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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 4

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-9

Exodus 4:1-9 J (following Exodus 3:18). Moses’ s Third Difficulty— Israel’ s unbelief. To overcome it, he is enabled to authenticate his mission by three signs— the rod that became a serpent and again a rod ( Exodus 4:2-5), the leprosy of his hand that came and went ( Exodus 4:6-8), and the turning of water into blood ( Exodus 4:9). The first is in P a sign to Pharaoh ( Exodus 7:8-12), and the third is in E and P the first plague ( Exodus 7:14-25).— The rod, in J, is Moses’ s ordinary shepherd’ s staff, turned to a special use; in E, it is “ the rod of God,” given him to use as a miraculous instrument; in P, it is Aaron who uses it. All three sources must mention the rod, so firmly was it entwined in the thread of tradition ( Exodus 17:15 f.*). In Exodus 4:9, “ river” should be “ Nile.”

Verses 10-16

Exodus 4:10-16 J. Moses’ s Fourth Difficulty— slowness of speech. This is met by a promise of prophetic inspiration, the fulfilment of which not only Deuteronomy 34:10, but the whole representation of J, endorses. It is followed here by a further exhibition of unreadiness, which evokes Yahweh’ s wrath. The association of Aaron with Moses has been compared to Deborah’ s co-operation with Barak. But since Aaron may only say what Moses tells him, this arrangement is no very clear mark of Divine anger. Moreover, in J, Moses habitually acts and speaks alone, and not by the mouth of Aaron, except in Exodus 4:29 f.*, which obviously follows this passage. Perhaps, therefore, the reference to Aaron has been inserted by a somewhat later hand to explain the undoubted sacredness of the teaching office of the priest ( cf. Priests and Levites, HDB, iv.). Aaron is in Exodus 4:14 called “ the Levite” (p. 106). But Moses himself was ( Exodus 4:21) traditionally descended from Levi. So here, as elsewhere ( cf. Judges 17:7, “ a young man . . . of the family of Judah who was a Levite” ), “ Levite” “ was a term which connoted not ancestry but profession; it was equivalent to clergyman” (M’ Neile, Ex., p. lxvi). Exodus 4:14 b may be due to an editor, who thus led up to Exodus 4:27 E.— That Moses was to be to Aaron “ as God” ( Exodus 4:16) was a particular case of what may be called the Divine policy of mediation. Parents are to young children in the place of God, and like relations to superiors are frequent; but such a phrase may not be pressed to cover the Jesuit claim to override a subordinate’ s conscience.

Verse 17

Exodus 4:17 f. Moses obtains from Jethro leave of absence. For “ tide rod” in Exodus 4:17 , cf. * Exodus 4:2; Exodus 4:20 b; also Judges 6:21.

Verses 19-20

Exodus 4:19-20 a J. Moses is Recalled by Yahweh to Egypt.— This piece probably originally followed Exodus 2:23 a, the narrative of the revelation at the bush having been antedated by the compiler, to dovetail in with E’ s story. The pl. “ sons” is probably due to the editor, to fit Exodus 18:2-4: in J ( Exodus 2:24 and Exodus 4:25) only one “ son” is mentioned.

Exodus 4:20 b E continues Exodus 4:17 .

Verses 21-23

Exodus 4:21-23 J. The Death of Pharaoh’ s Firstborn is Threatened.

Exodus 4:22 f. seems to have been moved back hither from before Exodus 10:28 to serve as a general introduction to the Plagues, receiving Exodus 4:21 as preface. The “ portents” of Exodus 4:21 are not the “ signs” of Exodus 4:2-9 J, to be done for Israel’ s benefit, but those of Exodus 4:17 E, to be done with the rod before Pharaoh.— With Exodus 4:22 cf. Hosea 11:2. The prophetic intuition which saw Yahweh’ s love for Israel as a father’ s for his firstborn became one of the grand commonplaces of Heb. religion. We find it “ christened” in Galatians 3:26-29. It may have had its root in a cruder notion, found outside the OT, of a physical relation between a people and a divine ancestor, but in Israel, as Driver points out, the idea was spiritual.

Verses 24-26

Exodus 4:24-26 J. Moses Threatened with Death Decause Uncircumcised.— This is an old and strange “ boulder” of tradition. The incident here follows Exodus 4:20 a. It appears to relate in strongly anthropomorphic phrase a grave illness which Moses’ s wife interpreted as a punishment for neglect of the rite of circumcision, and remedied by symbolically substituting the circumcision of his son. The rite appears here as one preliminary to marriage, and not in the milder form of Genesis 17*, administered in infancy ( cf. pp. 83, 99f.). The use of “ flint” is, no doubt, a survival of an archaic practice, begun before metal knives were in use ( Joshua 5:2 *). Ritual is ever conservative.

Verses 27-31

Exodus 4:27 f. E. Exodus 4:29-31 J. Aaron meets Moses, and together they meet the elders of Israel.

Exodus 4:27 f. E, which tells of Aaron sbeing called to meet Moses at Horeb, is independent of Exodus 4:14-16 J, for it ignores the part there assigned to Aaron, whereas Exodus 4:29-31 J is the obvious sequel of that passage, though the Heb. rather suggests that even in this passage Aaron was not originally mentioned. In Exodus 4:30 a read, “ And he (Moses) did the signs.” Aaron was not to have done them. With Exodus 4:31; cf. Exodus 12:27 b *.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 4". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/exodus-4.html. 1919.
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