Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Exodus 4

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-17


Exodus 4:1-17

The reluctance of Moses to undertake the part of leader, indicated by his first reply at his first calling, "Who am I that I should go?" etc. (Exodus 3:11), was not yet overcome. God had promised that he would succeed; but he did not see how he could succeed, either with the people or with Pharaoh. It was not enough for him that God had declared, "They (the people) shall hearken unto thy voice" (Exodus 3:18); he does not, cannot believe this, and replies: "Behold, they will not believe, neither hearken unto my voice" (Exodus 4:1). This was plain want of faith; but not unnatural, and not, in God's sight, inexcusable. God therefore condescended to the human weakness of his servant, and proceeded to show him how he intended that he should persuade the people of his mission. He should persuade them by producing the credentials of miracles (Exodus 4:2-9). But the laggard heart finds yet a further objection. Moses feels that he labours under a personal defect, which (he thinks) is an absolute disqualification. He is "slow of speech and of a slow tongue" (Exodus 4:10), has always been wanting in eloquence, and does not find himself any the more eloquent since God has been speaking with him. In vain does Jehovah promise to "be with his mouth" (Exodus 4:12); Moses' last word indicates all the old feeling of self-distrust. "Send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send" (Exodus 4:13). Then at last the anger of the Lord is kindled against Moses, and God inflicts on him a sort of punishment—degrades him; as it were—deposes him from the position of sole leader, and associates Aaron with him in such sort that Aaron must have appeared, both to the Israelites and to the Pharaoh, as the chief leader rather than Moses. (See Exodus 4:30; Exodus 7:2, Exodus 7:10, Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:6, Exodus 8:17, etc.)

At this point the interview between Moses and Jehovah ends, and the action of the Exodus commences. Moses obtains leave to quit Midian, and quits it—retires to Egypt, after escaping from a dangerous sickness on the way (Exodus 4:24-26), is met by Aaron and takes him into his counsels, summons the elders and exhibits before them his miraculous powers, persuades them, and is finally accepted as having, with Aaron, a mission from God, both by the elders and the people.

Exodus 4:1

Behold, they will not believe. Attempts have been made to soften down this contradiction of God's words in Exodus 3:18, and to represent Moses as merely saying, "What if the people will not hearken, etc. What shall I do then?" (So the LXX; Geddes, Boothroyd, and others.) But the phrase is really emphatic and peremptory. As Rosenmuller says: "Vox est negantis et detrac-tantis officium." The Lord hath not appeared to thee. It is quite probable that the Israelites would have so spoken, if Moses had had no sign to show. There had been no appearance of Jehovah to anyone for above four hundred years. And the Israelites, who had not seen Moses for forty years, would not know whether he was a veracious person or not.

Exodus 4:2

A rod. Or "a staff." Some suppose the ordinary shepherd's staff, or crook, to be meant; but it is objected that this would have been an unfit object to have brought into the presence of Pharaoh (Kalisch), being unsuitable for a court, and emblematic of an occupation which the Egyptians loathed (Genesis 46:34); and the suggestion is therefore made, that it was the baton or long stick commonly carried by Egyptians of good position and especially by persons in authority. But Moses in Midian, forty years after he quitted Egypt, is not likely to have possessed such an article; nor, if he had possessed it, would he have taken it with him when shepherding. Probably a simple staff, the natural support of a man of advanced years, is meant.

Exodus 4:3

It became a serpent. The word here used for "serpent," nakhash, is a generic word applicable to any species of snake. We cannot assume that the cobra is the serpent meant, though no doubt Moses, when he fled from before it, believed it to be a venomous serpent. Various reasons for God's choice of this particular sign have been given. Perhaps the best is, that a trick of the kind was known to the Egyptian conjurors, who would be tempted to exhibit it in order to discredit Moses, and would then be discredited themselves by his stick swallowing theirs. (See Exodus 7:10-12.) It is fanciful to suppose a reference either to the serpent of Genesis 3:1-24. (Keil and Delitzsch) or to the uraeus (cobra), which the Egyptian kings bore in their headdress as a mark of sovereignty {Canon Cook)

Exodus 4:4

By the tail. A snake-charmer will usually take up his serpents by the neck, so that they may not be able to bite him. Moses was bidden to show his trust in God by taking up his serpent by the tail. His courage, as well as his faith, is shown in his ready obedience. It became a rod. A veritable rod once more, not a mere stiffened snake like the "rods" of the magicians (Exodus 7:12)

Exodus 4:5

That they may believe. The sign was to convince the Israelites, in the first instance, and cause them to accept the mission of Moses (see Exodus 4:30, Exodus 4:31). It was afterwards to be exhibited before Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21), to try him and prove him, but not to convince him.

Exodus 4:6

Furthermore. The first sign is followed by a second, equally simple and easy of performance, and perhaps, in the eyes of the Israelites, even more marvellous. Leprosy in a developed form was regarded as absolutely incurable. (Celsus, 'De Re Medica,' 5.7-8.) Its instantaneous production and removal were contrary to all experience, and in themselves thoroughly astonishing. Further, while the first miracle was simply a sign of supernatural power—a credential, the second was a warning and a lesson. What might not he do to smite or to save on whom God had bestowed such power over the human organism? Each man would naturally fear to resist or disobey one so dangerously gifted. Leprous as snow. The Greek name for the worst form of leprosy, λεύκη, was based on this fact of whiteness. The loathsome disease is thus described by Kalisch:—"It begins with mealy crusts and scurfy scabs, originally not larger than a pin's point, a little depressed in the skin (Le Exodus 13:3, 30), and covered with white hairs (Le Exodus 13:3, Exodus 13:20). These spots rapidly spread (Le Exodus 13:8), and produce wild [proud?] flesh (Le Exodus 13:10, Exodus 13:14). The leprous symptoms appear most frequently on the hairy parts of the body, and also on members which have been ulcerously affected. When the leprosy has gained ground, the whole skin appears glossy white at the forehead, nose, etc; tuberated, thickened, dry like leather, but smooth; sometimes it bursts, and ulcers become visible. The nails of the hands and feet fall; the eyelids bend backwards; the hair covers itself with a fetid rind, or goes off entirely (Leviticus 13:42). All external senses are weakened: the eyes lose their brightness, become very sensitive, and are continually blearing; from the nostrils runs a fluid phlegm."

Exodus 4:8

The voice of the first sign. Some understand "the voice of Moses as he gave them the first sign;" but it is better to regard the sign itself as speaking to them. According to the sacred writers everything that can teach us anything—day, night, the heavens, the firmament, the beasts, the fowls of the air, the fishes, nay, the very stones—have a voice. They teach us, speak to us, declare to us, cry out aloud, lift up their voice, shout, sing, proclaim God's will, whether man will hear or whether he will forbear. (See Psalms 19:1-3; Job 12:7, Job 12:3; Habakkuk 2:11; Luke 19:40, etc.) Equally, or rather much more, must a miracle be regarded as having a voice. God speaks to us by it.

Exodus 4:9

If they will not believe also. "Even" would be a better translation than "also." The river is of course "the Nile." See the comment on Exodus 2:3. Of the three signs given, the first would probably convince all those who were religious, well-disposed, and fair-minded; the second, acting upon their fears, would move all but the desperately wicked, who despised Jehovah and put their trust in the gods of the Egyptians (Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7, Ezekiel 20:8; Ezekiel 23:3, Ezekiel 23:8, etc.). The third sign was for these last, who would regard the Nile as a great divinity, and would see in the conversion of Nile water into blood a significant indication that the God who had commissioned Moses was greater than any Egyptian one.

Exodus 4:10

And Moses said, O my Lord. The phrase used by Moses is full of force. It is "vox dolentis et supplicantis" (Noldius). Joseph's brethren use it to the steward of Joseph's house, when they expect to be fallen upon and taken for bondsmen (Genesis 43:20); Judah used it (Genesis 44:18) when pleading with Joseph for Benjamin; Aaron when pleading for Miriam (Numbers 13:11); Joshua when expostulating with God about Ai (Joshua 7:8). There is a deprecatory idea in it, as well as a supplicatory one; an idea like that which Abraham expanded into the words, "Oh! let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once" (Genesis 18:32). Moses feels that he is trying the patience of God to the uttermost; but yet he must make one more effort to escape his mission. I am not eloquent. Literally, as in the margin, "a man of words." "Words do not come readily to my tongue when I attempt to speak; I have never been a fluent speaker, neither yesterday (i.e. recently) nor the day before (i.e. formerly). Nor do I even find that I have become eloquent by divine inspiration since thou spakest with me. Still I remain slow of speech and slow of tongue." A question is raised whether the mere difficulty of finding words and giving them utterance—a difficulty felt at first by almost every speaker—is here meant, or something further, as "a natural impediment owing to defect in the organs of speech" (Kalisch), or a want of readiness, owing to disuse, in speaking the Hebrew language (Clarke). The latter suggestion is scarcely consistent with the ease and fluency with which Moses had carried on the conversation in Hebrew up to this point. The former is a possible meaning, though not a necessary one. According to a Jewish tradition, Moses had a difficulty in pronouncing the labials b, v, m, ph, p.

Exodus 4:11-13

Who hath made man's mouth! God could and would have cured the defect in Moses' speech, whatever it was; could and would have added eloquence to his other gifts, if he had even at this point yielded himself up unreservedly to his guidance and heartily accepted his mission. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. He gives all powers—sight, and hearing, and speech included—to whom he will. He would have been "with Moses' mouth," removing all hesitation or indistinctness, and have "taught him what to say"—supplied the thought and the language by which to express it—if Moses would have let him. But the reply in Exodus 4:13 shut up the Divine bounty, prevented its outpour, and left Moses the ineffective speaker which he was content to be. The words, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom Thou wilt send, are curt and ungracious; much curter in the original than in our version. £ They contain a grudging acquiescence. But for the deprecatory particle with which they commence—the same as in Exodus 4:10, they would be almost rude. And we see the result in the next verse.

Exodus 4:14

The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses. The expression used is a strong one, but does not perhaps here mean more than that God was displeased. At least, he did not punish the offender in any severer way than by the withholding of a gift that he was ready to bestow, and the partition between two of a position and a dignity which Moses might have had all to himself. Perhaps diffidence and self-distrust, even when out of place, are not altogether abhorrent to One whose creatures are continually offending him by presumption and arrogance. Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know, etc. This translation is wrong. The two clauses form one sentence, and should be rendered, "Do I not know that Aaron the Levite, thy brother, speaks well?" Aaron's designation as "the Levite" is remarkable, and seems to glance at the future consecration of his tribe to God's especial service. Behold, he cometh forth to meet thee. It has been conjectured that Aaron designed to visit Moses in Midian, in order to convey to him the intelligence that the king who had sought his life (Exodus 2:15) was dead. He did not, however, start on the journey till God gave him a special direction (Exodus 4:27).

Exodus 4:15

Thou shalt speak unto him and put words in his mouth. Moses was to tell Aaron what to say—furnish, i.e; the matter of his speeches—and Aaron was to clothe this matter in fitting words. God promised to be with both of their mouths; with Moses', to make him give right directions to Aaron; with Aaron's, to make him utter them persuasively: Moses' position was still the more honourable one, though Aaron's might seem the higher to the people.

Exodus 4:16

He shall be thy spokesman. Literally, "He shall speak for thee." He shall be, even he. It is the verb that is repeated, not the pronoun. Probably the meaning is, "he shall surely be." There is no comparison between Aaron and anyone else. Thou shalt be to him instead of God. Divine inspiration, that is, shall rest on thee; and it shall be his duty to accept thy words as Divine words, and to do all that thou biddest him.

Exodus 4:17

Thou shalt take this rod. Not any rod, but the particular one which had already once become a serpent. Wherewith thou shalt do signs. Rather, "the signs," i.e. the signs which thou wilt have to do, as already declared in Exodus 3:20. It is quite gratuitous to suppose that God had already particularised them


Exodus 4:1-5

The intent of the first sign.

Primarily, no doubt, the object was to empower Moses to show forth a sign easily, readily, without preparation, and so at any moment. He had come to the time of life at which he naturally carried a staff. That he should be able at his will to transform that dead piece of vegetable matter into an active, living organism, would show him endued with supernatural power over both the vegetable and animal worlds, and give him a means, always ready to his hand, of demonstrating the truth of his mission. This alone was a great matter. But the fact that his rod became a serpent, rather than any other living thing, was specially calculated to impress the Egyptians. In one form, the serpent with them meant "a king," or "a crown;" and the change of a staff into a snake would typify the conversion of a shepherd into a monarch. In another form it was a sign for a "multitude," and the transformation might remind them that the single stock or stem of Jacob was now become "millions." The great serpent, Apap, moreover, held a high position in their mythology, as powerful to destroy and punish, whence they might the more fear one who seemed able to create serpents at his pleasure. The Israelites would perhaps view the staff as a rod to smite with, and connect its change into a serpent with the notion that when reds or whips were not thought severe enough, rulers chastised with "scorpions" (1 Kings 12:11). Altogether, the sign, if viewed as a type, was threatening and alarming; perhaps the more so on account of its vagueness. Forms ill-defined, seen through mist, affright men more than those which are clear and definite.

Exodus 4:6-8

The intent of the second sign.

If the first sign was powerful to convince, the second was still more powerful (Exodus 4:8). It showed Moses able to produce, and cure, in a moment of time, the most virulent malady to which human nature was liable. The Egyptians greatly feared leprosy, and declared in their own accounts of the Exodus that they drove the Israelites out of their country because they were afflicted with that loathsome disease. The Israelites regarded it as the worst affliction that could befall a man. The hand of Moses made leprous within the folds of the garment that enwrapped his bosom typified perhaps the Israelitish nation, corrupted by the circumstances that enwrapped it around in Egypt. The cure indicated that Moses would, through the power committed to him, cleanse the people from their defilements, and. restore them to a state of spiritual soundness. Thus it was at once a warning and a promise. The sign appears not to have been used in Moses' dealings with the Egyptians (Exodus 7:10-17), because it was inappropriate as respected them, since they were beyond cleansing—there was no healing of their wound. Thus by this sign were taught two things:

1. That there is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness which can wash away, under the condition of repentance, any defilement; and

2. That there is a state of sinfulness and corruption when repentance ceases to be possible, and the moral nature can no longer be restored, and nothing remains but that fearful looking-for of judgment to come whereof the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks (Exodus 10:27). The signs of the serpent and the blood—signs of judgment—were for the Egyptians and the Israelites alike; the sign of the hand made leprous and then restored—a sign of mercy—was for the Israelites only.

Exodus 4:9

The intent of the third sign.

Blood poured on the ground could symbolise nothing but war and destruction. That water should be turned into it implied that peace should be changed into war, prosperity into ruin, quiet and tranquillity into a horrible carnage. The special reference would be to the destruction of Pharaoh's host in the Red Sea; but the other ruinous plagues, as especially the fifth, the seventh, and the tenth, would be glanced at also. That the water became blood on touching the ground of Egypt would indicate that it was the land and people of Egypt who were to be the sufferers. A very dreadful vengeance was thus foreshadowed by the third sign, which should have warned the Pharaoh of the terrible results that would follow his resistance to God's will as proclaimed by Moses. To the Israelites, on the contrary, the sign was one assuring them of final triumph; that the blood of their enemies would be poured out like water in the coming struggle, and their resistance to God's will be signally punished.

