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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 4

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Exodus 4 – Moses’ Commission from God

A. God gives Moses signs to confirm his ministry.

1. (Exo 4:1) Moses asks, “How will they believe me?”

Then Moses answered and said, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.'”

a. But suppose they will not believe me: It was not wrong for Moses to initially ask, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Exodus 3:11); this was a logical question considering how great the task was. Yet God answered this question more than adequately in Exodus 3:12: I will certainly be with you. After that point, and in this passage, Moses’ questions show unbelief more than sincere seeking.

b. But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice: In Exodus 3:18, God promised that the leaders of Israel would listen to Moses. He said, “They will heed your voice.” When Moses made this protest he may as well have said, “But what if you are wrong, God?”

i. It was good when Moses had no confidence in the flesh; but it was bad that he then lacked confidence in God. In view of the burning bush, the voice of God, and the divine encounter, there was no place for Moses to say, “But.”

ii. “We are ever prone, when God is calling us to some high service, to say ‘But,’ and this to introduce our statement of the difficulties as we see them.” (Morgan)

2. (Exo 4:2-5) The first sign: Moses’ rod turns to a snake and back again.

So the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” And He said, “Cast it on the ground.” So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail” (and he reached out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand), that they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

a. What is that in your hand? This reflects a precious principle regarding how God uses people – God used what Moses had in his hand. Moses’ years of tending sheep were not useless. Those years had put into Moses hand things he could use for God’s glory. God didn’t use the scepter that was in Moses’ royal hand when he lived in Egypt, but He did use the simple shepherd’s staff.

i. God likes to use what is in our hand.

· God used what was in Shamgar’s hand (Judges 3:31)
· God used what was in David’s hand (1 Samuel 17:49)
· God used the jawbone of a donkey in Samson’s hand (Judges 15:15)
· God used five loaves and two fish in the hand of a little boy (John 6:9)

b. He said, “A rod”: That rod of Moses would part the Red Sea. It would strike a rock and see water pour forth. It would be raised over battle until Israel won. It would be called the rod of God (Exodus 4:20 and 17:9).

c. It became a serpent: Not only did Moses’ rod become like a snake; it became a real snake that was frightening enough to Moses that he ran from it.

d. Reach out your hand and take it by the tail: We see the faith of Moses when he reached out to grab the snake when God commanded him to. The tail is the most dangerous place to grab a snake; yet Moses was unharmed.

i. In this little incident Moses learned how to do what God told him to do even when it was uncomfortable.

e. That they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers…has appeared to you: This miracle would make the children of Israel realize that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob was with them and that the God of the covenant had not forsaken them.

3. (Exo 4:6-9) The second and third signs: Moses is made leprous and whole again; water turns to blood and back again.

Furthermore the Lord said to him, “Now put your hand in your bosom.” And he put his hand in his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, like snow. And He said, “Put your hand in your bosom again.” So he put his hand in his bosom again, and drew it out of his bosom, and behold, it was restored like his other flesh. “Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign. And it shall be, if they do not believe even these two signs, or listen to your voice, that you shall take water from the river and pour it on the dry land. And the water which you take from the river will become blood on the dry land.”

a. It was restored like his other flesh: Each of the first two signs had to do with transformation. Something good and useful (a rod or a hand) was made into something evil (a serpent or a leprous hand), and significantly, they were then transformed back again.

i. There was a real message in the first two signs. The first said, “Moses, if you obey Me, your enemies will be made powerless.” The second said “Moses, if you obey Me, your pollution can be made pure.” Doubts in each of these areas probably hindered Moses, and before those signs spoke to anyone else, they spoke to Moses. This is the pattern with all God’s leaders.

ii. “The Hebrew word for leprosy covered a number of assorted diseases much as our word ‘cancer’ currently does.” (Kaiser)

b. The water which you take from the river will become blood on the dry land: The third sign was simply a sign of judgment. Good, pure waters were made foul and bloody by the work of God and they did not turn back again. This showed that if the miracles of transformation did not turn the hearts of the people, then perhaps the sign of judgment would. If they do not believe even these two signs, or listen to your voice shows that the sign of judgment was only given when unbelief persisted in the face of the miracles of transformation right before them.

4. (Exo 4:10) Moses makes an excuse: “I can’t speak well.”

Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

a. O my Lord, I am not eloquent: After these remarkably persuasive signs, Moses still objected to God’s call. Moses revealed that he was not confident with his ability to speak – slow of speech is literally “heavy of mouth.”

b. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue: It seems that Moses’ excuse was not justified. Clearly 40 years before this Moses was not slow of speech and slow of tongue. Acts 7:22 says Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.

i. Those years of eloquence in Egypt ended 40 years before this. For 40 years, Moses only seemed to speak to sheep. His self confidence was gone; but he needed God confidence instead.

ii. “Thus Moses’ complaint was not in defective articulation, but in his inability to take command of Hebrew and Egyptian (cf. Ezekiel 3:5, where ‘heavy of tongue’ = difficulty with a foreign language…).” (Kaiser)

5. (Exo 4:11-12) God’s response to Moses’ excuse.

So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”

a. Who made man’s mouth? The fact that Moses believed that he was not eloquent is completely beside the point. The God who created the most eloquent mouths who ever lived was on his side.

b. Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? This is a dramatic statement revealing the sovereignty of God, and God revealed it in the context of an invitation to trust God and to work with Him.

i. There is not the slightest sense of fatalism in this declaration of God’s sovereignty. It is never “God is so mighty we can’t do anything,” but it is always “God is so mighty, He can work through us if we make ourselves available.”

c. Makes the mute, the deaf…the blind: Some think this is cruel of God. Nevertheless the point here was not to analyze the origin of evil, but to show that God is so mighty that He can even call the mute, deaf, and blind to do His work. Moses’ perceived inadequacies didn’t matter at all.

i. If Moses was a poor speaker, was this news to God? Does God have trouble keeping track of who is deaf, who is blind, and who is mute? Does Moses really think God made a mistake here?

ii. If Moses was a poor speaker, it didn’t matter – the mighty God said, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” By extension, God is sufficient for us, no matter what real or imagined inadequacies we have.

6. (Exo 4:13-17) Moses’ unwillingness, and God’s reply.

But he said, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.” So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and He said: “Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And look, he is also coming out to meet you. When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. Now you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do. So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God. And you shall take this rod in your hand, with which you shall do the signs.”

a. Please send by the hand of whomever else You may send: Finally, Moses was done with excuses and showed the real state of his heart. Simply, he would much rather that God send someone else. His problem wasn’t really a lack of ability; it was a lack of willingness.

i. “It’s common for men to give pretended reasons instead of one real one.” (Benjamin Franklin)

b. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses: God was not angry when Moses asked, “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11). He was not angry when Moses asked, “Who should I say sent me?” (Exodus 3:13). He was not angry when Moses disbelieved God’s Word and said, “suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice” (Exodus 4:1). He was not even angry when Moses falsely claimed that he was not and had never been eloquent (Exodus 4:10) – but God was angry when Moses was just plain unwilling.

i. There may be a hundred understandable reasons why Moses was unwilling, some of them making a lot of sense. Perhaps Moses really wanted to serve, but was unwilling because of past rejection. Nevertheless, the basic truth was that Moses was unwilling, not unable.

c. Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well: When God brought Aaron to help lead with Moses, it was an expression of His chastening to Moses, not of His approval or giving in to Moses. Aaron was more of a problem to Moses than help.

i. Aaron did turn out to be a source of problems for Moses. Aaron instigated the worship of the golden calf, fashioning the calf himself and building the altar himself (Exodus 32:1-6). Aaron’s sons blasphemed God with impure offerings (Leviticus 10:1-7). At one time, Aaron openly led a mutiny against Moses (Numbers 12:1-8).

ii. As these episodes unfolded, Moses surely looked back at why the Lord gave Aaron to Moses as a partner – because God was angry at Moses’ unwillingness.

d. I know that he can speak well: Aaron was a smooth talker, but a man weak on content. Moses had to put the words of God into the mouth of Aaron (you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth). In this sense Aaron was like a modern-day news reader, who does nothing but read what others have written for him.

i. Aaron wasn’t God’s spokesman; he was the spokesman of Moses. God doesn’t need leaders like this. It isn’t God’s way to have a man minister as a smooth talker but not be qualified for leadership. God wants to combine the offices of “talker” and “leader.”

B. Moses leaves Midian, goes to Egypt.

1. (Exo 4:18) Moses asks leave of his father-in-law Jethro to go to Egypt.

