A. God gives Moses signs to confirm his ministry
1. (Ex. 4:1) Moses asks, "How will they believe me?"
1 Then Moses said, "What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, 'The Lord has not appeared to you.'"
2. (Ex. 4:2-5) The first sign: Moses' rod turns to a snake and back again.
2 The LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" And he said, "A staff." 3 Then He said, "Throw it on the ground." So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. 4 But the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail"-so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand- 5 "that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you."
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. In this small 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. (Ex. 2:6-9) The second and third signs: Moses is made leprous and whole again; water turns to blood and back again.
6 The LORD furthermore said to him, "Now put your hand into your bosom." So he put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. 7 Then He said, "Put your hand into your bosom again." So he put his hand into his bosom again, and when he took it out of his bosom, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. 8 "If they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign. 9 But if they will not believe even these two signs or heed what you say, then you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water which you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground."
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 if the sign of judgment was only given when unbelief persisted in the face of the miracles of transformation right before them.
4. (Ex. 2:10) Moses makes an excuse: "I can't speak well."
10 Then Moses said to the LORD , "Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."
5. (11-12) God's response to Moses' excuse.
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.
6. (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."
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.
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.
B. Moses leaves Midian, goes to Egypt.
1. (18) Moses asks permission from 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."
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.
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.
2. (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.
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. (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.
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.
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.
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.
We have completed the momentous conversation that the Lord had with Moses at the burning bush. The stage has been set for Moses' encounter with the Egyptian court.
Remember, Jethro is another name for Moses' father-in-law, Reuel. Moses, as you recall, was quite far from home when he saw the bush burning but not being consumed. He had to drive his father-in-law's flocks back home before he could do anything else. The fact that Moses, now not simply a grown man but a man of years, should ask Jethro for permission to leave indicates something of the decidedly patriarchal household structure in the ancient Near East. By marrying his daughter, Moses became a member of Jethro's family, subject to his authority. The fact that Moses refers to the Israelites as "my brethren" reminds us that he has not forgotten his roots, and the fact that he wonders if they are still alive reminds us of the severity of the Egyptian persecution. This is a summary but it does suggest that Moses had not told Jethro everything about his past and was not now telling everything about what he was returning to Egypt to do. Naturally, his father-in-law would have been much more concerned, more reticent to let his family go if he knew the whole story. Or is the explanation more personal? Calvin says simply that men have difficulty speaking of God and talk more freely about just human emotions and affairs.
Now Moses' request is explained. The report of the conversation with the Lord at the burning bush did not end with a specific command to leave at once, but now we learn that, once Moses had returned from Horeb to Midian, this is precisely what the Lord had said. At that time the Lord, fully aware of Moses' hesitancy, also assured Moses that it was safer for him to return than he would have thought. Those who had been actively seeking his life were dead (cf. 2:15). The Pharaoh of Moses' adulthood had died and been replaced by another (cf. 2:23). This is another indication of the length of time that Moses had lived in Midian. This also explains why no mention is made of Moses' earlier life in Egypt as part of the court when Moses returns to Egypt. He is introduced neither as the adopted son of an Egyptian princess nor as a fugitive from Egyptian justice. Those who knew him as such are no longer in the picture. [Childs, 102]
Now that he knew he need have no great fear for his personal safety, he decided to take his family with him. Only one son has been named so far (2:22) and only one son will figure later in the episode in vv. 24-26. Two sons will be mentioned in 18:2. It is difficult to know how to take the plural here. It is possible, Hebrew scholars tell us, that the original spelling, the ancient spelling was ambiguous as to number and was read as a plural instead of as a singular by mistake. If that is the case, then the second son was born subsequent to Moses' departure from Midian. Here is another "holy family" going by donkey to Egypt!
The staff that changed into a snake is now "the staff of God." It is no longer the shepherd's staff that it was before and is now what it will remain through the rest of the book of Exodus: a sign of God's power in Moses' hand.
The Lord's "hardening" Pharaoh's heart is a refrain we will hear often in the next several chapters. We will consider its meaning then.