Exodus 4:10

Slowness of speech a drawback on ministerial fitness, but not a disqualification.

It is remarkable that both Moses, the great prophet of the First Covenant, and St. Paul, the "chosen vessel" for the publication of the Second Covenant, were ineffective as speakers; not perhaps both "in presence base," but certainly both "in speech contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:1, 2 Corinthians 10:10). Speakers and preachers should lay the lesson to heart, and learn not to be overproud of the gift of eloquence. A good gift it is, no doubt—when sanctified, a great gift—which may redound to God's honour and glory, and for which they should be duly thankful, but not a necessary gift. The men of action, the men that have done the greatest things, and left their mark most enduringly upon the world, have seldom been "men of words." Luther indeed was mighty in speech, and John Knox, and Whitfield, and (though less so) John Wesley, but not our own Cranmer, nor Melancthon, nor Anselm, nor Bishop Cosin, nor John Keble. In the secular sphere of statesmanship and generalship the same principle holds even more decidedly. Demosthenes has to yield the palm to Alexander, Cicero to Caesar, Pym to Cromwell, the Abbe Sieyes to Napoleon. On the whole it must be said that those who are great in deed are rarely great in speech. And without eloquence a man may do God good service in every walk of life, even as a minister. The written sermon may go as straight to the heart of the audience as the spoken one. Ministerial effort in house-to-house visiting may do as much to convert a parish as any number of extempore sermons. Example of life preaches better than palaver. Let no one who feels within him the ministerial call, who longs to serve God by bringing his fellow-men to Christ, be deterred by the thought that he is "slow of speech and of a slow tongue." God, without making him eloquent, can "be with his mouth," give his words force, make them powerful to the conversion of souls. It has been said that there are many "dumb poets." So are there many "dumb preachers," whoso weak and hesitating words God blesses and renders effectual, so that in the end they have no cause to be ashamed, but may point to those whom they have brought to Christ, and exclaim with St. Paul, "Ye are our work, ye are our epistle, the seal of our apostleship are ye in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:1, 1 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 3:2).

Exodus 4:13, Exodus 4:14

The sin of self-distrust, and its punishment.

Undoubtedly the general inclination of men is towards self-assertion and self-sufficiency, so that diffidence and distrust of self are commonly regarded as excellences. But there is a diffidence which is wrongful, a self-distrust which Scripture condemns. St. Paul calls it "a voluntary humility" (ἐθελοταπεινοφροσύνη)—a humblemindedness, that is, which has its root in the will; a man not choosing to think that he is fit for high things, and determining to keep down his aims, aspirations, hopes, endeavours. The same apostle exhorts his converts "not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think" (Romans 12:3), but at the same time, by implication, "not to think too humbly, for he tells them to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every one the measure of faith." We ought to take true views of ourselves, of our capacities, powers, faculties, even of the graces to which by God's mercy we have been able to attain; and not to deny them or depreciate them. If we do so we keep ourselves back from high things, and this is how God punishes us. Moses lost the gift of eloquence, which God would supernaturally have bestowed upon him (Exodus 4:12), and lost one-half of his leadership (Exodus 4:14 Exodus 4:16), by his persistent diffidence and distrust. We prevent ourselves from attaining heights to which we might have attained, we keep ourselves down in this world and make our position low in the next, by similar folly. The youth who bore the banner with the word "excelsior" upon it, was wiser than most of us. If we would rise high we must aim high; if we would aim high we must not be too diffident of ourselves.

Exodus 4:14

The love of brothers.

Few things are more lovely than the affection of brothers. James and John, Simon and Andrew, Philip and Bartholomew, James and Jude, were sent out together by our Lord, that they might enjoy this sweet companionship. How touching is the love of Joseph for Benjamin! If there is "a friend that sticketh closer than a brother," the fact is noted for its rarity; and the force of the phrase depends on the known intensity of fraternal affection. Aaron, though so long parted from Moses, perhaps the more because so long parted, would at the sight of him be "glad in his heart." Though not brought up together, though educated so differently, and gifted so differently, though seemingly intended for such different walks in life, the two had a true affection, each for each, which had survived a long and—so far as we are told—complete separation. Here, and again in verse 27, it is the affection of Aaron which is especially noticed—perhaps because it was the more praiseworthy. Aaron, the elder brother, might naturally have felt some jealousy of Moses' advancement above himself, of his superior education, social position, privileges, etc. But he seems to have been entirely free from this feeling. Moses might, for aught that he knew, resume his old princely rank on his return to Egypt, and throw him once more into the shade. Aaron did not disquiet himself about this. God knew that he longed for the simple keen pleasure of seeing his brother ("when he seeth thee, he will be glad," etc.), of pressing him to his heart, and kissing him on the face (verse 27). Well would it be, if among Christians all brothers were thus minded.

Exodus 4:14-16

Diversities of gifts a benefit both to individuals and to the Church.

After all, the self-distrust of Moses was turned by God to good. Without it Moses would have been sole leader of the entire enterprise, must have appeared alone before the elders and before the monarch, must have undertaken the entire charge, direction, superintendence of everything, must have had upon his mind an unshared burden which it would have been most trying to bear. God's strength might indeed have been sufficient for his weakness. But his life could not but have been a weariness to him. He would have lacked the unspeakable solace and comfort of a loved and loving associate, to whom he might open—indeed, was bound to open (Exodus 4:15)—all his mind, and with whom he could constantly "take sweet counsel together." He would have also lacked the support, so much needed by a shy man, of a companion and coadjutor in crises and times of difficulty, as when he appeared first before the elders (Exodus 4:29, Exodus 4:30), and when he appeared first before Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1). Thus the association of Aaron with himself in the leadership must have been felt by Moses as a benefit. And to Aaron it was an unmixed advantage. The gift with which God had endowed him, and which he had no doubt sedulously cultivated, caused him to be placed almost on a par with his brother—enabled him to be of use to him—gave him loving companionship—and caused him to have a large part in the deliverance of his nation. After forty years of separation, during which he had never ceased to long for the return of his brother, Aaron found himself associated in the closest possible way with Moses, made his "right-hand man," his other self, his constant aider and assister. After a wholly undistinguished life, which had lasted eighty-three years (Exodus 7:7), he found himself brought into a position of the highest dignity and responsibility. And the Church was benefited greatly by the double leadership. Moses, the man of thought, was able to devote himself exclusively to thinking out all the details of the great work entrusted to him. Aaron, the man of words, was able to give all his attention to the framing of addresses whereby he might advance the plans of his brother. So in the Christian Church there have always been, and will always be, "diversities of gifts." At one time they are "gifts of healing, tongues, prophecy, interpretation, discerning of spirits, faith, wisdom, prudence" (1 Corinthians 12:8-10); at another, preaching power, administrative energy, learning, scholarship, influence, and the like. Seldom are even two of these gifts united in the same individual. The Church prospers by utilising the gifts of all, assigning to each man the position suited to him, and taking care that he has a fair field for the employment of his special gift. In this way, "the whole building fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16).


Exodus 4:1


The objection started by Moses to the mission on which he was sent was a very natural one. The people would not believe him, nor hearken to his voice. For—

I. HE WAS AS YET UNFURNISHED WITH DISTINCT CREDENTIALS. In so grave a matter Moses could not expect the people to believe his bare word. This was a real difficulty. Before committing themselves to his proposals, the Hebrews would be entitled to ask for very distinct proofs that the message brought to them had really come from God—that there was no mistake, no deception. God acknowledges the justice of this plea, by furnishing Moses with the credentials that he needed. From which we gather that it is no part of the business of a preacher of the Gospel to run down "evidences." Evidences are both required and forthcoming. God asks no man to confide in a message as of Divine authority, without furnishing him with sufficient grounds for believing that this character really belongs to it. The reality of revelation, the supernatural mission of Christ, the inspiration of prophets and apostles, the authority of Scripture, all admit of proof; and it is the duty of the preacher to keep this fact in view, and in delivering his message, to exhibit along with the message the evidences of its Divine original.

II. MORAL CAUSES, AS DISTINGUISHED FROM MERE DEFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE, WOULD MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR HIM TO SECURE CREDENCE. Moses anticipated being met, not simply with hesitation and suspense of judgment, which would be all that the mere absence of credentials would warrant, but by positive disbelief. "The Lord hath not appeared to thee." How account for this?

1. The message he had to bring was a very wonderful one. He had to ask the people to believe that, after centuries of silence, God, the God of the patriarchs, had again appeared to him, and had spoken with him. This in itself was not incredible, but it would assume an incredible aspect to those whose faith in a living God had become shadowy and uninfluential—who had learned to look on such appearances as connected, not with the present, but with a distant and already faded past. Credulous enough in some things, they would be incredulous as to this; just as a believer in witchcraft or fairies might be the hardest to convince of a case of the supernatural aside from the lines of his ordinary thinking and beliefs. It is a similar difficulty which the preacher of the Gospel has to encounter in the indisposition of the natural mind to believe in anything outside of, or beyond, the sphere in which it ordinarily works and judges,—the sphere of things sensible (John 14:17). The supernatural is strange to it. It pushes it aside as inherently incredible, or at least as of no interest to it. From this the advance is easy to that which is so peculiarly a characteristic of our age, the denial of the supernatural as such—the fiat assertion that miracle is impossible.

2. The announcement contained in his message was so good as almost to surpass belief. Great good news has often this effect of producing incredulity. Cf. Genesis 45:26,—"Jacob's heart fainted, and he believed them not," and Psalms 126:1-6. And would not the Hebrews require evidence for the great good news that God had visited them, and was about to bring them out of Egypt, and plant them in Caanan! In like manner, is it not vastly wonderful, almost passing belief, that God should have done for man all that the Gospel declares him to have done! Sending his Son, making atonement for sin, etc.

3. The difficulties in the way of the execution of the purpose seemed insuperable. Even with God on their side, it might seem to the Israelites as if the chances of their deliverance from Pharaoh were very small. True, God was omnipotent; but we know little if we have not learned how much easier it is to believe in God's power in the abstract, than to realise that this power is able to cope successfully with the actual difficulties of our position. The tendency of unbelief is to "limit the Holy One of Israel" (Psalms 78:41). And this tendency is nowhere more manifest than in the difficulty men feel in believing that the Gospel of the Cross is indeed the very "power of God unto salvation"—able to cope with and overcome the moral evil of the world, and of their own hearts.

4. One difficulty Moses would not have to contend with, viz.: aversion to his message in itself. For, after all, the message brought to the Israelites was in the line of their own fondest wishes—a fact which ought, if anything could, powerfully to have recommended it. How different with the Gospel, which, with its spiritual salvation, rouses in arms against itself every propensity of a heart at enmity against God! The Israelites must at least have desired that Moses' message would turn out to be true; but not so the mass of the hearers of the Gospel. They desire neither God nor his ways; have no taste for his salvation; are only eager to find excuses for getting rid of the unwelcome truths. To overcome an obstacle of this kind, more is needed than outward credentials—even an effectual working of the Holy Ghost.


1. Preachers of the Gospel must prepare themselves for encountering unbelief. It is the old complaint—"Who hath believed our report?" (Isaiah 53:1).

2. The success of Moses in overcoming the people's unbelief shows that he must have possessed decisive credentials of his mission. The complaint of this verse does not tally with what is sometimes alleged as to the unlimited drafts that may be made on human credulity. Moses did not find the people all readiness to believe him. He was bringing them a message in the line of their dearest wishes, yet he anticipated nothing but incredulity. He had never much reason to complain of the over-credulity of the Israelites; his complaint was usually of their unbelief. Even after signs and wonders had been wrought, he had a constant battle to fight with their unbelieving tendencies. How then, unless his credentials had been of the clearest and most decisive kind, could he possibly have succeeded? For, mark

(1) It was not merely a few enthusiasts he had to carry with him, but the whole body of the people.

(2) He was no demagogue, but a man of slow, diffident, self-distrustful nature, the last man who might be expected to play successfully on popular credulity or enthusiasm.

(3) His plans were not to be laid before the multitude at all, but before the "elders"—the cool, cautious heads of the ,nation, who would be sure to ask him for very distinct credentials before committing themselves to a contest with Pharaoh. The inference is that there must have been a true supernatural in the founding of the Mosaic era; as afterwards there must have been a true supernatural in the founding of the Christian era. Imposture, credulity, the force of mere ideas, the commanding power of a great personality, are, together or apart, incapable of explaining all the facts. Wonders must have been wrought, alike in the accrediting of the mission of Moses and in the stupendous work of the deliverance itself.—J.O.

Exodus 4:1-10

A trilogy of signs.

In reply to his complaint that the people would not believe him, nor hearken to his voice, God gave Moses three signs. These are to be viewed—

I. AS ATTESTATIONS OF HIS DIVINE COMMISSION (Exodus 4:5, Exodus 4:8). Divine power is supernaturally exercised in proof of Moses' title to speak with Divine authority. This is a clear case of the use of miracles as credentials of a mission, and confutes those who reason that this view of miracles has no basis in Scripture. The character of the signs was not to be disregarded, but the immediate circumstance which gave them evidential value was the fact of supernatural origin. Practically, signs of the kind wrought by Moses would be felt to be incontestable proofs of his Divine commission; and it is difficult to see how otherwise his message could have been authenticated. Why should this be objected to? Why, if the message is worthy of God, and the work of power is also worthy of God, should the work of power not be employed to add authority to the word, as indicating with certainty the source from which it comes?

II. AS SIGNIFICANT OR PARABOLIC ACTS. This is implied in their character as "signs." They had had of themselves a "voice." They told over again what Moses had explained in words, while they exhibited in symbol the superiority of Jehovah to the king and gods of Egypt.

1. Sign 1st.—The impotence of Pharaoh against Jehovah's messenger. This seems to be the import of the turning of the rod into the serpent (Exodus 4:2-5). The serpent "was the symbol of the royal and divine power on the diadem of every Pharaoh."

(1) The rod cast to the ground and changing into a serpent symbolised the effect of the challenge to Pharaoh.

(2) Before this terrible apparition, with its gleaming eyes, inflated neck, hissing tongue, and vehemence of assault, Moses fled in natural terror.

(3) But he is instructed not to fear it, but to seize it by the tail; when there is given a representation of Pharaoh's absolute powerlessness to hurt him in the reconversion of the serpent into the rod. The foe vanishes, and Moses remains master of the situation. The lesson is, that God's servants, charged with the execution of his mission, are more than a match for all the powers of ill that can be arrayed against them. God will bruise even Satan—"that old serpent"—under their feet shortly (Romans 16:20). They wield an authority which gives them for the time a charmed existence, and ensures the defeat of those opposed to them. Cf. with this sign Mark 16:18; Acts 28:5; Revelation 12:6; and instance Luther before the Diet of Worms.

