Exodus 4

The Word Made Fresh

1Moses was not convinced. He said, “But suppose they don’t believe me, or even listen to me? Suppose they say, ‘The LORD didn’t really appear to you?’”

2The LORD said, “What’s that in your hand?”

“A staff,” Moses answered.

3“Throw it on the ground,” God said. So he threw it on the ground and it turned into a snake and Moses recoiled from it.

4Then the LORD said, “Pick it up by the tail.” Moses reached out and grabbed it, and immediately it became a staff in his hand. 5And God said, “Do this so they will believe that the LORD, the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob really did appear to you.”

6The LORD said, “Now put your hand inside your shirt.” Moses did, and when he took it out it was white as snow with leprosy. 7God said, “Put your hand back inside your shirt.” He did, and when he removed it, it was as good as new.

8God said, “If they don’t believe you and aren’t impressed with the first sign, perhaps this second sign will convince them.  9If they won’t believe these two signs or even listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it out on dry ground and it will become blood.”

10But Moses said, “LORD, I have never been a good speaker, not even now that you have spoken to me. When I speak I am slow and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

11The LORD said, “Who gave people the ability to speak? Who makes them mute? Or Deaf? Who makes them seeing? Or blind? Isn’t that from me, the LORD? 12Get on your way now. I will give you the words to speak and I will help you say them.”

13Moses said, “LORD, I beg you, please send somebody else.”

14The LORD was angry with Moses then, but said, “How about your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know he is a good speaker, and he is on his way to meet you, and he will be happy to see you.” 15You tell him what to say, and I will show both of you what I want you to do. 16He will speak to the people and tell them what you want to say as if you were God to him. 17And carry this staff with you. You will use it to perform the signs.”

18Moses returned then to his father-in-law. Jethro. “Please,” he said, “let me return to my kinfolk in Egypt and see if they are alive and well.” Jethro said, “Go in peace.”

19The LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Return to Egypt. Those who were after you to kill you are all gone now.”

20So Moses put his wife and his sons on a donkey and went back to Egypt. He carried God’s staff in his hand.

21The LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, be sure that you demonstrate to Pharaoh the amazing things I have shown you how to perform. But I will make him stubborn and he will refuse to let the people go. 22Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son. 23I told you to let my son go so that he may honor me. But you refuse to let him go, and I will kill your firstborn son.’”

24In the course of their journey, at one of their camps, the LORD met him and was about to kill him, 25but Zipporah used a flint knife to remove her son’s foreskin and touched Moses feet with it and said, “You are truly a bridegroom of blood to me.” 26So God left him alone. When she said, “a bridegroom of blood” she was referring to circumcision.

27The LORD told Aaron to meet Moses in the wilderness. 28He met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28Moses told him everything the LORD had said and explained all the signs God had demonstrated to him. 29Then together they went to Egypt and gathered all the elders of the Israelites. 30Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses and performed the signs for them. 31They believed him. When they were told that the LORD had heard them and knew their suffering, they bowed down in homage.

Commentary

1-5: Moses again objects, saying in effect that he has no proof that it was God who has spoken to him. God shows him a trick with the staff, turning it into a snake. Moses is impressed, but we still wonder if he is convinced.

6-9: So, an outbreak of leprosy is demonstrated. God tells Moses that if Pharaoh doesn’t believe either sign, he should take water from the Nile and pour it on the ground and it will become blood on the ground (“Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground,” God said when Cain killed Abel).

10-17: Moses again protests, saying that he is not eloquent enough. God says, “I will be with your mouth.” God’s has already told him this in 3:12, and so now reassures Moses. The promise also mirrors “I will be with you and will keep you wherever you go” in the story of Jacob (Genesis 28:15). Still, Moses protests, telling God to send someone else, and finally God’s patience appears to be wearing thin. God says, “Aaron is coming to meet you (verse 14). I’ll send him with you.” Aaron will be Moses’ mouth, God says.

18-20: Moses gets permission from his father-in-law Jethro and heads to Egypt with his wife and sons. And the staff of God, of course.

21-23: God tells Moses to perform the signs and then demand the release of his people. Pharaoh will refuse, he says, and Moses must then tell Pharaoh that, as Israel is God’s firstborn, God will take Pharaoh’s firstborn son. However, we will see that Moses is a bit hesitant to threaten Pharaoh with killing his son.

24-26: This is a strange story indeed of God meeting and trying to kill Moses. Zipporah circumcises her son (Gershom?), touching Moses’ feet with the blood. Apparently, the story is included in the narrative in order to make it clear for later generations that Moses and his Midianite wives and children were already part of the covenant of circumcision God made with Abraham before Moses confronted Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Israelites.

27-31: God orders Aaron to come and meet with Moses. They meet at Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai). Moses tells Aaron what God wants them to do and about the signs God has given him to use. They travel on to Egypt together (Moses’ wife and sons are not mentioned in this part of the narrative), assemble the elders among the Israelites/Hebrews, and Aaron, Moses’ mouthpiece, tells them what God is going to do. When the people hear that God has heard their cries and has taken note of their suffering, they bow down and worship.

Takeaway

God’s patience with Moses is really striking, and Moses’ attempt to wiggle out of God’s orders will be in stark contrast to Jesus praying in the garden, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Matthew 26:39). When God nudges us to go or do anything – or refrain from going or doing – we may as well take a deep breath and get started!