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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 4

 

 

Introduction

The Birth And Growth of Moses As Yahweh’s Future Deliverer (Exodus 2:1 to Exodus 4:26).

This section takes us from the birth of Moses to the commencement of his return from Egypt. This again takes on a clear pattern.

a The birth and deliverance of Moses and his establishment in Pharaoh’s ‘house’ (Exodus 2:1-10).

b Moses has to flee from Egypt and falls among friends in Midian and makes his home with the Midianites (Exodus 2:15-22).

c Conditions in Egypt worsen - God remembers His covenant with their fathers (Exodus 2:23-25)

d God appears to Moses in the sign of a flaming bush at the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1-5).

e Yahweh reveals Himself as Yahweh, the God of their Fathers, the ‘I am’, with the promise of Deliverance (Exodus 3:6-15).

e Moses is therefore to go to the Elders of Israel and promise a glorious deliverance (Exodus 3:16-22).

d God gives to a reluctant Moses a further three signs (Exodus 4:1-9).

c The response of Moses worsens and Yahweh becomes angry and offers him Aaron as ‘his mouth’ (Exodus 4:10-17).

b Moses leaves Midian for Egypt (Exodus 4:18-20).

a The renewal of Moses by deliverance from death and call to go to Pharaoh. Three sons are compared, Yahweh’s firstborn (Israel), Pharaoh’s firstborn, and Moses’ Midianite son. Moses must choose whom he will serve (Exodus 4:21-26).

Note again the parallels. In ‘a’ Moses is born, delivered and brought up in Pharaoh’s household, in the parallel Moses’ loyalty to Yahweh is renewed, he is delivered from death and he is to go to Pharaoh as his adversary. In ‘b’ Moses flees Egypt and makes his home with the Midianites, in the parallel he leaves Midian and goes to Egypt. In ‘c’ the situation in Egypt is worsening, but Yahweh remembers His covenant, and in the parallel Moses’ relationship with Yahweh is worsening and Moses is forgetting the covenant. In ‘d’ God gives Moses a sign in the flaming bush and the sign of the mountain of God, and in the parallel He give Moses three signs. And in ‘e’ Yahweh reveals Himself as Israel’s Deliverer, and in the parallel Moses is to take that deliverance to Israel.

Note for Christians.

The New Testament takes these historical accounts and applies their principles to the modern situation. For history is seen as a continual repetition of itself. Apart from Christ the world does not change. God offered man in the Garden the possibility of living for ever under the Kingly Rule of God. But man rebelled and chose his own way (Genesis 2-3). And from then on history consisted of the few who responded to God and pleased God, and the many who lived without concern for Him.

He then called out one, Abraham, who would found his own ‘kingdom of God’ which would be brought into covenant with God (Genesis 12 onwards), and which would travel from place to place. But again it led to failure by man, and the kingdom eventually finished up in Egypt and became absorbed within it.

It is then offered here, in Exodus to Deuteronomy, through Moses, when the divinely perfect ‘seventy’ are introduced (Exodus 1:5), with the final aim of establishing from their descendants God’s Kingly Rule in Canaan, but from the beginning it is made clear that the people to whom He made this offer were unworthy. For having gone into Egypt which represented ‘the world’ they had remained there and sought to become one with them. But ‘Egypt’ is never a place with which men can be truly satisfied, and thus in this chapter we have seen them stirred from their lives of sin and unbelief by the sufferings that came on them, outwardly caused by their enemies, but underneath the surface caused by God, and as the book proceeds, there will be an offering to them of coming under the Kingly Rule of God in Canaan with all that could hinder removed. But Exodus to Judges is the tale of how they will fail to seize what God has offered them, so that it will only accepted by the few, and in the end they will go so far from God in compromise and sin that the prophets, despairing of them, predict the coming of the Kingly Rule of God in the future. But that it will come they are sure, for God has promised it. There will come an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11; Ezekiel 37:24-28).

And the New Testament reveals a similar picture. The Jews were waiting for the coming of the Kingly Rule of God promised by the prophets, but when it came in Jesus they rejected it and only the comparatively few responded. They failed to see that the Kingly Rule of God essentially consisted in responding to and obeying the King. Thus they rejected the King sent by God. And the result was that Kingly Rule of God was in the end offered through Jesus’ Apostles to all in the world who would believe in Him and come to Him.

But did this mean that God had forsaken Israel? The answer lies in how God saw Israel. For God makes clear that the true Israel is composed of those who submit to His covenant and obey Him. In the words of Paul ‘He did not cast away His people whom He foreknew’ (Romans 11:2), those who were faithful to Him. And all who would could come within the covenant as long as they were circumcised and became subject to His covenant requirements (Exodus 12:48). As to those who did not obey His covenant they had to be cut off from it and not be seen as His people (Exodus 32:33). Thus Abraham’s foreign servants came within the covenant. There is no reason to doubt that the mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38) came within the covenant. In the days before Christ the Jews welcomed all proselytes into the covenant theoretically at least on equal terms with natural born Jews. And thus after the resurrection of Jesus those who rejected Him were cut off from the true Israel, and the Apostles went out to form the new congregation (ekklesia) of Israel as a result of Jesus’ command (Matthew 16:18). That is why when the Gentiles began to respond the question arose as to whether it was necessary for them to be circumcised in order to become members of the Israel of God. The question was, how else could they be true proselytes in accordance with 12:48? And Paul’s reply was not that they were not becoming Israel. Indeed he made clear that they were (Ephesians 2:11-22). It was that they were circumcised already, in the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11; Colossians 2:13). In Christ all had been done in order for them to become the Israel of God, God’s new creation (Galatians 6:12-16), without earthly ritual. Like the offerings and sacrifices, circumcision was done away with in Christ. Thus were Christians seen as entering under the Kingly Rule of God and as the true Israel of God. For if we are Christ’s then are we Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:21).

In the New Testament this has a present and future aspect, as it also had with Jesus. In the present His Kingly Rule is enjoyed by God’s true people in this world (Acts 8:12; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 12:28; ), and in the future it will be a heavenly kingdom for all who are called by God in Jesus Christ (Acts 14:22; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:1; James 2:5; Revelation 11:15; Revelation 12:10). Yet the distinctions are not absolute and many verses in the second category include the thought of the present inheriting of the Kingly Rule of God (the Kingdom of heaven) for all who truly believe and respond to Him.

Thus can we apply these historical lessons to our own situation. We too live at a time when the Kingly Rule of God is subject to rejection by the many. We too know that in history God’s offer was made and rejected because man would not receive it on God’s terms, until it was distorted beyond all recognition. And why? Because men clung to ‘Egypt’. They wanted both God and Egypt and that was not possible, and so they chose ‘Egypt’ and tried to call it the kingdom of God. But all through history, in spite of the pretence, for the outward church was no different from failing Israel and foolish Judaism, and it too rejected the Kingly Rule of God, replacing it with its own rule, God’s work has gone on. Within the great churches that became monoliths and Egypts of their own, were always found the true believers who formed the true church, the living, invisible church, yet not really invisible, for it was visible by its life and faith expressed through the individuals who made up the whole. And in the end many broke out and formed churches of their own, only to fall into the danger of doing exactly as had been done before. Thus do all true believers constantly have to ‘come forth from Egypt’, whether representing a failing church or a sordid world, and turn from love of them to the service of the living God, thus revealing themselves as members of the true Israel of God. In the words of John we are called to ‘love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the longings of the flesh, the longings for what is seen (of the eyes, that is, covetousness), and the arrogance and desire of position and status that bespeaks the vanity of life (the pride of life), are not of the Father but are of the world’ (1 John 2:15-16). And the world consists not only of heady pleasures that destroy the soul, or the pride of self-seeking, but also of man’s attempts at religion which avoid true faith in Christ and make him very satisfied with himself.

