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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 4

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Moses still excuses himself: GOD endues him with the power of working miracles; and appoints Aaron to be his spokesman. Moses returns into the land of Egypt, takes with him Zipporah his wife, and is well received by the Israelites.

Before Christ 1491.

Verse 1

Exodus 4:1. Moses answered—behold, they will not believe me The plain meaning of these words, as is evident from the miracles which God immediately wrought, and gave Moses also power to perform, is, that his bare word would be insufficient to convince the people, without some extraordinary signs to confirm the truth of his mission: "the people will say, the LORD hath not appeared unto thee: if he had, he would certainly have enabled thee to give some sign: shew us therefore such a sign, or we will not believe or regard thy voice." This is so natural an interpretation of the passage, that, I think, it renders useless Bishop Warburton's conjecture, that the backwardness of Moses proceeded from his thinking the recovery of the Israelites, from Egyptian superstition, altogether deliberate.

Verse 2

Exodus 4:2. And the Lord said—What is that? &c.— This is a proof, among many others, that questions are frequently asked in the sacred Scripture, not merely for the purpose of information: the Lord could not be ignorant what Moses had in his hand. This remark may be useful for the rightly understanding of many texts of Scripture. The rod which Moses held, was, most probably, his shepherd's crook. See Micah 7:14. The word, rendered serpent, signifies all kinds of serpents. Lightfoot conjectures it to have been a crocodile. It is probable, from the terror of Moses, that it was an animal of a very fearful kind. Exo 4:5 as well as Exo 4:8-9 evince the truth of the interpretation which we have given of the first verse.

Verse 7

Exodus 4:7. And he said, put thine hand, &c.— The leprosy was generally reckoned a disease incurable by human art. See Celsus, lib. 5: ch. 28. The inflicting, therefore, and instantaneously curing this disease, was a demonstrative proof of Divine power. See Leviticus 13:3. Num 12:10. 2 Kings 5:27. Bishop Patrick conjectures, that this part of Moses's history being imperfectly known among the Heathens, had given occasion to the fabulous story which was invented in future ages, that Moses and the Israelites were infected with the leprosy, and driven out of Egypt on account of that and other scurvy diseases; for so the tale was told in Manetho's history, and is still extant in Justin and Tacitus.

Verse 8

Exodus 4:8. That they will believe the voice of the latter sign This perhaps might be better rendered, they MAY believe; for GOD doth not so much foretel what will happen, as what is the purpose and design of these miracles: asserting, that, if the first do not prevail with some, the second may: against both which, however, if any should stand out, he enables Moses to work a third, which shall prove more convincing than the others. There is great beauty in the expression, the voice of the sign. Bishop Warburton observes on this passage, that, in the first ages of the world, men being obliged to supply the deficiencies of language by significant signs; mutual converse was upheld by a mixed discourse of words and actions. Hence came the Eastern phrase of the voice of the sign; and use and custom, as in most other affairs of life, improving what had arisen out of necessity into ornament, this practice subsisted long after the necessity was over; especially among the Eastern people, whose natural temperament inclined them to a mode of conversation, which so well exercised their vivacity by motion, and so much gratified it by a perpetual representation of material images. See Div. Leg. b. 4: sect. 4: p. 95. But, separate from all this, the voice of the sign may be well understood, and is very energetic. The voice of Nature is a common figure in all languages: every object in nature, ordinary as well as extraordinary, may be well said to utter forth a voice, and to speak in the ear of reason concerning their great God and Master. Pro dii immortales, says Cicero, speaking of some prodigies which happened in his time, qui magis nobiscum loqui possitis, si essetis versaremenique nobiscum? How, ye immortal gods, could you speak more plainly to us, if you were conversant with us? See Genesis 4:10. Psalms 19:3.

REFLECTIONS.—1. Moses, from a diffidence of himself, and perhaps too from some sinful distrust of God, suggests his fears of the people's unbelief. God had assured him of the contrary; but how hard is it to rest upon God's word against human probabilities, and our own past experience!

2. We have God's answer. The miracles should speak for his mission, and gain him credit in his message to the Hebrews. Two are performed immediately, for his own satisfaction; a third is promised, if needful, for theirs. When Jesus came, the multitude and the nature of his miracles, to a demonstration proved him sent from God. If Israel had been inexcusable to have refused these evidences, what must we be, who are compassed about with such a cloud of witnesses, if we disbelieve or reject HIM?

