Textual comments –
God has given Moses a mission and his response is tinged with fear. God doesn’t deny the issues that he raises but gives solutions which seems to acknowledge that these are genuine issues.
The first is the issue (Exodus 4.1-9) of whether people would believe or listen to him. How would they know that he was actually speaking on behalf of God. Gods answer is to give Moses signs that he can repeat so that when he speaks his words are given authority as if they were from God. The first sign given is that of turning a rod into a serpent. Both of these symbols have significance to the Egyptian culture. The rod image is tied with authority and the snake is connected as a patron of deity of lower Egypt. The significance being that with this sign authority on behalf of God has been given to Moses. The second sign of cleansing of skin disease is a sign of both God’s great power and potentially his desire to heal the lives of his people.
The second issue (Exodus 4.10-12) Moses raises is that he feels inadequately suited for the task given because he is not eloquent. The issue comes up again a couple of times for Moses. God’s response is to say that he has given Moses the abilities that he has and that he will help Moses speak and teach him what to say.
Its at this point (v13) that Moses reveals his deepest desire and perhaps the reasons behind the issues he raises. The request seems respectful but also pleading ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else’. The response from God is an emotional one. It is not an irrational emotional response but a revelatory one. God cares about his people and he has his plan to use Moses. Rather then condemning Moses he recognises his weakness and seeks to help him serve his purpose. God provides Aaron as a representative on Moses behalf. A representative who speaks and acts on behalf of Moses in the purposes of God. The promise now extends from Moses to Aaron that God will help both of them speak and will teach you what to do (v15).
Now that Moses has been resourced by God he takes his family and heads to Egypt. On the way to Egypt we are told how and why the story ahead will unfold (v21-23) and reminded of Gods promises to his people (v24-26).
How and why of the story ahead – Moses will perform the wonders God has given him to do but the result will not be what was hoped. God will harden the heart of Pharaoh and thus his response to the words of God. The result will be great cost to the Pharaoh and his people. God uses a familial term to describe the people of Israel. He ties himself with them as his firstborn son. This is a further extension of the promise that the Lord will be Israel’s God and Israel will be God’s people. A relationship that ties God’s work in the world with his people. He actively seeks the flourishing and blessing of his people.
God’s promises to protect his people – An event happens on the way to Egypt which seems totally out of place from the narrative thus far. The confusion arises from the language suggesting that God intended to kill Moses. It is important to clarify who pronoun in v24 is referring to. The action to circumcise the Moses’ son suggests that it is his life at stake. God has just finished talking about killing the first born son of Egypt because of his disobedience to Gods requests and now we see the mercy God offers to his people. Circumcision is a sign of belonging to the people of God and thus living under the promises of God. In v21-23 we are reminded of the consequences of not being under Gods promises and then in v24-26 we are reminded of God’s promises to be the God of these particular people, these descendants of Abraham. Before the plagues and trials are about to unfold in Egypt we are reminded of God’s protection for the people that belong to him because of his promises to them.
- Jesus as both sign and representative for the people of God – Jesus is the better Moses and Aaron. The foundation for authority in Moses words comes from the signs that God gives him and as he speaks with Aaron they represent God’s people. The foundation of authority for Jesus words comes from the signs that he performs but unlike Moses in the case of Jesus the authority revealed is not one of deferred authority given by God. The signs Jesus performs reveal Jesus does not have deferred authority from God but the actually authority from God for they reveal he is God. As Moses and Aaron act and speak on behalf Gods people all the benefits that come from their work are given to the people of God. Just as the benefits gained by Jesus life, death, resurrection, and ascension are given to those he represents.
- The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart – this particular issue raises many problems for the conscience of believers. The tension seems to arise from the fear that God has invaded Pharaoh and made him do something he would not normally have done. How could God punish Pharaoh for something that he had no choice in doing? In the context of Exodus we see the story of Pharaoh unfold. Sometimes the hardening of Pharaohs heart is attributed to the Lord and other times it is attributed to Pharaoh himself. To be consistent with the character of God as revealed in the rest of the bible it seems that God does not make Pharaoh do something he doesn’t want to do but gives him over to what he wanted to do. God gives permission to the hardening of Pharaohs heart which is the desire of Pharaohs heart. So to the question of who hardens Pharaoh’s heart, God or Pharaoh? The answer is both. God purposes for what Pharaoh desires to become reality. In so doing the character of God is not tainted in any way and Pharaoh receives a punishment that he deserves based upon his actions.
Assurance in the ultimate sign of God’s authority in our representative Jesus – we are not meant to be Moses or Aaron. This story is not about us but about God doing his work in the world. The characters that we are most associated with are the people of God who when they see the signs of the authority of God in Moses and Aaron respond (v31) by bowing down in worship to the Lord. As we see Jesus our representative whose authority is testified to by the signs and wonders that he performs we have someone in whom we have hope beyond the present circumstances of the world. The application of this story is not trust more and be more equipped by God but it is a story that reveals to us the hope we have in the one God sends as a representative to bless his people as testified to by the sign of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension which reveal the truth of his authority. One who has all the right requirements to be the full representative that we need. The right response to one who has such authority is to bow down in worship as our great hope in misery.
Also blogs at In this we delight