New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


Exo 4:1 Moses answered, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor listen to my voice; for they will say, ‘Yahweh has not appeared to you’-
This was a bald faced denial of the truth of God's statement in Ex. 3:18 that "They will listen to your voice". Moses' insistence that he doesn't want to partner with God is extreme, as is his disbelief. But God held on to him, and worked through him. This is the amazing encouragement from any reflection upon the life of Moses. Apart from a few flashes of devotion, it seems Moses only really came to a mature faith and commitment in the last part of his very long life.

Moses presents as disobedient and defiant of God's word, when he was to be one of the most major vehicles of that word. Why did Moses resist the call? Probably because of awareness of his own sin, represented by the serpent and leprosy. But the encouragement was that he could a handle on the tail of the serpent, and his leprosy could be healed. We saw that at the burning bush, Yahweh has insisted seven times that "I will..." bring salvation, the essence of the Yahweh Name, I will be / do. But Moses is in direct defiance of that when he says that the proposed salvation "will not" work.

Another reason Moses so strongly refused the call was because the mire of mediocrity is so strong for all men. Minding his father in law's sheep was not the greatest job nor situation. But it was something he could do and had felt secure in for forty years. The workaday life may be disliked by us, we may chafe at, but it suddenly feels so safe, so old and familiar, when we are confronted with the Lord's call to be His man in this world. In all this lies the significance of his shepherd's rod, his workaday tool, the symbol of his working life, becoming God's rod.

Exo 4:2 Yahweh said to him, What is that in your hand? He said, A rod-
Moses "supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them" (Acts 7:25); but God told Moses that "I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt..." (Ex. 3:20). Moses struggled to believe [as we all do] that if God works through us, then our hand is God's hand. Moses only slowly learned the meaning of God manifestation through men. The hand of Moses was to be that of God. But he doubted that. Hence he was given signs relating to his physical hand; it became leprous, and he used it to catch the snake which his rod had turned into. Both leprosy and snakes are associated with sin. So God is teaching him that despite his weakness, He was still able and willing to work with Him.

Exo 4:3 He said, Throw it on the ground. He threw it on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses ran away from it-
"Ran away" is the usual Hebrew word used for fleeing before enemies. Moses was where he was because he had fled from Pharaoh, with his snake / serpent head dress (Ex. 2:15; Acts 7:29). He was being taught that he need not have done that. Whilst his reaction had been instinctive and natural, he was to do the counter instinctive, in faith- believing that his hand was God's hand.

Exo 4:4 Yahweh said to Moses, Stretch out your hand, and take it by the tail. He stretched out his hand, and took hold of it, and it became a rod in his hand-
Moses is told to “stretch / 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. It really is a case of "getting a grip on your life". 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.

Exo 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-
It is by taking hold of our own sin that we witness to others who are sinners; it was Moses' having his own sinful weakness transformed [leprosy, snake] which could lead Israel to believe. But they generally didn't believe. "They may believe" shows the conditional nature of all this. For the people didn't immediately believe Moses nor these signs. The whole narrative of the Divine- human encounter is about potentials being offered to men, which are often not perceived or realized.

Exo 4:6 Yahweh said furthermore to him, Now put your hand inside your cloak. He put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow-
Leprosy was a symbol of sin. Moses was being again shown that human sin and weakness was not going to stop God's purpose going forward. And we note that his sister Miriam was smitten suddenly with leprosy and quickly healed of it (Num. 12:10). Moses would have been able to see her leprosy with the eye of faith, remembering his own experience; and Miriam likewise would have been encouraged by Moses' experience to believe that the affliction could quickly be healed. If she perceived the similarities between herself and her brother. And we likewise can take encouragement from others' experiences, insofar as we are thoughtful about life. And if we are familiar with the Biblical records and biographies of the lives of God's previous servants.

Exo 4:7 He said, Put your hand inside your cloak again. He put his hand inside his cloak again, and when he took it out of his cloak, behold, it had turned again as his other flesh-
The hand of Moses was to be the hand of Yahweh (see on Ex. 4:4). But like all of us, Moses sensed his moral inadequacy. And so God was showing him that He indeed recognized that Moses was indeed but sinful flesh; but He could deal with that, in a moment. Although it depended upon Moses' obedience to God's plan and the simple command to use his hand as God told him. The same lesson is for us to learn.

