6. MIRACULOUS SIGNS FOR PHARAOH
I once read a statement which I shall never forget. It is just a few words, but one can write volumes on it to bring out its beauty.
“All His biddings are enablings.” What is the first thing we do when we are called to obey? Look at the consequences and enumerate the obstacles. Let us always remember: All His biddings are…
Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. Moses is called to go and deliver God’s people but he does not think someone like him is capable of doing it.
Exodus 4:1 Then Moses answered and said, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’ ”
Moses’ previous question, following upon God’s promise of guidance and protection (3:13), had implied willingness to go and a desire for further information.
Now it appears that Moses was still very much opposed to the idea of accepting the commission. Attempts have been made to defend him by explaining that he meant, “What if the people will not believe me?” etc.
But his statement is emphatic and can neither be translated nor explained in this way. It is conceivable that since Jacob’s entry into Egypt, more than two centuries earlier, no divine revelation had been imparted to Israel, and doubt as to the validity of Moses’ claim to having received a divine commission might therefore easily arise.
What about you and me using the phrase “But what if?…)
Verses 2,3 So the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” And He said, “Cast it on the ground.” So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.
What would you have done? What is your natural response to a snake? Of course he came back after a while.
Since Moses’ faith was not yet strong enough to rely on the future sign promised him (3:12), God provided immediate signs by which he might validate his mission.
I am so glad that God meets us halfway in everything He asks us to do. He is so kind and so helpful. We serve a righteous and a loving understanding God.
Three signs were intended to convince the Israelites of the fact that God had appeared to Moses. At the same time they strengthen Moses’ faith and dissipate his fear of failure.
This was to be evidence that God had called Moses to be the leader of Israel and endowed him with the power to discharge this responsibility.
Verse 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail” (and he reached out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand),
A snake charmer will usually pick up his serpents by the neck, so they cannot bite him. Moses was instructed to demonstrate his trust in God by taking up the serpent by its tail.
This was the second sign.
Verses 5,6 “That they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Furthermore the LORD said to him, “Now put your hand in your bosom.” And he put his hand in his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, like snow.
Leprosy was regarded as absolutely incurable. Its instantaneous appearance and removal were contrary to all experience and would be accepted as evidence of supernatural power. This sign may also have served as a warning that he who resisted or disobeyed Moses would suffer grievous results.
While the object of the first miracle was to prove that Moses was the man whom the Lord had called to be leader of His people, the second was to make it clear that as the messenger of God he was granted the power necessary for executing the task.
Verses 7,8 And He said, “Put your hand in your bosom again.” So he put his hand in his bosom again, and drew it out of his bosom, and behold, it was restored like his other flesh. “Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign.
God personified these signs as having a “voice,” for they were to bear witness for Him in the person of His chosen instrument.
According to Scripture everything has a “voice,” if we will but listen with our hearts; the day, the night, the heavens, the beasts, the fowls of the air, the fishes, and even the very stones. They cry aloud and lift up their voices, proclaiming the will of their Maker, whether man will hear or whether he will not
Psalms 19:1-3 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard.
Listen to the following words written by Moses:
Job 12:8-12 “But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; And the birds of the air, and they will tell you; 8 Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you; And the fish of the sea will explain to you. 9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, 10 In whose hand is the life of every living thing, And the breath of all mankind? 11 Does not the ear test words And the mouth taste its food? 12 Wisdom is with aged men, And with length of days, understanding.
Verse 9 And it shall be, if they do not believe even these two signs, or listen to your voice, that you shall take water from the river and pour it on the dry land. The water which you take from the river will become blood on the dry land.”
Egyptians worshiped the Nile as the source of national prosperity. Power to turn the life-giving water of the Nile into blood would imply power over the gods of Egypt and power to desolate the land of Egypt.
From this sign Israel was to learn trust in God, while Pharaoh and the Egyptians were afterward by the same sign to be led to fear Him (7:15–19).
Thus Moses was not only entrusted with the word of God but also endowed with His power. He was the first prophet and worker of miracles to be sent by God to His people, and thus became a type of Christ (Deut. 18:15; John 1:45; Acts 3:22).
Verse 10 Then Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
That he who had been “mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22) should claim difficulty in speaking seems unwarranted, in view of God’s promise to prosper his mission.
His long absence from Egypt and the fact that he had not spoken its language during the sojourn in Midian without doubt made him feel unqualified to go before Pharaoh, but he should have been ready to trust in God.
It has been suggested that Moses feared to speak in Hebrew because he had been living among the Midianites. This cannot have been the reason, however, since Midianite inscriptions differ but little from ancient Hebrew. The Jewish tradition that Moses had difficulty in pronouncing certain Hebrew letters, has no substantiation either.
Verses 11,12 So the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”
God patiently reasoned with Moses as with a friend. He who had made man’s mouth was certainly able to impart the ability to speak fluently.