And this is not only true of the whole it is true of the part. Each individual has his own ‘Egypt’ from which he must be rescued, for it is the tendency of man’s heart to seek the pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:25) and the vanity of the mind (Ephesians 2:3). When they are converted many still crave for Egypt. Thus when we see Israel suffering because of its folly in clinging to Egypt we can apply it to our own tendency to do the same. And when God brings persecution and suffering on His erring people we can see in it the picture of what happens to many of us, firstly in order to release us from ‘Egypt’, and then in order to remove ‘Egypt’ from us. We should be grateful for His correction. It is because He loves us and wants our love in return (Hebrews 12:5-7).

Most of Israel would in fact never really come out of Egypt, for while their bodies moved from it their hearts would always be there. That is why they subsequently failed again and again, ever longing for Egypt. And subsequently, and ironically, Canaan the chosen land itself became an Egypt for their children, because they had failed to cleanse it of its inhabitants and its follies. It became the continual source of its temptations. It was only the few who, like the prophets, ‘came out’ and freed themselves, like the ‘seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal’ (1 Kings 19:18). And so it is for us today.

Thus as we read these records we may rightly ask, what have they to say to us. What examples can we take from them? And apply these lessons to ourselves. Something which we will seek to do at the end of each chapter. For these things were written for our learning.

Here then we learn in chapter 1 that those who are different from others because of their faith in God will always suffer persecution in one way or another, even though it be only in the home or the workplace. They may find themselves welcome in ‘Egypt’ for a time, but they will find that one day ‘Egypt’ will not like the standards that they set, the demands that they make and the way that they behave, and persecution will follow. And like the midwives they must see in it the opportunity to stand firm for God and thus enjoy His blessing. And they must rejoice in it and recognise that it is helping to free them from love of ‘Egypt’ which deadens the soul. For ‘tribulation works patient endurance, and patient endurance results in experience, and experience produces hope, and hope does not make us ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hears by the Holy Spirit Who is given to us’ (Romans 5:3-5). Thus through the suffering do we experience the love of God, and through it His love possesses us too.

End of note.

The Call of Moses (Exodus 3:1 to Exodus 4:17).

What has gone before was preparatory to what follows. It is now that the main story of the book begins, which will take us from God’s call to Moses, to the establishment of the covenant at Sinai and the erecting of God’s earthly Dwellingplace, over a period of about two years.

But note the care that has been taken over the training of this man we see before us. He does not know it but he has been fully prepared by God. In Egypt he has been trained in statecraft and law, he has been involved with those who ran a great and powerful nation, and has no doubt had his share in the running of it. He has learned the discipline of power. But what is equally important in Midian he has been trained in desert lore. He now knew where water was to be found in the desert, he knew the secrets of the wilderness of Sinai, he knew the ways that led through that mountainous wilderness and which ways could take a multitude of people and which could not, and apart from his brother-in-law Hobab who was clearly famous for his desertcraft, whom he was able to call on for help (Numbers 10:29, Hobab would have done it for no one else), none was better aware of how to survive in that sometimes dreadful place. No one had been better trained and equipped to be a trek leader than he.


Verses 1-5

Moses Continues To Object To God’s Request And God Gives Him Three Signs (Exodus 4:1-9).

Moses continued to express his doubts so God told him of three signs which he would be able to use in order to demonstrate his credentials. The first deals with a snake, the symbol of much religious belief in Egypt, and a reminder to Israel of the Tempter in the Garden.

The First Sign - The Rod Turned Into A Snake (4:1-5).

a Moses says that the people will not believe his voice or that Yahweh has appeared to him (Exodus 4:1).

b Yahweh draws attention to the staff in his hand (Exodus 4:2).

c He is to cast it to the ground and it becomes a snake (Exodus 4:3 a).

c Moses flees from before it and Yahweh says ‘take it by the tail’ (Exodus 4:3-4 a).

b He puts forth his hand and it becomes a staff in his hand (Exodus 4:4 b).

a Then the people will believe and accept that Yahweh, the God of their fathers, has appeared to him (Exodus 4:5).

Note that in ‘a’ Moses says that the people will not believe his voice or that Yahweh has appeared to him, in the parallel Yahweh confirms that they will do both. In ‘b’ Yahweh draws attention to the staff in his hand, in the parallel the resulting snake becomes a staff in his hand. In ‘c’ he casts his staff to the ground and it becomes a snake, and in the parallel he flees before it and is told to take it by the tail.

Exodus 4:1

‘And Moses answered and said, “But look, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, “Yahweh has not appeared to you.”

Moses now comes up with his third objection. He had pleaded inability (Exodus 3:11) and that the people would want to know by Whose power he came (Exodus 3:13), and now he simply states that they will not believe that Yahweh has appeared to him. After all, why should they? And given their situation, and the continual unbelief they would reveal, his objection certainly had substance. But it still demonstrated a lack of faith that later generations would not have imputed to the great Moses. This is genuine tradition.

Note that the use of ‘Yahweh’ is now predominant. He is coming very much as the God of the covenant.

Exodus 4:2-3

‘And Yahweh said, “What is that in your hand?” And he said, “A staff.’ And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” And it became a snake, and Moses fled from it.’

Moses staff was something with which he was familiar, an old friend, and he knew how to defend himself with it. It would also be a symbol of his authority. So God uses something familiar and important with which to do something unfamiliar. He tells him to throw it in the ground, and when he does so it becomes a snake. This first sign would be reproduced by the Egyptian magicians by trickery for they were famous with what they could do with snakes. But there was no trickery here. For when Moses saw the snake he ‘fled from it’, that is backed away to a safe distance. He knew what some snakes could do. He was not practising a conjuring trick.

One root meaning of the consonants for ‘snake’ (nachash) is ‘enchantment’. The snake was feared for its insidious behaviour, striking from its hiding place when suddenly disturbed, biting at a horse’s heels (Genesis 49:17), and it was commonly used in enchantments, and symbolised the world of the gods in which snakes were a common feature, sometimes good and sometime bad. The Egyptians believed in the sacred uraeus-snake as a symbol of protection, often on Pharaoh’s brow leading him to victory in battle. They also believed in the serpent ‘Apep as the symbol of evil. Thus to have power over such snakes was to have power over good and evil.

But to Israel the snake represented something more. It represented the traditional enemy of God (Genesis 3). Here it would be demonstrated that the one represented by the snake had been mastered by God. This is another example of the repetition of events in early Genesis in this book. They would recognise that it was indeed Yahweh Who had spoken to Moses because of his power over the snake in accordance with their traditions.

Exodus 4:4

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Put out your hand and take it by the tail.” And he put out his hand and took hold of it and it became a staff in his hand.’

Yahweh then told Moses to take the snake by the tail. This required great faith and courage, for the tail is the last part of a snake that you would take hold of, for it enables it to turn and bite. But, after his initial fear, he recognised that this was no ordinary snake, and was all Yahweh’s doing, and that he could therefore safely do what He said. If Yahweh told him to do it, Yahweh could render the snake powerless. So he did what he was told. He did not seek to bruise its head he took it by the tail. And as soon as he did the snake once more became a staff in his hand.

