Exodus 4


Moses continuing to express his fear that the Israelites would not

credit his Divine mission, 1;

God, to strengthen his faith, and to assure him that his countrymen

would believe him, changed his rod into a serpent, and the serpent

into a rod, 2-5;

made his hand leprous, and afterwards restored it, 6, 7;

intimating that he had now endued him with power to work such

miracles, and that the Israelites would believe, 8;

and farther assures him that he should have power to turn the water

into blood, 9.

Moses excuses himself on the ground of his not being eloquent, 10,

and God reproves him for his unbelief, and promises to give him

supernatural assistance, 11, 12.

Moses expressing his utter unwillingness to go on any account, God

is angry, and then promises to give him his brother Aaron to be his

spokesman, 13-16,

and appoints his rod to be the instrument of working miracles, 17.

Moses returns to his relative Jethro, and requests liberty to visit

his brethren in Egypt, and is permitted, 18.

God appears to him in Midian, and assures him that the Egyptians who

sought his life were dead, 19.

Moses, with his wife and children, set out on their journey to

Egypt, 20.

God instructs him what he shall say to Pharaoh, 21-23.

He is in danger of losing his life, because he had not circumcised

his son, 24.

Zipporah immediately circumcising the child, Moses escapes

unhurt, 25, 26.

Aaron is commanded to go and meet his brother Moses; he goes and

meets him at Horeb, 27.

Moses informs him of the commission he had received from God, 28.

They both go to their brethren, deliver their message, and work

miracles, 29, 30.

The people believe and adore God, 31.


Verse 1. They will not believe me] As if he had said, Unless I

be enabled to work miracles, and give them proofs by extraordinary

works as well as by words, they will not believe that thou hast

sent me.

Verse 2. A rod.] matteh, a staff, probably his

shepherd's crook; see Le 27:32. As it was made the instrument of

working many miracles, it was afterwards called the rod of God;

see Ex 4:20.

Verse 3. A serpent] Of what sort we know not, as the word

nachash is a general name for serpents, and also means several

other things, see Ge 3:1: but it was either of a kind that he had

not seen before, or one that he knew to be dangerous; for it is

said, he fled from before it. Some suppose the staff was changed

into a crocodile; See Clarke on Ex 7:10.

Verse 4. He put forth his hand, and caught it] Considering the

light in which Moses had viewed this serpent, it required

considerable faith to induce him thus implicitly to obey the

command of God; but he obeyed, and the noxious serpent became

instantly the miraculous rod in his hand! Implicit faith and

obedience conquer all difficulties; and he who believes in God,

and obeys him in all things, has really nothing to fear.

Verse 5. That they may believe] This is an example of what is

called an imperfect or unfinished speech, several of which occur

in the sacred writings. It may be thus supplied: Do this before

them, that they may believe that the Lord-hath appeared unto thee.

Verse 6. His hand was leprous as snow.] That is, the leprosy

spread itself over the whole body in thin white scales; and from

this appearance it has its Greek name λεπρα, from λεπις, a scale.

Dr. Mead says, "I have seen a remarkable case of this in a

countryman, whose whole body was so miserably seized with it, that

his skin was shining as if covered with snow; and as the

surfuraceous scales were daily rubbed off, the flesh appeared

quick or raw underneath." The leprosy, at least among the Jews,

was a most inveterate and contagious disorder, and deemed by them

incurable. Among the heathens it was considered as inflicted by

their gods, and it was supposed that they alone could remove it.

It is certain that a similar belief prevailed among the

Israelites; hence, when the king of Syria sent his general Naaman,

to the king of Israel to cure him of his leprosy, he rent his

clothes, saying, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this

man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? 2Ki 5:7.

This appears, therefore, to be the reason why God chose this sign,

as the instantaneous infliction and removal of this disease were

demonstrations which all would allow of the sovereign power of

God. We need, therefore, seek for no other reasons for this

miracle: the sole reason is sufficiently obvious.

Verse 8. If they will not believe-the voice of the first sign,

&c.] Probably intimating that some would be more difficult to be

persuaded than others: some would yield to the evidence of the

first miracle; others would hesitate till they had seen the

second; and others would not believe till they had seen the

water of the Nile turned into blood, when poured upon the dry

land; Ex 4:9.