Anticipating the entire course of events to follow the Lord tells Moses that by the signs, the great proving miracles he will perform through Moses, he will demonstrate the reality of his presence and his faithfulness to his covenant with Israel. Whose firstborn will survive in this contest of power? The Lord's or Pharaoh's? All the evidence of sight and sense would suggest that Pharaoh would be greater than Moses; but the Lord is with Moses! At the end - the last of the ten plagues - this becomes punishingly clear. Yahweh himself will kill the firstborn, without Moses' involvement. And that killing will be an act of justice, redressing the wrong that Pharaoh had done to Israel, killing, as he had no doubt, many Israelites in the course of his persecution.
What follows in the next three verses everyone admits is the most enigmatic text in the book of Exodus. Even the best and most theologically reliable scholars admit that there are questions here difficult or impossible to answer, even if the general gist or point is clear enough. The text does not explicitly explain why the Lord was about to kill the one he had so recently commissioned; it does not explain in what form the Lord's attack came (had Moses fallen sick; is that why he didn't act, because he couldn't); and it does not explain how Zipporah understood what needed to be done. These questions are not the point. In these respects, it is not unlike the account of Balaam's ass, when Balaam, on his way, is angrily confronted by the angel of the Lord after the Lord had given him permission to go (Num. 22:20,22).
Whether Zipporah acted because Moses was incapable of acting, under the Lord's attack as he was, or because she understood better than he what was needed to be done is also not explained. In any case it was a most irregular circumcision. It was not done on the appointed day, the 8th day, it was performed by a woman, etc. But, as Richard Baxter observed long ago, "It is better that men should be disorderly preserved than orderly damned, and that the church be disorderly preserved than orderly destroyed." [Cited in Evans, Daniel Rowland, 58] There is other evidence in the Bible - for example, the Passover observed in Hezekiah's day - that the Lord does not stand on the ceremonial regulation if it interferes with the faithful exercise of the sacrament by those who wish to honor the Lord in it.
The text is ambiguous as to whether Zipporah touched Moses or her son with the foreskin. It is also not clear whether "feet" in this context is a euphemism for the private parts. If it was Moses she touched, then support is found for the interpretation that it is perhaps Moses who had not been circumcised and who is now regarded as being circumcised. He was, after all, raised in Egypt where circumcision was performed on adult males, not infants, and prior to marriage. In this case, then, the circumcision of Gershom would have been a kind of substitutionary or vicarious circumcision on his father's behalf. That would explain why Zipporah then refers to Moses as a "bridegroom of blood to me." That phrase, it is thought by some, must have come from the ancient Near Eastern practice of circumcision prior to marriage. [Durham, 59] If it were Gershom, however, that Zipporah touched with the foreskin, then that explanation is unlikely to be the correct one and the circumcision that was wanting was that of Moses' son, not of Moses himself. That is the conclusion of more commentators than the former interpretation. They argue that it would have been unlikely for Moses, even had he not been circumcised in his Israelite home before being put in the Nile, not to have been circumcised, having lived well into his adult life in Egypt. [Ellison, 27-28] That only one son is circumcised on this occasion, if two were actually present, would suggest that the other had been circumcised, though why that should have been the case is not clear.
Flint knives were used for circumcision - that is, they were the ritual instrument of circumcision - both in Israel (Josh 5:2-9) and in Egypt.
One thing is eminently clear: this episode concerns circumcision. It is the narrator who adds the explanatory comment of v. 26, whatever precisely it is understood to mean. He tells his readers that her statement concerned circumcision, the circumcision that she just performed. Either Moses had not been circumcised or, as is more likely, his son had not been. This failure was a capital error on Moses' part, one so grave as to lead the Lord to threaten his life, no matter the calling that he had just given him. Clearly Moses was being held culpable for this omission and when Zipporah righted the wrong Moses was free to go and continue with his assignment. [Cf. Childs, Cassuto; Cole]
In any case, what Zipporah meant by saying "bridegroom of blood" is not now clear. All we know for sure is that she said what she said in reference to the circumcision.
Another thing that is clear is that in making the promise in v. 23 that Yahweh would kill the firstborn sons of Egypt, he was making no idle threat. There is a dark, wrathful, lethal side to Yahweh's character!
Aaron's role, remember, has already been discussed at the burning bush. Now he is brought into the picture and up to speed on what has already been said and done.