So Moses learned not to fear ‘the snake’ and all that it symbolised of Pharaoh and of other-world powers, for he now knew that God controlled the snake. This was his first practical step in trusting God. And he had learned by it not to be afraid of the Serpent who lay behind it all, or of the Pharaoh whose head bore the snake. And he could demonstrate to Israel that they need not be afraid either.

There was presumably significance in the fact that he was to tackle the snake in this unusual way. The usual tactic would be to go for the head. One reason probably was in order to show the complete control that Yahweh had over the snake, and therefore over all snakes both human and divine. Another was possibly to give the hint that victory would not be instantaneous or accomplished violently. It would be achieved by a firm hand.

But a further purpose may have been to prevent the idea that this was the fulfilment of Genesis 3:15. This was not to be the final subjection of the Evil One, it was to be a preliminary subjection.

Exodus 4:5

‘That they may believe that Yahweh, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has appeared to you.’

Many see a difficulty here in knowing what the ‘that’ refers back to. It may well in fact assume that the reader in his mind adds an introduction in thought of words such as ‘you will do this with your rod so (that) --’. However, it might equally refer back to ‘take it by the tail’, with the remainder (from the modern point of view) in parenthesis. Moses’ action with the snake would be in accordance with their own longstanding tradition about what had happened in Eden. Our problem may simply arise from our lack of knowledge of the idioms of early Hebrew. Either way the meaning is clear. Moses must show this sign to the elders and the people so that they would believe that Yahweh, the God of their fathers, had indeed appeared to them, and could control the enemies of Israel as he had with their first father in Eden.

Note the continued emphasis on ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’ (Exodus 3:15-16 and here). The intention is to bolster both Moses and the people with the fact that the God of the covenant, the God of their past, was now here to fulfil His promises made to those great men of the past, the promises which Israel had been brought up with from their cradles. It is precisely because Yahweh is the God of their fathers that they can have such confidence. He is their own God.


Verses 6-8

The Second Sign - The Leprous Hand (Exodus 4:6-8).

It was with his hand that Moses had smitten the taskmaster whom he had murdered. Now he was to be made to recognise that it was defiled, and needed purifying by Yahweh. But to Israel it would signify that although they were defiled in God’s eyes through idolatry and sin, he was now seeking to cleanse them and deliver them.

a Yahweh tells him to put his hand in his bosom (Exodus 4:6 a).

b He puts his hand in his bosom and it becomes leprous (Exodus 4:6 b).

b He is told to put his hand in his bosom again and it becomes as his flesh (Exodus 4:7).

a If they will not believe the first sign this latter sign will cause them to believe (Exodus 4:8).

Here in ‘a’ Moses puts his hand, the hand of God which has rendered the snake powerless, in his bosom, the seat of his life and affections, to his very heart, symbolising the relationship between himself and God. And in the parallel as a result of what occurs in the hand becoming leprous and then being healed, a symbol of his deliverance from a diseased situation, they will believe that the God Who has brought them to their situation will also deliver them from it. In ‘b’ his hand becomes leprous and in the parallel it becomes whole again.

Exodus 4:6

‘And Yahweh said further to him, “Now put your hand into your bosom.” And he put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, like snow.’

The second thing that Moses was to do as a sign was to put his hand within his cloak ‘into his bosom’. Then, when he withdrew it, it would be seen by all to be leprous. They would see in the leprosy the mark of God and of what He could do in smiting men, and restoring them. Their position had no doubt made them feel that they were cursed by God, and there was reason for them to do so for many of them were dallying with the gods of Egypt (Joshua 24:15). Here was open evidence that that curse could be removed.

But why should his hand placed in his bosom say this to them? We should note that the hand that he was to put into his bosom would just earlier have taken the snake by the tail and turned it into a staff. Thus while he might see it as branding him as a murderer they would see it as the prophet’s hand of power by which the one whom the snake represented could be defeated. (Later he will raise his hand in order to do wonders). Thus when he pointedly put it in his bosom He was thereby indicating to them his own history, that because of the attitude of his heart the hand of God in him had previously been made useless and ‘unclean’ by God, but that now it had been restored and God was with him. Its becoming leprous and being restored again may well have been seen by them as an indication that Moses, God’s hand, whom they had believed as lost, was now restored by God to fulfil His purposes.

It may well too have been a sign that God saw their hearts as sinful so that on recognising that God was coming to them as they were, they gained in confidence that he would save them.

“Leprosy”, (in Hebrew the word covers many diseases of the skin), was a particularly dreaded disease. It was seen as being a curse from God, and often incurable. It often rendered a person permanently ‘unclean’ and therefore unable to approach God. (It was not always leprosy as we know it. They did not, of course, distinguish clearly between various kinds of skin disease. Thus some skin diseases would eventually heal, which explains later legislation). And this kind that Moses had was particularly virulent as was shown by the effect, it made his hand white as snow, an effect produced by certain types of skin disease. Perhaps there was here a hint of the mark (‘sign’) of Cain (Genesis 4:15) which may well have been seen as some similar disfigurement. For the sign on the hand see Exodus 13:9; Exodus 13:16 where a sign on the hand was later considered important for Yahweh’s people. Then it would be a sign of response and obedience. Here therefore it might well indicate the ‘curing’ of their disobedience.

Exodus 4:7

‘And he said, “Put your hand into your bosom again.” And he put his hand into his bosom again, and when he took it out of his bosom, behold it was turned again as his other flesh.’

First the giving and then the healing of this severe skin disease would be a clear indication to all that it was God Who was at work, for such severe skin diseases were uniquely seen as within the prerogative of God (Numbers 12:10; 2 Samuel 3:29; 2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:20-21). They learned by this the important lesson, that God could make something loathsome, but that He could also make it clean. God could smite and He could heal. He had done it for Moses. He could do it for them. And just as the snake had symbolised hidden powers of evil, so we may see the healing of the leprosy as indicating God’s power to control and deal with all that was loathsome so that he could attack men and their ability to act, and then restore them as he would. And if they did see it as representing the mark of Cain on the man in the wilderness they would recognise by this that that mark had in Moses’ case been removed. Although they might have thought he was marked by his Midianite background, this would demonstrate that he was not marked by God as separated from the people of God or as a murderer. For whatever he was God had made him whole. Thus his God-empowered hand was there to deliver.

Furthermore if the snake represented the powers against which they were arrayed, the hand represented Moses’ own power and ability as bestowed by God. By himself he was weak and diseased, but let his hand be conjoined with a heart that was right and all would be well. Then God would use his hand.

Exodus 4:8

“And it will happen that, if they will not believe you, or listen to the voice of the first sign, they will believe the voice of the latter sign.”

The second sign will give good reason why the people will believe in the face of two signs. Two witnesses should be accepted as valid evidence.


Verse 9

The Third Sign - Water From The Nile Turned To Blood (Exodus 4:9).

This sign could not be enacted immediately as Moses was not near the Nile. It is, however, an indication by Yahweh that He will demonstrate His power over the gods of Egypt as soon as Moses arrives there. The Nile god was seen as one of Egypt’s greatest gods, responsible for much of its prosperity. If Yahweh could make him bleed He could do anything..