Verse 10. I am not eloquent] lo ish debarim, I am

not a man of words; a periphrasis common in the Scriptures. So

Job 11:2,

ish sephathayim, a man of lips, signifies one that is talkative.

Ps 140:11,

ish lashon, a man of tongue, signifies a prattler. But how could

it be said that Moses was not eloquent, when St. Stephen asserts,

Ac 7:22, that he was

mighty in words as well as in deeds? There are three ways of

solving this difficulty: 1. Moses might have had some natural

infirmity, of a late standing, which at that time rendered it

impossible for him to speak readily, and which he afterwards

overcame; so that though he was not then a man of words, yet he

might afterwards have been mighty in words as well as deeds.

2. It is possible he was not intimately acquainted with the Hebrew

tongue, so as to speak clearly and distinctly in it. The first

forty years of his life he had spent in Egypt, chiefly at court;

and though it is very probable there was an affinity between the

two languages, yet they certainly were not the same. The last

forty he had spent in Midian, and it is not likely that the pure

Hebrew tongue prevailed there, though it is probable that a

dialect of it was there spoken. On these accounts Moses might

find it difficult to express himself with that readiness and

persuasive flow of language, which he might deem essentially

necessary on such a momentous occasion; as he would frequently be

obliged to consult his memory for proper expressions, which would

necessarily produce frequent hesitation, and general slowness of

utterance, which he might think would ill suit an ambassador of

God. 3. Though Moses was slow of speech, yet when acting as the

messenger of God his word was with power, for at his command the

plagues came and the plagues were stayed; thus was he mighty in

words as well as in deeds: and this is probably the meaning of St.


By the expression, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast

spoken unto thy servant, he might possibly mean that the natural

inaptitude to speak readily, which he had felt, he continued to

feel, even since God had begun to discover himself; for though he

had wrought several miracles for him, yet he had not healed this

infirmity. See Clarke on Ex 6:12.

Verse 11. Who hath made man's mouth? &c.] Cannot he who formed

the mouth, the whole organs of speech, and hath given the gift of

speech also, cannot he give utterance? God can take away those

gifts and restore them again. Do not provoke him: he who created

the eye, the ear, and the mouth, hath also made the blind,

the deaf, and the dumb.

Verse 12. I will be with thy mouth] The Chaldee translates, My

WORD, meimeri, shall be with thy mouth. And Jonathan ben Uzziel

paraphrases, I and my WORD will be with the speech of thy mouth.

See Clarke on Ge 15:1, and "Le 25:10".

Verse 13. Send-by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.] Many

commentators, both ancient and modern, have thought that Moses

prays here for the immediate mission of the Messiah; as if he had

said: "Lord, thou hast purposed to send this glorious person at

some time or other, I beseech thee send him now, for who can be

sufficient to deliver and rule this people but himself alone?" The

Hebrew shelach na beyad tishlach literally

translated is, Send now (or, I beseech thee) by the hand thou wilt

send; which seems to intimate, Send a person more fit for the work

than I am. So the Septuagint: προχειρισαιδυναμενοναλλονον

αποστελεις. Elect another powerful person, whom thou wilt send.

It is right to find out the Messiah wherever he is mentioned in

the Old Testament; but to press scriptures into this service which

have not an obvious tendency that way, is both improper and

dangerous. I am firmly of opinion that Moses had no reference to

the Messiah when he spoke these words.

Verse 14. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses]

Surely this would not have been the case had he only in modesty,

and from a deep sense of his own unfitness, desired that the

Messiah should be preferred before him. But the whole

connection shows that this interpretation is unfounded.

Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother?] Houbigant endeavours to

prove from this that Moses, in Ex 4:13, did pray for the

immediate mission of the Messiah, and that God gives him here a

reason why this could not be, because the Levitical priesthood was

to precede the priesthood of our Lord. Is not Aaron the Levite,

&c. Must not the ministry of Aaron be first established, before

the other can take place? Why then ask for that which is contrary

to the Divine counsel? From the opinion of so great a critic as

Houbigant no man would wish to dissent, except through necessity:

however, I must say that it does appear to me that his view of

these verses is fanciful, and the arguments by which he supports

it are insufficient to establish his point.