Aaron speaks for Moses, which was the plan, and also is given power, as Moses' deputy, to perform the miraculous signs. This is akin to the disciples of the Lord being able to perform the same powers that he was performing. Aaron was Moses' older brother, so his submitting himself to Moses as his assistant is to his credit. In 4:14 he is referred to as Aaron the Levite. That may mean that he already had some spiritual authority in Israel. That fact would make his taking second place to his younger brother Moses even more commendable. "It takes more grace than I can tell to play the second fiddle well."
Everything falls out as God said it would - despite Moses' concerns on this point, the people receive him as their leader and believe what he tells them about his encounter with God - and Moses and Aaron are poised to begin their negotiations with Pharaoh. And, as so often in the Bible, the people look right past the messengers - as they should - to the Lord whose word and power the messengers are wielding. When God is at work, even through men, people know it.
Now, without a doubt, there are two fundamental lessons here, besides those that arise from the place of this narrative in the larger context. The passage ends with God's words to Moses being proved true: the people do believe and do accept his authority. But along the way we have two other lessons of great importance taught with great emphasis.
The first I will only mention. It is this: no one has a right to represent God who is deliberately disobeying his revealed will. [Ellison, 28] This will not be the last time that this point is made in similar ways. Remember the call of Gideon in Judges 6. God came to him and told him that he was going to use Gideon to strike down the Midianites, Israel's powerful enemy. But before he could serve the Lord in that way, he was required to cleanse the apostasy from his own home. Remember Gideon and his father were sponsors of a shrine to Baal in their hometown. And so Gideon was ordered to destroy the shrine. Only then could he serve the Lord with God's blessing. And a similar point is being made here. Moses can serve only when he has righted the wrong in his own home. Surely one reason for the ineffectual ministry of so much of what passes for the Christian ministry today is that the ministry itself lies under God's judgment for its unbelief and disobedience.
But the other lesson is the one I want to pay attention to this evening. However we read vv. 24-26 it is a demonstration of the immense importance of circumcision. Again and again the Lord has identified himself in these opening chapters as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant he made with the patriarchs and, in them, with Israel. To have overlooked this obligation or, worse, to have ignored it, was a crime of consequence in the Lord's eyes.
Now, without a doubt the importance of circumcision could be overplayed. As with baptism in the new epoch, one could place his confidence in the rite, as if being circumcised meant that one was, ipso facto, at peace with God. And we know very well that this error has been made both de jure and de facto throughout the church's history. Sometimes, whether in Israel during the days of the prophets, or in the theology of the Roman church or the Orthodox church, a place, an intrinsic power, a virtue, a working has been attributed to the church's rites that is not taught in the Bible. One of the great protests of the Reformers in the 16th century was made against precisely this assumption, based on the teaching of the church, that righteousness with God came with the washing of baptism itself. That righteousness was in the water and came with the water and made a person righteous before God in the biblical sense of the pardon of sins and justification. And similar things, as you know, were said about the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. Those are typical errors of the human heart, making salvation more mechanical than personal, less demanding than more, and so it is no surprise that they were committed in the ancient epoch and were committed again in the new epoch. They represent a tendency of the human heart, to make salvation more outward than inward, more a matter of performance than faith and the commitment of the heart, and simpler and easier rather than more complicated and difficult. And, of course, in all its forms, this sacerdotalism, this overemphasis on the rites of priestcraft, diminishes the solus Christus, the Christ alone of the gospel. Allowed to think in this way, the application of salvation is not primarily our personal embrace of Christ's gift of life, not our heart-felt understanding that he and he alone has made us right with God, but now Christ is at a remove, he is back, often far back, behind the rites of the church. In fact, in its worst forms, Christian ritualism requires merely the performance of the rites in the manner approved in the church and does not require any living communion with Christ or demonstration in one's words and deeds of love for him. The fact is, vast multitudes of people in the ritualistic churches have been led to believe, what, alas they were happy to believe, viz. that they could live their lives pretty much as any unbeliever would live his, so long as they were baptized and came from time to time to partake of the Mass. In their case the sacraments were nothing but, as Richard Sibbes put it long ago, "seals to a blank."
Now there is nothing controversial about saying that to a congregation of rock-ribbed Protestants. We cut our teeth on texts like these:
Another link: http://www.crivoice.org/biblestudy/exodus/bbex7.html