· He is to take water from the Nile and pour it on the dry land (Exodus 4:9 a).

· The water taken from the Nile will become blood on the dry land (Exodus 4:9 b).

Exodus 4:9

“And it will happen that if they will not believe even these two signs, nor listen to your voice and accept it, that you will take of the water of the Nile and pour it on the dry land, and the water which you take out of the Nile will become blood on the dry land.”

Note the reversal of the order even in such a short sentence.

a If they will not believe his voice ---

b He is to take of the water of the Nile ---

c And pour it on the dry land

b And the water which he takes out of the Nile ---

a Will become blood on the dry land.’

There is actually an interesting twofold pattern here. A combination of chiasmus, and of repetition (of ‘on the dry land’). Interesting examples appear of this in Numbers where a chiasmus also contains within its latter part a deliberate repetition (see Numbers 18:4; Numbers 18:7 within the chiasmus Numbers 18:1-7; and Numbers 18:23-24 within the chiasmus Numbers 18:21-24).

But what of those who will believe neither sign? God is aware of the deep unbelief of men and He was willing to make allowances for it. So He provided Moses with a third sign. Some will, of course, believe after the first sign by the controlling of the snake, others will believe after the second sign when the power of God to smite and heal has been revealed, but the third sign was for the severe doubters. Two signs confirm the certainty that God is at work (two is the number of witness). The third demonstrates a complete revelation (three is the number of completeness).

Moses was not called on to test this sign out there and then. There was no river available. But its significance was clear. Yahweh could make the powerful Nile god bleed. The water of the mighty Nile god, that water which was the very life of the people, could be turned by Him into blood. It was a symbol of what Yahweh could do to the Nile and to Egypt. It warned that if the Egyptians would not do what God demanded their future would be saturated in blood, for the Nile symbolised Egypt (Jeremiah 46:8 compare Isaiah 7:18). He would ‘slay’ the Nile and with it many of the people of the Nile god who had claimed so many Israelite victims at their hands.

Note on the Possible Parallels Between Exodus 1-4 and Genesis 1-4.

If we were to draw attention to the striking elements in the early chapters of Genesis they would certainly include the river that went through Eden and watered it, (Genesis 2:10-14 - which was like the Nile that went through Egypt and watered it), the snake (Genesis 3), the penalty of toil and of pain in childbirth resulting from disobedience (Genesis 3:16-19), the murderer who fled into the ‘land of wandering (nod)’ (Genesis 4:16), the mark placed on that murderer by God (Genesis 4:15) and his building of a city (Genesis 4:17), the emphasis on the inevitable death of all men (Genesis 5), the deliverance through the ark (Genesis 6:14 to Genesis 8:22), and the multiplication of the peoples (Genesis 10). It is surely too much of a coincidence that all these motifs also appear in Exodus 1-4.

The three ‘signs’ given to Moses possibly connect with the snake, the ‘sign’ of Cain, and the river which fed a fruitful land, all connected with their first traditions, while as we have seen earlier there has been an emphasis on the laborious toil of the people of Israel, the sad pain on their childbearing, their building of cities, deliverance of one through an ark, and the fleeing of a murderer into the wilderness. It is difficult in view of this to avoid the thought that the writer has the traditions behind Genesis 1-11 in his mind, forced on him by the remarkable parallels (history continually repeats itself through the ages). Add to this the comparative pictures of the rapid expansion of populations in Genesis 5, 10, 11 with those in Exodus 1 and the situation appears to be confirmed.

We can also note how the early chapters of Genesis also seem to underlie the distinctions between clean and unclean in Leviticus 11 (see our commentary on that chapter). The traditions of the early chapters of Genesis clearly lay at the root of the thinking of whoever wrote these words, as root ideas which are built into history.

End of note.


Verses 10-17

Moses Continues His Resistance And Yahweh Becomes Angry (Exodus 4:10-17).

Moses is naturally appalled at the hugeness of the responsibility that Yahweh is seeking to place on him and desperately tries to avoid taking it on. But Yahweh has prepared him precisely for this and is adamant, and in the end even angry..

a Moses protests that he is not capable for the task in hand because he is not eloquent (Exodus 4:10).

b Yahweh replies that it is He who has made man’s mouth and Who makes man dumb (and otherwise) (Exodus 4:11).

c He commands Moses to go and promises that He will be with his mouth and teach him what to speak (Exodus 4:12).

d Moses indirectly asks Him to use someone else (he is not rejoicing) (Exodus 4:13).

d Yahweh is angry and points out that Aaron the Levite is coming to meet him and will rejoice to see him (Exodus 4:14).

c Moses is to put words in his mouth, and Yahweh will be with both their mouths and will teach him what to do (Exodus 4:15).

b Aaron will be to Moses a mouth and Moses will be to him as God (Exodus 4:16).

a He must take his staff in his hand with which he will do the signs (Exodus 4:17).

The parallel in ‘a’ suggest that although he is not eloquent the signs will do the talking. In ‘b’ the one Who has made man’s mouth in the parallel provides Moses with a mouth. In ‘c’ Yahweh’s promise made will be fulfilled in the parallel by Him being with both their mouths, but Moses will be in charge. In ‘d’ Yahweh is upset at his intransigence but points out that He has already made provision for it.

Exodus 4:10-12

‘And Moses said to Yahweh, “Oh Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before or since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and do not have a ready tongue (am of slow tongue).” And Yahweh said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes dumb, or deaf, or sighted or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”

Moses continued to seek to avoid his unwelcome assignment. This time he argued that he was no good at refined conversation. In those days eloquence was looked on as vital in diplomacy, and requests, submissions and arguments were seen as needing to be couched in flowery language. Thus Moses felt that he was not suitable. Through living with the Midianites he felt that he had long since lost any ability he had to be flowery in his speech like a diplomat. He was now a rough and ready tribesman. And he knew that meeting Yahweh had not improved the situation.

Yahweh’s reply was to point to Who was behind Moses. Does he not recognise that He is the One controls all man’s functions? He could therefore enable Moses and show him what to say. But Moses was still reluctant. He was too aware of his inability in that field, and besides, he did not like the whole idea. His next words make that clear.

Exodus 4:13

‘And he said, “Oh Lord, send, I pray you, by the hand of him whom you will send.”

In view of the response this clearly indicated a polite refusal. His plea is that Yahweh must choose someone else. (Moses was eloquent enough here). He may choose whom He would, but not Moses.

Exodus 4:14-15

‘And the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Moses, and he said, “Is there not Aaron your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he comes out to meet you, and when he sees you he will be glad in his heart. And you will speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you what you shall do.” ’

This description is in human terms. God’s ‘anger’ is the divine response to disobedience, unwillingness and lack of faith, not a sign of lack of control. It depicts His condemnation of and aversion to sin. (There is no ready human word for it, for it is outside our experience). But His response was measured and compassionate. He pointed out that Aaron, Moses’ brother, was eloquent. He was already bringing him out to meet Moses and then he could act as his spokesman. But Moses must take final responsibility. It was Moses who was God’s chosen spokesman. It should be noted that God had already anticipated Moses’ reaction and had graciously made provision for it. He is not unaware of the weakness of His servants. His anger contains within it understanding.