I know that he can speak well.] yadati

ki dabber yedabber hu, I know that in speaking he will speak.

That is, he is apt to talk, and has a ready utterance.

He cometh forth to meet thee] He shall meet thee at my mount,

(Ex 4:27,) shall rejoice in thy mission, and most heartily

co-operate with thee in all things. A necessary assurance, to

prevent Moses from suspecting that Aaron, who was his elder

brother, would envy his superior call and office.

Verse 15. I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth] Ye

shall be both, in all things which I appoint you to do in this

business, under the continual inspiration of the Most High.

Verse 16. He shall be thy spokesman] Literally, He shall speak

for thee (or in thy stead) to the people.

He shall be to thee instead of a mouth] He shall convey every

message to the people; and thou shalt be to him instead of

God-thou shalt deliver to him what I communicate to thee.

Verse 17. Thou shalt take this rod] From the story of Moses's

rod the heathens have invented the fables of the thyrsus of

Bacchus, and the caduceus of Mercury. Cicero reckons five

Bacchuses, one of which, according to Orpheus, was born of the

river Nile; but, according to the common opinion, he was born on

the banks of that river. Bacchus is expressly said to have been

exposed on the river Nile, hence he is called Nilus, both by

Diodorus and Macrobius; and in the hymns of Orpheus he is named

Myses, because he was drawn out of the water. He is represented

by the poets as being very beautiful, and an illustrious warrior;

they report him to have overrun all Arabia with a numerous army

both of men and women. He is said also to have been an eminent

law-giver, and to have written his laws on two tables. He

always carried in his hand the thyrsus, a rod wreathed with

serpents, and by which he is reported to have wrought many

miracles. Any person acquainted with the birth and exploits of

the poetic Bacchus will at once perceive them to be all borrowed

from the life and acts of Moses, as recorded in the Pentateuch;

and it would be losing time to show the parallel, by quoting

passages from the book of Exodus.

The caduceus or rod of Mercury is well known in poetic fables.

It is another copy Of the rod of Moses. He also is reported to

have wrought a multitude of miracles by this rod; and particularly

he is said to kill and make alive, to send souls to the invisible

world and bring them back from thence. Homer represents Mercury

taking his rod to work miracles precisely in the same way as God

commands Moses to take his.





Odyss., lib. xxiv., ver. 1.

Cyllenian Hermes now call'd forth the souls

Of all the suitors; with his golden WAND

Of power, to seal in balmy sleep whose eyes

Soe'er he will, and open them again. COWPER.

Virgil copies Homer, but carries the parallel farther, tradition

having probably furnished him with more particulars; but in both

we may see a disguised copy of the sacred history, from which

indeed the Greek and Roman poets borrowed most of their beauties.

TUM VIRGAM CAPIT: hac animas ille evocat Orco

Pallentes, alias sub tristia Tartara mittit;

Dat somnos, adimitque, et lumina morte resignat

ILLA fretus agit, ventos, et turbida tranat.

AEneid, lib. iv., ver. 242.

But first he grasps within his awful hand

The mark of sovereign power, the magic wand;

With this he draws the ghosts from hollow graves,

With this he drives them down the Stygian waves;

With this he seals in sleep the wakeful sight,

And eyes, though closed in death, restores to light.

Thus arm'd, the god begins his airy race,

And drives the racking clouds along the liquid space.


Many other resemblances between the rod of the poets and that of

Moses, the learned reader will readily recollect. These specimens

may be deemed sufficient.

Verse 18. Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren]

Moses, having received his commission from God, and directions how

to execute it, returned to his father-in-law, and asked permission

to visit his family and brethren in Egypt, without giving him any

intimation of the great errand on which he was going. His keeping

this secret has been attributed to his singular modesty: but

however true it might be that Moses was a truly humble and modest

man, yet his prudence alone was sufficient to have induced him to

observe silence on this subject; for, if once imparted to the

family of his father-in-law, the news might have reached Egypt

before he could get thither, and a general alarm among the

Egyptians would in all probability have been the consequence; as

fame would not fail to represent Moses as coming to stir up

sedition and rebellion, and the whole nation would have been armed

against them. It was therefore essentially necessary that the

business should be kept secret.

