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Exodus 4:1-31 Moses Reassured to Return to Egypt

In the previous chapter, the Lord appeared to Moses and told him to go to Pharaoh. Moses was reluctant and like us, needed reassuring. This chapter is a continuation from the dialogue of chapter three. Although the Lord had assured Moses of success, he offered a whole string of objections.

Moses’ Objections

Moses was concerned that others would not listen to ‘his voice’. We discover that this is a specific issue later on, but it was also an excuse. He was concerned that “they might not believe God had appeared to him” which in itself was a fair point since God had not appeared to the Israelites for over four hundred years and they would need convincing.

His rod was an ordinary object yet a valuable instrument and also a reassurance. The purpose would be for performing miracles, but it was not a magician’s stick, a wizard’s wand or like King Arthur’s sword. A soldier carries their weapon almost all of the time and has it close by and Moses likely did the same. God can do extraordinary works through ordinary people when they are obedient and willing. Psalm 23 tells us that the Lord’s rod and staff comfort us. Nonetheless we trust in Him, not in our possessions or abilities or even the talents He gives us.

The staff became a serpent which Moses ran from, but it was not a random evil creature and was of huge significance for the Egyptians. It was a symbol of life, representing royal and divine power worn on the crown of the pharaohs. This serpent would gobble the Egyptians serpents showing that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was more powerful. It would encourage Moses and the Israelites and make an emphatic impact on the Egyptians.

Reaching the serpents tail was a step of faith and it was perilous. The Lord was not removing his fears but was helping Moses to become more dependent upon Him. What was the ultimate purpose? So that they might believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and know that He is the Lord. It would demonstrate that their God was sovereign over nations, their false gods and creation. They would soon learn the attributes of the God they had never before encountered and were dealing with.

Moses was then told to put his hand in his bosom and remove it and he saw that it was leprous. He was then instructed to put his hand in his bosom, and it was restored. Imagine being a leper 4500 years ago. Ben Hur is one of my favourite films and vividly depicts the lives of lepers isolated in colonies and shunned by the rest of society. Significantly, Yeshua healed the lepers, showing His compassion and that He was in fact Messiah. Leviticus 13-14 deals with procedures for lepers. This was far more severe than coronavirus. There was a much higher chance of death, greater degree of isolation and less prospect of resuming normal life. Yet the Lord immediately healed him.

If the Egyptians ignored those two signs, the water from the Nile would become blood on the dry land. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the River Nile. Our government is trying to balance the health risks of the nation with the need to maintain our economy. The Nile was crucial for agriculture and the economy. Famine and disease can claim more lives than casualties on the battlefield. That would hold the attention of the Egyptians and it would show God’s sovereignty over their country and the gods they worshipped.

Moses is Given a Spokesperson

Moses next objection was that he was not eloquent or articulate and he was slow of speech. Was it a case of he could not, or would not? Some say he had a speech impediment. I am not convinced though this does seem to be his overriding fear. However the Lord reminded him who created his mouth. A function of a ‘prophet’ was to be a ‘mouthpiece’ for God to the people. God would help him. The Lord equips us to perform the tasks for which He has commissioned for us.

Moses reasoned as if his mouth was somehow independent, yet it was God’s instrument. If God could turn his rod into a serpent, could not the Lord help him speak before Pharaoh? The issue was not about impressive oratory or making a compelling speech but faith, willingness, and obedience. The Lord is not looking for the highest achievers to become his showcase trophies. He chooses those He has chosen to assign the glory to Him, not to their talents.

The Lord was angered by Moses response since he wanted someone else to go in his place. This is an indirect refusal, and we should be careful not to make the same mistake. The world would say Moses was being ‘true to himself’, “Moses you are ‘being you’” and would suggest that he was being magnanimous and would heap praise on that apparent virtue. It would equate his actions with humility, even bravery and today’s culture of postmodernity would celebrate that. In reality, it was merely an excuse.

Self- diffidence is not the same as godly humility and this was displeasing to the Lord. True humility is not devaluing ourselves. If we think more about God, we will think less of ourselves. Humility does not equate with self-neglect or self-hatred. It does involve putting God before our aspirations. When God uncovers something wrong in our lives, we should deal with that speedily.

God provided Aaron as a spokesperson, but would Moses lean on Aaron for support, or the Lord? Are we like that? The Bible says this, but I want to know what the great sages thought or what so and so thinks. They may be able to give valuable insight, but we should go to the Lord and His Word first. Though Aaron’s presence would comfort Moses, it would later cause him problems and one commentator pointed out that it confused the roles of prophet and priest. Interestingly the Israelites wanted kings instead of judges and wanted to be like the other nations which did not help them.