2. Sign 2nd. The power of Jehovah to smite and heal. The symbol of this was at the same time an instance of it—viz, the sudden smiting of Moses' hand with leprosy, followed by as instantaneous a cure (Revelation 12:6-8). Leprosy was peculiarly the theocratic punishment (Miriam, Uzziah, Gehazi). It was probably a common disease among the Israelites, who figure in Egyptian traditions as a nation of lepers, hateful to the gods on account of their pollutions. The obvious teaching of this sign would therefore be

(1) That Jehovah was able to smite with the most grievous plagues, yet

(2) As able to heal when he had smitten.

This conveyed both threat and promise.

(1) If the people obeyed his voice, as he had healed the leprous hand, so would he heal them of their natural and spiritual disorders, and lift them out of their despised and unclean state in Egypt; while conversely,

(2) If they resisted, great and sore strokes of the Divine anger would fall upon them; or, if Egypt resisted God's will, it in turn would be smitten by his plagues. The power in both cases was omnipotent and resistless. Thus we are instructed—

1. To fear the stroke of the Divine anger.

2. That God who smites can also heal (Hosea 6:1).

3. That God is more willing to remove judgments than to send them.

4. That God can heal the leprous heart.

5. To fear, above all, that most awful fulfilment of the leprosy symbol—the adjudging of the soul, under Divine wrath, to the unchecked spread of its own corruptions—to the reign of sin within itself.

3. Sign 3rd.—The ruin that would descend on Egypt if God's will continued to be disobeyed. The sign of the turning of a portion of the water of the Nile—the source of Egypt's beauty, fertility, and prosperity—into blood (Revelation 12:9) could only have one meaning. It portended ruin to the state of Egypt. And such would be the inevitable consequence of a contest between Pharaoh and Jehovah, if protracted by the king's obstinacy. In this case there was no reversal of the sign. The end of strife with God is judgment without mercy—utter destruction. Lesson—the folly of striving with the Almighty.

III. AS A SERIES OF SIGNS ADAPTED TO REMOVE DOUBT AT DIFFERENT STAGES (Revelation 12:8, Revelation 12:9). Though, strictly speaking, one sign was enough to attest the Divine commission of him who wrought it, yet God, who condescends to man's infirmity, added sign to sign, thus furnishing a superabundance and accumulation of evidences, and rendering unbelief wholly inexcusable. It has often been observed that the strength of the evidence for revelation lies, not in any single line of proof, but in the cumulative force of a great variety of evidences, some of which strike one class of minds as of peculiar cogency, while minds differently constituted are more impressed by others. In the case before us, a certain progression may be noted; each sign, by peculiar marks, carrying us a step further than its predecessor.

1. In the turning of the rod into the serpent, we have a work of Divine power, but not without a certain resemblance to the feats of the native serpent-charmers. The points of contrast were great, but it might be doubted whether the acts of the magicians were not competent to produce as great a wonder.

2. In the second sign—the stroke of leprosy—this doubt is eliminated, and the presence of Divine power conclusively demonstrated. But Egypt had her gods also, and the question, as it would present itself to those who believed in them, was not simply, Is Jehovah powerful? but, Is his power greater than theirs?

3. The last sign gives the final proof, by working a miracle on the water of the Nile—itself one of Egypt's greater gods. The turning of that sacred water into blood was the death-blow to all hope of help from the Egyptian idols.


1. The anxiety of God to remove doubt.

2. The ample provision he has made for its removal.

3. The patience with which he bears with man's dulness and slowness of heart.

4. The inexcusableness of unbelief.—J.O.

Exodus 4:10-17

Slow of speech.

The longer Moses pondered the mission on which he was sent, the more he shrank from it. The difficulty which now oppressed him was his want of eloquence. It seemed to him that in this respect he was the least qualified person God could have chosen. There was needed for such a work a man of persuasive tongue, of fluent, forcible, and impressive speech; and his own utterance was hesitating and heavy. Overwhelmed with the sense of unfitness, he again appeals to God, and asks to be relieved from duty. We have here—

I. A FELT INFIRMITY. Moses was doubtless right in what he said of his natural difficulty of speech. But his error lay—

1. In exaggerating the value of a gift of mere eloquence. He did not possess it—though Stephen calls him "mighty in words" (Acts 7:22)—and he was apt to overrate its influence. He forgot that the man of deep silent nature has a power of his own, which expresses itself through the very ruggedness and concentration of his speech; and that oratory, while valuable for some purposes, is not the most essential gift in carrying through movements which are to leave a permanent impress on history. What is chiefly wanted is not power of speech, but power of action; and when it is felt that a man can act, a very limited amount of speech will serve his purpose. The smooth persuasive tongue, though pleasant to listen to, is not the weightiest in counsel.

2. In forgetting that God knew of this infirmity when he called him to the work. God knew all about his slowness of speech, and yet had sent him on this mission. Did not this carry with it the promise that whatever help he needed would be graciously vouchsafed? God has a purpose in sometimes calling to his service men who seem destitute of the gifts—the outward gifts—needful for his work.

1. The work is more conspicuously his own.

2. His power is glorified in man's weakness.

3. The infirmity is often of advantage to the servant himself

keeping him humbled giving him to prayer, teaching him to rely on Divine grace, rousing him to effort, etc. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Paul was a man "rude in speech" (2 Corinthians 11:6), and came not with eloquence of words (1 Corinthians 2:1); but his defects of speech only made the Divine power which resided in his utterances the more conspicuous (2 Corinthians 2:4, 2 Corinthians 2:5).

II. A GRACIOUS PROMISE. God would be with his mouth, and teach him what to say (Exodus 4:11). The Maker of speech, he might be trusted to aid its powers, when these were needed in his service. So Christ promises his disciples to give them in their hour of need what they shall speak (Matthew 10:19). Lips touched by Divine grace possess a simple, natural eloquence of their own, far excelling the attempts of studied oratory. Then there is the other fact, that gifts of speech are often latent till grace comes to evoke them. Moses' original awkwardness was no index to what, assisted by God's grace, he might ultimately have become, even as a speaker. His gift would probably have grown with the necessity. The greatest preachers of the Gospel, with Paul at their head, have not been men naturally eloquent. If they became so afterwards, it was grace that made them. Thus, we are told of Luther that at first he dared not enter the pulpit. "Luther, who subsequently preached with so much power,—who gave a new direction, and a force and elevation never before attained, to the whole system of German preaching,—who is still the unparalleled master of all who hope to effect more by the internal demonstrativeness of a discourse than by its external ornamentation,—this Luther was too humble, too modest, to take the place of a preacher. It was only at the solicitatlon of Slauptitz that he finally consented to preach—at first in the oratory of the convent, and afterwards in church" (Hagenbach). Knox was equally diffident about the exercise of his gifts, and when an unexpected appeal was made to him, at the age of forty-two—"the said John, abashed, burst forth in most abundant tears, and withdrew himself to his chamber" (Knox's 'History'). All may not be eloquent like these; but anyone possessed of earnest feeling and intense convictions, who is content to deliver a plain message with directness and simplicity, will be surprised at what God can sometimes make oven of rude and unskilled lips.

III. A SINFUL SHRINKING FROM DUTY (verse 13). The continued reluctance of Moses, after so gracious an assurance, was not to be excused. It was a direct act of disobedience, and argued, besides a want of faith, a certain measure of stubbornness. God was angry with him, yet forbore with his infirmity. And if God forbore with Moses, it is surely not for us to blame him, who are so often in "the same condemnation.'' Let him who has never shrunk from unwelcome duties, or who has never stumbled in believing that Divine grace will, under trying circumstances, be made sufficient for his needs, cast the first stone. Admire rather in this incident—

1. The patience and forbearance of God in stooping to his servant's weakness, and

2. The "exceeding greatness" of the power which accomplished such mighty results by so unwilling an instrumentality. Nothing proves more clearly that the work of Israel's deliverance was not of man, but of God, than this almost stubborn reluctance of Moses to have anything to do with it.

IV. A SECOND-BEST ARRANGEMENT (verses 14-17). The appointment of Aaron as spokesman to his brother, while in one view of it an act of condescension, and a removal of Moses' difficulty, was in another aspect of it a punishment of his disobedience. It took from Moses the privilege of speaking for God in his own person, and committed the delivery of the message to more eloquent, perhaps, but also to less sanctified, lips.

1. The arrangement had its advantages.

(1) It supplied one's defect by another's gift.

(2) It utilised a talent lying unemployed.

(3) It gave Aaron a share in the honour of being God's messenger.

(4) It formed a new link of sympathy between the brothers. But—

2. It was not the best:

(1) It prevented the development of the gift of speech in Moses himself. Had he relied on God's promise, he would doubtless have acquired a power of speech to which he was at first a stranger.

(2) The message would lose in force by being delivered through an intermediary. This of necessity. How much of the power of speech lies in its being a direct emanation from the mind and heart of the speaker—something instinct with his own personality! As delivered by Aaron, the messages of God would lose much of their impressiveness. Fluency has its disadvantages. A mind burdened with its message, and struggling with words to give it utterance, conveys a greater impression of force than ready delivery charged with a message that is not its own.

(3) Moses would be hampered in his work by the constancy of his dependence on Aaron. It limits a man, when he cannot act without continually calling in another to his assistance.

(4) It divided Moses' authority, and gave Aaron an undue influence with the people (cf. Exodus 32:1-35.).

(5) It was a temptation to Aaron himself to assume, or at least aspire to, greater authority than of right belonged to him (cf. Numbers 12:1-16.). Learn—

1. That it is not always good for us to have our wishes granted.

2. That God sometimes punishes by granting us our wishes (cf. Hosea 13:11).

3. That God's way is ever the best.—J.O.

Exodus 4:11

God the Giver of our faculties.


1. His power in the creation of them. "Who hath made," etc. Wisdom also. Eyes, ears, organs of speech—miracles of contrivance.

2. His goodness in the bestowal of them. A reason for thankfulness.

3. His providence in the deprivation of them. "Who maketh the dumb, or deaf," etc. A reason for not murmuring.

4. His perfection as mirrored in their functions. "He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?" (Psalms 94:9). An answer to the objection against positive revelation. He that formed the mouth, shall he not speak? And he that formed the ear, can he not address to it his own message?

5. Lesson—His ability to aid us in using them for his glory (Exodus 4:12).—J.O.

Exodus 4:13

A servant's difficulties.


I. WHAT THEY WERE. Moses' difficulties resolved themselves into three.

1. The power of Pharaoh. "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?" (Exodus 3:10). We may be staggered by the thought of the powers that are arrayed against us.

2. The anticipated unbelief of the people (Exodus 4:1). The preacher has to encounter hard and unbelieving hearts, and this may enfeeble and dishearten him.

3. His lack of gifts (Exodus 4:10). Humble natures are easily discouraged by the sense of their own short-comings—by the consciousness of ignorance, defective education, lack of gifts of speech, etc.


1. God armed Moses with powers that made him more than a match for the mighty king of Egypt.

2. He gave him the means of overcoming the unbelief of the people.

3. He promised to endow him with power of speech; and, when that was rejected, supplied his defect by giving him a coadjutor.

From which learn:—

1. That while it is right to state our difficulties to God—to pour out all our hearts before him—it is wrong to make them an excuse for shrinking from duty.

2. That God, if relied on, will give us all sufficiency.—J.O.

Exodus 4:17

The rod.

The rod a fit emblem of "the word of the truth of the Gospel."

1. The rod was something definite. "This rod." Not any rod, but the one which God gives us.

2. The rod was perhaps the instrument of a despised calling. So is the preaching of the Cross "foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).

3. The rod was to be grasped and used: "in thine hand" Study, preach, expound, apply.

4. By the rod, Moses was to do signs: "wherewith thou shalt do signs." Spiritual miracles wrought by the preaching of the word.

5. The rod was efficient only as accompanied by Divine power (1 Corinthians 2:4).—J.O.


Exodus 4:1-9

The third difficulty: how is Moses to deal with an incredulous Israel?

With the mention of this third difficulty, we begin to see how much of doubt, self-distrust, and reluctance disturbed the mind of Moses. And no wonder. This revelation and commandment of God had come very suddenly upon him; and though strong assurances and sufficient information were readily given, yet he could not all at once receive the comforts which flowed from them. Had he attended to what God said by way of removing the difficulties already expressed he would never have given utterance to this third one. His perseverance in suggesting obstacles almost makes us feel that he hoped Somehow to get out of the mission. But God meets him at every point. There is no weak place in the Divine plans. Even a matter which seems so uncertain as the reception of Moses by Israel is confidently taken altogether out of the region of uncertainties. God had already said (Exodus 3:18), "They shall hearken to thy voice," and if Moses had only waited, he would have been made to see how that hearkening would be brought about. The suggestion of this difficulty, therefore, showed how much he was still lacking in calm faith; nevertheless we must bear in mind that the difficulty was a real one. There was only too much reason to apprehend that Israel would receive him in the way he indicated. Consider—

I. THE POOR EXPECTATIONS MOSES HAD OF A FAVOURABLE RECEPTION FROM ISRAEL. Why should he have these gloomy anticipations? Was the cause of them to be looked for wholly in Israel or wholly in himself. Did he mean to blame his brethren for their unbelief, or did he thus take another way of indicating his own utter distrust of himself? As he expresses no blame of Israel it is not for us to assume that he intended it. He knew very well that to go to his brethren with such a story, would be the very way to make them reject him and laugh him to scorn. He could not but feel that if he had been in their position, he would probably have behaved in the same way. What could it appear but presumptuous to return after forty years' absence from the distant and half-barbarous Midian, and pretend that he had been chosen to deliver Israel—he, a mere weather-beaten shepherd? Truth is stranger than fiction, and for this very reason it is too often believed to be the most improbable of all fictions. Moses thus had every ground to expect that he would be treated either as insane or as the most impudent of impostors. He would have been more easily believed in telling some made-up story than when he told the simple truth. God had looked very kindly and favourably on Moses in all his deeply felt unworthiness; but the very things that commended him to God, hindered him with men. In what a humiliating aspect this word of Moses puts our fallen human nature! When the truth in which we are most of all concerned comes before us, we are tempted to neglect and repudiate it because the messenger does not look sufficiently dignified. Nor is unbelief our only danger. We must labour to have a state of mind in which we shall always not only receive the true but reject the false. We have to do with false apostles as well as true ones. The elders of Israel would have done very wrong if they had rushed into a welcome of Moses on his bare ipse dixit. We must not, in our anxiety to avoid unbelief, deliver ourselves over to credulity. If the world has in it only too many of the unbelieving spirit, so, alas! it has only too many of the deceiving spirit; all the more deceivers because thoroughly deceived themselves. We must try the spirits whether they be of God, and ever live in thankful use of the infallible tests which God has given us.