In the Septuagint and Coptic the following addition is made to

this verse: Μεταδεταςημεραςταςπολλασεκιναςετελευτησενο

βασιλευςαιγυπτου. After these many days, the king of Egypt died.

This was probably an ancient gloss or side note, which in process

of time crept into the text, as it appeared to throw light on the

following verse.

Verse 19. In Midian] This was a new revelation, and appears to

have taken place after Moses returned to his father-in-law

previous to his departure for Egypt.

Verse 20. His wife and his sons] Both Gershom and Eliezer,

though the birth of the latter has not yet been mentioned in the

Hebrew text. See Clarke on Ex 2:22.

Set them upon an ass] The Septuagint reads the word in the

plural, εκιταυποζυγια, upon asses, as it certainly required more

than one to carry Zipporah, Gershom, and Eliezer.

The rod of God] The sign of sovereign power, by which he was to

perform all his miracles; once the badge of his shepherd's office,

and now that by which he is to feed, rule, and protect his people


Verse 21. But I will harden his heart] The case of Pharaoh has

given rise to many fierce controversies, and to several strange

and conflicting opinions. Would men but look at the whole account

without the medium of their respective creeds, they would find

little difficulty to apprehend the truth. If we take up the

subject in a theological point of view, all sober Christians will

allow the truth of this proposition of St. Augustine, when the

subject in question is a person who has hardened his own heart by

frequently resisting the grace and spirit of God: Non obdurat Deus

impertiendo malitiam, sed non impertiendo misericordiam; Epist.

194, ad Sixtum, "God does not harden men by infusing malice into

them, but by not imparting mercy to them." And this other will be

as readily credited: Non operatur Deus in homine ipsam duritiam

cordis; sed indurare eum dicitur quem mollire noluerit, sic etiam

excaecare quem illuminare noluerit, et repellere eum quem noluerit

vocare. "God does not work this hardness of heart in man; but he

may be said to harden him whom he refuses to soften, to blind him

whom he refuses to enlighten, and to repel him whom he refuses to

call." It is but just and right that he should withhold those

graces which he had repeatedly offered, and which the sinner had

despised and rejected. Thus much for the general principle. The

verb chazak, which we translate harden, literally signifies

to strengthen, confirm, make bold or courageous; and is often used

in the sacred writings to excite to duty, perseverance, &c., and

is placed by the Jews at the end of most books in the Bible as an

exhortation to the reader to take courage, and proceed with his

reading and with the obedience it requires. It constitutes an

essential part of the exhortation of God to Joshua, Jos 1:7:

Only be thou STRONG, rak chazak. And of Joshua's dying

exhortation to the people, Jos 23:6:

Be ye therefore VERY COURAGEOUS, vachazaktem, to keep

and to do all that is written in the book of the law. Now it

would he very strange in these places to translate the word

harden: Only be thou hard, Be ye therefore very hard; and yet if

we use the word hardy, it would suit the sense and context

perfectly well: Only be thou HARDY; Be ye therefore very HARDY.

Now suppose we apply the word in this way to Pharaoh, the sense

would be good, and the justice of God equally conspicuous. I will

make his heart hardy, bold, daring, presumptuous; for the same

principle acting against God's order is presumption, which when

acting according to it is undaunted courage. It is true that the

verb kashah is used, Ex 7:3, which signifies to render

stiff, tough, or stubborn, but it amounts to nearly the same

meaning with the above.

All those who have read the Scriptures with care and attention,

know well that God is frequently represented in them as doing what

he only permits to be done. So because a man has grieved his

Spirit and resisted his grace he withdraws that Spirit and grace

from him, and thus he becomes bold and presumptuous in sin.