Exo 4:8 It will happen, if they will neither believe you nor listen to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign-
The Father is ever seeking for some positive response, and is highly sensitive to it. 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.

Exo 4:9 It will happen, if they will not believe even these two signs, neither listen to your voice, that you shall take of the water of the river, and pour it on the dry land. The water which you take out of the river will become blood on the dry land-
See on :8. The Egyptians perhaps more than any believed in the waters, especially of the Nile, as the source of good and evil. And the Israelites were worshipping the gods of Egypt, so they too needed to see the gods of Egypt revealed as mythical and powerless before Yahweh. God powerfully deconstructed their ideas about the Nile by enabling Moses to turn those waters into blood – i.e. to effectively slay whatever deity was supposed to live in the Nile, and then to revert the water to how it had been. This was surely to demonstrate that whatever deities were associated with “the waters”, Yahweh was greater, and could slay and revive them at perfect ease. Later Scripture identified the Egyptians and not the sea itself as "Rahab... the dragon" (Is. 51:9; Ps. 89:9.10)- whereas the common view was that the sea itself was the Satan figure. Moses' stress was that the real adversaries / satans to Israel were people, and not some mythical dragon figure. Even if such a figure existed, then Yahweh had destroyed him at the Red Sea, in that He clearly could manipulate the Sea at His whim. The conflict was between Israel and Egypt, God and Pharaoh- and not God and some dragon in the Sea.

Exo 4:10 Moses said to Yahweh, O Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before now, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a stammering tongue-

"Before now" is literally "yesterday", so "since yesterday" may refer to the burning bush incident . Moses is saying that although he had been called the day before, his speech impediment had not improved. God has not empowered him as he expected. And so we all reason; we expect empowerment to perform our commission when we are simply comforted that I will be will indeed be with us. Or he is saying that previously he had failed in persuading Pharaoh to let Israel go.

This is how Moses felt he would be perceived, although actually he was previously quite fluent when in the court of Pharaoh (Acts 7:22). Paul would have remembered Stephen saying how Moses was formerly full of worldly wisdom and "mighty in words". Paul felt that he too had been through Moses' experience- once mighty in words as the rising star of the Jewish world, but now like Moses he had left all that behind in order to try to save a new Israel from Judaism and paganism. As Moses consciously rejected the opportunity for leading the 'world' of Egypt, so Paul probably turned down the chance to be High Priest. God maybe confirmed both him and Moses in their desire for humility by giving them a speech impediment (perhaps part of the "thorn in the flesh" which Paul was "given", 2 Cor. 12:7). Thus Moses no longer had the eloquence he once had. Paul clearly alludes to Moses in this in his self descriptions: "His letters, say they (Paul's detractors in the new Israel) are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible... though I be rude in speech... Christ sent me... to preach the Gospel: not with wisdom of words (mg. speech)" (2 Cor. 10:10; 11:6; 1 Cor. 1:17). Paul says he was "taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers" by Gamaliel, receiving the highest wisdom possible in the Jewish world; but he uses the same word as Stephen in Acts 7:22, describing how Moses was "learned" in all the wisdom of Egypt.

"Stammering tongue" could refer to a literal stammer, in which case we marvel at how so many of God's words to His people were spoken through a mouth and tongue which stuttered. Truly God's strength is made perfect in weakness. But the term can refer to speaking with a heavy accent or in another language (Ez. 3:5,6). Moses might be arguing that he had forgotten Egyptian and Hebrew, as he had been speaking in the language of the Bedouin for the last 40 years. For "not eloquent", LXX has 'weak voiced', and again we marvel that a man who did so much public speaking of God's word had a weak voice. And yet he was "powerful in speech" (Acts 7:22). Exactly because he had a stutter and was weak voiced, God made him a powerful speaker through his message, rather than his presentation. And yet this could also be an excuse from Moses. "I am not eloquent, neither before now, nor since You have spoken to Your servant" seems to be saying that Moses considered he had never been eloquent. This is in contradiction with Acts 7:22, and would therefore appear to be him making desperate excuses for refusing God's call.

