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Moses has received the Divine Call. God has dealt with his areas of hesitation and finally with his reluctance to even assume his role as deliverer. Now we see the final areas of preparation as Moses makes the transition from Midian back to Egypt and starts to tackle the mission of leading the Hebrews out of bondage. Think of all the last minute instructions that Jesus communicated to His chosen band of leaders before His ascension. He wanted to make sure that they were adequately prepared to carry out the Great Commission. How are we responding to the call of God in our life?



A. (:18) Obtaining the Blessing of Jethro to “Go in Peace” –

Appropriate Transition

1. Request Made our of Renewed Concern for the Welfare of His Hebrew Brethren

a. Showing Respect to Jethro – his father-in-law and employer

“Then Moses departed and returned to Jethro his father-in-law,

and said to him, ‘Please, let me go,’”

Sensitivity on the part of Moses to handle this transition with respect and grace;

The call to take up our cross and follow Jesus in genuine discipleship will always involve leaving and cleaving – just as in the marriage relationship

Ryken: Once Moses had received God’s call, he went back to take leave of Jethro, the man who had given him a home in Midian. It is not hard to understand why Moses had to do this. Obviously he could not stay with Jethro any longer. He had a higher calling—a call to ministry that came from God himself. But he still needed to treat the man with respect. For one thing, Jethro was his father-in-law, and in those patriarchal times family members needed permission from the head of the household before leaving. For another thing, Jethro was his employer, and Moses needed to return the sheep that he had taken to Mount Horeb.

b. Showing Concern for His Hebrew Brethren – whom he had abandoned 40 years ago

“that I may return to my brethren who are in Egypt,

and see if they are still alive.”

The motivation of love and compassion for God’s people must always be uppermost in our hearts

Oswalt: Commentators have debated the reason why Moses did not disclose his full purpose for going to Egypt when he asked his father-in-law for permission to go (4:18). Most have concluded that it was out of fear that if Jethro knew the real reason, he would think it foolhardy and refuse permission (so Sarna 1991:22; Enns 2000:127). Houtman (1993:1.419) offers a more nuanced suggestion that it may betray some continuing uncertainty on Moses’s part about his mission. Yes, he was going to go; it seemed he had no real choice, but he was still not entirely certain what he would do when he got there. In 4:19 Yahweh assures him that the death warrant hanging over him from the past is no longer in effect. Then in 4:21–23 Yahweh seems to repeat what he had already said about the real reason for Moses’s going, although he gives further theological depth to it. Moses is to “perform all the miracles” before Pharaoh. But they will have no immediate effect upon him because God will “harden his heart.” That will serve to highlight the real nature of what is taking place. It is a contest between Yahweh and Pharaoh to see who is God. Yahweh’s “firstborn” must be allowed to go, “so he can worship me.” Pharaoh’s refusal to permit that is going to cost him his own “firstborn son.” This trip is not about checking up on the Hebrew people; it is about nothing less than the nature of reality—the identity of the one true God, his relationship to his creation and to his people.

2. Request Granted

“And Jethro said to Moses, ‘Go in peace.’”

God, in His providence, is able to smooth the way before us and open the necessary doors so that we can move forward to accomplish His will

Constable: This section makes it possible for us to gain great insight into Moses’ feelings about God’s promises to his forefathers and about his own life. Moses had become thoroughly disillusioned. He regarded himself as a failure, the objects of his ministry as hopeless, and God as unfaithful, uncaring, and unable to deliver His people. He had learned his own inability to deliver Israel, but he did not yet believe in God’s ability to do so. Even the miraculous revelation of God at the burning bush and the miracles that God enabled Moses to perform did not convince him of God’s purpose and power.

David Thompson: However, what Moses did want was the blessing of his father-in-law to leave. Notice he uses the word “please.” Doing God’s will and doing God’s work should always have a grace and decency to it. Jethro told Moses to go in peace, which means Jethro gave Moses his blessing. His leaving Jethro did not put him in war with Jethro; the relationship was one of peace. This is the last time we hear of Jethro until chapter 18 when he and Moses’ family will be reunited. . .

There are a couple of things we want to observe:

1) When God calls us to do something other than what we are presently doing, we do have the responsibility to see to it that we end our present responsibilities with integrity.

2) When God calls us to do something other than what we are presently doing, there will usually be some form of positive human confirmation.

B. (:19) Opportunity to Return to Egypt in Peace –

Appropriate Encouragement

“Now the LORD said to Moses in Midian,

‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.’”

Douglas Stuart: Moses’ life would not be in danger upon arrival in Egypt. He was no longer sought as a fugitive criminal. It was common practice in the ancient world, as it is in the modern, for a new government to cancel criminal penalties imposed by a previous government, thus granting general amnesty to prisoners and those sought by the law. Thus for God to say to Moses “all the men who wanted to kill you are dead” would likely represent news that the pharaoh in power when Moses killed an Egyptian (2:15) was now himself dead, along with any others, such as immediate survivors of the deceased who might have had both the legal standing and the desire to press the case.