Pharaoh made his own heart stubborn against God, Ex 9:34; and God

gave him up to judicial blindness, so that he rushed on stubbornly

to his own destruction. From the whole of Pharaoh's conduct we

learn that he was bold, haughty, and cruel; and God chose to

permit these dispositions to have their full sway in his heart

without check or restraint from Divine influence: the consequence

was what God intended, he did not immediately comply with the

requisition to let the people go; and this was done that God might

have the fuller opportunity of manifesting his power by

multiplying signs and miracles, and thus impress the hearts both

of the Egyptians and Israelites with a due sense of his

omnipotence and justice. The whole procedure was graciously

calculated to do endless good to both nations. The Israelites

must be satisfied that they had the true God for their protector;

and thus their faith was strengthened. The Egyptians must see

that their gods could do nothing against the God of Israel; and

thus their dependence on them was necessarily shaken. These great

ends could not have been answered had Pharaoh at once consented to

let the people go. This consideration alone unravels the mystery,

and explains everything. Let it be observed that there is nothing

spoken here of the eternal state of the Egyptian king; nor does

anything in the whole of the subsequent account authorize us to

believe that God hardened his heart against the influences of his

own grace, that he might occasion him so to sin that his justice

might consign him to hell. This would be such an act of flagrant

injustice as we could scarcely attribute to the worst of men. He

who leads another into an offence that he may have a fairer

pretence to punish him for it, or brings him into such

circumstances that he cannot avoid committing a capital crime, and

then hangs him for it, is surely the most execrable of mortals.

What then should we make of the God of justice and mercy should we

attribute to him a decree, the date of which is lost in eternity,

by which he has determined to cut off from the possibility of

salvation millions of millions of unborn souls, and leave them

under a necessity of sinning, by actually hardening their hearts

against the influences of his own grace and Spirit, that he may,

on the pretext of justice, consign them to endless perdition?

Whatever may be pretended in behalf of such unqualified opinions,

it must be evident to all who are not deeply prejudiced, that

neither the justice nor the sovereignty of God can be magnified by

them. See Clarke on Ex 9:16.

Verse 22. Israel is my son, even my firstborn] That is, The

Hebrew people are unutterably dear to me.

Verse 23. Let my son go, that he may serve me] Which they could

not do in Goshen, consistently with the policy and religious

worship of the Egyptians; because the most essential part of an

Israelite's worship consisted in sacrifice, and the animals which

they offered to God were sacred among the Egyptians. Moses gives

Pharaoh this reason Ex 8:26.

I will slay thy son, even thy first-born.] Which, on Pharaoh's

utter refusal to let the people go, was accordingly done; see

Ex 12:29.

Verse 24. By the way in the inn]

See Clarke on Ge 42:27.

The account in this and the following verse is very obscure.

Some suppose that the 23d verse is not a part of the message to

Pharaoh, but was spoken by the Lord to Moses; and that the whole

may be thus paraphrased: "And I have said unto thee, (Moses,) Send

forth shallach, my son, (Gershom, by circumcising him,)

that he may serve me, (which he cannot do till entered into the

covenant by circumcision,) but thou hast refused to send him

forth; behold, (therefore,) I will slay thy son, thy first-born.

And it came to pass by the way in the inn, (when he was on his

journey to Egypt,) that Jehovah met him, and sought (threatened)

to kill him (Gershom.) Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut

away the foreskin of her son, and caused it to touch his feet,

(Jehovah's, who probably appeared in a bodily shape; the

Septuagint call him the Angel of the Lord,) and said unto him, A

spouse by blood art thou unto me. Then he (Jehovah) ceased

from him (Gershom.) Then she said, A spouse by blood art thou unto

me, because of this circumcision." That is, I who am an alien

have entered as fully into covenant with thee by doing this act,

as my son has on whom this act has been performed.

The meaning of the whole passage seems to be this:-The son of

Moses, Gershom or Eliezer, (for it does not appear which,) had not

been circumcised, though it would seem that God had ordered the

father to do it; but as he had neglected this, therefore Jehovah

was about to have slain the child, because not in covenant with

him by circumcision, and thus he intended to have punished the

disobedience of the father by the natural death of his son.

Zipporah, getting acquainted with the nature of the case and the

danger to which her first-born was exposed, took a sharp stone and

cut off the foreskin of her son. By this act the displeasure of

the Lord was turned aside, and Zipporah considered herself as now

allied to God because of this circumcision. According to the law,

(Ge 17:14,)

the uncircumcised child was to be cut off from his people, so

that there should be no inheritance for that branch of the family

in Israel. Moses therefore, for neglecting to circumcise the

child, exposed him to this cutting off, and it was but barely

prevented by the prompt obedience of Zipporah. As circumcision

was the seal of that justification by faith which comes through

Christ, Moses by neglecting it gave a very bad example, and God

was about to proceed against him with that severity which the law


The sharp stone mentioned Ex 4:25 was probably a knife made of

flint, for such were anciently used, even where knives of metal

might be had, for every kind of operation about the human body,

such as embowelling for the purpose of embalming, circumcision,

&c. Ancient authors are full of proofs of these facts.