NEB "slow and hesitant of speech". It seems Moses was a far cry from the young man learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, mighty in words and works (Acts 7:22), set up to be the next Pharaoh, and set up by God to be just the right man to interface with Pharaoh and Egypt. We can conclude he had had a breakdown or stroke, resulting in his slow, hesitant, possibly stuttering speech. Or perhaps in the 40 years in Midian he just withdrew into himself and didn't want to come out of that shell. Alternatively, it has been observed that stuttering is largely genetic or from birth, and the fact Moses parents were aunty and nephew (Ex. 6:20) would explain it; and stuttering is common in those raised in bilingual, stressful environments. This would match Moses' upbringing as the adopted grandson of Pharaoh. The Songs of Moses at the Red Sea and at his death were sung by a stuttering man (Ex. 4:10). This shows for all time how God works through those who apparently are unsuited for His work.

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.


Exo 4:11 Yahweh said to him, Who made man’s mouth? Or who makes one mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Isn’t it I, Yahweh?-
Moses felt so humanly inadequate, not strong enough for the task before him- and he was encouraged by God to find courage from the simple fact that God had created Moses' mouth and senses- and therefore God was able to strengthen them for what He needed to be done. The fact God created us should encourage us to feel adequate for the tasks He gives us. We note that incapacity and sickness ultimately is from God and not a personal Satan. "The Lord will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt" (Dt. 28:60); "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled [Saul]" (1 Sam. 16:14).

Moses had complained that his mouth and lips were heavy or uncircumcised. He may well have had a cleft palet, being the offspring of an aunty and her nephew. But God says that He has made the deformations as well. This certainly gives a window onto some theology of disability. God created all. His response is again "I will..." (:12), alluding to the Name as in Ex. 3. No cure is offered, just that God "will be" through all such human weakness.

Exo 4:12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall speak-
See on Dt. 31:8. This 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.

Because we're mere humans, we don't know what to ask of God as we should; and His very Name is the comfort that He will be for us as we need, with our eternal salvation in mind. God seemed to have encouraged Israel to understand this by going on to promise simply that "I shall be [ehyeh] present" (Ex. 3:12; 4:12). He wanted them to trust that He knew best how to bring them to salvation; He didn't want them to invoke His Name in the primitive way the Egyptians did with their gods, hoping for a quick-fix miracle. God is only ehyeh for His people, not for others; and there came a terrible moment when He had to tell them through the prophets that "You are not my people and I am not ehyeh for you" (Hos. 1:9). Israel lost this 'presence' of their God. And we know that we are His people by the constant sense we have of the hand of Providence in our lives, even through the unanswered prayers that reveal an altogether higher and ultimately Divine game plan in place in our lives. But like Israel before Moses, we wish for the quick fix, the waving of the wand to resolve the issues, the sense of the saving presence of God in our experiences, working out His ultimate plan of delivering us from Egypt / this world and from ourselves.

Exo 4:13 He said, Oh, Lord, please send someone else-
Heb. "Send whom you will send". This appears a sarcastic allusion to Yahweh's Name, "I will be [and will do] who I will be [what I will do]". Yahweh has just alluded to His own Name as noted on :12. Moses sinks very low here. He has blasphemed the Name, hence the great anger of God against him in :14.

Exo 4:14 The anger of Yahweh was kindled against Moses-
If God's wrath burns hot against people, it means death for them (s.w. Ex. 22:24; Num. 11:1,33; 22:22; 25:3; Dt. 6:15; 31:17). But Moses averted this at the time of Ex. 32:10 by his intercession. He does so because God's wrath had burned hot against him personally (Ex. 4:14 s.w.), but he had been saved from death by grace. And so he reflects this in appealing for he salvation o f others, against whom God's wrath burned hot (Ex. 32:10.11). But Moses at the end of his life warns them not to make God's wrath burn hot against them again- because he will not be around to intercede for them (Dt. 6:15; 7:4; 11:17).

And He said, What about Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Also, behold, he comes out to meet you. When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart-
"I will send you unto Pharaoh, that you may bring forth My people... And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go?.... And God said... they shall hearken to your 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 You will 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'.

Moses is assured that his older brother Aaron would be happy to be the spokesman for his younger brother; answering Moses' unspoken fear that Aaron would angrily resent having to have an inferior role. In this we see Aaron's humility, rejoicing to play a part even when another has the greater role. This too played a part in leading Moses to become the humblest man (Num. 12:3).  

