Exodus 4:1 – Moses’ first two protests (Exodus 3:11,13) were formal, expressing humility in the face of an overwhelming assignment. God assured him that Israel’s leaders would listen to him (Exodus 3:18) but now he wonders if they would believe his claim that the Lord had appeared to him and do what he said. Moses was not doubting God’s promise, but he certainly was afraid that the Israelites would. God would reassure him with three signs he could use to overcome their doubts.
Exodus 4:2–5 Moses was thankful for these signs and responded obediently to each command, even when he was told to take hold of a snake he had just run from. That his staff could be transformed to a snake and back to a staff would be an amazing demonstration of God’s power. Although not stated, this sign could be done repeatedly to each group of Israelites that he would come before, because Moses would always have his staff with him. This is the beginning of the revelation that Moses’ staff symbolized the power of God which will be seen in the Battle of Rephidim (Exodus 17:16).
This miraculous ability would serve as a credential for Moses’ report of seeing and being commissioned by the God of their fathers, and of his authority before Pharaoh. Snakes are frightening to most people, and it’s understandable that Moses would run when one came to life from his staff. Nothing suggests that this snake was poisonous, and nothing links it with the Gen 3 account of Satan in the form of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The purpose was not to scare him or anyone else but rather to introduce the God who called Moses as the true God to his people who did not know him but needed his salvation.
Exodus 4:6–8 God in His grace gave Moses a backup miracle. God’s words in v. 8 (“if they do not believe… they may believe”) indicate that God knew it would be hard for Israel’s elders to trust Moses. They too would need bold faith to make demands on Pharaoh who was persecuting them so severely.
This second miracle is like the first in that it involved changing something harmless into something harmful and changing it back. It too would be something Moses could do repeatedly (putting his hand inside his garment to his chest and pulling it out again) to convince various groups of people at various times that God was with him. The skin diseases lumped under the translation “leprous” (mesoraʿat) here would include not only leprosy but a variety of other skin diseases that were also feared. God’s Law gave strict guidelines on avoiding people who were infected (Lev 13–14; Num 5:2; Deut 24:8–9; 2 Kgs 15:5; 2 Chr 26:2; Luke 17:12). Cures like this miracle, were never expected. But would this miracle convince people who had not been convinced by the first? The answer is yes. There was a strong belief that disease was from the power of the gods. For Moses to say, in effect, “Look what the Lord can do with disease!” was to ask, “Can any god you’ve been worshiping heal like this?
Exodus 4:9 God in further grace gave Moses a third proof even more grand. It was a foreshadowing of the first plague (Exodus 7:14–24) in which water, mainly from the Nile would be turned into blood. This was a hint that God had in store serious threats that He would unleash on the Egyptians. Israel would get a preview of the way that God would judge Pharaoh and the Egyptians. This sign was not so much about Moses as it was about Egypt, and specifically the Nile. For Moses to demonstrate God’s power over the Nile would be to demonstrate God’s power over Egypt and the gods of the Egyptians. The Nile was worshiped as A God because it was the primary source of all life in Egypt. The people always lived near it, making Egypt the most densely populated country in the ancient world. Little water was available in Egypt except through the Nile, its branches and canals. Egypt was pantheistic and it’s easy to see how the Nile was worshiped as a great god. When Moses struck the Nile with his staff and demonstrated God’s power over it (Exodus 7:20), he was showing God’s superiority and predicting His power over the Nile- god and “all the gods of Egypt”. (Exodus 12:12).
Exodus 4:10 – Moses’ statement here should not be taken literally. Moses did not really have a speech impediment or was unable to speak before Pharaoh or Israel. Moses did a great amount of speaking in the Torah and nowhere do we find Moses unable to communicate or make himself understood. Why, then, did he make this claim? It’s something we see repeatedly in Scripture, an expression of humility. When faced with an overwhelming situation or assignment, when great mercy and grace is sought we find this kind of rhetoric. Here are some examples:
Gen 18:26: “I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes (Abraham). 1 Sam 9:21: Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” 1 Sam 18:23: David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son- in- law? I’m only a poor man and little known.” 1 Sam 24:14: “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 1 Sam 26:20: Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the LORD. The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea—as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.” 2 Sam 9:8: Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” 1 Kgs 3:7: You have made your servant king… I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. (Solomon) Isa 6:5: Woe is me!… For I am a man of unclean lips. (Isaiah). Jer 1:6:Ah, Sovereign LORD,… I do not know how to speak; I am only a child. (Jeremiah).