Verse 13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.”
When all the excuses Moses could offer were proved invalid, his hidden motives in making them became obvious. What had at first appeared to be doubt of his own ability was now revealed as distrust of God (19).
For practical purposes he refused to go. His curt, almost rude, answer to the divine commission is even more emphatic in Hebrew than in English.
Verse 14 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.
The anger of the Lord. The expression used is strong but probably means no more than that God was displeased. He did not punish Moses otherwise than by dividing between the two men the responsibility Moses was to have had alone.
Aaron the Levite. It is not clear why God here spoke of Aaron as “the Levite.” Some have suggested that there were others by the same name among the Israelites and that this designation was necessary to distinguish him.
But it is not clear why the words “thy brother” would not have been sufficient in this case. Others have thought the designation anticipates the future consecration of his tribe to God’s special service.
He cometh forth. It has been suggested that Aaron planned to visit Moses in Midian to inform him of the death of the king from whom he had fled (2:15, 23). Under any circumstances, Aaron did not start on his journey until God instructed him to go (4:27).
Verses 15,16 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.
God promised to be with both men; with Moses that he might express accurately what God revealed to him, and with Aaron that he might speak clearly and persuasively. Moses’ position
was the more honorable, though Aaron’s may have seemed so to the people.
Verse 17 And you shall take this rod in your hand, with which you shall do the signs.”
Moses was bidden to take, not any rod, but the particular one that had already been transformed into a serpent. The plural, “signs,” points to the plagues that were to fall upon Egypt, since only one of the three signs thus far given him was to be performed with the rod.
Moses Goes to Egypt
Verse 18 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.”
Moses did not mention to Jethro the real object of his journey, for fear that Jethro would refuse permission for his wife and children to accompany him, and possibly also that a report of his return to Egypt might reach the court before he was ready to appear there, thus making his mission more difficult.
Verse 19 Now the LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.”
As Moses made preparations to return to Egypt, the Lord appeared to him a second time with reassurance that he need not fear for his personal safety, since Pharaoh and all those who had sought his life were now dead.
Verse 20 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.
Moses had two sons (18:3, 4), Gershom, whose birth is mentioned in 2:22, and Eliezer, who was probably but an infant. The latter seems to have been born since Moses’ return to Jethro’s home, inasmuch as 2:22 speaks of but one son born to him prior to the divine manifestation at Mt. Horeb.
Set them upon a donkey. The ancient Egyptians themselves never rode on animals, though they often depicted foreigners, particularly children and noblemen, as riding donkeys. This word picture suggests that Moses had given up his former Egyptian customs and adopted the Semitic way of life.
The rod of God. Moses’ rod (4:2) had become the “rod of God” as a result of the miracles recorded in verses 3 and 4.
Verse 21 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.
Once more God appeared to Moses, either before he left Midian or on the way to Egypt. Upon this occasion God imparted to Moses information concerning what he must expect in Egypt.
The expression “all those wonders” does not refer alone to the three signs mentioned in vs. 2–9, but to all the miracles he was to perform in the presence of Pharaoh.
Harden his heart. In Christ’s parable of the sower and the seed there was no difference between the seed scattered in one kind of soil and that sown in the others, or yet in the manner in which it was sown.
Everything depended upon the reception given the seed by each type of soil. In like manner, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was in no way an act of God, but rather a deliberate choice on his own part.
By repeated warnings and displays of divine power God sent light designed to point out to Pharaoh the error of his ways, to soften and subdue his heart, and to lead him to cooperate with His will.
But each successive manifestation of divine power left him more determined to do as he pleased. Refusing to be corrected, he despised and rejected the light, until he became insensitive to it, and the light was finally withdrawn.
It was thus his own resistance to the light that hardened his heart. Even the heathen recognized the fact that it was Pharaoh and the Egyptians themselves who hardened their hearts, and not God (1 Sam. 6:6). Commentators have differed widely in their understanding of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, here attributed to God. There are altogether ten such statements.
Eight of them (Ex. 4:21; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17) use the word chazaq, which means that the Lord would make Pharaoh’s heart “firm” so that it would not move, and that his feelings toward Israel would not change.
In 7:3 another Hebrew word, qashah, is used, which implies that the Lord would make Pharaoh’s heart “hard” or “unfeeling.” In 10:1 a third word, kabed, is used, meaning that God had made Pharaoh’s heart “heavy,” or insensible to divine influence. That the different words are used more or less interchangeably becomes evident from a study of the context.
There are also ten statements to the effect that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Four of them (7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:35) use the word chazaq, “to make firm,” five (7:14; 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34) the word kabed, “to make heavy,” and one (13:15) the word qashah, “to make hard.”
The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was evident first of all in the fact that he paid no attention to the demand of the Lord to let Israel go. His refusal was not restricted to the plagues the Egyptian magicians were able to imitate, but included those which the magicians themselves acknowledged to be “the finger of God” (8:19).