II. GOD GIVES TO MOSES AMPLE EVIDENCES TO PRODUCE FAITH IN ISRAEL. Observe that God does not simply promise these signs. He works them at once, at least the two that were possible, before the very eyes of Moses. Moses has faith enough to be sure that it is indeed God who is with him at the present hour; but what about the future? True, God had said, "Certainly I will be with thee" (Exodus 3:12), and he might have repeated these words rebukingly. But he remembered that Moses was as yet very ignorant of the fulness of the Divine nature; and he acted with all his own wisdom and tenderness, to cherish the real but as yet very feeble and struggling faith of his servant. When Moses comes into the presence of his brethren, it is to cast down a rod that has already been a serpent, and to stretch forth a hand that has already been snow-white with leprosy. "What is that in thine hand?"—as much as to say, "Take note of it, look at it well, make sure that it is the rough, easily replaced instrument of your daily work." Moses is to be taught that things are not what they seem. He who according to his good pleasure took some of the original matter of the universe, and from it made the red-nature, and from other made the serpent-nature, now by the same power changes in a moment the dead rod into the living serpent, and the living serpent into the dead rod. The healthy hand is all at once infected with leprosy, and even while-Moses is shuddering with the terrible experience, the leprosy is as suddenly taken away. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. As to the significance of these miracles, there is doubtless much that lies beyond our power to ascertain. Assuredly they had in them perfect propriety beth as to their order and their nature. What the burning hush became to Moses, these three miracles might become to the Israelites; not only paving the way for Moses to act with full authority in their name, but giving many lessons to such as had eyes to see and hearts to understand. For instance how could they but perceive that when God began his dealings with Pharaoh, he began with two out of the three miracles which Moses had shown to them. Moses turned the rod into a serpent, and the water into blood before Israel, and Israel believed (Exodus 4:28-31). He did the same things before Pharaoh, and he remained unmoved. Who can tell what terrible things Israel escaped by their timely acceptance of the mission of Moses? and yet that acceptance, as we discover by the rebellions in the wilderness, did not amount to very much. The belief that is produced by miracle, if there be not some more penetrating force behind the mere exhibition of the extraordinary, does not go very deep, nor does it last very long. The greatest benefit of these miracles was to such Israelites as could see in them, not only the power of God, but something of the purposes for which that power was used. Pharaoh caused great pain to Israel, but he did nothing else; he sought no blessed end for the people beyond the pain. God, on the other hand, though he turned a rod into a threatening serpent, and a clean and healthy hand into a leprous, loathsome mass, yet very speedily took these signs of destruction away. When God brings threatening and affliction very near to us, it is only to show how quickly and completely they may he removed. All untoward things are in his hands-all serpents, all diseases, all degrading transformations of what is good and beautiful.—Y.

Exodus 4:10-12

The fourth difficulty: Moses alleges defect of utterance.

The third time-is often represented in Scripture as the final and decisive time (1 Samuel 3:8; Matthew 26:44, Matthew 26:45, Matthew 26:75; John 21:17; 2 Corinthians 12:8). But Moses is not yet either satisfied or even silenced. As fast as one difficulty is swept away, his fearful and fertile mind has another ready to take its place. He began with himself, in stating his objections and difficulties, pleading then his unworthiness in general terms; now in the end he comes back to himself with the mention of a special difficulty. Consider—

I. THE DIFFICULTY AS STATED BY MOSES. In the course of the conversation, God has laid before him such particulars of the work required as seem to show him, in his hasty view of them, that he will have much speaking to do. But for speaking he alleges himself to be peculiarly unfit. What he meant by this unfitness we have no means of exactly ascertaining. Perhaps he had some actual defect in the vocal organs; or it may have been nothing more than the well-nigh insurmountable difficulty which some men feel when called on to speak in public. In any case he was bringing the difficulty forward under mistaken views as to the importance of mere utterance.

1. He was exaggerating the service of natural faculties. To say that these are nothing at all would be of course the language of mock humility. God has shown often in the history of his work in the world that he welcomes great natural gifts, lovingly devoted to him and thoroughly sanctified. But the great temptation undoubtedly is, to make too much of natural gifts—too much of the intellect, the voice, the physical presence altogether, and too little of the purposes for which these instruments are to be used. How a thing is said is of much less moment than the thing itself. Better to stammer out a great truth than to deck lying, deception, and worldly vanities in the best-chosen words. When the Jews conspiring against Paul wanted some one to plead their cause before Felix, they sought, very wisely from their point of view, for the practised professional orator. It mattered nothing that he lacked the love of truth and justice. It was his business to do the best he could for even the worst of causes. God might easily have found elsewhere in Israel a thousand fluent and attractive speakers, more pleasant to the ear than Moses, and yet none of them sufficiently endowed, in other ways, for the great work required.

2. He was underrating the power of God working through those whom he chooses for himself. It is inevitable that if we exaggerate in one direction, we shall underrate in another. If we make too much of the work of man, we shall make too little of the work of God. Moses is not yet duly impressed with the fact that God has unmistakably and finally chosen him. He thinks he ought to be able to see clearly why he is chosen, and this is just what he cannot as yet get even a glimpse of. If only he had been able to feel conscious of some improvement in his natural faculties, it would have been a great encouragement, a great help to submission and prompt advance, at least so he thought. Depend upon it, we can never think of the power of God too highly. Nothing, so long as it is agreeable to his character, is beyond him. If he has chosen us for any work, he will always make his choice quite certain to our hearts; though, at the same time, to humble and try us, he may give much to perplex our intellects. In such moments our true and sufficient refuge is to remember the unfailing power of him who directs us. If Moses had only lived, say in the time of Paul, and been able to look back as Paul looked on all the Divine dealings recorded in the Scriptures, he would have seen at once, and gloried in the fact, that his very lack of fluent speech, so far from being against him, was rather in his favour (2 Corinthians 4:7).

II. GOD'S TREATMENT OF THIS PERSEVERING RELUCTANCE. Observe God's continued patience. So far there has not been a word of rebuke to Moses; no action such as corresponds with the smiting of a stupid or inattentive scholar. But it was really quite time for Moses to begin to reflect a little before he spoke. Moses seemed to hint in this latest appeal that it was desirable at once to confer on him what he judged to be the requisite powers of speech. But God saw that the real want was not speaking, but thinking; quiet, earnest, introspective thinking. There had been quite enough of speaking unadvisedly with the lips, only to be excused by the fact that Moses had become so recently acquainted with Jehovah. Now God gives his servant something to think about. Moses has said in effect, "Here am I, called to a great work, for which, through no fault of my own, I lack the necessary faculties." And God in return is not slow to meet Moses with a plain admission of the Divine responsibility for many things which we count defects in human nature. "Where," says the sceptic, "is the wisdom of that God who allows the world to abound in so many human beings deficient in one or another of their natural faculties?" God meets the charge himself, and meets it boldly. He not only allows man to be so, but he makes him so; in other words, what we call defects are not defects at all. The defect is in us, who are not able to look at them in a right and comprehensive way. There are defects and defects. Man, thinking of the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the lame, begins to wail what an imperfect thing creation is; yet he is only complaining of spots on the surface. Our outward senses, with all the knowledge and pleasure that they bring, are only subsidiary parts of humanity. Let Moses consider, and he will see that, inasmuch as these defects come from no fault of his own, God can easily make them up. The fact that Moses was so slow of heart to believe all that God had spoken was a far greater hindrance than all his slowness of speech. We find serious defects and hindrances where, so to speak, God rather finds helps; while the things that hinder God's work and stir his indignation it takes a great deal to make us conscious of. The worst obstacles to be encountered by Moses did not come from any of the things he had laid such emphasis on; they lay in his own heart—that heart into which the dawning of God's presence had only just begun to penetrate.—Y.

Exodus 4:13-16

Moses, taking a step too far, is suddenly arrested.

In Exodus 4:13 we must evidently look at the spirit of the words, rather than the words themselves. There is nothing wrong in the words. Uttered in a different tone and in different circumstances they might have drawn forth the approval of God rather than his anger. They might be used as expressing the most devout submissiveness, the consciousness of one who, though he is treading forth into darkness and danger, is sure that he is filled with the fulness of God. But not so had Moses yet learned to speak. God has tried to call him away from the turmoil of his doubts, from his hasty conjectures and crude anticipations; but instead of obeying, instead of acquainting himself with God, and thereby being at peace, he flies in his face with this half-despairing half-defiant cry. It is the crisis of the struggle, and it is very instructive to notice how firmly and yet gently God deals with his servant. Observe, then, how we have here a due mingling of righteous anger and compassionate aid.

I. GOD'S MANIFESTED ANGER WITH MOSES. The expression is a strong and suggestive one. Not simply that God was angry, but that his anger was kindled. We may take it as meaning that there was some anger already, growing indeed hotter and hotter, but only now under this great provocation breaking into flame. The anger of God must inevitably rise at every contact with human ignorance and stubbornness, though it may be so veiled beneath love, pity, and patience as to be concealed from the man whose conduct excites it. And note in particular that there is no inconsistency in attributing to God anger with Moses. Moses himself was to be excused, as having only recently become acquainted with God; but he could not escape his share of the due effects arising out of the alienation of the entire human race from God. Besides, God's anger must be looked upon as one of his instruments in bringing us effectually to compliance with his will. God's anger is really part of the goodness which leads us to repentance; and if gentler methods fall, then the time will come at last when that anger must be decidedly manifested, even for our good. Moses could not but admit that so far he had been dealt with very gently indeed. God, quickly and. tenderly responsive, had met every hint of difficulty with a strong encouragement. But all the encouragements had made no real difference in Moses' mood of mind. He turns upon God in the querulous unappreciative strain indicated in Exodus 4:13. Thus he unconsciously signifies that the time has come for God to change the method of his action. Moses, like a persistently heedless scholar, must be made to feel that his master cannot be trifled with. God speaks, not that we may discuss and parley with him, but that we may obey. Let Moses now understand that the time has come for him at once to go forth.

II. THE ANGER IS MINGLED WITH A GRACIOUS PROMISE OF APPROPRIATE AID. God's anger with his own chosen ones is but a sudden darkness to make the following light more useful and esteemed. God, who has just shown his power to Moses in the burning bush and the following signs, now shows power in a way even more attractive. He is one who can at the same moment warn and comfort,—not only smiting that he may heal, but able to blend smiting and healing together. Even though Moses has provoked his indignation, he does not leave him with a bare promise that somehow or other his defect of utterance will be supplied. God sweeps away this latest difficulty as completely as he had done the previous ones. And note moreover that he disposed of it in his own unexpected way. It was better to leave Moses as he was, and make Aaron his spokesman, than to enrich him in his own person with all gifts of utterance and leave him alone. By linking the two men together, God was constantly teaching them the need of mutual subordination. If they would only be companions in humility they should also be companions in prosperity and in gladness of heart. Sad and disastrous would be the day when Moses should be disposed to say to Aaron, "I have no need of thee," or Aaron to Moses, "I have no need of thee." Aaron had what Moses lacked. Moses had the matter of a Divine and gladsome message, but he felt utterly at a loss how he was to get it properly laid before all whom it concerned. Aaron, on the other hand, had voice and faculty of speech, but behind that voice there had hitherto been nothing of commandment, direction, and encouragement. Aaron, says the Lord, was a man who could speak well; that is, as we may take it, a man able to speak distinctly and impressively—one who could deliver any message entrusted to him in a way which would not obscure the message, nor draw ridicule on the utterer of it. Moses and Aaron went together like the musician and the instrument on which he plays. Thus we see the way in which God binds us together by our very deficiencies. He constitutes us so that we are always more or less dependent on our fellow-men, and sometimes the dependence is very marked indeed. It is well for us in the midway and strength of life to consider that there may be but a step between us and the need of the tenderest sympathy. When we are most independent there are possibilities lying before us—yes, there are even certainties—which should moderate our pride and self-sufficiency. Manly independence is one of the greatest blessings; egotistic isolation one of the greatest curses. They that are strong should bear the infirmities of the weak; there are none of us so strong but that in some emergency of life we may accept the relief; there are none of us so weak but that we may do something to provide the relief, in a world which is so full of temptations to discord and rivalry it is a great comfort to remember that God is constantly working to counteract them. He guides human affairs, even as he guides the planets themselves; the centripetal force is greater than the centrifugal. If every one of us were free to work out the desires of our selfish hearts, anarchy would come with fearful rapidity.—Y.

Exodus 4:17

The importance of the rod: God guards Moses against a very natural oversight.

"Thou shalt take this rod in thine hand." Was Moses, then, likely to forget it? That rod had just been pointed out to him as connected with his favourable reception by Israel. It was to be the instrument for helping to deliver him from one of his chief apprehensions. And yet it was as likely as not that in the hurry of gathering his household goods together, the rod would be thrown into a corner of the fold as a mere bit of wood that could easily be replaced if Moses had once again to become a shepherd. Notice—

1. That other things seemed, to the natural eye, of a great deal more consequence. As Martha, when Jesus came to her house, was cumbered with much serving, and in the middle of it all was unwittingly neglecting the one thing needful, so Moses, amid the distracting questions that filled his mind, had no inducement to regard the rod with such attention as corresponded to its real importance. Here is one of the great difficulties in bringing the natural man to discern the things of the Spirit of God. Not only is man, by nature, indifferent to spiritual things, but he is absorbingly occupied in the desires, cares, and apprehensions of the natural life. When the disciples of Christ had their minds filled with carnal anticipations of the kingdom of heaven, they heard even such glorious news as that of the resurrection of their Master as if they heard it not.

2. This rod seemed a thing of particularly little consequence. Were not a thousand such within easy reach? Might not God be trusted to turn any rod Moses took up just as he had turned this? If it had only been some precious stone, something costly, elaborate, and rare, he would not have forgotten it.

3. The real consequence of the rod appeared dearly in the light of after events. Suppose Moses had left the rod behind him. The likelihood is that he would very quickly have been stopped on the way, even as he was stopped and threatened because of his uncircumcised son. And if he had been allowed to go on, assuredly he would have been put to shame on coming into the presence of Israel. God was beginning to teach Moses that strict, unflagging attention to details would be necessary when he again came to this mountain to take his part in serving God on it.

4. The rod itself was a great sign that Israel was to be delivered not by human but by Divine operations. It was probably not only the companion of Moses, but the constant companion. Ever in his hand, it was something by which he could readily turn his thoughts away from his own inability to the all-sufficing power of God. It is our folly, both as concerns our own salvation and the salvation of our fellow-men, that we go out without the rod. When the Israelites saw Moses coming among them with his rod, clinging to it, though there seemed no use for it, some of them perhaps said, "Throw that rod aside; why cumber yourself with it, and become a laughingstock and a puzzle to beholders." And in like manner how often have those put in trust with the Gospel been exhorted to lay aside those elements which to the natural man appear mere excrescences and deformities. We may well believe that to the first apostles, it was one of the hardest things in the world to keep firm to the essential parts of their message. What the rod was to Moses, going forth with it and working signs, that must the doctrine of the Cross be to all apostles. Christ crucified is to the Jews a stumblingblock and to the Greeks foolishness, but to them which are called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.—Y.


Exodus 4:1-9

Weakness and strength for God's service.