’The Levite.’ This is the first use of the term. ‘The sons of Levi’ are becoming ‘the Levites’, personal relationship is becoming tribal relationship. Aaron, like Moses, was descended from Levi, and the comment may probably not be intended to illuminate Moses so much as the reader, as a reminder that both Moses and Aaron are of the tribe of Levi. (In Exodus 6:16-19 the term ‘the Levites’ is clearly equated with ‘the sons of Levi’ and is not otherwise obviously technical). Or it may here also indicate that Aaron was the head of the tribe of Levi, or an outstanding person within it.

It has been asked whether God would need to tell Moses that Aaron was a Levite if it just meant that he was descended from Levi, but then we could ask, would he need to tell him that he was his brother? The simplest answer is as we have said above. It was explanatory to the reader. However in both cases it may be that Moses might know of other Aarons who were related to him and could be called ‘brother’ ( a term with a fairly wide meaning) and thus that ‘the Levite’ would be seen as distinguishing him from the others.

Another possibility is that Aaron, as a result of his eloquence, had become known by reputation as ‘Aaron the Levite’ and that God was referring to that fact. This would then require that Moses had had some previous contact with his family, which was of course quite possible. He would not have spent all that time in Midian without seeking to get in touch with his family. There is no evidence elsewhere for the term to be an official designation at this early stage.

“Behold, he comes out to meet you.” God would now arrange for Aaron to come to meet Moses (see Exodus 4:27). This could indicate that He had already done so, or alternatively that it was already seen as accomplished in His mind.

“When he sees you he will be glad at heart.” Moses need have no fear. Their meeting would be a joyous one. They had not met for many long years, and Aaron must have wondered how his princely brother was faring. Messages communicated by others were all very well, but they did not tell the whole story. Now he would know and their meeting would make him pleased and delighted.

“And you will speak to him and put the words in his mouth.” Aaron was to become the spokesman, but Moses must still decide what would be said. He was to be in overall control. And God would guide them both.

Exodus 4:16

“And he shall be your spokesman to the people, and it shall be that he will be to you a mouth and you will be to him as God.”

Literally ‘he will be to you a mouth.’ The background to these words is clearly Egyptian. There "mouth" (ra) is used metaphorically for a representative of Pharaoh. The office of a "mouth" was so important that it was held by the highest State dignitaries. The titles “mouth” and "chief mouth" were used in relation to people such as chief superintendents and overseers of public works who acted as intermediaries between the Pharaoh and the Government officials. The concept of "mouth" or "chief mouth" involved a confidential and exalted position at court, ranking immediately after the king. They were mouths to a god.

“And you will be to him as God.” Possibly better ‘as a god’, that is, as standing in God’s place. As Pharaoh’s ‘mouths’ spoke for him as a god, so Aaron will parallel these high officials and speak in the name of Moses. As Yahweh will say to Moses later, “I will make you a god to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:1).” Pharaoh would indeed learn to fear him and his seemingly divine powers. This puts Pharaoh’s ‘divinity’ firmly on an earthen plane. The battle would be between Moses and Pharaoh, not between Pharaoh and God.

Exodus 4:17

‘And you will take in your hand this staff with which you will perform the signs.”

This refers to the staff of Moses (Exodus 4:2). As ‘God’ he will speak by performing signs. From now on this staff, which will have delivered God’s first sign, (and is here linked also with the other signs) will be called ‘the staff of God’ (Exodus 4:20). It will be with Moses, and often used by Aaron, in all his future activities, a reminder that the power of Yahweh was with him and that his authority was derived from God, and that thereby he could control the snake, and smite and heal. It was a visible evidence of God’s presence with him, and through it he would soon perform many other signs.


Verses 18-20

Moses Leaves Midian For Egypt (Exodus 4:18-20).

This is a section of powerful contrasts. On the one hand Jethro is Moses’ tribal leader with acknowledged rights (Exodus 4:18 a), on the other Yahweh demands lordship over Moses and his family, represented by the sign of circumcision. On the one hand Pharaoh is threatening Yahweh’s firstborn son, and in return Yahweh threatens Pharaoh’s firstborn son, meanwhile Moses is also seen as under threat because his son has not been circumcised which would be the sign that he was one of God’s chosen people. Equally powerful is the parallel contrast that while those who are in Egypt who threatened Moses’ life are dead, Yahweh will seek to slay Moses, something only averted by the blood of circumcision. We are reminded that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31)

This brings out what serious issues were seen as involved here. The major questions were two, firstly as to whom Moses owed submission, that was why the circumcision of his son was so important. This may suggest that his wife was refusing to allow her son to be circumcised out of loyalty to her own tribe, and was reminding Moses of his tribal obligations. Once she agreed to the circumcision the issue was resolved, which may have been why she was so angry at being thwarted. The second issue was the vital importance to Yahweh of the deliverance of Israel, His son, His firstborn, which not even Moses must be allowed to frustrate. When it came to sons Yahweh’s was of premier importance.

Analysis of the passage:

a Moses requests of Jethro, his tribal leader, the right to visit his family in Egypt (Exodus 4:18 a).

b Jethro tells him to ‘go in peace’ (Exodus 4:18 b).

c Yahweh tells Moses to return to Egypt because those who sought his life were dead (Exodus 4:19).

d Moses takes his wife and sons and sets out to return to the land of Egypt (unaware of the threat that is looming over himself and his son) (Exodus 4:20 a).

e Moses takes the staff of God in his hand (Exodus 4:20 b).

e Yahweh tells Moses to be sure that he performs before Pharaoh all the wonders which Yahweh has put in his hand, but Yahweh will harden his heart so that he will not let them go (Exodus 4:21).

d He is to say to Pharaoh that Israel is His firstborn son, but because Pharaoh will refuse to let his firstborn son go He will slay Pharaoh’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22-23).

c On his way to his lodging Yahweh meets Moses and seeks to kill him (it is in Midian that his life is threatened because Yahweh is angry at his divided loyalties) (Exodus 4:24).

b Zipporah circumcises his son and casts the foreskin at his feet saying, ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me, Yahweh then leaves him alone (he can go in peace) (Exodus 4:25-26 a).

a She said a bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision (which is a sign which demonstrates that he is bound to Yahweh and not to his tribal leader) (Exodus 4:26 b).

Here the parallels are interesting. In ‘a’ Moses requests of Jethro, his tribal leader, the right to visit his family in Egypt, while in the parallel he is rather to be bound to Yahweh through the Abrahamic covenant by circumcision, a situation sealed by blood. In ‘b’ Jethro tells him to go in peace, while in the parallel he finds peace from the anger of Yahweh through the shedding of blood and the circumcision of his son. In ‘c’ Yahweh tells Moses to return to Egypt (as Yahweh’s man) because those who sought his life were dead, while in the parallel his life is under threat because Yahweh still lives and is being ignored by him so that he prefers to remain Midian’s man. In ‘d’ Moses takes his wife and sons and sets out to return to the land of Egypt (unaware of the threat that is looming over them because of his son), while in the parallel in coming to Egypt he is to face Pharaoh with the fact that Israel is His firstborn son, and because Pharaoh will refuse to let his firstborn son go He will slay Pharaoh’s firstborn son. In ‘e’ Moses takes the staff of God in his hand, and in the parallel Yahweh tells Moses to be sure that he performs before Pharaoh all the wonders which Yahweh has put in his hand (through the staff of God), but Yahweh will harden his heart so that he will not let them go.