Verse 10

Exodus 4:10. And Moses said—I am not eloquent St. Stephen, Act 7:22 says, that Moses was mighty in words, as well as in deeds: an expression, which is also used, Luk 24:19 of Christ, who is called a prophet, mighty in deed and word: by which is evidently meant, the excellence of each in legislation; the power of their words, considered as law-givers, and instructors of mankind; and also, as prophets foretelling future events: and in this sense there is no contradiction between the words of St. Stephen concerning Moses, and those in this verse: for, doubtless, a man may be an excellent lawgiver and prophet, and yet not excel at all in eloquence. And it was on account of his deficiency in this, (O Lord, I am not eloquent, but slow of speech, and of slow tongue,) that Moses here attempts to decline the office of an ambassador of GOD. The reply which the Almighty made to him, Exo 4:11 was abundantly sufficient to obviate his objections. St. Paul, though powerful to persuade, seems to have been contemptible in speech, 2 Corinthians 10:16. St. Clement, in his epistle to the Corinthians, urges these words as a proof of the humility of Moses. The phrase, neither heretofore, nor since, signifies only, that he never was eloquent.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses still objects, and God continues to answer him.

1. He is not eloquent: though a man of great abilities, yet flow of speech. God thus distributes diversities of gifts to his servants. Some with deep understandings want expression and fluency; others, less solid in judgment, have words at will. Few possess all excellencies.
2. God reasons with him on his power and promise. The work is God's; he is able to accomplish it. It is his will, it shall be done. Note; Our gifts and graces are all from God; and if the ears are deaf to Gospel-calls, or the eyes blind to the things which make for our peace, God will be found just in his judgments.

Verse 13

Exodus 4:13. Send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send The word שׁלח shelach, being very similar to שׁילה shilah, Gen 49:10 which is universally agreed, as we have observed, to mean the Messiah; very many Christian interpreters have thought, that Moses here entreats of GOD to commit this office of delivering his people to that future Messenger and Deliverer, whom he had promised and determined to send. Houbigant is strongly of this opinion; and renders the passage, after the Vulgate, mitte per eam manum quem tu missurus es; send by that hand whom thou art about to send: i.e. says he, by the Saviour of the world, who Moses knew was to come; and who, he thought, might properly come at this time, to deliver his people; "and, for this reason," continues Houbigant, "God was angry at Moses; as it was not for him to appoint the time of human redemption; and says, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? implying, that the Levitical priesthood ought to precede that priesthood; which was to be according to the order of Melchisedec: and he thinks this the only method of accounting for God's so particularly denominating Aaron the Levite." This, perhaps, will by many be thought too refined: and we may add also, that Moses must have known, if he had had such clear discoveries of the mission of the Messiah, that this Divine Person was not yet incarnate: and, therefore, the sense which is given to the passage by the LXX and Chaldee, seems the most rational: "Send by some other person who is able:" "Send by the hand of one who is worthy to be sent." From false humility, or fear, Moses wished to decline an office, which, he foresaw, would be attended with great difficulties: for, that his desire to decline it, arose not from proper principles, is very evident from the anger of the Lord, kindled against him, Exodus 4:14. When human parts, or human passions, are attributed to GOD, it is always to be understood more humano, (after the manner of men,) for the purpose of speaking analogously to our comprehension: a remark, which it will be necessary to retain, though not to repeat.

Verse 14

Exodus 4:14. Behold, he cometh forth to meet thee This latter part of the verse would be rendered more properly, behold, he shall come forth to meet thee: and when he shall see thee, he shall rejoice in his heart: and, perhaps, the phrase, he cometh forth to meet thee, or to thy meeting, may imply the readiness of Aaron to unite with Moses in this grand undertaking. The Almighty here gives Moses a further proof of his power, by foretelling him in what manner he would bring Aaron to him, and unite him in counsel with him.

Verse 16

Exodus 4:16. He shall be to thee instead of a mouth; and thou shalt be to him instead of God. The meaning of this is very evident from the context, without recourse to those subtleties and vain distinctions which some have made. "Thou shalt be to him a God, in the same manner as he shall be to thee, a mouth; thou shalt give commands to him, as I, the Lord God, Jehovah Aleim, give commands to thee: he shall deliver thy commands, and be thy mouth in the same manner, as men are, as it were, the mouth of God, when they deliver his commands. He shall be thy organ, or minister, to publish thy orders to the people; and thou shalt be his oracle, to deliver to him the mind and will of thy God." See Exo 4:30 and ch. Exodus 7:1. Diodorus Siculus has preserved a tradition, that Moses received his laws from a God, called Iao, that is, Jehovah.

Note; 1. If God does not teach the most eloquent Orator, and bless his discourses, he will only speak to the air, or at best to the ear, not to the heart. But, 2. Moses must take his rod. His works shall speak more than his words. And a minister's life, like this rod, will give the greatest weight to his discourses.