I. FEAR OF THE REJECTION OF THE MESSAGE WE BEAR FOR GOD MAKES ITS DELIVERANCE IMPOSSIBLE. The tidings he was to bear were so wonderful that he believed his words would be listened to with utter incredulity. Our Gospel is more wonderful still. To speak it, our eye must rest less on the message, and more on God's power to chastise and to bless. We are not critics of, nor apologists for, the Gospel: we are messengers sent before God's face. Our Master is behind us.

II. MIRACLES BELONG TO THE INFANCY OF FAITH. The signs are given because of unbelief. Elijah and Elisha work miracles among the tribes which had almost wholly forsaken God; Isaiah, Jeremiah, John, work none. The Apostles alone were empowered to bestow miraculous gifts, and these died out with the men who received them from the Apostles' hands. To bring again the age of miracles would be retrogression, not advance.


1. The rod cast upon the ground becomes a serpent; the serpent dealt with in obedience to God s command becomes a rod. They who reject God's guidance will be pursued by his terrors, and if we deal with our foes as God directs us they will help, not harm us.

2. The hand put in the bosom (the attitude of determined indifference) becomes leprous; placed again in obedience to God's command, it is made whole. God can make the strength of the disobedient a burden and horror; and if we rest in him our loathsomeness and weakness will be changed into health and strength.

3. The sweet Nile waters changed into blood. The delight of the land to which unbelief will cling will become a loathing and a curse.—U.

Exodus 4:10-17

God's wrath will fall where his service is declined.


1. He deems himself unfit to occupy the place even of spokesman to the Lord. The objection was based upon a real infirmity, which so far God had not removed. The same objection urged as a reason to-day for not engaging in Sunday-school work, etc. The want of power may be real, but is it a sufficient reason for refusal?

2. God's answer.

(1) He points to his power. Is that realised?

(2) He gives the promise of help.

Our weakness will merely afford a field on which God's might and faithfulness will be manifested.


1. The disinclination to the service which lay behind his objections is at last manifested. That very name (Adonai) "my master," by which he addresses God, might have rebuked him. But Moses in this may be the type of ourselves. We acknowledge thai all we have, that we ourselves, are his, and yet is there no service which no amount of reasoning or expostulation can prevail upon us to undertake for God?

2. God's anger.

(1) A revelation of the judgment which awaits the slothful servant. Its shadows fall now in the withdrawal of his favour and the decay of spiritual life.

(2) It left its mark upon the life of Moses although his refusal was followed by repentance. Aaron was joined with him, and where in the eye of Israel and the world there would have been one figure only, there is henceforth two. The mark of God's anger is left in a lessened glory.

III. THE POWER OF THE PAST FOR CHRISTIAN SERVICE. "Take this rod"—not another. It reminded him of the time when he contended with God, and ministered humility in the moments of mightiest triumph. The Cross of Jesus the memento of our stubbornness and guilt.—U.


Exodus 4:1-17

Divine supplements for human infirmity.

"Now therefore go, and I will be with thee," etc. (Exodus 4:12.) It is not at all clear whether the four objections urged by Moses against receiving the Divine commission were presented at one interview with the manifested God, or whether the controversy recorded Exodus 3:1-17, occupied weeks or months. The probabilities are in favour of some considerable time. See Exodus 4:10, and specially in the Hebrews In dealing with this particular plea, viz. the lack of eloquence, we must bear in mind that it is not for every man to be a Moses, or a preacher, or even a worker. True, there is a ministry for each and all; but some are called to, one of patience in suffering. Treat the subject therefore as one of Divine supplementing of human infirmity generally. Comp. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

I. SHRINKING FROM DIVINE SERVICE. Not a doubt of this in the case of Moses. Earlier he was not unwilling to put himself forward as the champion of Israel—Acts 7:25; but diffidence came with years. So —Jeremiah 1:1-6. So all the prophets—their message a "burden"—something heavy to be carried, to which they braced themselves. So Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:16. Nor is the feeling unhealthy or undesirable. Self-confidence looks at first the best preparation for great enterprises. But is it so? Leek at life. In all departments, to estimate aright the greatness of the work, the comparative feebleness of our resources, and yet the weight of our responsibility, is the condition of success; e.g. Lord Clyde in India. The Christian minister. By the reluctance of Moses, measure the irresistible impulse upon his spirit. Nor is consciousness of incapacity always the reality of incapacity.

II. THE EXCUSE THAT IS OFFERED. Take 1 Corinthians 9:10, translated thus: "And said Moses unto Jehovah, Let it please Thee, O Lord, not a man of words am I, either since yesterday, or since the day before, or since the time Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; for heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue am I."

1. The time-hint. An intimation here of a long controversy between Moses and God.

2. The meaning of Moses. He was not a "man of words"—not eloquent, in the popular sense; he was heavy—doubly heavy—of lip and tongue. A great writer of poetry and prose, but not a speaker. This self-estimate just. Yet there were compensations. He was "mighty in word." Distinguish between fluency and power. He was, too, a man of thought. A man of action.

3. A lesson in passing: "Take heed how ye hear!"—"Take heed what ye hear." Compare the massive eloquence of the Puritan age, and the men it made, with what seems to be now the taste of many for the sensational—with present impatience of so-called "heavy" preaching. Where would Israel have been, had Israel turned its back on the "heavy" Moses, and followed the lead of the brilliant but perhaps shallow Aaron, who could make molten images under the very shadow of Sinai, the mount of God, ere reverberating thunders had died away in the desolation of the desert.

4. The essence of his excuse. The defect was to the mind of Moses fatal—eloquence was the one quality material to his mission. To many missions (e.g. military or administrative) eloquence is not essential. The mission of Moses was diplomatic—it needed tongue-power. "Say unto the elders of Israel!" "Say unto Pharaoh." He had to persuade a nation of slaves that he was the heaven-sent deliverer. He had to go into the audience-chamber of the greatest potentate of earth, and speak to him for a nation, and for Jehovah behind the nation. Just the one thing he could not do; and for which he had not the indispensable qualification. So in thousands of other eases, of various forms of duty and responsibility, of sorrow and perplexity. "Tongue" and "lip" and "word" are what the service demands, and all are wanting.


1. The changing tone. It is—

(1) Encouraging. 1 Corinthians 9:11, 1 Corinthians 9:12.

(2) Indignant. Moses said, 1 Corinthians 9:13 : "Let it please Thee, O Lord, send I pray Thee by a hand Thou wilt send." (See the Hebrews) This sounds submissive, as though Moses meant, "Send me." But from the translation of the LXX. the words seem to have carried a disloyal meaning, now lost in the Hebrews: "I pray Thee, O Lord, prepare for Thyself another capable, whom Thou wilt send." And so Jehovah was indignant. Self-diffidence may be carried too far. Yet was not Moses wholly cast away—for Jehovah took up again a tone likely to woo him to his duty.

(3) Encouraging again: 1 Corinthians 9:14-17.

2. The counter pleas. God allows the truth of all we say, and then comes in with his own Divine counter pleas why he should not accept either our excuses or declining—of which the main articles are these: The glory of God will be manifested—

(1) In the use of man at all. God might have glorified himself in breaking to pieces the empire of Egypt without the intervention of any human agency. Pietists have sometimes thought that they glorified God by making him everything, man nothing. But God glorifies himself more by using men, for men are such poor tools to work with. E.g. Quentin Matsys making the beautiful covering for the well that stands in front of Antwerp cathedral with only a file and hammer. How? Such work with only file and hammer? So great an overthrow here, and such a creation of nation and church by a man, and such a man? The strength of God is evermore working by our weakness.

(2) By the imperfection of our powers: 1 Corinthians 9:11, 1 Corinthians 9:12. God the Creator of the imperfection as well as the power—the dumbness of the dumb, as well as the eloquence of the eloquent. He does this—i.e, supplements our imperfect power, by—

1. Other faculties in the man. So here "the rod" of might in deed was to supplement the imperfect speech. [See also above, II. 2.]

2. Other men. Here by Aaron, 1 Corinthians 9:14 1 Corinthians 9:16.

3. Himself. In the earlier part of this controversy it was, "Certainly I will be with thee"—a general declaration. Now it is, "I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say." The Almighty power goes along with the imperfect organ of the Divine will. Apply as suggested above to all—whether in the activity, or in the patience of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.—R.

Verses 18-25


Exodus 4:18-25

If Moses had, as we have supposed, been accepted into the Midianitish nation, he would need permission to withdraw himself from the tribal head. This head was now Jether, or Jethro, Moses' connexion by marriage, perhaps his brother-in-law, perhaps a less near connexion. Nations and tribes were at this time anxious to keep up their numbers, and jealous of the desertion even of a single member. Jethro, however, made no opposition to the return of Moses to Egypt, even though he designed to be accompanied by his wife and sons (Exodus 4:20). Scripture gives no indications of the motives which actuated him. Perhaps the Midianites were at this time straitened for want of room. Perhaps the peculiar circumstances of Moses were held to justify his application for leave.

Exodus 4:18

My brethren probably means here "my relations" (compare Genesis 13:8; Genesis 29:12). Moses could scarcely doubt but that some of his countrymen were still living. It would not have been for the interest of the Egyptians to exterminate them. Go in peace means, "you have my leave—I do not oppose your going."

Exodus 4:19

And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return. It would seem that Moses was still reluctant, and was delaying his departure, even after he had obtained Jethro's leave to go. Perhaps he was making it an excuse to himself for not setting out that if he returned he might still suffer death on account of the offence which had driven him into exile. To remove this last impediment, God assured him that "all the men were dead who had sought his life."

Exodus 4:20

His sons. Gershom, already mentioned (Exodus 2:22), and Eliezer (Exodus 18:4), who was probably an infant. Set them upon an ass. Literally, "the ass," i.e. the one ass that belonged to him. The word might best be translated "his ass." When Moses is said to have "set them upon" the animal, we need not understand "all of them." Probably Zipporah and her baby rode, while Gershom walked with his father. Though horses were known in Egypt before this, they could not be used in the Sinaitic peninsula, and the employment of an ass by Moses is thoroughly appropriate. Returned. I.e. "set out to return." Took the rod of God in his hand. This is of course the "rod" of Exodus 4:2, which had become "the rod of God" by the miracle of Exodus 4:3 and Exodus 4:4, and which God had commanded him to take to Egypt (Exodus 4:17).

Exodus 4:21-23

And the Lord said, etc. Now that Moses had at last given up his own will and entered on the path of obedience, God comforted him with a fresh revelation,, and gave him fresh instructions as to what exactly he was to say to Pharaoh. The statements of Exodus 4:21 are not new, being anticipated in Exodus 3:19-20; but the directions in Exo 3:22 -23 are wholly new, and point to the greatest of all the miracles wrought in Egypt—the death of the firstborn.

Exodus 4:21

All those wonders. The miracles wrought in Egypt are called nipheloth, "marvels," mophethim, "portents," and 'othoth, "signs." Mophethim, the word here used signifies something out of the ordinary course of nature, and corresponds to the Greek τέρατα and the Latin portenta. It is a different word from that used in Exodus 3:20. In "all these wonders" are included, not only the three signs of Exodus 4:3-9, but the whole series of miracles afterwards wrought in Egypt, and glanced at in Exodus 3:20. I will harden his heart. This expression, here used for the first time, and repeated so frequently in chs. 7-14; has given offence to many. Men, it is said, harden their own hearts against God; God does not actively interfere to harden the heart of anyone. And this is so far true, that a special interference of God on the occasion, involving a supernatural hardening of Pharaoh's heart, is not to be thought of. But among the natural punishments which God has attached to sin, would seem to be the hardening of the entire nature of the man who sins. If men "do not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gives them up to a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:28); if they resist the Spirit, he "takes his holy Spirit from them" (Psalms 51:11); if they sin against light he withdraws the light; if they stifle their natural affections of kindness, compassion and the like, it is a law of his providence that those affections shall wither and decay. This seems to be the "hardening of the heart here intended—not an abnormal and miraculous interference with the soul of Pharaoh, but the natural effect upon his soul under God's moral government of those acts which he wilfully and wrongfully committed.

Exodus 4:22

Thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Israel is my son. This would be addressing Pharaoh in language familiar to him. Each Egyptian monarch of this period was accustomed to style himself, "son of the Sun," and to claim and expect the constant favour and protection of his divine parent. It was also quite within the range of Egyptian ideas that God should declare himself by word of mouth to his special favourites, and give directions as to their actions. My firstborn. Not only "as dear to me as to a father his firstborn" (Kalisch), but the only nation that I have adopted, and taken into covenant, so as to be unto me "a peculiar people above all the nations that are upon the earth" (Deuteronomy 14:2). Israel's sonship is here mentioned for the first time.

Exodus 4:23

I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn. For the fulfilment of the threat, see Exodus 12:29. Moses did not utter it till all other arguments were exhausted, and he knew that he was having his last interview with the monarch (Exodus 10:29; Exodus 11:4, Exodus 11:5). In this reserve and in the whole series of his dealings with the Egyptian king, we must regard him as simply carrying out the special directions which, after his return to Egypt, he continually received from the Almighty. (See Exodus 6:11; Exodus 7:9, Exodus 7:15 Exodus 7:19: Exodus 8:1, Exodus 8:5, Exodus 8:16, Exodus 8:20, etc.)


Exodus 4:19

The fact of having a mission does not release a man from social obligations.

Direct communications with Jehovah, appointment to a great and glorious mission, with the power of working miracles, might have rendered many a man neglectful of ordinary obligations, might have seemed to place him above the necessity of asking anyone's permission to do as he pleased. But Moses read his duty differently. He had been received among the Midianites with great kindness, had been given a home and a wife, and probably enrolled formally as an adopted member of the tribe or nation. Though Reuel, the head of the tribe at the time of his coming, had ceased to hold that position, having probably died, the tribe had a new head, to whom he was bound, if not by all the obligations which had attached him to Reuel, yet by several very definite and tangible bonds. Jethro was his near relative and his tribal chief; he had perhaps sworn allegiance to him; he had certainly received from him protection, employment, sustenance (Exodus 3:1). To have quitted his service without permission, to have left his flock in the Sinaitic valleys, and proceeded straight to Egypt would have been easy, but would have been unkind, ungrateful, and contrary to the accepted standard of tribal morality at the time. Moses therefore went back to Midian from Sinai before proceeding to Egypt-made, that is, a considerable journey in the opposite direction to that which he was about to take—in order to obtain Jethro's consent to his going, thus acting the part of a faithful servant and a good subject. It would be well if all who believe themselves to have Divine missions, and to be highly gifted, would follow Moses' example, and not make their mission and high gifts an excuse for neglect of ordinary duties and obligations. Moses' example, and the words of One higher than Moses, should teach them that it becomes all men to "fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). If those with high missions neglect even small social duties, they "give an occasion to the adversary to blaspheme."

