Exodus 4



Signs for Moses (4:1–17)

1 During his conversation with God, Moses continued thinking mainly about the difficulties of his new assignment. This time he worried that the Israelites wouldn’t listen to him—even though, moments before, God had said they would listen to him (Exodus 3:18). This was plain unbelief. Moses was worrying about his own ability to persuade the Israelites and forgetting about God’s ability.

It is essential that a servant of God place no trust in himself; but it is equally essential that the servant does place trust in God. Not to do so is simple lack of faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God—much less to serve Him (Hebrews 11:6). Moses still needed to learn the lesson that all of us need to learn: God never calls us to any task without also giving us everything we need to accomplish it.

2 God knew everything that Moses needed. One of those things was already right in his hand—his staff.

What is that in your hand?” God asked. He knew, of course; He just wanted Moses to look at it. It was an ordinary wooden staff, the kind shepherds used. Often God uses what we already have “in hand” to do His work.

3–5 God caused the staff to be miraculously transformed into a snake—and then back again. Moses was to repeat the miracle in Egypt, so that the Israelites might believe God had sent him (verse 5). God was being very patient with Moses; each time Moses complained of some imagined difficulty, God provided him with the means to overcome it.

6–7 Then God showed Moses a second miracle; He caused Moses hand’ to be diseased, and then restored it again. This showed God’s power—displayed through His servant Moses—both to inflict and to heal, to punish and to save. These miracles weren’t just circus tricks: they were signs to demonstrate Moses’ credentials as God’s emissary, signs that would give both warning to the Egyptians and encouragement to the Israelites.

8–9 God knew beforehand that even these two signs would not convince the Israelites, so He said to Moses that he would have to perform a third sign: turning a small amount of the Nile’s water into blood. This sign was particularly appropriate because the Nile River had claimed the “blood” of so many Hebrew infants in the past. Just as the blood of Abel had “cried out” to God from the ground (Genesis 4:10), so now the blood of the Hebrew infants was crying out to God from the water of the Nile. Dramatic as this sign was when performed before the Israelites, it would later be repeated on a much grander scale in the presence of Pharaoh himself (Exodus 7:20).

Later, when Moses returned to Egypt and showed these three signs to the Israelites, they believed (verses 29–31).

10–12 But Moses himself hardly believed! He wasn’t eloquent, he said (verse 10); he needed to actually speak to the people, not just show them miracles. Moses no doubt had lost most of his eloquence after forty years of tending sheep! (Acts 7:22,29–30).

Patiently, through a series of rhetorical questions, God revealed to Moses that if He had given him his mouth, He surely would help him use it (Mark 13:11). Whatever inability Moses thought he had, God would overcome it.

13 When Moses could think of no more excuses, he revealed his true heart: “. . . send someone else.” God is patient and slow to anger, true; but He has His limit, and Moses had reached it. Lest we ourselves begin to get angry with Moses, let’s remember that it is Moses who is writing all this about himself. This proves that Moses was indeed a humble and honest man.

14–17 Though God was angry, He offered Moses still another solution: He would agree to send “someone else”—but it was someone to accompany Moses as a helper. God was not going to let Moses out of his assignment. The helper was Moses’ own older brother Aaron, who was already on his way to meet Moses at that very time (verse 14); God had already planned it! It was God who prompted Aaron to meet Moses, and Aaron had obeyed (verse 27).

But Moses may have paid a price for his reluctance to obey God’s call; Aaron later became the leader of the priesthood, an honor that might have fallen to Moses if Aaron hadn’t joined him. When we draw back from God’s call, we forfeit divine blessings that otherwise would have been ours. Aaron’s descendants would play a leading role throughout the Old Testament, while Moses’ descendants would largely be forgotten.

Aaron answered Moses’ need for “eloquence”: Aaron would be Moses’ spokesman. Just as God told Moses what to say, so Moses would tell Aaron what to say; Moses would be “like God” to Aaron. God promised to help both of them and to teach them what to do (verse 15).

Moses Returns to Egypt (4:18–31)

18–20 After respectfully taking leave of his father-in-law Jethro, Moses set out for Egypt along with his wife Zipporah and their two sons. He had heard from God that all of the Egyptians who wanted to kill him were now dead, so taking his family along was less risky. Moses also took the staff of God (verse 20)—his shepherd’s staff that God had now invested with supernatural power. Moses would use this staff to perform mighty wonders in Egypt.

21 Then God gave Moses a preview of what to expect when he arrived in Egypt. After Moses had performed all the wonders God had planned for him to do, Pharaoh would still remain unmoved. “I will harden his heart,” said God. However, God didn’t harden Pharaoh’s heart in the beginning: during each of the first five wonders (Exodus 7:14–24; 8:1–32; 9:1–7), Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Only after that did God begin to confirm the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

In the book of Exodus, the instances of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart equalthe instances of Pharaoh hardening his own heart. Pharaoh was not a robot in God’s hands; he could have responded rightly to the wonders wrought by God’s servant Moses. But when he didn’t, God hardened him further, just as He said He would (Romans 1:24–28; 9:17–18).

Many people are troubled by the idea that God would harden anyone’s heart; why would He do that? The answer is that God doesn’t just decide suddenly to “harden” this person or that; He doesn’t do it out of meanness or indifference. Rather, God is like the sun shining on a brick of clay; as the sun shines, the brick gets harder and harder. As God performed more and more wonders before Pharaoh, his heart grew harder and harder. God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart against Pharaoh’s will. If Pharaoh’s heart had been more like wax, it would have softened in the sun, not hardened. We can choose whether our hearts will be like wax or like clay. If we harden our heart against God, He may in the end be forced to break it.14

22–23 God would have yet one final wonder to perform: the killing of all the firstborn sons of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s (Exodus 11:5). If Pharaoh continued to enslave the Israelites—God’s “firstborn son”15 (verse 22)—then God would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son as punishment.

24–26 As Moses and his family were on their way to Egypt, a remarkable incident occurred: the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him (verse 24). Why? We are not told specifically; but Zipporah must have known it was because Moses had neglected to circumcise one (or both) of his sons (Genesis 17:10–14). Perhaps at that moment Moses had become disabled or deathly ill, so Zipporah did the job herself; and Moses was spared.

Why had Moses neglected to circumcise this son and thus disobey God’s command? Possibly it was because Zipporah was repulsed by the bloody procedure; she rebuked Moses for being a bridegroom of blood to her (verse 25). So Moses had chosen to defer to his wife’s wishes rather than obey God’s command.

Bad mistake! It almost cost Moses his life. Furthermore, how was Moses going to lead the Israelites if he couldn’t even lead his own family? (1 Timothy 3:5). This is a reminder for all of us that it is dangerous to neglect God’s commands, and especially so if we are leaders. It also reminds us that sins of omission are as great in God’s sight as sins of commission.

27–31 These verses describe the meeting of Moses and Aaron after forty years of separation; they met at the mountain of God where Moses had seen the burning bush (Exodus 3:1–2). Then the scene shifts to Egypt where, just as God had said, the elders of the Israelites believed the words of Moses and Aaron after witnessing the three miraculous signs (verses 3–9). When the elders heard about God’s love and concern for them, they worshiped Him (verse 31). Now all was in readiness for God’s plan to unfold: Moses and Aaron, as well as the Israelite elders, were now spiritually prepared for what God was going to tell them to do.