Exo 4:15 You shall speak to him, and put the words in his mouth. I will be with your mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do-
Moses disbelieved these words when in Ex. 6:29 he repeats that Pharaoh will not listen to him because of his lips. God was equally with the mouths of both Aaron and Moses, even though Aaron could "speak well" in his own strength. God didn't cure Moses' speech defect but worked through it. Moses' impediment meant nothing to God and those without impediment likewise need God's work through them rather than their own strength .

The promise of Moses that God would not fail nor forsake Joshua, but would be with him (Dt. 31:8) was similar to the very promise given to Moses here, which he had doubted at the time (Ex. 3:12; 4:12,15). Such exhortation is so much the stronger from someone who has themselves doubted and then come to believe. Joshua was encouraged that "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you: I will not fail you, nor forsake you" (Josh. 1:5). But these very words are quoted in Heb. 13:5 as the grounds of our matchless confidence that the Lord God will be with us too! As He was with Moses at such a point of Moses' personal weakness (see on :13,14)- not just in power, but in wondrous patience and gentleness- so He will be with us too. Not only did God encourage Joshua to see himself as in Moses' shoes; He inspired Jeremiah likewise (Jer. 21:8 = Dt. 30:15,19), and Ezekiel (Ez. 2:3 = Dt. 31:27; Neh. 9:17; Num. 17:10); and He wishes us to also see Moses' God as our God. But if Moses' God is to be ours in truth in the daily round of life, we must rise up to the dedication of Moses; as he was a faithful steward, thoroughly dedicated to God's ecclesia (Heb. 3:5), so we are invited follow his example (1 Cor. 4:2; Mt. 24:45).

In the last days, God’s faithful people will be given a mouth and wisdom which their persecutors will be unable to gainsay nor resist (Lk. 21:15). This evidently alludes to how Moses before Pharaoh was given such a ‘mouth’. Moses at that time was a type of the faithful remnant of their last days although he was so weak (see on :13,14), in their witness against the world during the tribulation. Hence Rev. 11 describes their witness in terms of Moses doing miracles before Pharaoh.

Exo 4:16 He will be your spokesman to the people; and it will happen, that he will be to you a mouth, and you will be to him as God-
But the plans / intentions for Aaron seem not to have worked out- for Moses ended up doing everything in reality. “It shall come to pass that he shall be to thee a mouth” (RV)- but it didn’t so come to pass. Aaron flunked it. The statement was evidently conditional. It was evidently God's plan that Moses should be His spokesman to Egypt. But when Moses refused, God didn't just give up; He worked with what He had available, He didn't totally reject Moses, but instead put a 'plan B' into operation by conceding to Moses' stubbornness and making Aaron the spokesman (Ex. 4:10-17).

Exo 4:17 You shall take this rod in your hand, with which you shall do the signs-
The rod was to remind Moses that this was the rod which had become a serpent [associated with sin] and changed back to a rod. Although God would work through the rod, the reminder was that He worked through human sin and weakness, of which Moses was strongly afflicted as he began his ministry at this point. The rod was just random dead wood. Just like Moses. But the comfort was that God would use it, so Moses shouldn't doubt that God likewise could use him.

Exo 4:18 Moses went and returned to Jethro his father-in-law, and said to him, Please let me go and return to my brothers who are in Egypt, and see whether they are still alive. Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace-
He seems to make the excuse to Jethro that he is homesick for his family who are still in Egypt, rather than telling him his mission. Moses asks Jethro for permission to return to Egypt to see whether his Hebrew brethren are "still alive"- 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, or at best an unwillingness to openly show his commitment to his new ministry from God. 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.

Exo 4:19 Yahweh said to Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead-
Moses didn't want Egypt to know that he was trying to save Israel; he thought he could do it secretly. Once he realized that people knew what he was trying to do, he was afraid. His fearfulness has similarities with that of spiritually weak Jacob, who fled from the face of Laban into the unknown, as Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh. Thus God encouraged him after forty years that he need no longer fear: "Return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought your life" (Ex. 4:19). But then he rallied his faith and left Egypt, without (at the point of leaving) fearing the anger of Pharaoh. He so strongly believed, it was as if he physically saw God- as he asked (Heb. 11:27).