Reticence sometimes a duty. We are not bound in all cases to tell even those in authority over us the reasons, much less all the reasons, which actuate us. Moses wanted Jethro's permission to quit his adopted tribe, and return to his native country and his people. He gave a reason which was not untrue, but which was far from being his sole, or even his main, reason. If he had said more, if he had revealed his mission, he would probably have raised a storm of opposition to his departure. He would have been called a fanatic, a visionary, a madman; and everything would have been said that was possible to deter him from carrying out his projects. If Moses felt, as he may have felt, that he was too weak to encounter such a storm of opposition, he was wise to be silent and so not arouse it.

The reasonable wishes of a subordinate should be granted cheerfully. Jethro's answer, "Go in peace," may well be taken as a pattern by those in authority. It is kindly, gracious, and ungrudging. The chieftain of a tribe might naturally have demurred to the withdrawal of a family of subjects, the master to the loss of a valuable servant, the head of a household to parting with near kinsfolk. But Jethro, deeming Moses' plea a sufficient one, is careful not to mar the grace of his concession by a single word of objection, reproach, or querulousness. Nor is "Go in peace" even a bare consent, but a consent embodying a blessing. It is equivalent to "Go, and the Lord go with thee!" Note also the absence of inquisitiveness. Jethro does not pester Moses with questions—does not ask, "Is the reason thou hast assigned thy true reason," or "thy sole reason?" or, "When wilt thou return?" or, "Why take thy wife and children?" or, "How wilt thou live in Egypt?" or, "Art thou not afraid to return thither?" He will not pain his near connection by doubt or distrust, or even undue curiosity. He will not travel beyond the record. His consent has been asked. He gives it freely, fully cheerfully.

Exodus 4:19-23

Obedience brings a blessing.

There must have been something in the hesitation of Moses which caused it not to be wholly displeasing to God. Once he was "angered" (Exodus 3:14), but even then not greatly offended—content to show his anger by inflicting a slight penalty. Now, when Moses still delayed in Midian, how gentle the rebuke that is administered—"Go, return;" and to the rebuke moreover is appended an encouragement—"all the men are dead who sought thy life." Observe also that no sooner does Moses obey, than his reluctance seems wholly forgiven; the Lord appears afresh to him, and rewards his obedience by fresh revelations. "Israel is my son, even my firstborn." This tender relationship, never before acknowledged, is breathed into the prophet's ear as he enters on the Path of obedience. What may he not expect, if he continues in it! Surely blessings upon blessings. Deliverance, triumph, continued, never-ending protection are assured to them whom God declares to be his children. Moses, as their leader, will have the glory of their success. Even the might of Pharaoh will be. impotent if used against them. Should Pharaoh refuse to liberate God's "firstborn," he will lose his own.


Exodus 4:18-21

The return.

Weeks, perhaps months, intervened between the revelation at the bush and Moses' actual departure from Midian. Time was given for allowing the first agitation of his spirit to subside, for enabling him to take the just measure of the task entrusted to him, for the final overcoming of his involuntary reluctance. An interval is presupposed in Exodus 4:10—"Neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant," and is implied again here. Events were not yet quite ready for his departure. The preparation of the man, and the preparation of events (Exodus 4:19) were going on simultaneously. God would have his servant brought, not only to a clear apprehension of his message, but into a state of intelligent and entire sympathy with it, before actually starting him on his journey. The call would come at the proper time.

I. PERMISSION RECEIVED (Exodus 4:18). The request to Jethro was couched in simple but courteous terms, and was as courteously responded to. Moses said nothing of the revelations he had received.

1. He had no call to say anything. His message was to the elders of Israel, not to Jethro.

2. It would have been a breach of confidence to have divulged what passed between him and God without permission.

3. It was not advisable to say anything. He would have required to have entered into explanations, and might have encountered unbelief and opposition. If Jethro perceived, as possibly he did, that there was something underlying Moses' request which he did not care to state, he had the good sense to refrain from prying too curiously into what did not concern him. The parting was courteous and friendly, creditable alike to both.


1. There are times when it is prudent to keep one's own counsel.

2. It is the mark of a wise man that he can keep his own counsel.

3. It is well to be reserved about private religious experience (Galatians 1:16, Galatians 1:17).

4. It is one's duty on all occasions to study friendliness and courtesy.

5. It is nearly as high a mark of character not to be too curious in prying into the secrets of others, as it is to be cautious in keeping silence about those entrusted to us.

II. THE WAY CLEARED (Exodus 4:19). As suggested above, Moses had probably been instructed to wait a Divine intimation as to the time of his actual departure. In a work so important every step must be taken under direct Divine guidance. Cf. the movements of Mary and Joseph with the child Jesus (Matthew 2:1-23.). And the warning was not given till God was able to announce that all the men were dead who had formerly sought his life. This would be a comfort to Moses, and would remove at least one set of fears as to his personal safety. There may have been another reason for delaying to this point. Time had again brought matters to the condition of a tabula rasa. The conflict now to be begun was not to be demeaned by being mixed up with the spites and enmities of a buried past. Observe:

1. How God times events with a view to every class of conditions.

2. How God consults for the safety of his servants.

3. How God's purposes move with steady step to their accomplishment, while mortals, who thought to hinder them, drop into their graves, and are forgotten.


1. Moses took with him his wife and two sons. The desire to have them with him was natural, but he afterwards saw reason for sending them back. The work he was engaged in was of a kind not compatible with family entanglements. There are times when a man's hands need to be absolutely free; when it is his duty not to enter into relationships which would encumber him; or, if these already exist, to make the temporary sacrifice of comfort and affection which the exigencies of his work demand (Matthew 8:21, Matthew 8:22; 2 Timothy 2:4).

2. He took with him the rod of God. This was indispensable. By it he was to work signs (Exodus 4:17). The rod of the Christian worker is his Bible. Armed with that, he can speak with Divine authority, work miracles in the souls of men and confound the mightiest of his enemies.—J.O.

Exodus 4:21


God communicates anew with Moses, fortifying his resolution to appear before Pharaoh, putting words into his mouth, and warning him of the effect his message would produce. He was not to fail to do all his wonders before Pharaoh, though the only effect would be to harden the monarch's heart—to confirm him in his resolution not to let the people go.

I. THE WORD OF GOD IS TO BE ADDRESSED TO MEN, WHATEVER RECEPTION IT MAY MEET WITH. It is to be set forth, and the evidence which attests it exhibited, "whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear" (Ezekiel 2:5); and this—

1. That God's will may be made known.

2. That men's dispositions may be tested.

3. That if men disobey they may be left without excuse.

4. That ulterior purposes may be fulfilled.

For men's unbelief cannot make the faith of God without effect (Romans 3:3). If men disbelieve and are hardened, God will use even their hardening as the point of attachment for some new link in the chain of his providential developments.

II. GOD INFALLIBLY FOREKNOWS THE EFFECT OF EVERY APPEAL OR MESSAGE HE ADDRESSES TO HIS MORAL CREATURES. He knows those to whom his servants will be "the savour of death unto death," and those to whom they will be "the savour of life unto life" (2 Corinthians 2:16). But the knowledge that his Word will be rejected is not a reason for keeping it back. As respects these foreknown effects, we are not permitted to say either—

1. That God wills (i.e. desires) that his Word should harden; or

2. That in any case it hardens by his arbitrarily withholding the grace which would have produced an opposite result. Yet Divine sovereignty is not to be denied in the effects produced by the preaching of the Word, or in God's dealings with men in mercy and judgment generally. He will be a bold student of Divine things who ventures to assert that by no means known to him could God have subdued the obstinacy even of a Pharaoh. Hearts as stubborn have yielded before now. We cannot solve these anomalies. Enough for us to know that God's sovereignty, however exercised, is ever righteous, holy, and, could we see all, loving.

III. GOD'S WORD, WHEN ITS MESSAGE IS RESISTED, HARDENS THE HEART THAT RESISTS IT. The hardening of the heart is here attributed to God, as in other places it is attributed to Pharaoh himself. The latter statement occasions no difficulty. It is the invariable law, and one which is constantly being exemplified, that he who resists grace and truth incurs the penalty of being hardened. That result follows from the constitution of the moral nature. But precisely in this fact lies the explanation of the other mode of statement, that the hardening of the heart is from God. For God is concerned in the results which flow from the operation of his own laws, and takes (providentially) the responsibility of them. We may go even further, and say that God designs that those who resist his truth shall be hardened by it; just as he designs that those who believe and obey it shall be saved. And the stronger way of putting the matter, harsh as it seems, has its own advantages. Resisters of the truth do well to remember that in their attitude of opposition they have to do, not merely with "laws," reacting to darken the mind and indurate the heart, but with a living God within and behind these laws, lending his solemn sanction to their operations, willing the results which flow from them, and righteously punishing sin by means of them. This explanation, indeed, is not complete. Other phases of the subject come into view later. Meanwhile the preacher of the Gospel is not to be astonished that his word, in many cases, produces hardening effects. This is foreseen by God, and is taken up into his plan. Learn also how a career of iniquity is often punished by the transgressor being brought into circumstances which, merciful in their own operation, yet lead to his greater hardening.—J.O.

Exodus 4:22, Exodus 4:23

Israel a type of sonship.


1. The condescension of God in the establishing of this relationship. A nation of slaves; in the eyes of the Egyptians little better than a nation of lepers; yet Jehovah says of them, "Israel is my son, my firstborn." "Behold what manner of love," etc. (1 John 3:1).

2. The privileges implied in it. On this cf. Deuteronomy 1:31-34; Deuteronomy 8:2-6; Deuteronomy 32:9-15. Reflect how Israel was led, fed, guided, trained, chastened, delivered from enemies, and conducted to a bountiful inheritance. These privileges have all their counterparts in the experience of the "children of God by faith in Christ Jesus'" (Galatians 3:26).

3. The responsibilities it imposed on others. Because Israel was God's son, his firstborn, Pharaoh was to refrain from oppressing his son, and if he did not he would be smitten in his own firstborn.

(1) As men treat God's children so will God treat them. He notes, and he will reward, kindnesses done to his sons, and he will avenge their wrongs.

(2) God's children may safely leave the avenging of their wrongs to God. It is not their work, but his, to avenge them; the rule for them is to avenge not themselves, but rather to give place to wrath; heaping coals of fire on the head of the enemy by returning him good for his evil (Romans 12:19-21).—J.O.


Exodus 4:18-23

True faith and its joy.


1. Note Moses' swift compliance with God's command. He tarried no longer: "He went and returned, and said, let me go." He does not seek advice. He does not even wait for a convenient opportunity of urging his request. We must wait neither upon time nor men. If God has spoken, we must obey.

2. His wise reticence. He said nothing of what he had seen and heard. These experiences are a holy place where the soul meets alone with God. Where this holy place is profaned the soul suffers loss.


1. Moses receives Jethro's permission and blessing.

2. Fears are removed (Exodus 4:19).

3. He passes on with the consciousness of power: he "took the rod of God in his hand."

4. He has the assurance of victory. Pharaoh's heart will be hardened, yet there is one judgment in reserve which will bow that heart to compliance with the will of God (Exodus 4:22, Exodus 4:23). The cause of God cannot be defeated. As we go on in obedience to God's commandment our advance is a continuous discovery of God's goodness. The lions which we saw in the distance are chained, and do not harm us.—U.

Exodus 4:24-31

The three meetings.


1. Moses' sin.

(1) Circumcision was the solemnly expressed will of God (Genesis 17:9-14).

(2) It was enforced by exclusion from the blessings of God's covenant.

(3) Preparations had been made for the journey, but the circumcision of Eliezer was not among them.

2. The reason of the omission, weak yielding to the prejudices of his Midianitish wife.

3. His guilt. God looked beyond the sign to that which it signified and partially accomplished—the claiming of the life for himself and righteousness. Moses' disobedience was therefore murder by neglect, and life shall answer for life. The guilt of the unfaithful watchmen in Zion (Ezekiel 33:7-9); of parents who never seek by instruction and example and prayer to have their children circumcised with the circumcision of Christ.

4. God will withstand the inconsistent worker. He will permit his work to be done only by the righteous and the faithful. This is seen both in churches and in individuals.

II. THE MEETING OF MOSES AND AARON (Exodus 4:27, Exodus 4:28).

1. Moses had to proceed alone (Exodus 18:2), the type of many who pass to service through loss.

2. God prepares consolation in the desert (Matthew 19:27-29).

3. The marvels of God's providence. He makes their meeting with each other a meeting with himself. "They met at the mount of God."

4. Human love hallowed by the Divine love—"And Moses told Aaron," etc.

III. THEIR MEETING WITH THE ELDERS OF ISRAEL (Exodus 4:29-31). Where Moses dreaded failure he meets success. There is more faith waiting to receive God's word than we imagine: souls wait round us like the parched land for the showers.—U.


Exodus 4:19

The unsolicited removal of a source of great anxiety.

God assures Moses that he has no longer any cause to fear on account of the Egyptian slain forty years before. This last piece of information casts a flood of light on all the hesitation, reluctance, and perplexity which Moses has hitherto shown in his intercourse with Jehovah. It might have made a great deal of difference, if he had only known at the beginning that the men were dead who sought his life. Not but that Moses was honest enough in all the pleas he had started in order to escape from this mission and responsibility; but, deep under all other considerations, and very potent, even though he had been ashamed to confess it, lay his fear because of the slain Egyptian. He might even have got as far as the expressing of the fear, if God had not brought him sharply up by the kindling of his anger, and made him feel that of two perils it was wise to choose the lesser. Better run the risk from some Egyptian breathing vengeance than from the visitations of an angry God; and yet, though checked from speaking, he would be saying very earnestly in his heart, "Oh that I only knew myself to be safe in this matter." Remember the terror with which, after so long a time, Jacob approached his injured brother Esau. Certainly Jacob had the bitter consciousness of wrong-doing to heighten his fears, but Moses would have equally the consciousness of danger. Nor can it be too often impressed upon us, in considering this opening stage of Moses' acquaintance with God, that while he had a profound impression as to the real and awful Being with whom he had come in contact, the extent of his knowledge was not correspondent to the depth of his feeling. He had come into a real acquaintance with God; but it was at first, of necessity, a very imperfect and blundering one. The defective notions of Moses, with respect to God, find their New Testament parallel in the earth-born and earth-limited questions which the disciples so often addressed to Jesus. Hence, even though Moses has seen so much of God's power and promptitude in dealing with every difficulty he has raised, he still remains uncertain whether God has taken into account this peril from the slain Egyptian. It is no easy thing to get to a real and operative conviction that God knows even the smallest transaction in the past life of every one of us.—Y.


Exodus 4:18-31

Facing Egypt.

"And the people believed, and when," etc. (Exodus 4:31). This section of the history may be homiletically treated under three geographical headings, which will keep the historical development prominent, without obscuring the moral and spiritual elements.