Saul came from a prominent family (1 Sam 9:21); David’s claim to be a nobody when he was already a known as war hero (1 Sam 18:23); Solomon was not a child when he came to the throne but was at least thirty years old when he became king (1 Kgs 3:7); and Jeremiah when he claimed to be unable to talk and then went on to speak quite profoundly for the next 41 years. All of this reveals that Moses was not speaking literally but figuratively, responding to the great assignment he was called to with the proper humility expected in his day. There is no evidence anywhere in the Bible that Moses had any lack of skill in speech, public or private and overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Exodus 4:11–12 God encourages Moses by telling him that He oversees man’s ability to speak as well as hear and see. God promised him he would receive his help in knowing what to say and how to say it (v. 12) which is essential to any prophetic call since what prophets do above all things is say what God teaches them to say. This is the work of God’s Spirit and is at work in the lives of all who have been baptized and filled with God’s Spirit (John 16:13; Matt 10:18-20).
Exodus 4:13 Moses’ request here literally means, “I don’t want to do it”. This final protest by Moses is completely different than the four previous objections (Exodus 3:11, 13; Exodus 4:1, 10), which were part of the pattern of traditional humility. If Moses were to continue that pattern, he would probably say he was unworthy of such a high calling or overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenge, but he doesn’t. Instead, he asks that God send someone else to do the job. He is trying to refuse accepting God’s call. He is in the company of Jonah, who in Scripture is the only other prophet who attempts to refuse God’s call. Jonah also was called to preach in a foreign land. He, like Moses faces a near death judgment as we will see in Exodus 4:24. Both Moses and Jonah learn their lesson and find their lives spared and given a renewed call to service and experience great success in their calling. If God determines to use a prophet, who can resist His will?
Exodus 4:14–16 Moses’ protest in v. 13 was not acceptable to God but aroused his anger, and yet we see God’s patience and grace in His provision of Aaron to walk beside him. This too is like the setting of Jonah, whose refusal to obey God’s command to preach repentance to Nineveh incited God’s anger and who also experienced God’s grace when a large fish appears to keep him from drowning. Moses had no idea that Aaron had set out to find him, but Aaron was provided as a partner and co-speaker for Moses as he would stand before the most powerful man in the world of his day. Moses and Aaron would speak for God. Moses did most of the speaking, with little mention of Aaron’s speaking except in the early chapters of Exodus. It seems that Moses’ courage and faith increased, and so Aaron’s role was less needed. Moses was the true prophet raised up by the Lord and anything Aaron had to say came from Moses.
Exodus 4:17 speaks of the importance of Moses’ staff, which will play a major role in the deliverance of God’s people from Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land. The staff is the visible assurance of God’s presence with Moses as he leads Israel. The staff was a means of protection and a symbol of one’s identity. It was the staff of Jacob that served as a token of identity to Tamar when Jacob hires her as a prostitute. It served as a weapon for protection in certain situations. A staff was an essential possession as Jacob comments in Gen 32:10 (“I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups) or Luke 9:3 (“Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money”). It was used to keep animals under control as used by Balaam in Num 22:27. The importance of a staff in this way is seen in Ps 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. Staffs were used as crutches Gen 47:31 (“Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff”). It represented authority: Gen 49:10: The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; The LORD said to Moses, “Put back Aaron’s staff in front of the Testimony, to be kept as a sign to the rebellious.”
Moses’ staff was the foremost of all staffs because it represented supernatural power of God.