And who was it that had the bright idea to fashion the golden calf whilst Moses was on Mount Sinai? Aaron and Miriam gave Moses further grief in Numbers 12 because of his Ethiopian wife. Sometimes if we persist, God gives us what we ask for and then we have to learn the hard way.

On the other hand, did you notice Aaron would be glad in his heart to serve the Lord? Are we glad in our hearts to serve the Lord and are we seeking the means to do so? Would we rather someone else did our job? Do we ever employ false humility as an excuse to be exempt from service? Do we resort to human excuses when God has already made provision? The Lord gave Moses a rod, He appeared and spoke with Him and God has revealed His Son, given us the Scriptures and left His Holy Spirit and made ample provision for us.

Moses Goes to Egypt

Moses asked Jethro his father- in- law to return to Egypt to see his brethren and whether they were still alive. Now imagine you are Jethro. What might you be thinking? A father wants his son in law to provide for and protect his daughter. But Moses wanted to return to Egypt! This was a tough call though Moses had proved himself by defending his daughters at the well. He had shown excellent character and he gave Zipporah his daughter to be Moses’ wife.

Jethro recognised that character is more important than charisma and servanthood is better than achieving status. Egypt would present a great risk although he knew Moses’ intentions were honourable. This was another step of faith for Moses and the Lord rewarded and encouraged him. Those seeking his life were now dead and Moses was increasingly trusting in the Lord. An important part of sanctification, that is becoming more like Yeshua in our character is to become increasingly reliant upon the Lord, not ourselves. Prayer helps us with that. Although God knows what we will pray in advance, prayer is a gift from Him and when we communicate with the Lord according to His will, we draw closer to Him and He draws closer to Him so that we can know Him.

Moses was to perform miracles to Pharaoh though God would harden his heart. What would be the typical human response? It is not fair, and I will sit this one out. That is a childish response akin to throwing toys out of a pram. Do we know the end from the beginning or the full extent of God’s plans? We are still called to be obedient to the Lord even though we might not comprehend the full purpose behind God’s ways which are higher and deeper than ours.

God’s mercy and grace are not deserved, otherwise grace would not be grace, (undeserved, unmerited favour) which we could never earn though our most sincere efforts. The Lord’s greater plans are frequently beyond our comprehension. Do we have to understand every purpose of God in order to obey Him willingly? Does a child need to comprehend the nuances behind every instruction for their later benefit? It helps, but some things are inevitably beyond their grasp. How much greater and loftier are the Lord’s ways. He is outside time and space yet His Son, Yeshua the Messiah entered into our world and gave His life as a substitutionary atonement, that we might live.

Pharaoh will discover that Israel is God’s firstborn, chosen by God as His people and for His glory (c.f. Deuteronomy 7:7-9; 14:2). If Pharaoh were to hold on to Israel God’s firstborn, God would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn. Is this the principle of might is right? No. Pharaoh had more than ample warning and in his privileged position, he would have considered himself the only son of the gods. Hence, we often read through the book of Exodus “so that Israel and Egypt might know that I am the Lord.”

On the way to Egypt, Zipporah swiftly circumcised Gershom and threw his foreskin at Moses feet appeasing the Lord’s wrath since the Lord sought to kill him. What is your verdict? In 21st Century western civilization this seems too harsh and not proportionate. Perhaps give Moses a yellow card, not a red one. But we would be speaking out of turn and context and from a place of gross ignorance. God had graciously made an everlasting covenant with Abraham, with the people, land, and the greatest blessing of all would be Messiah Himself.

Since circumcision was a sign of the covenant, was that too much to ask for their son to be circumcised? I know a grandfather who was pained that his son has not had his grandson circumcised. Some commentators reason Zipporah would initially have disapproved, and that Moses tried to placate her. Her swift actions remind us to keep our house in order before we minister in the house of God and James reminds us that teachers will receive a stricter judgement (James 3:1).

Before Moses went to Pharaoh he went to his brother and his people. This was another step of faith before encountering Pharaoh. Though later the children of Israel would remonstrate and complain continually, they listened to him at first. This would both comfort and strengthen Moses to have them behind him as he appeared in front of Pharaoh. God had again visited His people and for now they would stand with him too.

They believed with their minds and responded with their hearts by bowing and worshipping. God had visited them and looked at their affliction. He had not forgotten or ignored them. That should be our response. Every knee will bow eventually and confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord to the glory of God the father (Philippians 2:11). We are called to believe in the Lord and also to worship and serve Him. He has provided us with our Saviour, the promised Messiah and He will never leave us, nor forsake us.