Exodus 4:18

‘And Moses went and returned to Yether, his in-law, and said to him, “Let me go, I pray you, and return to my kinsmen (‘brothers’) who are in Egypt and see whether they are still alive.” And Yithro said to Moses, “Go in peace.”

In Genesis 49:4

‘yether’ signifies having the pre-eminence. Thus the name Jethro (Yether, Yithro as above) may be Reuel’s title as either tribal leader or priest. It was to him in his official capacity that Moses came for he wished to absent himself from the tribe to see whether his kinsmen were still alive. He did not tell him the real reason for his going. Had he done so his father-in-law might not have been so willing to see him go, and Moses clearly did not consider that a theophany from Yahweh had anything to do with Jethro who was a priest of the god of Midian. Had Jethro known of Yahweh Moses would surely have told him a lot more, for then Yahweh’s command would have been significant to Jethro and of great importance. This counts against Jethro even knowing of Yahweh, except possibly as Moses’ strange personal and family God.

The fact that Moses’ son (possibly his firstborn is in mind, although we might then have expected it to be stated) had not been circumcised might suggest divided loyalties by Moses between obedience to Yahweh and response to his current circumstances, indicating resistance from his wife and possibly his family and tribe with regard to his loyalty to Yahweh and what they saw as a barbarous rite of circumcision. What follows settles once and for all where the loyalty of he and his family must lie.

It is equally possible the Reuel had died and that Jethro his brother-in-law is in mind. Either way the point is that ‘Yether’ (Jethro) was leader of the family tribe. he had to be consulted. Tribal loyalty was seen as extremely important and no tribe liked to be diminished by losing a valuable member. He could not just go off at will. On the other hand family loyalty was seen as equally important, so permission was unlikely to be refused.

Jethro acknowledged his right to visit his kinsfolk and gave consent. ‘Go in peace.’ He was assuring him that there would be no dispute or ill will in the tribe at his departure. Later when the deliverance had taken place Moses would keep Jethro informed of events and Jethro would come to visit him and acknowledge his responsibility to accompany the people he had delivered to Canaan (Exodus 18:1-27). Thus Moses did what was fitting towards his tribe.

But Yahweh would only say ‘go in peace’ to Moses once the issue of his loyalties had been settled by the circumcision of his son (possibly his firstborn for each son individually spoken of in this passage is a firstborn).

Exodus 4:19

‘And Yahweh said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt, for all the men who sought your life are dead.”

Some time had passed since his call, for he had had to bring the sheep back to the tribe and then seek the right time to prepare to visit Egypt, and as we know he was not at all keen on the idea. Besides, haste would not have been looked on as courteous. But then the word came from Yahweh that it was time to depart, both forcefully and yet with comfort. Initially, he is reminded, he will have nothing to fear, for those who remembered his misdeed were no more. Note the stress on ‘in Midian’. Yahweh can speak anywhere.

But in context in the background is another threat of death. Yahweh Himself will threaten him with death because of his failure in loyalty (Exodus 4:24).

Exodus 4:20

‘And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them on an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.’

Moses took his family with him and set off. By now he had ‘sons’. His wife and sons seemingly rode on an ass, while he walked with them. ‘He returned to the land of Egypt.’ We would say ‘and he began his journey back to Egypt’, but we have seen this method (of summarising prior to giving the detail) before, in Genesis.

“And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.” He knew that this was the sign of his God-given authority and his one weapon against the wisdom and armies of Egypt. Now it was not just his staff, it was the staff of God.


Verses 21-26

The Three Sons (Exodus 4:21-26).

This section could be described as being at the heart of the book of Exodus, for it deals with three attitudes that lie at the heart of God’s dealings with the world: His dealings with Israel, His dealings with Pharaoh and His dealings with each individual who is to serve Him. It takes up three aspects of sonship and faces us all up with a choice, for each of us must decide whose sons we will be. And the passage centralises on Yahweh’s attitude towards these three sons.

The first sonship relates to Yahweh Himself. In Exodus 4:22 He declares true Israel’s relationship with Him. He declares, ‘Israel is my son, my firstborn.’ What amazing words were these. They depicted God’s love for Israel as being like a father’s love for his firstborn son. He was declaring that they had become so precious to Him that He had adopted them as His firstborn. It was they who were chosen to receive His inheritance. It is this concept that lies at the root of all that will follow. In His sovereign power He has elected to make them His son (compare Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 14:1; Deuteronomy 1:31 also Exodus 19:5-6). And the corollary was, woe betide those who failed to treat His firstborn son rightly. It should, however, be noted that here it is Israel as a whole which is His son, Israel as He intended it to be. It was on them that He had set His love.

In contrast with Yahweh’s firstborn is the firstborn of Pharaoh (Exodus 4:23). Here was one whom Pharaoh treasured, and who was paraded as a budding god, one who was the delight of Egypt. And Pharaoh was to be warned that if he did not deal rightly with Yahweh’s firstborn, his own firstborn would be slain. Behind this warning lies the very basis on which the world exists. The world as represented by Egypt is responsible for its response to God and His people. And if the world does not respond rightly then it can only come into judgment, and will be punished like for like.

But there is a third son brought into the reckoning, and that is Moses’ own son, although he is not said to be his firstborn, even if in context it might be assumed. And here was a real problem. Moses’ son had not been circumcised. He was not marked off as belonging to God, and because of this was ‘cut off’ from the people of God (Genesis 17:14). He was not a part of God’s firstborn son. This demonstrated Moses’ divided loyalty. Here was a paradox indeed. On the one hand this son was the son of God’s chosen servant, but on the other he was aligned with those who were not of God because Moses had not circumcised his son. This situation could not be allowed to continue and explains the severity of the passage. Moses had to choose to Whom his son and his family would belong. Would they belong inside the covenant or outside it? Would their future lie with Israel, or with their tribe? Behind the passage lies a message to us all. Whose son will we choose to be? And by our response will be determined our destiny.

Exodus 4:21-23

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “When you go back into Egypt see that you do before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your hand, but I will make his heart strong and he will not let the people go. And you will say to Pharaoh, ‘Israel is my son, my firstborn, and I have said to you let my son go that he may serve me. And you have refused to let him go. Behold I will slay your son, your firstborn.’ ” ’

Yahweh now let Moses know what was in store for him. He told him that he must begin by showing Pharaoh the wonders that he would first have shown to the elders of the children of Israel. That was why he had brought with him the rod of God. But Yahweh would give Pharaoh strength of heart to resist so that he would refuse to let them go to worship Yahweh. It will, however, be noticed later that at first Pharaoh hardened his own heart. The divine will and the human purpose went along in parallel. It was only later, once Pharaoh had proved his obduracy, that God’s action was more direct.

Then he must issue him with a dire warning. He must tell him that Israel is to Yahweh like a firstborn son, beloved and treasured, and that because he has refused them permission to go to worship Him and offer sacrifices to Him in the wilderness He will slay Pharaoh’s firstborn in return. If he sought to break Yahweh’s heart, Yahweh would break his heart. This will be a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s deity. He may see himself as a god, as may his people, but the assertion is that he will not be able to protect his son, also a budding god. And he will deserve it.

The use of the term firstborn demonstrates how important Yahweh’s people are to Him. The firstborn son was always received with the greatest joy. Here was the one who would inherit and maintain the continuance of the family name. Here was the one who would receive the choice portion. He was highly prized. And this was what Israel were to God. But the idea behind the word ‘Israel’ is fluid. It was not fixed and immutable. Men could refuse to be recognised as Israelites, and God would let them go. Men could prove that they were not Israelites by their behaviour and then God would cut them off. And men could become Israelites by joining permanently the households of those who were, by being circumcised into the covenant (Exodus 12:48) and by committing themselves to Yahweh.