We note the repetition in :24; Pharaoh sought Moses' life, but then Yahweh seeks Moses' life, after telling him that all who were seeking his life in Egypt had died. Perhaps God is showing that although He has preserved Moses from those who sought his life, this was no automatically created position. Moses was worthy of death but was preserved from it by grace. Moses is also being taught that he is no essentially better than Pharaoh and the Egyptians, despite the judgment Moses was to bring upon them. We too have these kinds of incidents in life, to help us realize we too are saved by grace from God's wrath. This is why God reminds Moses in :23 that Pharaoh's firstborn is to be killed, and then moves to attempt to slay Moses' firstborn. Gershom, or Moses, are saved by touching the blood of the firstborn to his feet- just as the use of the Passover lamb's blood would save the firstborn. 

These words are clearly alluded to when the death of Herod, as of the Pharaoh, opens the way for the Lord Jesus to leave Egypt; just as Moses hereby has the way opened to return to Egypt (Mt. 2:20).  

Exo 4:20 Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them on a donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt. Moses took God’s rod in his hand-
The personal rod of Moses (“thy rod”) became the rod of God; the shepherd’s crook, the symbol of an obscure workaday life, became transformed to the rod and arm of God Almighty. See on 4:4.

Exo 4:21 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 harden his heart and he will not let the people go-
See on Ex. 4:4. The wonders were done by the Angels, so 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.

The same Hebrew words used of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart occur in a positive context- for God also hardens or strengthens the hearts of the righteous (Ps. 27:14 "Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart"; Is. 35:4). Indeed, Is. 35:4 speaks of how the righteous shouldn’t have a weak or [Heb.] ‘fluid’ heart, but rather a hardened one. Clearly enough, God solidifies human attitudes, one way or the other, through the work of His Spirit upon our spirit. This is a sobering thought- for He is prepared to confirm a person in their weak thinking. But on the other hand, even the weakest basic intention towards righteousness is solidified by Him too.

This implies the three signs would be followed by the death of the firstborn. In reality God extended the plagues to give Egypt more chance to repent. He is so flexible because of His grace.


Exo 4:22 You shall tell Pharaoh, ‘Thus says Yahweh, Israel is My son, My firstborn-
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. His response to Divine commandment is often incomplete. But out of such weakness he was made strong. We note Israel were God's "firstborn"; the first nation to be His people, implying all the other nations would also become His children. Just as the Lord Jesus was the firstfruits, with promise that we also shall be the harvest, "at His coming".

Exo 4:23 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 kill your son, your firstborn’-
This is the language used of Babylon's reason for destruction: "The children of Israel and the children of Judah were oppressed together (i.e. Jews taken out of the land of Israel plus others from the diaspora alike taken to concentration camps in Arab lands?): and all that took them captives held them fast;  they refused to let them go" (Jer. 50:33). Similarly Babylon is described as not opening "the house of the prisoners" (Is. 14:17). Biblical history continually interconnects, demonstrating that the same Divine hand has worked throughout history, and likewise works in our lives according to the same style. See on Ex. 1:7; 15:21.


Pharaoh had real possibility to let the people go, and therefore Ex. 4:23 NRSV implies that God only therefore went ahead with the plan to kill Pharaoh's firstborn. Likewise if the Israelites don't believe the first sign, they may believe the second; if they don't believe either of them then there will be a third sign (Ex. 4:8,9). Yet God states in Ex. 3:18 that the people will listen; and yet Ex. 4:8,9 accepts the possibility that they may not. In all this we see not only the essential hopefulness of God for human response to Him, but His willingness to go along with our continued weakness and blindness in an open-ended manner. There is, therefore, the possibility of living before God on different levels.

To be caught up in the downward spiral [as we all are at times] doesn't mean that there's no way out. The hearts of Pharaoh's servants were hardened (Ex. 10:1 cp. Ex. 9:34), and yet they did in fact soften when they beg Pharaoh to let Israel go (Ex. 10:7; 11:8). Yet each refusal of Pharaoh to soften his heart made it harder for him to soften it the next time the opportunity was presented. Conditional language is always used about Pharaoh-if he were to refuse to release Israel, more plagues would happen (Ex. 8:2; 9:2; 10:4 cp. 8:21; 4:23 RSV). In fact God wanted Pharaoh to come to realize that there is none like Yahweh in all the earth- and that was actually why He did not immediately kill Pharaoh, but rather appealed to him through the plagues. That's how I read the enigmatic Ex. 9:15: "For now I should have put forth my hand, and smitten thee... and thou hadst been cut off from the earth". Fretheim paraphrases this: "If I had not had the intention of your knowing that there is none like me in all the earth... then I should have put forth my hand and cut you off from the earth. This is what you have deserved". The hardening of Pharaoh's heart didn't mean that he was thereby bound to chose wrongly each time. Indeed, the plagues themselves were designed to warn Pharaoh and thereby appeal to him to change, in order to avoid worse plagues.

"Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn" provides the connection with the strange incident that follows. Whoever was not circumcised was to be cut off from God's people. Moses had not circumcised his own firstborn. So Moses is being shown that he and his son deserved death for this. But he was saved from it by Divine grace and the intervention of a third party, namely Zipporah, the wife whom Moses was to later divorce. So Moses is being taught that he himself is actually no better than Pharaoh. He had been circumcised by a faithful father, and I suggested in Ex. 2 that this was why Pharaoh's daughter recognized and saved him. But he had not circumcised his son. He had not reflected back the good upbringing he had had. His salvation by grace at this point was to inspire him to reflect the work of Zipporah in saving the uncircumcised Israelites. And to realize that he was essentially the same as the Gentile idolatrous daughter of a pagan priest, whom he likely now secretly despised. Just as much as her despite of him is revealed by her comment that Moses was a "bridegroom of blood" to her.

However the  pronoun is unclear; the Lord was seeking to kill "him", but who? It could be Moses or Gershom; and perhaps the ambiguity is because Gershom was uncircumcised, he was to be cut off from his people, and Moses also, for not circumcising him. We can retranslate this section as follows, bearing in mind that NEV is wrong on :24 "Yahweh met Moses"; the Hebrew is "Yahweh met him":

"And you will say to Pharoah, “Thus says YHWH, ‘Israel is my son, my firstborn. And I say to you, release my son that he may serve me.’ And he will refuse to release him. Behold, I will kill your son [Moses' son], your firstborn. And it happened on the way, in the lodging place, YHWH encountered him and sought to put him to death. And Zipporah took a flint and cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to his foot and said, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me!”. As if to say, when I married you as my groom it turned out you would cause the bloodshed of my firstborn son. This translation makes more sense, because it was the uncircumcised who were to be cut off from the people, not the parents who didn't circumcise them.

Exo 4:24 It happened on the way at a lodging place, that Yahweh met Moses and wanted to kill him-
See on Ex. 4:4; 34:9. The way the Lord "tried to kill" Moses (Ex. 4:24 AV) 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. We also see reflected how Moses had seen an Egyptian about to kill a Hebrew, and had intervened and saved the Hebrew. Zipporah now plays the role of Moses. She is being set up to Moses as an example to be followed, rather than a pagan woman to be separated from, as he was to do. Indeed the way Zipporah saves Moses [or at least her son] fits with a theme in Exodus, of women saving- we think of the midwives, Moses' mother and sister, Pharaoh's daughter. The Bible was way ahead of its time in reflecting the value God places on every human person regardless of gender; and so any claim that the Bible merely reflects the societal views of the day is falsified.

The way conditions are not stated within the actual prophecy is similar to how blanket statements are made in Scripture, and yet there are exceptions to them. Thus here the Lord sought to kill Moses. If He had done so, all His previous statements about delivering Israel by the hand of Moses would not have come true. God only didn’t kill Moses because Zipporah intervened. She did this purely of her own freewill and according to the depth of her spiritual vision. Thus the earlier prophecies about delivering Israel by the hand of Moses actually had at least one major, though unspoken, condition: If Moses himself remained faithful. “But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue” (Ex. 11:7) was in fact conditional on Israel remaining indoors. But that condition isn’t then stated. Even the old covenant, which was in a sense “eternal”, was made with Israel “upon all these conditions” (Ex. 24:8 RVmg.). It was eternal, potentially, because it had conditions. But the conditionality of it isn’t always brought to the fore when, e.g., we read of the Sabbath as being an eternal ordinance. 

Amos 4:12 sums up the idea of conditional prophecy: “Therefore thus will I do unto you, O Israel: and because I will do this unto you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel”. Thus God will do- but therefore, repent so that it won’t happen. There is an allusion here to God in an Angel coming to meet Moses to slay him, but he repented and thereby changed the purpose / will / intention of God.

