New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

4:4 In Ex. 4:4 Moses is told to “put forth” his hand. It is the same word repeatedly translated “let go” in the context of God telling Pharaoh to let Israel go [e.g. Ex. 4:23]. “Caught” is the same Hebrew word frequently translated “harden” in the context of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart [e.g. Ex. 4:21]. As the snake hardened in Moses’ hand into a rod, so this was how God would deal with Pharaoh through Moses. Thus God is showing Moses that what Moses will do with his hand to the snake- a symbol of Egypt- so the hand of God will do, working through Moses’ hand. Thus Moses’ rod [s.w. Ex. 4:2, about his shepherd’s crook] was a symbol of Egypt and Pharaoh. But the throwing down of the shepherd’s rod surely also indicated that Moses was to cast down the shepherd’s life he had been living, and let God’s hand take hold of him, so that his hand became the hand of God. Moses would thus have perceived some sort of parallel between himself and Pharaoh; God was working in both their lives, and it would take as much courage to grab hold of his own serpent-like life, as it would to do battle with Egypt. Ex. 4:23,24 brings out the parallel between how God told Moses that He would slay the firstborn of Pharaoh; and then seeks to slay Moses and his firstborn. And we can see lessons for ourselves here, surely. We throw down our worldly lives, take hold of them in faith, and they are transformed into the rod of God through which He will work wonders. Moses had to perceive the serpent-like aspects of his life and grip them; just as the parallel second sign involved his hand becoming leprous, with all its associations with sin, and then being healed and made strong to be used as the hand of God. What all this shows is that God manifestation, our hand becoming the hand of God, God working through us to deliver His people, is predicated upon our own realization of sinfulness, and grasping it firmly. Ultimately, the hand of Yahweh was revealed through the hand of Moses. Moses was “sent forth” by God to do the work (Ex. 3:12 and frequently); yet the same Hebrew word is used to describe how God ‘sent out’ [“stretched forth”] the hand of God to do it (Ex. 3:20). And Moses was taught this by being told to ‘stretch out’ [same Hebrew word] his hand (Ex. 4:4).  But Moses, for some moments at least, just didn’t want to do this. Hence God's anger when Moses comments: “Send [the same word translated “let go” or “put forth” used about Moses being asked to “put forth”  his hand in Ex. 4:4] by the hand of him whom thou wilt send” (Ex. 4:13). It was Moses’ hand that God had asked to be ‘put forth’ or ‘sent’. But Moses refuses to play a part in God manifestation. He wanted God to send forth another hand, the hand of God personally perhaps; although God had asked him to put forth his hand. We too tend to assume that God cannot manifest Himself through us; but we all tend to assume someone else will do the job, when it is we who are called to it. The rabbis hold that Moses is not being weak here, rather he is referring to the Messiah- the hand whom Moses knew God would one day send forth to save His people. He would then be saying: ‘No, I don’t want to do this, let the Christ do it’. The same thought is maybe found in Ex. 5:22, when Moses asks Yahweh: “Why is it that thou hast sent [s.w. “put forth” and “let go”] me?”- i.e., why don’t You use Messiah, the man of Your right hand? And this, subconsciously and unexpressed, is so often our view; He must do it, not me. I’m just a shepherd, God ought to leave me alone in the comfortable monotony of my working life. But He has called us to greater things, to realize as Moses finally did that we, you and me, are the ones through whom God truly will work in this world. The rod of Moses (“thy rod”) became the rod of God (Ex. 4:20); the shepherd’s crook, the symbol of an obscure workaday life, became transformed to the rod and arm of God Almighty.   There can be no doubt from all this that God was intensely manifest in Moses. The hand of God was manifested through the hand of Moses. Moses had many deep seated spiritual weakness, and also many traits which were not appropriate to leadership, and yet because of his willingness to participate in God’s desire to be manifest through him, he was able to be changed and used by God.

4:8 The Father is ever seeking for some positive response, and is highly sensitive to it. He told Moses: “If they will not believe…neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign [but] if they will not believe also these two signs…” (Ex. 4:8). The God who knows the end from the beginning gives the impression that He is sure they will believe- even though they didn’t. He is so seeking for faith in His creatures (cp. “surely they will reverence my son”, Mt. 21:37, and Ex. 19:21 cp. 20:18). In this, Isaiah says, He shows His matchless grace: “For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so [therefore] he was their Saviour…but they rebelled, and vexed his holy [gracious] spirit” (Is. 63:8,10). Our tendency is to notice the negative in others, and let it outweigh the positive. God works quite the other way. He hopes for positive response, and even speaks as if He will get it when He knows He won’t.

4:10- see on Acts 7:22.