See Clarke on Ge 50:2.

It is probable that Zipporah, being alarmed by this

circumstance, and fearing worse evils, took the resolution to

return to her father's house with her two sons. See Ex 18:1, &c.

Verse 27. The Lord said to Aaron] See Ex 4:14. By some secret

but powerful movement on Aaron's mind, or by some voice or angelic

ministry, he was now directed to go and meet his brother Moses;

and so correctly was the information given to both, that they

arrived at the same time on the sacred mountain.

Verse 30. Aaron spake all the words] It is likely that Aaron

was better acquainted with the Hebrew tongue than his brother, and

on this account he became the spokesman. See Clarke on Ex 4:14.

Did the signs] Turned the rod into a serpent, made the hand

leprous, and changed the water into blood.

See Clarke on Ex 4:6; and "Ex 4:8".

Verse 31. The people believed] They credited the account given

of the Divine appointment of Moses and Aaron to be their

deliverers out of their bondage, the miracles wrought on the

occasion confirming the testimony delivered by Aaron.

They bowed their heads and worshipped.] See a similar act

mentioned, and in the same words, Ge 24:26. The bowing the head,

&c., here, may probably refer to the eastern custom of bowing the

head down to the knees, then kneeling down and touching the earth

with the forehead. This was a very painful posture and the most

humble in which the body could possibly be placed. Those who

pretend to worship God, either by prayer or thanksgiving, and keep

themselves during the performance of those solemn acts in a state

of perfect ease, either carelessly standing or stupidly sitting,

surely cannot have a due sense of the majesty of God, and their

own sinfulness and unworthiness. Let the feelings of the body put

the soul in remembrance of its sin against God. Let a man put

himself in such a position (kneeling for instance) as it is

generally acknowledged a criminal should assume, when coming to

his sovereign and judge to bewail his sins, and solicit


The Jewish custom, as we learn from Rabbi Maymon, was to bend

the body so that every joint of the backbone became incurvated,

and the head was bent towards the knees, so that the body

resembled a bow; and prostration implied laying the body flat upon

the earth, the arms and legs extended to the uttermost, the mouth

and forehead touching the ground. In Mt 8:2 the leper is said to

worship our Lord, προσεκυνειαυτω. but in Lu 5:12 he is said to

have fallen on his face, πεσωνεπιπροσωπον. These two accounts

show that he first kneeled down, probably putting his face down to

his knees, and touching the earth with his forehead; and then

prostrated himself, his legs and arms being both extended.

See Clarke on Ge 17:3.

THE backwardness of Moses to receive and execute the commission

to deliver the children of Israel, has something very instructive

in it. He felt the importance of the charge, his own

insufficiency, and the awful responsibility under which he should

be laid if he received it. Who then can blame him for hesitating?

If he miscarried (and how difficult in such a case not to

miscarry!) he must account to a jealous God, whose justice

required him to punish every delinquency. What should ministers

of the Gospel feel on such subjects? Is not their charge more

important and more awful than that of Moses? How few consider

this! It is respectable, it is honourable, to be in the Gospel

ministry, but who is sufficient to guide and feed the flock of

God? If through the pastor's unfitness or neglect any soul should

go astray, or perish through want of proper spiritual nourishment,

or through not getting his portion in due season, in what a

dreadful state is the pastor! That soul, says God, shall die in

his iniquities, but his blood will I require at the watchman's

hands! Were these things only considered by those who are

candidates for the Gospel ministry, who could be found to

undertake it? We should then indeed have the utmost occasion to

pray the Lord of the harvest, εκβαλλειν, to THRUST OUT

labourers into the harvest, as no one, duly considering those

things would go, unless thrust out by God himself. O ye ministers

of the sanctuary! tremble for your own souls, and the souls of

those committed to your care, and go not into this work unless God

go with you. Without his presence, unction, and approbation, ye

can do nothing.

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