Exodus 4:18 Moses tells his father-in-law Jethro, that he would leave for Egypt. Considering that he would be taking his daughter Zipporah with him (Exodus 4:20) it appears that the Lord has prepared Jethro’s heart because he blesses Moses with the words “go in peace”. Moses was an employee of Jethro (3:1) and needed to be released from his responsibilities. Moses’ included in his request his intentions (“let me go back to my brothers in Egypt, “to see if any of them are still alive”). Moses used the same form in speaking to Pharaoh, requesting release from Egypt for Israel. he made his request politely to Pharaoh and offered a reason for the need to leave. We will not see Jethro until Exodus 18, where he and Moses are reunited and where it appears that he has come to faith in the God of Israel and gives valuable advice to Moses demonstrating both his godliness and wisdom.
Exodus 4:19–20 God assures Moses that his life would not be in danger when he arrived in Egypt because those who sought his life were now dead. A new Pharaoh and administration were now in place. It was common practice in the ancient world that when a new government came into power, they would cancel criminal penalties imposed by a previous government granting general amnesty.
Verse 20 contributes an important emphasis: Moses was not merely returning to Egypt alone but rather bringing his family with him. His sons are later identified in Exodus 18:4 and 1 Chr 23:15, 17. The importance of taking the staff of the Lord is pointed out in this verse.
Exodus 4:21 Moses is instructed to go before Pharaoh in person. Moses performed two of the three miracles given to him by the Lord in the presence of Pharaoh, changing his staff into a snake and changing water into blood. But he did not perform the second miracle, changing his hand from healthy to leprous. With the statement in v. 21, “I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go,” God introduced a new detail, that He would be behind Pharaoh’s resistance. God had warned Moses that Pharaoh would be unwilling (Exodus 3:19–20). By telling Moses that he would control Pharaoh’s defiance in allowing Israel to go, God assured Moses that he was in control of Pharaoh in every way. He was demonstrating His sovereignty over the heart of man which is clarified in Rom 9:17-23.
Exodus 4:22-23 inform us that Israel is God’s “firstborn son,” and treatment of Israel is linked to Pharaoh’s “firstborn son”. The firstborn son is traditionally and Biblically favored with inheritance. The firstborn represents the father and considered the heir and given a double portion of the father’s estate. In Israel the firstborn son, was the first fruits of a marriage, and was devoted to God. He belonged especially to God and could not even be taken and raised by his parents without the payment of a special redemption or “buy back” fee that symbolized the family’s recognition that the son was by rights the Lord’s and not theirs in a ceremony still taking place among the orthodox called “Pidyon HaBen”. Until entering his double inheritance (Deut 21:17), the firstborn son “served” his father. The word in v 23 is “to serve”, Israel had been serving Pharaoh; now God told Pharaoh that the Israel was going to serve him. Their liberation came not in being freed from work but to serving a new master.
Moses was told to tell Pharaoh of the close and protected relationship that God had with Israel, as His firstborn among the nations. Pharaoh is warned of the deadly fate that awaited the firstborn of Egypt, personalized in Pharaoh’s son. God was not only promising to protect his son but that the Pharaoh’s son must die so that God’s son might be free to serve his Father. It foreshadows the idea of substitutionary death. It also foreshadows the concept of the Messiah’s embodiment of Israel Hosea 11:1 and Isaiah 53 and by Matthew 2:15, showing the fulfillment of Hos 11:1. Further, God’s purpose in rescuing his son was that his son might worship him, a role Jesus fulfilled in perfection. God’s close identification of himself with his “son” was his concern for the son’s suffering. This attention of God to Israel also appears three times in Jeremiah (Jer. 3:19; 31:9; 31:20).
Exodus 4:24–26 This story relates how the Lord would not allow Moses to get to Egypt alive without being circumcised. That if follows immediately after the warning by the Lord of the potential death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son provides a relationship to the potential death of Moses’ firstborn son. Zipporah, who had grown up in the household of a Midianite priest, likely understood how circumcision was done and its significance. Many people in the ancient world practiced circumcision, including, the Midianites. The Egyptians practiced a partial circumcision, involving cutting only a small amount of the foreskin, which was considered by Israel as insufficient so that later it was called “the reproach of Egypt” (Josh 5:9). Perhaps Moses had Gershom circumcised in this way, thinking it fulfilled God’s expectations. But from what we see here it was unacceptable to the Lord.
