORD (Exodus 6:1-13 )

We receive a stirring impression of the encouragement this interview must have brought to Moses if we consider the several declarations of God about Himself and His purposes thus (Exodus 6:1-8 ):

I am the Lord.

I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac and unto Jacob.

I have established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan. I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel.

I have remembered My covenant.

I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians. I will redeem you with a stretched out arm.

I will take you to Me for a people. I will be to you a God.

I will bring you in unto the land. I will give it you for an heritage. I am the Lord.

What do you suppose God means in Exodus 6:3 ? Of course the literal name “Jehovah” was known to the fathers, but its complete import was unknown. The name denotes not only the eternal existence of God but that unchangeable truth and omnipotent power which give fulfillment to His promises. The fathers had received the promises but had not yet enjoyed them. Now, however, God was about to do what He had decreed, and the following verses which speak of this are explanatory of the name. It were as though He said, “I am Jehovah, for I am now to do what I have declared to be My purpose.” Compare, for further illustration of this name, Exodus 7:5 and Ezekiel 28:22 .

How is the renewal of Moses’ message received by the people, and why (Exodus 6:9 )?


The design of this record just here is to establish the lineage of Moses and Aaron because of their prominence and importance in the coming history of the nation (Exodus 6:26-27 ).

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Exodus 4". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/exodus-4.html. 1897-1910.
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