C. (:20) Obeying the Divine Call to Return to Egypt –

Appropriate Support

1. Support of His Family

“So Moses took his wife and his sons and mounted them on a donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt.”

This story is all about family relationships – especially within the larger context of the household of God

2. Support of the Power and Authority of God –

Taking the Staff of God with Him

“Moses also took the staff of God in his hand.”

God had previously dealt with Moses’ different areas of hesitation – now Moses carries with him the assurance of God’s authority and power to grant him success in his mission

Ryken: Not only did Moses have his family at his side, but he also had his staff in his hand. Except that it was no longer his staff at all—it was “the staff of God,” the symbol of divine authority. Moses was going to deliver Israel by God’s power. With God’s staff he would perform miraculous signs to convince the Israelites that he was God’s true prophet. Later God’s staff would accomplish even greater wonders. It would bring disease and death upon the Egyptians, part the waves of the Red Sea, and draw life-giving water from a rock.



A. (:21) Objective of Freedom Will Meet with Resistance

1. Performance of the Wonders of God’s Power and Authority

“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power;’”

2. Resistance of Pharaoh

“but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”

Ryken: Taken together, what these statements show is that Pharaoh’s heart was doubly hard. He hardened his own heart; nevertheless, God hardened his heart for him. Both of these statements are true, and there is no contradiction between them. Pharaoh’s will was also God’s will. God not only knew that Pharaoh would refuse to let his people go, but he actually ordained it. This is the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, which is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be adored. As human beings made in the image of God, we make a real choice to accept or reject God, but even the choice we make is governed by God’s sovereign and eternal will. The Old Testament scholar S. R. Driver rightly observed, “The means by which God hardens a man is not necessarily by any extraordinary intervention on His part; it may be by the ordinary experiences of life, operating through the principles and character of human nature, which are of His appointment.” The writer of Exodus understood this, which is why he described the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as both the will of Pharaoh and the will of God.

Douglas Stuart: With the statement in v. 21, “I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go,” God introduced a new detail into the assignment, that of his own divine causation of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, but not a new expectation. He had already warned Moses that Pharaoh would be highly resistant (3:19–20). The reader might at first blush think that God was here announcing to Moses that he was going to frustrate Moses’ efforts. In fact, it was just the opposite. By indicating that he would control Pharaoh’s resistance to the exodus, God assured Moses that he was totally in control of Pharaoh in every way, able to make him resist as long as necessary even during a buildup of increasingly painful plagues and then make him give up and let the Israelites go at the moment of God’s choosing (which was already the essential message of 3:19–20).

B. (:22-23) Objective of Freedom Will be Achieved by God Liberating His First-Born at the Expense of Egypt’s First-Born

1. (:22) God’s Love for His First-Born Son = Nation of Israel

“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD,

Israel is My son, My first-born.’”

Wiersbe: God also assured Moses of His special love for Israel, His firstborn son (Jer. 31:9; Hosea 11:1). In the ancient world, the firstborn in every family had special rights and privileges, and God would see to it that Israel, His firstborn, would be redeemed and rewarded, while the firstborn of Egypt would be slain.

MacArthur: To the ancient Egyptians, the firstborn son was special and sacred, and the Pharaoh considered himself the only son of the gods. Now he heard of a whole nation designated as God’s firstborn son, meaning “declared and treated as first in rank, preeminent, with the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of being actually the firstborn.” The Lord pointedly referred to the nation collectively in the singular in order to show that He was a father in what He would do, i.e., bring a nation into existence, then nurture and lead him (cf. Dt 14:1, 2). Divine sonship, as in the pagan world’s perverted concept of a sexual union between the gods and women, was never so much as hinted at in the way God used the term to express His relationship with Israel, who were His people, a treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (cf. Ex 6:7; 19:4-6).

2. (:23a) God’s Demand of Freedom for His First-Born Son

“So I said to you, ‘Let My son go, that he may serve Me’;”

3. (:23b) Pharaoh’s Stubborn Refusal

“but you have refused to let him go.”

4. (:23c) God’s Judgment Against Egypt’s First-Born Sons

“Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born.”

Alan Cole: If Pharaoh will not give God’s first-born up to God, to whom all first-born belong in any case, then Pharaoh’s own first-born must die instead. Since ‘Israel’ is collective here, it is reasonable to suppose that ‘Pharaoh’ is also a collective term; thus ‘your first-born’ includes all the first-born in the land.



A. (:24) Sin Has Serious Consequences and Must be Addressed

“Now it came about at the lodging place on the way

that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death.”