Moses probably had undergone the partial Egyptian circumcision either at his adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter or perhaps later in his life. His real parents may have avoided having him circumcised at birth for fear it would mark him as an Israelite and making him more likely to be detected by the Egyptians seeking to kill the infant boys at that time. It may be that circumcision was not even practiced among the Jews in Egypt which may explain why Gershom was not.
Circumcision on the eighth day had been commanded of Abraham as the sign of God’s covenant (Gen 17:1-14; 21:4). Moses’ failure to circumcise his son shows that Moses had not been acting like a member of the covenant community, a serious offense. The significance Here is twofold. First, it demonstrated that if Moses as the spokesman for the God of Abraham needed to keep the provisions of the covenant (Gen 17:9- 22). Second, it foreshadowed the requirement that those participating in the Passover were required to be circumcised (Ex 12:43-48). From this point on Zipporah and their sons are not mentioned until their reuniting in Ex. 18:2–6, they likely did not travel farther than this place and returned to Midian.
The expression “bridegroom of blood” is not negative but positive, a reference to a husband and wife’s joining to become one flesh/blood with the result of a child being born to them who is their own flesh and blood so that Gershom was Zipporah’s “blood relative.” Quite possibly Zipporah, in saying this, was not merely repeating words Midianites said at circumcisions but using these words to link herself closely to Gershom; so, her action was sufficient doing what Moses should have done. Zipporah actions prevented a serious discipline from God. The result was that Moses’ family was now in compliance with God’s requirement for his covenant people. Moses now is on solid ground spiritually as he goes before Pharaoh and leads Israel to Mt. Sinai.
Exodus 4:27–28 The story of Moses’ reuniting with Aaron, and his call is important in helping us know that Aaron was fully committed to God’s plan to bring Israel out of Egypt. We learn here that Aaron had been sent by God to join with Moses. Aaron’s key role would be as a supporter for Moses and spokesman as we have seen in Exodus 4:14–16. The location of the “mountain of God” (Sinai) is implied not to be in Midian but somewhere between Midian and Egypt since Aaron who was going from Egypt toward Midian, and Moses, going from Midian toward Egypt, were well in their journeys when they met. They were likely providentially guided to their meeting by God, who had called both of them and arranged the timing so that they would one another at Sinai. After learning of Moses’ call Aaron agrees to join him to confront Pharaoh and demand the release of their brethren.
Exodus 4:29–31 The time between Moses’ leaving Jethro (Exodus 4:18) and Israel worshiping the Lord in v. 31, may have been anywhere from a few weeks to perhaps as long as months. These verses do not mention the arrival of Moses and Aaron in Egypt but get right to the point that they gathered the elders, performed the signs, and saw the people believe.
Aaron’s role seems to be his ability to provide credibility with the elders of Israel in Egypt. Moses on the other hand, was an outsider, someone who most had never met, even if they had heard of him, they might be afraid of him, based on the incident described in Exodus 2:11–14. Aaron, on the other hand, was likely an elder himself. What leads us to this is how else would he have had the means and the freedom to leave Egypt and take a trip to meet Moses while most of the people were working seven days a week? He appears to be in a position to introduce Moses to the leadership of the people much as Barnabas did for Saul (Acts 9:26–28). This is why we see Aaron doing the talking telling the story of Moses’ call, and performed at least two of the three signs (Exodus 4:1–9) before the people (Exodus 4:30). He may have needed to perform only two signs, the staff to a snake and the leprous hand, since Exodus 4:31 says that the people believed Exodus 4:9 implies that the changing of water to blood was a backup sign in case of their refusal to believe.
Exodus 4:31 Israel’s response is to bow before God as an indication that they believed and accepted his words and promises for them. They likely had no knowledge of his name prior to this any more than Moses did before his encounter at Sinai. They appear to be ignorant of both God and their calling. But v. 31 we learn that Israel trusted in the Lord for their salvation.