I. MIDIAN. From Sinai Moses returned to Midian. Reuel now dead, Jethro, probably his son, becomes priest and sheikh of the tribe. [We take Jethro to have been the brother-in-law of Moses. See 'Speaker's Commentary,' additional note on Exodus 2:18.] In this part of the story it is of moment to observe the situation of Midian—east, and perhaps also west, of the Elanitic Gulf. Hence travellers from Egypt to Midian, or vice versa, would come on the journey unto "the mount of God." Moses could not stay long in Midian. There was now pressing on him—

1. The original impulse (Exodus 2:11-14).

2. The commission of the Burning Bush.

3. The intelligence that it was now safe to go.

[Exodus 2:19 furnishes a convenient opportunity for noticing the Old Testament formula, on the correct understanding of which so much depends, in which God is represented to have directly said and done what he may have done only mediately. Here, e.g; did God speak out of the air into the ear of Moses, or was the intelligence brought in the ordinary way, say by caravans across the desert? It is a large subject, but the following points are suggested: "God said," "God did' this or that, are to this day formulae with the Arabs. This Oriental habit of the cousins of the Hebrews is the opposite of the Occidental. We suppress the name of God as much as possible; and if constrained to refer to the Divine Being, we allude to him as" Providence" or "Heaven." The Oriental habit is more direct and truer; for God is in the secondary cause, which fact some amongst ourselves ignore. The Arabian style of to-day was the Hebrew style, and the mode of the Old Testament. In the interpretation of this formula we must be careful not to assume always the direct or supernatural, though perhaps occasionally we shall have no other alternative. Indeed, no doubt that is so.] On the receipt of this news Moses paid fealty to the chief of the tribe which had given him a home for forty years; asked permission to return; obtained it, and set out with "rod," wife, two sons, and, no doubt, the usual service and attendants of a considerable caravan.

II. THE DESERTON THE ROAD. On the road, which passed through scenes of incomparable grandeur, several incidents of the first importance occurred.

1. A word of Divine encouragement (Exodus 2:21-23). Jehovah inspired his servant with courage, warned him that success would not be immediate, and gave him the exact message for Pharaoh. [Whether all this came direct from God, or grew up in the mind of Moses, in the way of meditation, under the guidance of the Spirit, must be left to the decision of each.] But something may be here said on Exodus 2:21 : "I will harden," etc. The objection will occur to every one—How can God punish men for that which he himself causes or does? This "hardening" may be here considered once for all. The following considerations will have weight:—

1. God is often in the Old Testament said to do what he only permits to be done.

2. In this passage of history (Exodus 4-14.) God is said to harden Pharaoh's heart ten times, Pharaoh to harden his own three times; and the fact that Pharaoh's heart was hardened is stated five times.

3. Generally, until after the fifth plague, Pharaoh hardens his own heart; then, and only then, save in Exodus 7:13, God is said to harden Pharaoh's heart.

4. The fact seems to be that at first Pharaoh sinfully hardened his own heart, and then God permissively allowed the process to go on and confirmed it.

5. It must also be borne in mind that the very same gracious influences will either harden or soften, according to the subject. The same sun melts wax and hardens clay. The final responsibility of the hardening lay with Pharaoh. The homiletic applications are obvious; but see a striking poem in Dr. Taylor's 'Moses', by Dr. J. A. Alexander, beginning: "There is a time, we know not when." Another lesson is obvious, as soon as mentioned: We are not justified in looking for results which God has not promised. The deliverance of Israel was promised and certain, but there was no promise that Pharaoh would voluntarily yield.

2. A deed of Divine rebuke (Exo 7:24 -26). This passage is obscure, difficult, yet full of moral significance: must therefore be put in a true light. The incident Shales itself to our minds thus: Moses came on the journey to a caravanserai, burdened with a grievous memory of duty neglected, of the Divine covenant virtually repudiated (Genesis 17:9-14). The younger son had not been circumcised. This neglect was weak; had been simply to please the Midianitish mother. Hence anxiety, contributing with other causes to fever and threatening death—"Jehovah met him," etc. Zipperah was persuaded to perform the rite. The "stone" would be a flint implement, considered more sacred than iron or bronze. To this day flint is used in New Guinea even for shaving the head. The task was performed unwillingly, hence her invective, twice repeated. Then Jehovah released Moses—"let him go." It was now clear that the wife in these matters was out of sympathy with Moses, and so, on the ground of moral incompatibility, was sent back with her children to the tents of Midian (Exodus 18:2), and the grand soul went on alone upon his mission. But the lesson:—The teachers of obedience must be themselves obedient. The law-giver must himself be marked by obedience to law. There is nothing small or great in questions of fidelity. How could Moses thereafter take a stand for righteousness if not himself above indictment? Some moral defects may be absolutely fatal to moral strength.

3. The meeting of the delivering allies—of Moses and Aaron—not like that of Wellington and Blucher, after the battle, but before the campaign. The following points may be noted:—Aaron moved at a Divine intimation. The two met at Sinai. Moses communicated to his brother the revelation and conference connected with the burning bush. Had not told Jethro. With him no blatant speaking of the deepest mysteries of spiritual life.

III. EGYPT. Picture the familiarity of cities, monuments, and scenery, but the unfamiliar faces. No change, yet many changes.

1. The assembling of the elders. Moses, more wise than aforetime, knows that nothing can be done without the sympathy of the people. Can come into contact with them through the elders. This an argument for the organisation of the people.

2. The prominence of Aaron. At once takes his place. Note Moses' unfamiliarity now with Hebrew and Egyptian, after the lapse of so many years, as well as natural want of eloquence.

3. The result. Great success! Belief! Sensation at the coming down of the delivering God! Every head bowed! Worship! God had said: They will believe—"they shall hearken to thy voice." Moses: "Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken to my voice." BUT THEY DID. Success even beyond our hopes, and the fulfilments of God beyond all our fears.—R.

Verses 24-26


Exodus 4:24-26

The transition is abrupt from the promise of triumph over Pharaoh to the threat of instant death. But we must bear in mind that some days may have elapsed between the two, and that the sin which provoked the menace was probably not committed at the date of the promise. The narrative of Exodus 4:24-26 is obscure from its brevity; but the most probable explanation of the circumstances is, that Zipporah had been delivered of her second son, Eliezer, some few days before she set out on the journey to Egypt. Childbirth, it must be remembered, in the East does not incapacitate a person from exertion for more than a day or two. On the journey, the eighth day from the birth of the child arrived, and his circumcision ought to have taken place; but Zipporah had a repugnance to the rite, and deferred it, Moses weakly consenting to the illegality. At the close of the eighth day, when Moses went to rest for the night, he was seized with a sudden and dangerous illness, which he regarded, and rightly regarded, as a God-inflicted punishment, sent to chastise his sin in breaking the Divine command (Genesis 17:10-12). Zipporah understood the matter in the same way; and, as her husband was too ill to perform the rite, she herself with her own hand cut off her boy's foreskin, and, still indignant at what she had been forced to do, east it at her husband's feet, with the reproach—"Surely a bloody husband art thou to me." The rite once performed, however reluctantly, God remitted his anger, and. allowed Moses to recover his health, and pursue his journey.

Exodus 4:24

It came to pass by the way in the inn. "Inns," in our sense of the word, were unknown in the East for many ages after the time of Moses, and are still of very rare occurrence. Khans or caravanserais take their place. These are unfurnished buildings, open to all travellers, who thus obtain shelter gratis? but must provide themselves with food, bedding, and all other necessaries. It is questioned, however, if even such a place as this is here meant. Probably, the malon of Moses' time was a mere recognised halting-place, in the vicinity of a well, at which travellers were accustomed to pass the night. The Lord met him and sought to kill him. A sudden seizure, followed by a dangerous illness, is generally thought to he intended (Knobel, Kalisch, Rosenmuller, Canon Cook); but the words seem more appropriate to a miraculous appearance, like that of the angel to Balaam (Numbers 22:31). Still, it is quite possible that nothing more than an illness is meant.

Exodus 4:25

Zipporah took a sharp stone. Literally "a stone." Stone knives were commonly used in Egypt for making the incisions necessary when bodies were embalmed, and were regarded as purer than iron or bronze ones. Joshua ordered the preparation of stone knives for the circumcision of those born in the wilderness (Joshua 5:2); and the Jews seem to have used stone for circumcision for many ages, though before the compilation of the Talmud they had changed their practice. Cast it at his feet. Not, certainly, the child's feet, but her husband's, to whom at the same moment she addresses herself. A bloody husband. Literally, "a bridegroom of blood." The words are clearly a reproach; and the gist of the reproach seems to be that Moses was a husband who cost her dear, causing the blood of her sons to be shed in order to keep up a national usage which she regarded as barbarous.

Exodus 4:26

So he let him go. i.e. "God let Moses go"—allowed him to escape death, accepted Zipporah's tardy act as a removal of the cause of offence, and gave her husband back to her. Then she said, etc. This is not a second address of Zipporah to Moses, conceived in the same terms, but an explanation of her previous address. She called him "a bloody husband because of the circumcision." Literally, "of the circumcisions." The two circumcisions, of Gershom in Midian, and of Eliezer on the way to Egypt, are especially in the writer's mind.


Exodus 4:24-26

One small duty neglected may frustrate the whole purpose of a life.

To an Israelite the circumcision of his male children on the eighth day was a plain practical duty, resting upon a positive precept, which was unambiguous and peremptory. (See Genesis 17:10-14.) Moses, probably in deference to the wishes of his wife, who disliked the custom, had allowed his son, Eliezer, to remain uncircumcised beyond the appointed time, perhaps making the excuse to himself that during a journey such a rite could not conveniently be performed, and intending that the thing should be done when they reached Egypt. But the precept was plain—"He that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you;' and nothing had been said by God of any circumstances under which the rite might be deferred. It was the appointed means by which the child was to be brought into covenant with God; and if he died before the performance of the rite, he would die out of covenant, and so suffer a wrong. Moses probably thought that his sin was a little matter—perhaps hardly recognised it as a sin at all. But it was the "little rift within the lute" which destroyed the whole value of the instrument. He who "shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all" (James 2:10). God thought the neglect no small matter, and would have punished it, had it not been repaired, with death. It can never be a small matter to neglect any command of God, be it to perform a rite, or to undergo one, or to keep a particular day holy, or any other. When a positive command is admitted to have come from God, the obligation to obey it, as Bishop Butler observes, is moral. And so this little duty neglected, had nearly cost Moses his life, Zipporah her husband, the child his natural protector. Moses' death at this period would have left the whole purpose of his life unaccomplished, have handed over the deliverance of Israel to another, and have caused his special powers and special training to have been wasted. Let men beware, then, of the neglect of little duties, the allowance in themselves of "little sins." Let them beware especially of being led into such "little sins," by over-complaisance to a wife, a friend, a companion. Many a man would have stood firm, but for such seductive influence. A man who is truly manly will resist it, and risk the loss of human affection, secure of the Divine approval.


Exodus 4:19-29

My times are in Thy hand.

Moses thought himself fit for his work at forty-eager to undertake it before the years increased; God waits until his self-confidence has abated, and then, at eighty, gives him his commission.

I. THE GREAT COMMISSION. His errand is to Pharaoh, as an ambassador from the King of heaven to the king of Egypt. Notice—

1. His credentials. As coming in a king's name he must be accredited by the king who sends him. God gives him signs, very simple but very significant.

(1) The shepherd's rod, emblem of his office, turned into a serpent, emblem of his new dignity.

(2) A hand made leprous and cleansed, emblem of a people degraded but to be redeemed.

(3) A libation of water turned to blood, emblem of life smitten by judgment. The signs are simple—a rod, a hand, a cup of water; so are most of God's signs; yet by the way in which he uses them they accredit the messenger, and attest the authenticity of his message.

2. His message corresponds with the last two signs:—

(1) A command. Israel in slavery is to be released. God will have his son free, the leprous cleansed.

(2) A threat. If Pharaoh refuse, his son shall be slain; the joy of his life turned to blood. Such the commission given to Moses, and to fulfil which he starts for Egypt.

II. THE GREAT TRIAL: Exodus 4:24-26. [Illustration:A man about to enter into battle carefully selects his best weapon. Is it, however, really trustworthy?—has it no weak points? He must prove it that he may know. Proving looks like seeking to break; it is seeking to discover if breakage is possible.] God having selected Moses, must prove him before he uses him; so if the proof brings out weak points they may at any rate be remedied. "The Lord met him and sought to kill him." Two weak points were immediately discovered:—

1. A broken covenant. He who is selected to represent the covenant people, is himself shown to be a covenant-breaker! His son uncircumcised!! If judgment must fall on Egypt it must begin at the house of God. Moses must himself be purified before he can be allowed to denounce Pharaoh.

2. A refractory wife. The secret of the broken covenant was clearly the wilful obstinacy of Zipporah. She is compelled to do through fear what she would not yield from love. A man's wife is meant for a help-meet; if not that, she may be his greatest hindrance. Let Zipporah return to Midian for the time (Exodus 18:2), and at least leave her husband unencumbered. So out of the trial God makes a way of escape; proves and reproves his servant that he may improve and approve him.

III. THE GREAT CONSOLATION: Exodus 4:27, Exodus 4:28. God does not do, what kings and rulers too often do, treat his envoys as mere machines, forgetting their human needs and cravings. If Zipporah is no help-meet for Moses, he shall have a help-meet who will more than satisfy him. In Aaron he finds sympathy, Exodus 4:27; to Aaron he can give his confidence, Exodus 4:28. His own strength is doubled in the friendship of one who thus shares his burdens.


1. God gives us commissions, but they are always accompanied by credentials. You say God calls you to do this? Show then the signs of your calling.

2. God's envoys are not free from trials; rather, they are the more tried that they may be the more trustworthy. The Captain was perfected through suffering.

3. Whatever the commission, whatever the trial, God will empower us to fulfil the one and strengthen us to endure the other. One may well do without Zipporah when God sends him Aaron.—G.


Exodus 4:24-27

Interpretation of providence.

This mysterious passage in the life of Moses suggests various reflections. The facts are few. Moses, probably in deference to Zipporah's abhorrence of the rite, had neglected the circumcision of his child. This, in so eminent a servant of God, was a sin which could not be winked at. Least of all could it be overlooked at a time when the covenants were undergoing a species of resurrection, and when Moses was on his way to Egypt for the very purpose of giving effect to them. Hence this incident at the inn. Moses, apparently, was seized by an illness which threatened to be mortal, and a fatal result was only averted by Zipporah, who, at once divining the cause of the affliction, used a sharp stone, and performed the neglected rite. Thus was Moses taught that he who represents God before men must himself be blameless—guiltless of gross neglect of Divine commandments; taught also that service of God must be whole-hearted—that in the way of duty there is to be no conferring with flesh and blood—no pleasing of men at the cost of unfaithfulness to God. "He that loveth father or mother," etc. (Matthew 10:37). Besides these general lessons we draw from the incident such instruction as the following:—

I. GOD OFTEN TEACHES US THAT HE IS ANGRY WITH US BY VISITING US WITH AFFLICTIVE DESPENSATIONS, LEAVING US TO FIND OUT THE CAUSE. Even Moses, with whom God had so often spoken, received on this occasion no other warning of his displeasure than this severe illness which so unexpectedly overtook him. Huxley remarks on Nature's system of education "Nature's discipline is not even a word and a blow, and the blow first; but the blow without the word. It is left to you to find out why your ears are boxed." The words apply as fitly to the relation of outward providences to moral and spiritual conditions—a class of relations which this writer would reject, but which nevertheless exist.