The significance of the application of this term firstborn is brought out in Deuteronomy. They are the people chosen and loved by Yahweh from their commencement, a holy people and a special treasure which was why He had bound Himself to them by an oath (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).

So in all this central to God’s actions is His love for Israel. As the descendants of Jacob they are as a firstborn son to Him. As He cherished Abraham, Isaac and Jacob so will He cherish these His people. He is their father and they are his adopted son, treated as His firstborn and therefore of great importance. This will one day be a strong weapon in the hands of the prophets as they seek to convince Israel and Judah of their sins (Malachi 1:6) and a basis on which the people will plead with God (Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8). See also Psalms 68:5. Yet it is not a prominent thought in the prophetic teaching.

This is the second use in Exodus of ‘Israel’ without the phrase ‘children of--’ (see Exodus 3:16 and contrast Exodus 4:29). In both cases it is caused by the requirements of the thought. In the first ‘elders of Israel’ still has in mind that these men stand in the place of and represent Israel/Jacob as heads of the tribe, here it is used by God as a collective personal name, with Jacob as the representative of the fathers well in mind, for the purpose of speaking to Pharaoh. (See also on Genesis 34:7; Genesis 49:7). It is also the name by which Pharaoh will speak of the children of Israel (Exodus 5:2). There will be a gradual movement towards using it as a tribal name but it has not yet solidified. It will be a slow and gradual process. However, from now on Pharaoh sees them mainly as ‘Israel’ (5:1-2; 9:4; 14:5).

The wonders which I have put in your hand.’ This refers to his staff which was now the symbol of his authority and power from God, and was the evidence of what God would do through Moses.

“I will make his heart strong.” But why should God give Pharaoh the strength to resist Him? Instead of love, for Pharaoh there is to be a hardening. The answer lies partly in the way that He has made men, and is partly given in the account that follows. In one sense it was Pharaoh who strengthened his own heart against God. Literally ‘his heart was heavy’. But then God would confirm his attitude and, as it were, give him a little help through circumstances so that he kept firm. Indeed it was necessary for Him to do so, so that Pharaoh could learn his lesson. We have here the paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Pharaoh would in fact have been hardhearted in this matter whatever God did. But the writer recognises that all is of God, and therefore if he was hardhearted, then God had done it. (And even then Pharaoh chased after Israel once he had let them go, which was very much the result of his own hardness of heart).

Furthermore there would come a time, foreseen by God, when he had so hardened himself that every attempt to soften him could only result in a further hardening. Then God knew that everything He did would harden Pharaoh’s heart even more. So He could say quite truly, ‘I will harden his heart.’

As we have seen, in contrast to Yahweh’s firstborn is the firstborn of Pharaoh. He was the pride and hope of Egypt. But Pharaoh is warned that because he will not deal rightly with Yahweh’s firstborn, his own firstborn will be doomed. What a man sows he will reap.

This thought of the slaying of the firstborn now leads on to an incident in Moses’ life that followed these words, where Moses life was put in danger because his son has not been circumcised. It is not only Pharaoh who was to be judged if he failed to obey God. Here was Moses going to deliver God’s firstborn, a sonship evidenced by their having been circumcised, and yet at least one of his own sons was not circumcised. We may even surmise that God had put a strong feeling within him that he should circumcise his sons, but had been strongly resisted in the case of one by his wife.

Exodus 4:24-26

‘And it came about on the way, at the lodging place, that Yahweh met him and sought to cause his death. Then Zipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at his feet. And she said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” So he let him alone. Then she said, “A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision.” ’

It is clear from this passage that at least one of Moses’ sons had not been circumcised. But now that Moses was going among his own people, to whom circumcision was a sign of the covenant, this could not be allowed. It was a sign of disobedience and refusal to respond to the covenant requirements. And it may well have indicated the divided loyalties of his family. And this with Moses of all people, the one who would act in the name of the covenant! Thus God moved in to warn him.

“Her son.” The relative pronoun may signify that she saw the firstborn as especially her son, or it may be that while Moses had insisted on circumcising his firstborn son, his wife had claimed the second to be more peculiarly hers, and had resisted his being circumcised.

“Yahweh met him and sought to cause his death.” (Literally ‘to kill him’). Clearly this means that in some way Moses was brought face to face with death, probably through some illness, in a way that made him and his wife conscious of their flagrant disobedience. (Had Yahweh really wanted to kill him he would have been dead). It is clear that Zipporah knew precisely where the problem lay, for she acted rapidly and circumcised her son, averting the threat of death. This suggests that she had been holding out against it and was only brought to submit by the perilous situation.

“At the lodging place.” Because he had his family with him it is possible he lodged at some kind of primitive inn, but such would be unlikely here in the wilderness. It may simply mean that they received hospitality in a tent, or in a lean-to left to be used by travellers, or took up residence by a convenient spring.

“Took a flint.” It was the custom that circumcision as an ancient rite had to be performed with a flint knife (compare Joshua 3:5). This was in fact a good custom as a flint knife would be sterilised.

“Of her son.” In Exodus 4:20 she had more than one son, but it may be that it was recognised that it was the circumcision of the firstborn that was important at this point. Or perhaps one had already been circumcised as suggested above, and this was the second son whom she looked on as more peculiarly her own.

“Cast it at his feet.” Literally ‘made it touch his feet.’ Presumably as an offering to Yahweh to avert the tragedy, like the application of the blood of sacrifice, or possibly in annoyance at what was to her a distasteful rite, or because she was having to choose between loyalty to her tribe and loyalty to Moses and to Yahweh. It may have been that, having given way on the first son, she had opposed the circumcision of her second son (or vice versa). Thus one son was part of Yahweh’s ‘firstborn’ while the other paralleled Pharaoh’s firstborn.

“Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” Her words are considered important for they are repeated twice. It would appear to be an indirect petition, a pious petition to Yahweh, signifying that the required blood had been spilt. Or it may have been a complaint suggesting that marriage to him had introduced her to this distasteful rite of blood. She may have been saying ‘It was not until I married you that I had to put up with this kind of thing.’

Blood was in fact important in all serious relationships. Covenants were sealed in blood. It may thus be that she was angry at being forced into a covenant that she did not want to partake in, and recognised that now the covenant blood was binding on her too.

“Because of the circumcisions.” Circumcision is in the plural. This may simply be a plural of intensity indicating the importance of circumcision, or it may be seen as confirming Zipporah’s anger that she had previously had to circumcise one son, and had now had to circumcise the other. It would seem to confirm that both sons had now been circumcised.

A vital lesson arises from this passage to which we must all take heed, and that is that it is no good our going forward to take our place in the purposes of God if there is failure with our own personal lives. Unless we are prepared to put right our personal lives and cease to have divided loyalties then seeking to serve God can only bring us into judgment. It is an insult to God. We must first make right the situation and then we can come and offer our gift (Matthew 5:23-24).


Verses 27-31

The Commencement of The Contest Between Yahweh and Pharaoh In Egypt (Exodus 4:27 to Exodus 7:13).