It continued also after the fourth and fifth plagues, which fell upon the Egyptians but not upon the Israelites, a fact of which the king was informed (9:7).
The hardening of his heart was demonstrated even more clearly when he broke his promise to let Israel go on condition that Moses and Aaron would remove the plague, and when he was forced to confess that he had sinned (9:27). Thus when Moses was told, before reaching Egypt, that the Lord would harden Pharaoh’s heart (4:21), God referred to the continued refusal of the king to obey Him and release the Israelites.
God takes no pleasure in the suffering and death of the wicked, but rather desires that all men repent and be saved (Eze. 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9), and causes His sun to shine upon the evil and the good (Matt. 5:45).
But as the sun affects different materials in different ways, according to their own nature—it melts wax and hardens clay, for instance—so the influence of the Spirit of God upon the hearts of men produces different effects according to the condition of the heart.
The repentant sinner allows God’s Spirit to lead him to conversion and salvation, but the impenitent hardens his heart more and more.
The very same manifestation of the mercy of God leads in the case of the one to salvation and life, and in that of the other to judgment and death—to each according to his own choice.
Verse 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD. “Israel is My son, My firstborn.
In declaring Israel to be God’s first-born son Moses was to use language familiar to the Egyptian king. Each Pharaoh considered himself the son of the sun-god Amen-Ra.
Verse 23 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.
For fulfillment of this prediction see 12:29. Moses did not utter this threat till all other means of persuasion had been exhausted, in what he knew to be his last interview with the king In doing so he apparently carried out one of the many special directives received after his return to Egypt.
Verse 24 And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the LORD met him and sought to kill him. The incident probably took place at a well or watering place where the family had stopped for the night.
Sought to kill him. An angel appeared to Moses in a threatening manner, as if he intended to kill him.
Verse 25 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!”
Egyptian surgeons commonly used stone knives. According to Joshua 5:2 these were also the usual instruments for performing the rite of circumcision.
Cut off the foreskin. Moses returned to Egypt with his two sons (see Ex. 4:20). Evidently Gershom, the elder, had been circumcised in accordance with God’s instructions to Abraham (Gen. 17:10–14).
In the case of Eliezer, the younger son, this rite had been neglected (PP 256). Not believing in the necessity of circumcision, Zipporah had resisted her husband’s intention to circumcise Eliezer at the appointed time.
The appearance of the angel made it clear that her opposition did not excuse Moses from administering the rite. Now that her husband’s life was in danger she found it necessary to carry out the operation herself.
Husband of blood. These words are clearly an expression of reproach. They show that Zipporah performed the rite grudgingly, not from a desire to obey God, but of necessity, to save her husband’s life.
Her meaning seems to be that Moses was a poor sort of husband, on whose behalf it was necessary to shed the blood of her sons in compliance with a national custom she regarded as barbarous.
Verse 26 So He let him go. Then she said, “You are a husband of blood!”—because of the circumcision.
God accepted Zipporah’s tardy act and restored Moses. When the angel released Moses, Zipporah repeated her reproachful words, adding in explanation, literally, “because of the circumcision.” She may have had in mind the one performed in Midian on Gershom as well as that on Eliezer. So typical of a mother. She does not want to see her little ones suffer.
Verse 27 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.
This instruction to Aaron must have been given some time before Moses left Midian, for they met at Horeb, in the heart of the Sinai Peninsula (3:1), soon after Moses’ departure from his father-in-law.
It is equally certain that the directions given Aaron were more complete than the brief record of Exodus indicates.
Inasmuch as the wilderness extended from the border of Egypt through the Sinai Peninsula and into Arabia, God must have told him precisely the way he was to take in order to meet his brother.
Verse 28 So Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him. 29
Verse 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel. 30
Though Moses and Aaron had no authority to call the tribal and family heads together, these men responded to their invitation.
Verse 30 And Aaron spoke all the words which the LORD had spoken to Moses. Then he did the signs in the sight of the people.
Aaron entered at once upon the duties of his office as “spokesman” (v. 16), declaring to the elders the fact that God had called his brother to accomplish their deliverance. Aaron also, and not Moses as we should have expected (17), performed the signs (see PP 263). God apparently either ordered or approved this delegation of power. On later occasions we find Aaron more than once required by God to work the miracles (7:19; 8:5, 16).
Verse 31 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.
This was another evidence of divine favor. It stands in marked contrast with the usually incredulous attitude of the Israelites, who so often “believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation” (Ps. 78:22).
Their longing for deliverance and these manifestations of miraculous power won a favorable response from the elders.
They bowed their heads and worshiped. The faith of the people, and the worship in which it was expressed, proved that the promise of God to the fathers still lived in their hearts.
Though their faith did not stand the subsequent test, yet, as the first expression of their feelings, it bore witness to the fact that Israel was willing to follow the call of God.