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David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible

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Exodus 4 - Moses' Commission from God

A. God gives Moses signs to confirm his ministry.

1. (1) Moses asks, "How will they believe me?"

a. It was not wrong for Moses to initially ask Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh back in Exodus 3:11; this was a logical question considering how great the task was. But 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' questioning is borne out of unbelief.

b. In Exodus 3:18, God had already promised that the leaders of Israel would listen to Moses: Then they will heed your voice. When Moses protests But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice, he may as well be saying, "But what if you are wrong, God?"

c. It was good when Moses had no confidence in the flesh; but it is bad when he now lacks confidence in God.

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

a. What is that in your hand is a precious principle of the way God uses men; 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.

i. 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). 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.

ii. 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 was victorious; it would be called the rod of God (Exodus 4:20; 17:9).

b. Not only did Moses' rod become a snake; it became a real snake that was frightening enough to Moses that he ran from it.

c. Yet, we see the faith of Moses when he reaches out to grab the snake when God commands him to. The tail is the most dangerous place to grab a snake; yet Moses was unharmed.

i. Moses, in this little incident, is learning how to do what God tells him to do even when it is uncomfortable.

d. This miracle would make the children of Israel realized that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob was with them; that the God of the covenant had not forsaken them.

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

a. Each of the first two signs have to do with conversion - something good and useful (a rod or a hand) being converted to something evil (a serpent or a leprous hand), and significantly, then 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 were probably hindering Moses, and before those signs ministered to anyone else, the ministered to Moses - as is the pattern with all God's leaders.

b. The third sign is simply a sign of judgment. Good, pure waters are made foul and bloody by the work of God - and they do not turn back again. If the miracles of conversion will not turn the hearts of the people, then perhaps the sign of judgment will - but the sign of judgment is only given when unbelief persists in the face of miracles of conversion right in front of their faces.

4. (10) Moses makes an excuse: "I can't speak well."

a. After these remarkably persuasive signs, Moses persists with objections to God's call - he reveals that he is not confident with his ability to speak. Slow of speech is literally "heavy of mouth."

b. It seems that Moses' excuse was not justified; clearly, forty 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. In those years of silence - preaching only to the sheep - Moses no doubt had to deal with much discouragement and a sense of failure and condemnation; accumulated over forty years, it isn't hard to see why he now believes he cannot do what he clearly could do before.

ii. Instead of Moses "regressing" in speaking ability during those years in the desert, it is far more reasonable to believe that he has simply lost confidence in himself - something that can be good, but not if it makes him lose confidence in what God can do in him.

5. (11-12) God's response to Moses' excuse.

a. The fact that Moses believed himself to be not eloquent is completely beside the point; Moses had the God who created the most eloquent mouths on his side.

b. In verse 11, God makes a dramatic statement regarding His sovereignty, and He does 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. Some have thought it cruel that God would say He makes the mute, the deaf, . . . the blind. B`ut the point here is not to analyze the origins of evil, but to show that God is so mighty, that He can even call the mute, the deaf, and the blind to do His work - Moses' perceived inadequacies don'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 has 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 can be the sufficiency for a person, no matter what real or imagined inadequacies they have.

6. (13-17) Moses' unwillingness, and God's reply.

a. Finally, Moses is done with excuses and declares the fact of his heart: he would much rather that God send someone else. His problem isn't really a lack of ability, it is a lack of willingness.

b. 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 he wanted to serve, but was unwilling because of past rejection). But the bottom line is that Moses was unwilling, not unable.

c. We should see the addition of Aaron to the leadership team as God's discipline towards Moses, not His approval or "giving in" to Moses. Aaron was more of a problem to Moses than a 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), his sons blasphemed God with impure offerings (Leviticus 10:1-7), and he openly led a mutiny against Moses (Numbers 12:1-8).

ii. As these episodes unfolded, surely Moses looked back at why the Lord had given Aaron to Moses as a partner - because God was angry at Moses' unwillingness.

d. Aaron was a smooth talker (he can speak well), but a man weak on content; Moses had to put the words of God into the mouth of Aaron! Aaron was like a modern-day news anchorman, who does nothing but read what others have written for him.

i. God doesn't need leaders like this. It isn't God's way to have a man be a smooth talker but not qualified for leadership; God wants to combine the offices of "talker" and "leader."

B. Moses leaves Midian, goes to Egypt.

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

a. So Moses went: when the fire fades from the burning bush, when the voice of God is silent across the desert; then it is upon us to obey, and to do what God has told us to do. More than one person has had a spectacular burning bush experience and then carried on as if it had never 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 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. Moses is a good example; serving God doesn't mean neglecting your employer. He makes sure that it is all right for him to go.

c. As well, Moses didn't really tell his father-in-law the story behind him wanting 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. (19-23) God tells Moses how events will unfold in Egypt.

a. God knew that Moses would be 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 did it? All three; but when we consider the occasions where God hardened Pharaoh's heart, we must never think that God did it against Pharaoh's will. It was never a case of Pharaoh saying, "Oh, I want to do what is good and right and I want to bless these people of Israel" and God replying, "No, for I will harden your heart against them!" When God hardened Pharaoh's heart, He was allowing Pharaoh's heart to do what Pharaoh wanted to do - God was giving Pharaoh over to his sin (Romans 1:18-32).

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

b. 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. (24-26) Moses' life is spared on the way.

a. This is a mysterious event; but it seems that God is confronting Moses - in the strongest possible way - because Moses did not circumcise his son, and God demands that this be set right before Moses enter Egypt and the calling God has for him.

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.

b. Perhaps Zipporah had 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 made it so where Zipporah had to perform the circumcision itself.

c. Some have wondered why Moses' wife so embittered; perhaps for the first time she is recognizing the serious nature of her husband's call and how critical their walk as a family is.

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

a. It happened just as God said that it would; 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.

b. One must wonder if Moses told the leaders of Israel all what God had told him; at this point, he may have only said that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, without specifying that they were going to take the whole nation across the desert to Canaan!


Copyright Statement
David Guzik's Commentaries on the Bible are reproduced by permission of David Guzik, Siegen, Germany. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Guzik, David. "Commentary on Exodus 4". "David Guzik's Commentaries
on the Bible". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=ex&chapter=004>. 1997-2003.  

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