There can be no effective serving of the Lord apart from prior consecration that deals with known sin problems; Moses must obey this preeminent covenant obligation before he could effectively lead God’s covenant people

B. (:25) Severing the Foreskin (with attitude on the part of Zipporah)

“Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, ‘You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.’”

Perhaps Moses, who must have been incapacitated, gave verbal instructions to his wife to perform the circumcision which she had resisted and found distasteful.

Bruce Hurt: Obviously the son’s failure to obtain circumcision was not his fault but was Moses’ fault, so it may have been Moses who would be punished, not his son. Moses surely must have known the divine command to circumcise every male of one’s household, thus this represents clear disobedience! Somehow Zipporah grasped the gravity of the situation and immediately grasped her son’s foreskin and carried out the circumcision.

Steven Cole: We have to read some things between the lines here. Apparently Moses, in deference to Zipporah’s objections, had not circumcised their second son in obedience to God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17). Now, whether it was the angel of the Lord with His sword drawn, or through a sudden illness, God threatened to kill Moses. I think Zipporah circumcised their son and spoke in anger, perhaps because she thought that if she didn’t do it, her son would be next to die after her husband. Through this incident, God was teaching Moses that if he was going to serve the Lord, he had to obey His commandments, even over the objections of those closest to him. Some think that at this time Moses may have sent his wife and sons back to Midian (Exod. 18:2). But at the least, Moses learned that to serve God effectively, you’ve got to obey Him, even if it means going against your loved ones.

David Thompson: It would appear to me that Zipporah is not happy about the fact that she has to circumcise her son. If we read between the lines a little bit, it appears that Moses had not demanded that his son be circumcised and probably gave into the request of his wife in not doing it. Gershom had probably been circumcised and Zipporah didn’t like it and didn’t want Eliezer to have to go through it.

Alan Cole: Circumcision is a symbol of putting away all that is unpleasing to God, and of dedication to God for the task ahead. But this dedication to God is only man’s response of obedience to God’s prior grace and calling (Gen. 17:10). True circumcision is an inward, not an outward, matter (Jer. 9:26; Rom. 2:29). It had of course, like much of the Mosaic law, great hygienic value, although this was presumably unknown to the original recipients. That circumcision was widely practised in other surrounding countries need not disturb us: not the nature of the sign, but the thing signified, is important.

John Mackay: Perhaps some of the obscurity with which this is recorded stems from Moses’ own shame at his failure to circumcise Eliezer. A situation of tension and disharmony seems to have developed between Moses and his wife. The next we hear of her is when her father brings her and her sons to rejoin Moses in the wilderness (18:5). We are told there (18:2) that Moses had sent her away, and it seems probable that this occurred in the aftermath of this incident.

C. (:26) Saving Moses so that He Could Fulfil the Divine Mission = a Higher Priority than Zipporah’s Distaste of Practicing Circumcision

“So He let him alone. At that time she said, ‘You are a bridegroom of blood ‘– because of the circumcision.”

Deffinbaugh: If God takes the “hardness of Pharaoh’s heart” so seriously as to kill his firstborn son (Exod. 4:21-23), then He must likewise deal with the sin of Moses who by not circumcising his son has endangered him greatly. According to the word of the Lord recorded in Genesis 17, his son should have been “cut off from his people.” The holiness of God is clearly manifested in the near fatal illness of Moses. God does not look lightly on any sin.

Walter Kaiser Jr.: Thus for one small neglect, apparently out of deference for his wife’s wishes, or perhaps to keep peace in the home, Moses almost forfeited his opportunity to serve God and wasted eighty years of preparation and training! To further underscore this connection between Moses’ grave condition and the circumcision of his son, Zipporah took the excised prepuce and touched Moses’ feet . . . The Lord let Moses go, and the grip of death was lifted.

Ryken: circumcision was the distinguishing mark of God’s people, a sign indicating membership in the covenant community, and thus it served as the proof of sonship in Israel, as Zipporah seems to have understood. Furthermore, circumcision was a covenant sign that went all the way back to the patriarchs (see Gen. 17). Therefore, if Moses intended to serve the God of Abraham, he had a covenant obligation to circumcise his sons. This was also an important part of his preparation for the exodus. Later, when the Israelites celebrated their first Passover, every male would be required to be circumcised (Exod. 12:43–49). Moses had to set the example. If he was going to lead the people out of Egypt, he himself had to keep the covenant. How could he be Israel’s prophet if he neglected his spiritual responsibility to his own family by failing to include them in God’s salvation?



A. (:27-28) Reunion with Aaron

1. (:27) Partnership in Serving the Lord

“Now the LORD said to Aaron, ‘Go to meet Moses in the wilderness.’

So he went and met him at the mountain of God, and he kissed him.”