Time and again, the Jewish apocryphal literature wrongly sought to distance God from doing anything negative in human life. Gen. 22:1 clearly states that it was God who put Abraham to the test by asking him to kill his son Isaac; Jubilees retells the story with "Prince Mastema", the Satan figure, telling Abraham to do this (Jub. 17:15-18). Likewise Ex. 4:24 recounts how "the Lord", presumably as an Angel, met Moses and tried to kill him for not circumcising his son; but Jubilees again claims that Mastema / Satan did this (Jub. 48:1-3). The Biblical record highlights the sin of Aaron and the people; the Jewish myths excuse it by blaming it on Satan. Indeed, several times the Hebrew word mastema ['hostility, enmity'] occurs, it is in the context of urging Israel to see that they and their internal desires to sin are the true mastema. Hosea 9:7 is an example: "Because your sins are so many and your hostility [mastema] so great".

Exo 4:25 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-
Moses' marriage was weak. After 40 years, 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" (AV). 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.

A read through the records will indicate that Moses was somewhat temperamental in his faith. For the first forty years of his life, he scarcely let his light show. Yet all the time his conscience was active, enabling him to build up towards heights of spiritual achievement few of us can achieve. At the age of 40, he had a flash of spiritual devotion; he rejected the opportunity for greatness in Egypt, possibly the opportunity to become king of Egypt (as Christ had the opportunity to become king of the world in his wilderness temptations). Yet after that, he went into 40 years of decline. In the eyes of men, he was a finished man. He had gone away from God's people, he was living in a family of idolaters, and had married one of them. His marriage went wrong, he divorced his wife, and picked up some other woman. He didn't circumcise his children, and thus he despised his covenant relationship with God. Eighty years is a long time. They were eighty years of at best mediocre commitment to the God of Israel, with only the occasional flash of spiritual brilliance. Yet this man Moses went on to become one of the greatest spiritual men there has ever been, a man who came closer to God than all others except the Lord Jesus. "There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Dt. 34:10). The Lord Jesus was "like unto" Moses (Dt. 18:18)- a high enough commendation for Moses.

"Cast it at his feet" could as well be translated "touced it on his legs", Biblical Hebrew making no distinction between legs and feet as in several languages today. It was therefore very similar to the salvation of the firstborn by the painting of blood on the doorposts. We wonder why it was Zipporah and not Moses who perceived the problem and acted upon it? For this is the only Biblical example of a woman performing circumcision. Again we are left with the impression that Moses is uncommitted, switched off and not at all spiritually perceptive at this point. And yet he is used by God to save His people and is, bit by bit, dramatically transformed. When Moses appealed to Pharaoh and threatened the death of the firstborn, he would have made the appeal with the humility and intensity of a man who almost lost his own firstborn, had it not been for repentance and intercession. And he would have seen the judgment carried out with awed humility, realizing that he had not responded to the same situation as he should, but rather Zipporah had.

Exo 4:26 So He let him alone-
Martin Buber, one of academic Judaism's finest minds, coined the term "Yahweh's demonism". He perceived in, e.g., the record of the Angel meeting Moses at night, seeking to slay him and then 'letting him go', all the language which was typically applied to demons- meeting and seeking to slay a man of God (Ex. 4:24). But the point is, it is not a demon who did this, but a righteous Angel of God, to the extent that it was possible for the record to state that it was Yahweh who sought to slay Moses, and yet changed His purpose because of Moses' repentance and the intercession of a woman. Buber's point was that the text is an allusion to the local beliefs about demons, but the Biblical record deconstructs these beliefs by showing that it is Yahweh and His Angels responsible for those situations which pagans would otherwise attribute to supposed 'demons'. Other examples include how the bull cherubim were understood in the surrounding cultures as the abode or throne of a demon; but it is Yahweh who is enthroned upon the bull cherubim; or how the record of Balaam would've lead the contemporary hearers to expect him to receive inspiration from a demon- but instead the inspiration comes from Yahweh, and is against those who believed in demons and pagan gods.

"Let him alone" is Heb. 'released his hold '. This would explain why Moses was unable to perform the circumcision. It would be another connection with the Angel holding Jacob and changing his intention to murder him. The same word is in 1 Chron. 21:15 where the Angel intending to kill all Israel 'releases his hand' once sacrifice is offered by David. Another example if Divine intention being changed by human action or intercession. 