II. CONSCIENCE, REMINDING US OF NEGLECTED DUTIES, OR OTHER SINS COMMITTED BY US, IS A READY INTERPRETER OF MANY OF GOD'S AFFLICTIVE PROVIDENCES. Zipporah guessed at once the cause of this trouble, and the result showed her guess to be correct. So Joseph's brethren (Genesis 42:21).

III. THE HOLIEST OF GOD'S SERVANTS ARE NOT EXEMPTED FROM SEVERE CHASTISEMENTS. We may wonder that God should have chosen this particular time to put a valuable life in peril. It was, however, the summons to depart which brought matters to a crisis. Moses was not ignorant of this neglected duty, and to set out on so grave a mission, and leave it still neglected, was a sin calling for sharp rebuke. This is another illustration of the truth that God. punishes sins in his own children with even greater severity than he does the like sins in others. Do we ask, What if Moses had died? The question is needless. The Divine arrangements had all the facts in contemplation from the first. Had it been foreseen that the anticipated effect would not have followed from the stroke—that the trouble would have had a different ending—everything else would have been different to suit. Yet we may not doubt that Moses' life was for the time really in peril, and that, had repentance not supervened, God would not have receded, even at the cost of a Moses, from inflicting upon him the extreme penalty of his unfaithfulness.


V. GOD IS ZEALOUS FOR THE OBSERVANCE OF HIS OWN ORDINANCES. It might be pleaded, this is only a ceremony, an outward rite; what great importance is to be attached to it? But God had commanded it, and had even made it the badge of his covenant; therefore neglect of it was an act of disobedience, and implied a low esteem of covenant-privilege. The sacraments may be unduly and foolishly exalted; but there is an opposite sin of disesteeming and neglecting them.—J.O.


Exodus 4:24 Exodus 4:26

Neglect of the covenant on its human side.

In Genesis 17:1-27. we find the covenant between God and Abram stated with great particularity and emphasis. On God's side there were large promises to Abram of an' abundant posterity and an everlasting possession, and on man's side there was to be the faithful and regular practice of circumcision. Moses was going to Egypt now in virtue of this very covenant, and as the agent of God to advance it considerably towards its full effect; and yet, strange to say, he had with him an uncircumcised son. No wonder that God visited him by the way, and—when we look into all the probabilities of the case-no wonder that God made as if he would kill him. The very obscurities of this strange incident help to make it more impressive and admonitory. Consider

I. WHAT THERE MAY BE IN THE NARRATIVE TO THROW LIGHT ON THE CAUSE OF THE OMISSION. It cannot have been that Moses was completely ignorant of God's requirement. Had not God recalled the covenant to the particular attention of Moses? He had done so in a sufficiently suggestive way, not by repeating the terms of the covenant in full, but simply by referring to himself as the God of Abraham, IsaActs and Jacob. Having thus been reminded of the covenant, Moses was bound to make himself correctly acquainted with every provision and detail of it. This covenant had been delivered to Abram once for all, and was of such a kind that nothing but the most flagrant neglect could allow the sign of it off its human side to fall into disuse. It was a covenant written in the very body of every true Israelite. Doubtless Moses himself had been circumcised; yet here he is, going as the messenger of God to make progress in fulfilling God's part of the covenant, and yet his own part, as a member of Israel, he is unmistakably neglecting. Hence we see that he could not have been ignorant; and more than that, neither could he have been forgetful. We are led to infer that easygoing compliance with his Midianite wife, Zipporah, was at the bottom of this neglected duty. It would appear indeed as if Moses had circumcised one son and then left the other uncircumcised. If so, he had shown gross inconsistency. More might have been said for him if both had been uncircumcised. Probably Zipporah, having soon the pain of her firstborn, had struggled and pleaded only too successfully for exemption in the case of the second.

II. THE EXTREMELY MENACING MODE BY WHICH GOD BRINGS MOSES TO A SENSE OF THE OMISSION. "He sought to kill him." When God proceeds to such an extremity as this, it must be either because of some monstrous breach of duty, or to impress an important commandment by the most efficacious means that can be adopted. There is no need to suppose that Moses, knowing full well the importance of circumcision, yet deliberately omitted it. If so, his conduct would have been very bad indeed. There is a more reasonable and instructive aspect. He was brought nigh to death so that he might learn the truth-and learn it so as never to forget, never to neglect it—that no human being, whatever its claims and whatever its supplications, was to come between God and him. Let Moses now take his choice between pleasing his wife and obeying his God. He could only do God's work by the most hearty obedience and attention. Nor was he here only as the messenger of God to Israel and Egypt; he was also the responsible head of a household. Leaders who are husbands and parents are watched in all their home relations. If Moses was going to let Zipporah rule and prevail by her womanly wiles in one instance, why not in others? The only way to keep things right was for Zipporah to take her orders from him, and as Moses was to choose between his wife and his God, so Zipporah between her husband and her child. She has to put her child to a passing pain in order that she may spare her husband from impending death. Indeed, poor woman, she had been greatly tried of late: compelled to leave her father and her dear native land, and go on an expedition the reasons of which would be but indifferently comprehended by her. Whichever way she turns, and whatever she does, there is something to vex her soul. Dearly had she paid for that chivalrous service which Moses had rendered her. and her sisters so many years before. The awkwardness of being unequally yoked is felt by the unbeliever as much as the believer.—Y.

Verses 27-28


Exodus 4:27, Exodus 4:28

The scene suddenly shifts. Moses is left in the wilderness to recover his strength and make such arrangements with respect to his wife and children as he thinks best under the circumstances. We are carried away to Egypt and introduced to Aaron, Moses' elder brother, of whom we have only heard previously that he could "speak well," and was to assist Moses as spokesman in his enterprise (Exodus 4:14-16). We now find God revealing himself to Aaron also, and directing his movements, as he had those of Moses. Aaron had perhaps already formed the design of visiting his brother (see Exodus 4:14), and would have sought him in Midian but for the direction now given him. That direction was probably more definite than is expressed in the text, and enabled him to set forth confidently, without the fear of missing his brother. At any rate, under God's guidance he went and met him in the Sinaitic district. The joy of meeting is briefly described in the single phrase "he kissed him." The meeting was followed by a full explanation, on the part of Moses, both of the nature of his own mission and of the part which Aaron was to take in it.

Exodus 4:27

Go into the wilderness. It is scarcely possible that this can have been the whole of the direction given, since the wilderness extended from the shores of the Mediterranean to the extreme point of the Sinaitic peninsula. The sacred writers study brevity, and leave much to be supplied by the common-sense of the reader. He went and met him in the mount of God. Compare above, Exodus 3:1, which shows that Horeb is meant. Horeb seems to have been the name for the entire mountain region, of which Sinai was a part. Kissed him. So Esau kissed Jacob after their long separation (Genesis 33:4), and Joseph, Benjamin and his other brethren (Genesis 45:14, Genesis 45:15). In the East men are more demonstrative than with us. Aaron's kiss showed the gladness that was in his heart (supra, Exodus 3:14).

Exodus 4:28

Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord. Perfect confidence between the two brothers was absolutely necessary for the success of their enterprise; and Moses wisely, at their very first interview, made Aaron acquainted with the entire series of Divine revelations that had been made to him, keeping nothing back, but communicating to him "all the words of the Lord." Who had sent him. Rather, "which he had laid upon him." (So the LXX; the Vulgate, Knobel, Kalisch, and others.) All the signs. Compare Exodus 4:3-9 and Exodus 4:23.


Exodus 4:27

God does not stint his help when he visits man.

It might have seemed that God had now done enough to set on foot the deliverance of his people. He had appeared to Moses, overcome his reluctance to be leader, given him the power of working some great miracles, and allowed him to devolve a portion of his duties upon his brother; Moses was on his way to Egypt to carry out his commission, and Aaron was minded to go forth to meet and greet him. Humanly speaking, nothing more was needed for the initiation of the work. But God, who "seeth not as man seeth," does not stint his arm when he has taken a business in hand. It would expedite matters if Aaron were to be directed where to meet Moses, and the two brothers were to have their conference at once, and arrange their course of proceedings. So Aaron is visited, probably by an angel, and sent to meet Moses, and told where he will find him; and by these means the meeting is brought about with all speed, Aaron enlightened as to his duties, and plans arranged to be put in act as soon as Egypt is reached. The two brothers gain the advantage of sweet companionship some days or weeks earlier than they would have done if left to themselves, and their first interview with Pharaoh is advanced correspondingly. And as with his miraculous, so with his ordinary help. God does not stint it. His grace is ever sufficient for men. He gives them all that they can possibly need, and more than they would ever think of asking. He loves to pour out his blessings abundantly on those that are true to him; makes "all things work together for their good;" goes out of his way to procure advantages for them; loads them with his favours.

Exodus 4:28

Full confidence necessary between fellow-workers.

Moses told Aaron "all the words of the Lord"—made "a clean breast" to him, kept back none of the counsel of God, so far as he had been made acquainted with it. A kind, a loving, and a prudent course. Half-confidences are valueless; they irritate rather than satisfy. If known to be half-confidences, they offend; if mistaken for full ones, they mislead and conduct to disaster. Those who are to be fellow-workers in any undertaking—more especially any great one—should have entire confidence each in each, and be wholly unreserved one towards the other. There is good sense and good advice in the motto, "Trust me not at all or all in all."

Verses 29-31


Exodus 4:29-31

Moses seems to have parted with Zipporah and his children in Horeb, and to have sent them back to Jethro (Exodus 18:2), perhaps because they might have interfered with the work which he had to do, perhaps because he thought Egypt would be no pleasant residence for them during the coming struggle. He journeyed onward from Horeb with Aaron for his sole companion, and had abundant time for taking counsel with him, and exercising the influence over him which high intellect and education combined will always give to their possessor. The journey from Horeb to Goshen occupied probably some weeks. On arriving in Goshen, the two brothers, in obedience to the divine command (Exodus 3:16), proceeded at once to "gather together all the elders of Israel"—that is, all these who exercised local authority over their countrymen in the various districts which they inhabited. Through the mouth of Aaron, Moses declared all that had been revealed to him at the burning bush and subsequently, exhibiting at the same time the credentials which proved him an ambassador from God, i.e. the three miracles which he had been empowered to work at any moment (Exodus 4:2-8). The elders, being themselves convinced, summoned an assembly of the people, as is implied though not expressed in Exodus 4:30; and the people, having heard the words of Aaron and seen the signs, were also convinced, and bowing their heads, worshipped the God whose ambassadors had appeared before them.

Exodus 4:29

On the elders of Israel, see note upon Exodus 3:16. It is clear that the Israelitish nation, though in bondage to the Egyptians, had a certain internal organisation of its own, and possessed a set of native officers. These were probably the hereditary heads of families. Moses and Aaron could have no authority to gather these persons together; but they issued an invitation, and it was accepted. The "elders" came to the meeting.

Exodus 4:30

Aaron spake. Aaron at once entered on his office of "spokesman" (Exodus 4:16), declaring to the elders all God's dealings with his brother. Aaron also, and not Moses, us we should have expected (Exodus 4:17), did the signs, God, by allowing him to do them, sanctioning this delegation of power. On later occasions, we find Aaron more than once required by God to work the miracles. (See below, Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:5, Exodus 8:16.) In the sight of the people. It is not probable that the people were present at the first meeting of the elders; but the sacred historian, anxious to compress his narrative, and bent simply on conveying to us the fact of Aaron's success with both elders and people, omits stages in the history which he supposes that any reader can supply, e.g. the doing of the signs in the sight of the elders, their belief in them, and their subsequent assembling of the people.

Exodus 4:31

The people believed. This ready faith stands in strong contrast with the ordinary incredulous temper of the Israelitish people, who were "a faithless and stubborn generation"—a generation that "believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation" (Psalms 78:22). It would seem that under the pressure of affliction—having, humanly speaking, no hope—the stubborn spirit of the people had given way, and they were content to look to Jehovah and accept his promises, and believe in his messengers, notwithstanding their natural scepticism. No doubt the novelty of miracles helped to produce this state of feeling; and the fact that they were not called upon at present for any active exertion made acquiescence in what Moses put before them easier. When they heard that the Lord had visitedi.e. when the message contained in Exodus 3:16 was delivered to them. And that he had looked upon their affliction. Compare Exodus 3:7. They bowed their heads. Rather "they bowed down" (Kalisch), or "inclined themselves." And worshipped. Some understand an act of respect and ho-mage done to Moses and Aaron, in token of their acceptance by the people as leaders; but, though the words employed are sometimes used in this sense, the context is opposed to their having this sense in this place. "When the people heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel they bowed down and worshipped." Whom? Surely, the Lord.


Exodus 4:29-31

The blessing on obedience.

Moses and Aaron, on their return to Egypt in company, carried out exactly the Divine directions, doing neither less nor more. They summoned the elders as commanded (Exodus 3:16); they delivered God's message to them (ib.); they wrought the signs which they had been told to work (Exodus 4:17); they severally kept to their appointed offices; and the result was complete success so far. The elders and people hearkened unto them, believed, gave in their unqualified assent and consent to all that was put before them. And this was according to the promise of God, "they shall hearken to thy voice" (Exodus 3:18). Moses had disbelieved the promise, and exclaimed, "Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice" (Exodus 4:1); but Moses was now proved mistaken. "The foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). God knew better than Moses; he was faithful; he kept his word. As Moses and Aaron had been true to him, and followed exactly his commands, so he proved himself true to them, and amply rewarded their obedience. Moses and Aaron were from this time the accepted leaders of the nation.

Exodus 4:31

Worship the proper outcome of thankfulness.

Israel, down-trodden, oppressed, crushed beneath an intolerable tyranny, no sooner hears the promise of deliverance, than it displays its gratitude by "bowing the head and worshipping." Many Christians talk of being thankful for God's blessings vouchsafed to them, but never think of showing forth their thankfulness by any extra act of worship, or even any increased intensity in that portion of their ordinary worship which consists in thanksgiving. A sad sign this of modern lukewarmness, an indication that the "last times are drawing near, when "the love of many shall wax cold." Time was when each national success was at once celebrated by a "Te Deum," and when each blessing granted to an individual drew forth a special offering. The thankfulness that does not show itself in some such overt act must be a very poor thankfulness, a very weak and washed-out feeling.


Exodus 4:27, Exodus 4:28

A meeting of brothers.

1. By Divine appointment (cf. Exodus 4:14).

2. In a sacred place.

3. As cooperators in a good work.

4. With affection.

5. To exchange experiences.—J.O.

Exodus 4:29-31

Preaching and faith.


1. Should be the Word of God. The preacher is not set to deliver his own speculations, but to convey a message.

2. Should be exhibited with its appropriate evidence.

3. Should be declared to all.


1. Appreciated the value of the word.

2. Believed the word.

3. Worshipped; a token of gratitude, submission, and obedience.—J.O.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-4.html. 1897.
Ads FreeProfile