2. (:28) Communication Aimed at Fulfilling the Mission

“And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD with which He had sent him, and all the signs that He had commanded him to do.”

Deffinbaugh: By divine revelation God instructed Aaron to meet Moses in the wilderness (4:27). They met on the holy mountain of God. What a happy reunion that must have been. At least 40 years would seem to have passed since they had seen each other. Most of all, Moses had to share the most recent events of his life, especially his encounter with God at the burning bush, the commission he had been given to deliver Israel, and the part which Aaron was to play in it all. One can only surmise what Aaron’s response to this might have been.

Oswalt: All of this speaks to the deadly danger of attempting to serve the holy God in a half-hearted way. God wants a close relationship with us, and we were created for such a relationship. But in our sinfulness, we want God’s way and our own ways at the same time. That can never be. Death may not come suddenly as it did with Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1–2) or Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11), and as it almost did with Moses, but it is nonetheless sure. We cannot be instruments of God’s life when our lives are contaminated with self-serving. We will only kill the work of God and ultimately ourselves. We must come to God on his terms or not at all.

One cannot help but feel that Moses came out of this encounter a deeply chastened man. Thus the encounter with Aaron (4:27–28) was of a very different kind. It can hardly be an accident that their meeting was at “the mountain of God.” This was another confirmation to Moses that this entire experience was from God. Not only did Aaron come, as Yahweh said he would, but they met at the very place where God had revealed himself to Moses. Then Moses told Aaron “everything the Lord had commanded him to say” and all about “the miraculous signs the Lord had commanded him to perform” (4:28). Here now, finally, Moses had fully embraced the call from God.

B. (:29-30) Rallying the Elders of Israel and All the People

1. (:29) Assembling the Elders

“Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel;”

2. (:30) Authenticating the Divine Mission in the Sight of the People

a. Declaring the Mission Verbally

“and Aaron spoke all the words which the LORD had spoken to Moses.”

b. Demonstrating the Divine Power and Authority Behind the Mission

“He then performed the signs in the sight of the people.”

Douglas Stuart: There is an underlying assumption in this part of the story of a special aspect of Aaron’s role: his ability to provide immediate credibility with his fellow Israelite elders in Egypt. Moses was an outsider, someone most of them probably had never met, even if they had heard of him, and someone they may even have been afraid of, based on the tenor of the incident described in 2:11–14. Aaron, on the other hand, was almost surely an Israelite elder himself (how else would he have had the means and the freedom to leave Egypt and take a trip to meet Moses while most of the people were working seven days a week?), in a position to introduce Moses to the leadership of the people much as Barnabas did for Saul (Acts 9:26–28). Thus Aaron did the talking, told the whole story of Moses’ call, and performed at least two of the three signs (4:1–9) before the people (v. 30). He may have needed to perform only two signs, the staff-to-a snake and the leprous hand, since v. 31 says that the people believed (the Heb. making it clear that the people, not merely the elders, believed) whereas 4:9 would seem to imply that the changing of water to blood was a backup sign in case of refusal to believe.

C. (:31) Response of the People

1. Faith

“So the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction,”

2. Worship

“then they bowed low and worshiped.”

Deffinbaugh: The conclusion of chapter 4 serves as a divine commentary on the five-fold objection of Moses to the call of God. The last verses of the chapter, which report the belief of the people and their worship of God, inform us that Moses’ fears were unreal and unreasonable. All of his fears and all of his objections as reported in chapters 3 and 4 were groundless, based more on Moses’ fears than on reality.

Verses 24-26 then identify the underlying problem with Moses’ fears: unbelief. If one were to summarize the objections of Moses to his commission to return to Egypt, it would be this: “But God, they won’t believe me.” But Moses’ fears about Israel’s unbelief are rooted in his own unbelief. The basis for God’s redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage is the Abrahamic Covenant. Consequently, God repeatedly identifies Himself as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (cf. 3:6,15,16,18; 4:5). The reason why Moses was not ready to return to Egypt is that he did not have sufficient faith in the covenant which God had made with his fathers. And since he did not have great faith in God’s covenant promises, he did not expect the Israelites to have it either. The evidence of Moses’ lack of faith is here, in his failure to circumcise his son as an evidence of his trust in God’s covenant promises.

Ryken: Exodus 4 ends with a doxology: “And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped” (v. 31). This was the right response. Even while they were still waiting for their liberation, the Israelites began to give God the glory. Moved by divine compassion, they knelt in the sands of Egypt to praise the Lord. They understood that the God of Moses is a God to be worshiped and adored. He is a God who rules every heart by his sovereign will. He is a God who loves us the way a good father loves an only son. He is a God who gives what his justice demands: a perfect sacrifice for sin. He is a wonder-working God, a God who keeps every last promise of salvation. He is also our God who has seen our misery and is concerned about our suffering. Will you bow down and worship him?