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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 4

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-31

Exodus 4:1. They will not believe me. Then the Lord directed him to work a miracle, the most convincing evidence of divine authority, for the removal of unbelief.

Exodus 4:2. A rod. Milton has displayed his classic and poetic genius on the rod of Amram’s son. Reference has also been made to the Thyrsus of Bacchus, which was a dart surround with leaves of the vine. The fabulous history of Bacchus we have in old Hesiod, fab. 3. Pliny, book 16, chap. 4. Cicero on the nature of the gods, mentions five of that name, men who lived in different places. (book 3.) Modern literature, in the hands of bishop Huet in France, and Dr. Stukeley of London, gives us the fable as first founded on the promised Messiah. Bacchus was called Bimere, twice born, or a child by two mothers. He was son of Jupiter by Semélè, whose brightness having consumed the mother during pregnancy, the child dropped, and was placed by Jupiter in his thigh to complete the time. Thus Bacchus was twice born. Here we have the mystery of the divine and human geniture of Christ. The vine, the grape, the gay and laughing character of Bacchus, designate, not drunkenness, as feigned by the intemperate heathens, but all the paradisaical state of the earth in the glory of the latter day, when the wilderness shall blossom like the rose, and the deserts shall be glad; when the mountains shall drop down with new wine, and the vallies shall flow with milk; when every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, none daring to make him afraid. Bacchus is also called the god of war, and the most terrible of all the gods. Christ is the Lord of hosts; and there is not a promise of the enlargement of his kingdom, to which the utter destruction of all the incorrigible, expressed or understood, is not subjoined. Bacchus had a double-edged dart; but the Messiah has a sword with two edges to smite the earth. The Thyrsus, rabdos or rod, seems anciently to have been put into the hands of all illustrious characters. Vola, our northern sybil and poetess, says that men played in joyful gambols on the green, and had not known the want of gold, till the arrival of three powerful Thursa maids from Jotunheim.

Tefido I tuni, Teitur voro Var theim vettugis,

Want or gulli, Uns thriar komo,

Thursa meyar.

Amatkar miok, Or Jotunbeimom.

Ed. Stockholm, 1750.

Exodus 4:21. I will harden his heart. The critics read these words so differently as to make a great difficulty in the sense: and the ancient versions of the bible differ as much as the critics. I will harden I will fortify I will magnify I will hold I will corroborate I will fix settle or retain Pharaoh’s heart. Vide Poli Syn. Crit. in loc. And it is said, Exodus 8:32, that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. “God,” says Theodoret, “had he so pleased, might have cut off Pharaoh by a sudden and single stroke; but his goodness induced him to employ more mild and lenient measures.” This indulgence, Pharaoh abused, turning it in every step to an occasion of confirming himself in his obstinacy, as appears in the course of the history, where we find him wavering under the anguish of the scourge, and disposed to comply; and upon the removal of the plague, resuming his former obstinacy. Hence it is evident, he acted by free choice and consent. Had he been wicked by a physical necessity, he could not so often have changed his mind. Hence also that expression, as the Lord had spoken by Moses, Exodus 9:35, is to be understood of the divine prescience or foreknowledge that it would be so. Biblio. Biblia, in loc. The fact seems to be, that when wicked men resist the works and grace of God, he in righteous judgment withdraws his grace, suffers them freely to take their own way, and then they ultimately pass into a state of reprobation. With men so hardened, God in his mysterious wisdom is sometimes pleased to accomplish the purposes of his providence. But as a good man cannot harden another to oppress and kill, so God could not harden Pharaoh to those cruel acts. Therefore, “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” James 1:13.

Exodus 4:24. The Lord met him. The Chaldaic reads, the angel of the Lord. The rabbins make much ado in the illustration of this text. Moses had delayed the rite of circumcising Gershom, surnamed Eliezer, evidently because of family opposition. But now the mother performed the office to avert the impending stroke of death, reproaching Moses as a bloody husband. Christian, be aware, that circumcision of the heart is absolutely required, the mortification of all unlawful desires, else thy soul must die for sin. Nay more, as Moses did this on the day of his journey, so those desires must be suppressed in their first assaults.


The first object presented in this chapter is the mystic Rod, so often noticed in the sacred volume; the rod so often shook with terror against the Egyptians, and so often extended for the salvation and defence of Israel. It was undoubtedly figurative of the sceptre in the hand of Jesus Christ, by which he breaks his enemies, as a potter’s vessel is shivered with a rod of iron: but which he extends every moment as a pastoral crook for the safety and protection of his flock. And how happy are the people sheltered under his guardian care.

Did the Lord support and fortify Moses to enter on this arduous embassy, not only by a repetition of the promises, but by a double miracle? Then the weakest of his servants should not be afraid; he will qualify them for their work, support them in affliction, and enable them to accomplish the good pleasure of his will.

But was he still unwilling to go and address the elders of Israel, recollecting that they had rejected him forty years before? Did he still pray that another might be sent in his place? In this he greatly displeased the Lord; for it was making light of the highest honours a mortal had ever borne. Just so, when a minister is once rejected in the early progress of his work, it is very discouraging, and he can scarcely raise his spirits or face them again, when he thinks that his labours of love have been disesteemed. But let him not be too much discouraged. Many whose ministerial course has been crowned with the greatest utility and honour, have been checked with humiliating difficulties in their early efforts. But wise and holy men are most impressed with the importance of the work; and on that account are most apt to start difficulties and indulge scruples.

Moses having his scruples and fears at length removed, endeavoured to discharge his duty to God with the consent of his family. He solicited leave of Jethro to visit his brethren; a reasonable request, after an absence of forty years. Let us learn of him, so to conduct our family affairs, that religion, if possible, may not be reproached by odd and imprudent conduct.

It is remarkable however, that he said nothing of his divine call. In a mission so extraordinary, Jethro had no experience, no knowledge; and therefore could give him no counsel. On the contrary, he might have thrown many impediments in the way. Hence we learn that it is most prudent for men labouring under an impression to devote their life to the ministry, not to advise with the less enlightened believers, but with aged ministers, who have acquired experience and known the glory to which they are called.

This man having once surmounted his fears, mark how expeditiously he proceeds to execute the divine commands, by hurrying away his wife when she had been but a week confined. The King’s business requires haste; and the Lord’s work is to be done before our own.

Mark farther, that the Lord may for a while excuse in others, what he will not excuse in his peculiar servant. Moses, being on a journey, had omitted the ritual of circumcision on the eighth day, which was the seal of the covenant; the Lord therefore met him in a menacing attitude. It becomes the heads and chiefs of religion to be foremost in setting a good example. Above all, let every man be assured, that unless he receive the Holy Spirit, the grand seal of the new covenant, he shall be cut off from the congregation of the Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/exodus-4.html. 1835.
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