So Moses went and returned to Jethro his father-in-law, and said to him, “Please let me go and return to my brethren who are in Egypt, and see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.”

a. So Moses went: When the fire faded from the burning bush and when the voice of God was silent across the desert, then it was upon Moses to obey, and to do what God told him to do. More than one person has had a spectacular burning bush type experience and then gone on to live as if nothing really happened.

i. Did Moses have any idea what he was getting into when he agreed to take the Lord’s call? Could he see the Egyptian army closing in, and God parting the Red Sea through Moses’ hand? Could he see the song of victory, the water from the rock, the manna from heaven, the battles won through prayer? Could he see the vision of God on Mount Sinai, the voice of God from heaven, the tablets of stone, the golden calf? Could he see the tabernacle built, the priests consecrated? Could he see the spies sent forth into Canaan, the response of unbelief, and a thirty-eight year sentence to wander the wilderness? Could he see a lonely climb to the top of Mount Pisgah, where he would die looking out over the land of promise? Could he see the honor of sitting beside the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration? Did Moses have any idea what he was getting into?

b. Please let me go: Moses was a good example of the truth that serving God doesn’t mean neglecting your employer. Moses made sure that it was clear for him to go.

i. “Even the call of God did not erase the need for human courtesy and respect for one’s father-in-law.” (Kaiser)

c. Please let me go and return to my brethren who are in Egypt, and see whether they are still alive: As well, Moses didn’t really tell his father-in-law the story behind his desire to return to Egypt. Perhaps he just felt it was too fantastic, and would rather let God demonstrate His Word through fulfilling it.

i. It is far more important – and more beneficial – for others to see the fruit of God’s guidance in your life than to hear you explain all you believe God said to you.

2. (Exo 4:19-23) God tells Moses how events will unfold in Egypt.

And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.” Then Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on a donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the rod of God in his hand. And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.”‘ “

a. The men who sought your life are dead…I will harden his heart: God knew Moses was safe in Egypt, and so eased his mind from this anxiety; but God also knew that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart, and that it would take the death of the firstborn before Pharaoh would agree to release the children of Israel.

i. Sometimes, it says that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21). Sometimes it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15). Sometimes it says simply that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, without saying who did it (Exodus 7:13).

ii. Who really hardened Pharaoh’s heart? We might say that it was both God and Pharaoh; but whenever God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, He never did it against Pharaoh’s will. Pharaoh never said, “Oh, I want to do what is good and right and I want to bless these people of Israel” and God answered, “No, for I will harden your heart against them!” When God hardened, He allowed Pharaoh’s heart to do what Pharaoh wanted to do – God gave Pharaoh over to his sin (Romans 1:18-32).

iii. “God does not harden men by putting evil into them, but by not giving them mercy.” (Augustine)

b. Israel is My son, My firstborn: As a picture, God regarded Israel as His firstborn and God knew that there would be an exchange of His firstborn (Israel) and Egypt’s firstborn.

3. (Exo 4:24-26) Moses’ life is spared on the way.

And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses’ feet, and said, “Surely you are a husband of blood to me!” So He let him go. Then she said, “You are a husband of blood!”; because of the circumcision.

a. The Lord met him and sought to kill him: This is a mysterious event; but it seems that God is confronting Moses – in the strongest possible way – because Moses had not circumcised his son. God demands that this be set right before Moses enter Egypt and begin to fulfill the call of God.

i. There is often a point of confrontation in the life of the leader where God demands that they lay aside some area of compromise, and will not allow them to progress further until they do.

ii. “There can be no doubt that for some reason unrecorded Moses had failed to carry out the divine instructions concerning circumcision… Obedience completely established, everything moved forward.” (Morgan)

b. Surely you are a husband of blood to me! Perhaps Zipporah objected to the rite of circumcision. She was not an Israelite and may have thought it a barbaric custom. Perhaps this was why God held Moses accountable (for not doing what was right, even though his wife didn’t like it), but disabled Moses so that Zipporah had to perform the circumcision itself.

i. Some wonder why Moses’ wife seems so bitter here. Perhaps for the first time she recognized the serious nature of her husband’s call and how important it was for their whole family to walk in the ways of the Lord.

ii. “Stone instruments like [flint knife] were retained for ritual purposes long after the introduction of metal implements.” (Kaiser)

4. (Exo 4:27-31) Moses and Aaron present themselves to the people of Israel.

And the Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him on the mountain of God, and kissed him. So Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel. And Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. Then he did the signs in the sight of the people. So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.

a. So he went and met him on the mountain of God: God told Moses that He would send Aaron to him (Exodus 4:14), and now it happens. God is showing Moses that He keeps His promises.

i. “Aaron, who came to meet Moses, could speak well; but he was a weak man, whose alliance with Moses caused his nobler younger brother much anxiety and pain.” (Meyer)

b. So the people believed: It happened just as God said. God had promised then they will heed your voice (Exodus 3:18), and the people of Israel did – and their excitement was real as they anticipated the deliverance of the nation.

c. When they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel: Years before when Moses offered himself as a deliverer to Israel, they rejected him. Now the time and the circumstances were right, and God’s destiny for Moses’ life would begin to be fulfilled.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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