We think of how God apparently went out to kill Jacob, but was 'foiled' by Jacob's prayer; He went out to kill Balaam, but was stopped by the donkey helping Balaam; and now, He goes out to kill Moses and his son, but is apparently foiled by Zipporah's zippy action. Of course, God is not foiled nor defeated; instead we are invited to see how He is so open to intercession and to changing His intentions in response to human prayer or third party mediation. We likewise deserve to be cut off from God's people, but are saved by the Lord's blood and intervention and initiative of the greater than Zipporah.

Then she said, You are a bridegroom of blood, because of the circumcision-
It seems from this that the Angel also intended to slay Moses' son. The connection with Ex. 4:23 would mean that God tried to kill Moses’ son because Moses was not fully believing that God would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn. We note that Moses was saved here by a Gentile woman; just as his life had been saved in babyhood by women (his faithful mother, his sister and the Gentile princess).

LXX "and he departed from him, because she said, The blood of the circumcision of my son is staunched". This suggests that the blood of the firstborn saved Moses and Gershom from death, thanks to the intercession of Zipporah. In this case we see God not in fact cutting off the man who was not circumcised on the eighth day; for Gershom was far older than eight days old at this point. As ever, He by grace accepted the spirit rather than the letter of obedience.

Exo 4:27 Yahweh said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. He went, and met him on God’s mountain, and kissed him-
The wilderness would have been that between Egypt and Horeb, or Sinai, which was now "God's mountain" (Ex. 3:1). It was quite some obedience by Aaron to escape from Egypt and travel alone in the wilderness to meet Moses, his brother whom he hardly knew and had not heard from for 40 years. Aaron's obedience should be recognized by us. He could easily have turned down this calling as bizarre. 

Exo 4:28 Moses told Aaron all the words of Yahweh with which He had sent him, and all the signs with which He had instructed him-
Aaron's faith would have been buoyed up by actually meeting his long absent brother Moses, his faith in the apparently bizarre word of Yahweh to him would have been rewarded. And so he was the more inclined surely to believe the message Moses now shared with him. Aaron was initially more obedient to the call than Moses was; but that changed over time.

Exo 4:29 Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel-
The Jews thought that as Moses hid himself and then re-emerged from obscurity, so Messiah would. Rabbi Berekiah said: “As the first deliverer [Moses] was revealed, then hidden and afterwards appeared again, so will it also be with the last deliverer [Messiah]” (Quoted in J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea In Israel (London: Macmillan, 1956) p. 17.). John’s record is clearly presenting the Lord as Moses in this sense.

Exo 4:30 Aaron spoke all the words which Yahweh had spoken to Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people-
The fact Moses had to do all the signs shows that they did not believe the first and second signs. Their faith is consistently shown to be weak and superficial from the very start of their relationship with Yahweh; and later prophets will lament his from Egypt onwards, their faith was very weak indeed. Like us at times, they were saved almost against their will, by grace alone.

Exo 4:31 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 worshiped-
"When Moses was grown, he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens... when he was full forty years old it came into his heart to visit his brethren... by faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter" (Ex. 2:11; Acts 7:23; Heb. 11:24). The implication seems to be that Moses reached a certain point of maturity, of readiness, and then he went to his brethren. But then he stepped back from that apparent maturity, and spent 40 years building up to it again. We can have similar experiences. God looked on the sorrows of His people through the sensitivity of Moses, He saw and knew their struggles, their sense of being trapped, their desire to revive spiritually but their being tied down by the painful business of life and living; and He sent Moses to deliver them from this. But these very words are quoted about our deliverance through the 'coming down'  of the Lord Jesus (Ex. 3:7; 4:31 = Lk. 1:68). 

Moses manifested / represented both God and Israel, superbly prefiguring the nature of the Lord's work and mission far later. As God "saw" the oppression of Israel (Ex. 2:25; 3:7,9; 4:31; 5:19), so did Moses (Ex. 2:11). He looked on God's people with the eyes / perspective of God- just as we should.

The people asked the Lord Jesus "What sign do you show unto us?" (Jn. 2:18). Cynical Israel asked exactly the same of Moses, in effect; and superficially, "the people believed" (Ex. 4:31) after they saw the signs. The hollowness of Israel's 'belief' in Moses was matched by the experience of the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet they still both loved Israel.