Moses now meets up with Aaron and they go to Egypt to demand the release of Israel so that they may go into the wilderness and worship Yahweh. Pharaoh refuses their request and responds viciously.

a On arriving in Egypt Moses and Aaron perform their signs before the elders and begin their task in preparation for approaching Pharaoh (Exodus 4:27-31).

b They approach Pharaoh who turns on the people (Exodus 5:1-23)

c Yahweh responds to Pharaoh’s behaviour with a show of authority and power, providing His credentials, and promising to deliver His People (Exodus 6:1-9).

c Yahweh’s gives a charge to Moses and Aaron concerning the deliverance and details of Aaron’s credentials are provided as the head of Moses’ family (Exodus 6:10-30)

b After their first rebuff Moses and Aaron are to approach Pharaoh again (Exodus 7:1-5)

a They begin their task by performing the miracle of the staff becoming a snake, and their snake eats up the snakes of Egypt (Exodus 7:6-13)

Note the parallels. In ‘a’ Moses meets up with Aaron and they go to Egypt to demand the release of Israel so that they may go into the wilderness and worship Yahweh. Pharaoh refuses their request and responds viciously. In the parallel Yahweh by a sign reveals what He will do to Pharaoh if he remains intransigent. He too will act viciously. In ‘b’ Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh who turns on the people, in the parallel, having been rebuffed they approach Pharaoh again. In ‘c’ Yahweh responds to Pharaoh’s behaviour with a show of authority and power, providing His credentials and promising to deliver His People, and in the parallel He gives a charge to Moses and Aaron to bring about this deliverance and Aaron’s credentials are provided as the head of Moses’ family.

Moses and Aaron Begin Their Task Of Delivering Israel (Exodus 4:27-31).

At long last Aaron and Moses meet up, and Aaron is made aware of the huge implications of their meeting. Then they return to Egypt together and commence their campaign for the deliverance of the children of Israel.

This passage may be analysed as follows:

a Aaron is told to go and meet Moses and meets him at the mountain of God (Exodus 4:27).

b Moses tells Aaron all that Yahweh has said and reveals to him the signs (Exodus 4:28).

c Moses and Aaron gather the elders of Israel (Exodus 4:29).

b Aaron speaks all the words which Yahweh spoke to Moses and does the signs in the sight of the people (Exodus 4:30).

a The people believe when they hear that Yahweh has visited His people and bow their heads and worship (Exodus 4:31).

In ‘a’ Aaron and Moses meet up at the Mountain of God where Yahweh has promised to deliver His people and where they are to worship Him in the future, and in the parallel the people respond to the fact that Yahweh has visited His people, and worship Him where they are. In ‘b’ Moses tells Aaron all that Yahweh has said and reveals to him the signs, in the parallel Aaron tells the people all that Yahweh has said and does the signs before the people. Central to it all in ‘c’ is the gathering of the elders of Israel to Moses and Aaron without which there could be no progress.

Exodus 4:27-28

‘And Yahweh said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” And he went and met him in the mountain of God, and he kissed him, and Moses told Aaron all the words of Yahweh with which he had sent him and all the signs with which he had charged him.’

God tells Aaron to go out to meet Moses and they meet at the very place where Moses had met with God and received his theophany. There they have an emotional reunion and Moses outlines all that has taken place and what they are now expected to do.

“The mountain of God.” This is Horeb (see Exodus 3:3) where Mount Sinai was sited. It is probable that it was seen locally as a holy mountain.

Exodus 4:29-31

‘And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel, and Aaron told them all the words which Yahweh had spoken to Moses, and performed the signs in the sight of the people, and the people believed, and when they heard that Yahweh had visited the children of Israel, and that he had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.’

In a brief summary the writer tells us that Moses and Aaron now carried out God’s command with regard to the children of Israel. They gathered the elders together and outlined to them what had happened, and they called the people together, possibly for an act of worship, which would be permissible. Then Aaron performed the signs before them and the people. This produced response and worship as the people ‘believed’. Hope began to fill their hearts and they bowed their heads and worshipped.

“And Aaron --- performed the signs.” He was now the front man acting on behalf of Moses, and he presumably now carried, at least temporarily, ‘the staff of God’ (Exodus 4:17; Exodus 4:20). There was wisdom in this. Moses was a stranger whereas Aaron was well known to them and trusted. And he was the mouth and had the eloquence. Moses was, of course, involved. It was presumably his hand that would become leprous. But Aaron was pressing the claim on the people. How quickly the performing of the signs is passed over. The writer is in haste to move on to the main battle. The indication is suggested that the people responded immediately. At this point their hearts were open (in contrast with Pharaoh’s). ‘The people believed.’ Faith was always central to experiencing God’s working. Compare Genesis 15:6. It was no doubt here counted to them for righteousness for all who believed.

“That Yahweh had visited the children of Israel.” They had begun to think that He had forgotten them but now they learned that He had been among them and had seen the dreadful conditions under which they lived. But the easy part was now over, Pharaoh would take more convincing.

Note for Christians.

This passage has many things to say to us. In the sign of the snake we see a picture of God’s triumph over Satan (compare Genesis 3:15), and of His promise that we can ‘take him by the tail’, that is render him helpless by the power of God through His word, just as Jesus did during His period of temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). He may seem fearsome, and indeed he is, but we can say, ‘the Lord rebuke you’ (Jude 1:9).

In the same way our hands may be ‘unclean’ and leprous with the leprosy of sin, but God can purify our hands and make them useful in His service. But only if they are yielded to Him. Many of us need our hands to be cleansed from the leprosy of sin, and to say, ‘take my hands and let them be, consecrated Lord to thee’. Only then will they be truly whole.

We may not find ourselves beside the Nile, the river god of Egypt who was opposed to Yahweh. Even many Israelites probably thought of him as powerful and invincible. But Yahweh in portent ‘slew’ him and turned his waters into blood. In the same way we will have to face in our lives many things which seek to rule over us, and it will be then that we need to look to the One Who could turn the Nile into blood, and render its power inoperative. For we can be sure that He can do the same with regard to what we have to face. We know from this that nothing can withstand His power.

Like some of us, Moses was ready to make excuses in order to avoid obeying God. He was no longer used to parleying with diplomats, and not a ready speaker. But God provided him with ‘a mouth’, just as He can provide us with all we need when we obey Him and carry out His will. Moses fought hard against God, but in the end he yielded and began one of the most illustrious and powerful careers of all time. God is patient with us. Fortunately He does not give up on us like we give up on Him.

And just as Moses was called on to circumcise his son on pain of death, so are we called on to make sure that we have experienced the greater circumcision, that which is without hands, in the putting off of our flesh and the transforming of our lives by coming in faith to Jesus Christ and experiencing His saving power, through the blood of Christ and by the power of His Spirit (Colossians 2:11). And that we let it carry through into our lives. For it is that which will save us from ourselves, and finally from eternal death. And we need to seek it, not only for ourselves but others also.

And finally we have in this chapter the first clear statement of the unique Fatherhood of God for those who are His. Israel is ‘His son’ His firstborn’, beloved and cared for and with a glorious future inheritance, in contrast with all others. That is why He persevered with them. And he still perseveres. All who believe in Christ are in the same way incorporated within God’s people, become the true Israel, and can look to God as their Father. Equally certainly those who refuse to respond to Him will never know His Fatherhood.

End of note.

 


Copyright Statement
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-4.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, May 28th, 2020
the Seventh Week after Easter
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