Verse 18

Exodus 4:18. And Moses went, and returned, &c.— Thus commissioned by the Almighty, Moses determines immediately to enter upon his office: and, therefore, without informing Jethro of his main design, as that, perhaps, might have retarded it; he urges his desire to go and see whether his brethren (that is, most probably, not the Israelites in general, but those of his own family) were yet alive: to which Jethro readily consents. Moses in this instance, says Poole, has given us a rare example of piety and prudence, in that he took care to avoid all occasions and temptations to disobedience to the Divine commands; as well as of a singular modesty and humility, in that such glorious and familiar converse with God, and the high commission with which he had honoured him, made him neither forget the civility and duty which he owed to his father, nor break out into any public and vain-glorious ostentation of such a privilege.

Exodus 4:19. And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian This is supposed to have been a distinct appearance, different from that mentioned in the preceding chapter: for that was in Horeb, this in Midian; and it is certain, even from this chapter, that after the first grand appearance, the Lord frequently made himself manifest to Moses. There is something very remarkable in the latter words of this verse, which are applied to another, and a greater than Moses; see Mat 2:20 as the departure of Moses, with his wife and children, strongly pictures to us that of Joseph and Mary with the holy child Jesus. When it is said, Exo 4:20 that Moses set them upon an ass, the singular here is put, and must be understood for the plural.

Verse 20

Exodus 4:20. The rod of God It is so called, because it was, in the hand of Moses, the symbol of Divine Power, and the instrument by which he wrought all the prodigies that signalized his ministry.

Verse 21

Exodus 4:21. Goest to return Houbigant renders this, And the Lord said unto him, when he was returning into Egypt. The Vulgate renders it in the same manner.

I will harden his heart For a full explication of this phrase, see the note on ch. Exodus 9:34.

Verse 22

Exodus 4:22. Israel is my son, &c.— See Psalms 89:27; Psalms 2:7. This phrase is expressive of God's peculiar regard and favour to the people of Israel; whom he had chosen and adopted, as it were, to share the first and greatest privileges of his children, and to be the grand repositories of his best blessings to mankind.

REFLECTIONS.—We may observe here, 1. Moses taking leave of his father-in-law. We must never be wanting in respect to our parents, whatever calls of duty may be upon us. 2. God speaks farther to him for his encouragement. His old enemies in Egypt are dead. His fears are thus silenced: not that he should find Pharaoh favourable: though the miracles be wrought before him, he will be obstinate; but he shall suffer for it. We must expect to find in the work of the ministry many a heart like Pharaoh's. 3. Moses takes his family along with him. They who are hearty in God's cause, are very willing to hazard all in his service.

Verse 24

Exodus 4:24. And it came to pass, &c.— The best account which can be given of the extraordinary event here related, is, that Moses having deferred the circumcision of one of his sons, perhaps out of compliance with his wife; God was highly offended with him for such neglect; not only, because Moses knew that no child could be admitted a member of the Jewish community, nor be entitled to the blessings of God's covenant with that people, without circumcision; but also because his example was of great consequence: for who would have regarded the law, if the law-giver himself had neglected it? Zipporah, therefore, conscious of her husband's danger, as well as of her own defect, hastened immediately, and herself performed the office upon her son: in consequence of which, the cause being removed, God's anger also ceased; and he suffered Moses to pursue his journey. The original word, which we render inn, signifies only a place of rest (diversorium), where they lodged for that night; for there were no inns, properly so called, in that part of the world. The sharp stone which she used, rendered knife in the margin of our Bibles, is supposed to have been a knife made of flint; which, we have many testimonies from ancient writers, was a species of knives commonly made use of in those days.

Learn from this account, 1. How dangerous is absence from the people of God, and the means of grace. 2. How apt we are to yield to the foolish fondness of others, even to the offending of God. 3. That God's people will not escape his anger, when they offend him. 4. When we have neglected duty, we must return to it without delay. 5. The removal of our sins will usually alleviate or remove our judgments. 6. We must be content to bear reproach in God's service.

Verse 27

Exodus 4:27. The Lord said, &c.— For Moses's farther comfort, God sends Aaron to meet him. The interview was affectionate; and, Moses having informed him of God's commission, they proceed together, and are received with joy by the elders and people. Note; 1. The comfortable meeting of friends is a mercy, but the obedient attention of the people to their ministers, a greater. 2. We should not be too sanguine on the first promising appearances: the fullest-blown tree bears not always proportionable fruit. 3. If grace do not melt the heart, miracles can produce but a temporary faith.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/exodus-4.html. 1801-1803.
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