Both Moses and Jeremiah reacted to their preaching commissions by saying that they weren’t the right person to do it. Moses wasn’t an eloquent speaker, nor [so he said] did he know Egyptian very well any more. His comment was: “Who am I...?” (Ex. 3:11; 4:10). Jeremiah protested that he was simply far too young (Jer. 1:6). But as Peter spoke a-grammatos, without grammar to an educated, erudite audience (Acts 4:13 Gk.), so did these men. And this was just the attitude of mind which God wanted to use as His mouthpiece. If you feel your inadequacy, then this is just when you are ready for God’s use. It’s the young sister who still fumbles for where books are in her Bible who is more likely to be the Lord’s agent for conversion, than the well versed and over-confident brother giving a Christian talk.

4:12,15- see on Dt. 31:8.

"I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say" (Ex. 4:12) is almost quoted in Mt. 10:19,20 and Mk. 13:11 concerning how we too will be taught what to say when we come before the rulers of our world. In such moments of crisis, Moses, even in weakness as he was at this time, really is our living example.

4:14 "I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people... And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go?.... And God said... they shall hearken to thy voice... And Moses answered... They will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice (he didn't seem to believe God's promise to inspire him)... I am not eloquent, neither heretofore (i.e. in the past)... I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue (although this was untrue- earlier Moses had  been an eloquent speaker in Egypt; actually he was just the right man to do what God wanted)... and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses". Remember that God is very slow to this kind of anger (Ex. 34:6). Forty years earlier, Moses had understood, presumably from a direct revelation from God, that God would deliver Israel through him. But he had lost faith in that promise, and was arguing back against God. This was the outcome of many years of spiritual slipping. "Send... by the hand of him whom thou wilt send" (alluding to God's Name, I will be) can be seen as indifference; perhaps Moses was saying 'As you do what you will, your name is I will be, then if you send by me, send by men, I can't resist'.

4:18,23 He seems to make the excuse to Jethro that he is homesick for his family who are still in Egypt. And yet straight after this, the Lord confirms him in his desire to return. Moses asks Jethro for permission to return to Egypt to see whether his Hebrew brethren are "still alive" (Ex. 4:18)- yet God had just told Moses that there were indeed Hebrews still alive there who he will lead out of Egypt. Of course Moses may have been referring to his literal family; but it's possible that his words to Jethro imply a lack of faith in God's word. At the very least, he was shy to share God's word to him with Jethro.In this context it may be significant that the words God tells Moses to say to Pharaoh at this time in Ex. 4:23 are in fact never said by Moses throughout the dialogue with Pharaoh recorded in Ex. 11 and 12.

4:20- see on 4:4.

4:21- see on 4:4.

Ex. 4:20,21 states that "Moses took the rod of God in his hand. And the Lord said unto Moses . . see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in thine hand". The wonders were done by the Angels we are told in Psalm 78 and other commentaries on the Exodus in Scripture. But Moses through obeying the Word of God had control over those Angels, they were in His hand, symbolized by the rod. And so with us too.

4:23 It  seems from Ex. 4:23,25 that God tried to kill Moses’ son because Moses was not fully believing that God would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn.

4:24- see on 4:4; 34:9.

The way the Lord "tried to kill" Moses (Ex. 4:24) indicates how God's intentions can be changed by human actions; and it also reflects the limitation of power experienced by the Angel, who presumably was the one who 'tried' to do this but was thwarted by a woman. However in our context of Moses' weakness we need to reflect how this incident echoes how Pharaoh sought to kill Moses in Ex. 2:15. Even through his weakness, Moses was being taught that his personal salvation and continuation in life was by grace. Moses was saved on this occasion by a Gentile woman, Zipporah- just as he had been saved as a baby by another Gentile woman- as well as by the quick-wittedness of his own mother and sister. As Zipporah mediated with the Angel and saved Moses by touching his son with blood, so Moses would save Israel through his mediation with God and through the Passover ritual (Ex. 12:13,22,23), as well as later throwing blood upon the people (Ex. 24:8). What are we to make of all these echoes and connections of thought? Perhaps that Moses was indeed weak at this time, was saved by grace alone, and yet on that basis he was called to in his turn also save the weak through appealing to God's grace.

4:25,26 Moses' marriage was weak. 40 years later, Zipporah's frustration boiled over: " Surely a bloody husband art thou to me...then she said (again), A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision" . As a descendant of Ishmael she was angry at Isaac's choice and circumcision. This is probably the closest the Bible gets to recording the real life use of taboo language. " Because of the circumcision" suggests she despised Moses' religion. Moses  divorced her.

4:31- see on Ex. 3:7.