Opening Prayer: Almighty and gracious Lord, we humble ourselves before you now and ask that you would deal with us. We thank you that you do not deal with us only where we should have been, but you come and meet us where we are. Empower your word and remake us. And as we are humbled before your word, lift us up and exalt us and free us to serve You. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
Who are you? Who are you to pray, to decide, to plan? Your identity is bound up with the God who sends you, the God who is with you (Mt. 28:18-20). And it is not humility to doubt this. True humility believes and obeys.
The Signs for the Elders
Both of the first two signs have to do with healing and making useful. The serpent is the same word for serpent in Genesis 3 suggesting that Moses will lead the people to reverse the dominion of the serpent (“dragon” in 7:9ff). Remember, that Pharaoh is a “seed of the serpent” at war with the “seed of the woman” who is being “fruitful and multiplying.” Notice also that both signs have to do with the hand. The hand of man is his tool for work, the most basic technology. The rod of course is an extension of a man’s hand, a tool for shepherding sheep. As we noted with the burning bush, these signs are probably also meant to picture something fundamental about Israel and her situation in Egypt. Under Joseph, Israel had exerted great influence for the blessing of Egypt. Israel, under Joseph’s leadership had been a “helping hand” and a “shepherd” for Egypt and even all the nations around them. But Israel has fallen from this high calling. Leprosy will always have strong associations with Egypt as a plague (Num. 14:3, 37, Lev. 13-14). The final sign shows how God is going to accomplish his work. Through Moses, not only is God going to tame the serpent-Pharaoh and heal the uncleanness of his people, but Yahweh will also do battle with the gods of Egypt. The Nile was the most important source of life in ancient Egypt and one of their principle gods. But God rules creation, and Moses will pour out the Nile on the ground and instead of being fruitful and giving life it will turn to blood and death. Remember, it has already been a source of death to the Hebrew baby boys. The Nile god has killed the sons of Israel. Idolatry is death.
Moses and Aaron
Moses is a little more than reluctant to take up God’s call on his life. This is somewhat understandable given how his leadership was taken 40 years ago (2:14), but Moses’ persistent reluctance is not excusable (4:14). He has gone from asking “why me?” (3:11) to “what is your name?” (3:13) to “what if they don’t believe me?” (4:1) to “I’m not a good public speaker” (4:10) and now finally “send someone else, please” (4:13). This passage could also be described as a battle of the “I’s.” The Hebrew first person pronoun for “I” is used repeatedly back and forth between Moses and God (3:6, 11, 12, 13, 4:10, 11, 12, 15, 23). While this is not particularly strange, it seems significant given the name God has given himself of “I AM” (3:14). Moses may have any number of excuses for being reluctant, but the fact is that God doesn’t care. God is the God of our fathers, the God who rules nature, the God who is with our words, and the God who is determined to accomplish his purposes. We are not sufficient of ourselves, but we are not by ourselves. “I AM” is with us and with our mouths (4:12, 15). Finally, God allows Moses to share the task with Aaron, but this concession is not a relenting of God’s purposes.
After asking for Jethro’s blessing to leave, God speaks to Moses once more and makes even more explicit his interest in his people. Israel is his son, and he will take Pharaoh’s son if he does not let His son go to serve Him (4:22-23). This is to be a battle between fathers. Yahweh is jealous for the service of his son, and Pharaoh is effectively a kidnapper. Then, on the way into the land, Yahweh comes to kill Moses’s son (4:24). We know it is his son because it is the circumcision of his son that turns away God’s wrath (4:26). This is a somewhat mysterious event, but given the context we should be able see what God intends to teach Moses here. Evidently, Moses’ son had not been circumcised. Circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant promises. This display of blood reminded God of his promise to Abraham to be his God and make him into a nation (Gen. 15). Here, Zipporah circumcises her son and touches it to her son’s legs (4:15). Many translations do not get this right. The point is that Zipporah is displaying the blood of the circumcision to turn away the “angel of death.” She calls him a “bridegroom of blood” reminding us that the covenant is a marriage to God and His people. This is yet another preview of the Exodus in the life of Moses.
Conclusion & Application
Moses and Aaron call the elders of the people together. Aaron speaks and Moses performs the signs (4:30), and the response of the elders is worship (4:31). This is the driving motivation for bringing the Israelites out in the first place (3:18). Of course God knows (and Pharaoh knows) that the freedom to worship would turn into freedom in life. Worship drives culture and society. We’ve previously noted that the Israelites had fallen into idolatry in Egypt (Josh. 24:14). Liturgical idolatry is slavery and leads to a slave culture.
We are called to worship God faithfully and in faith; this is the single most important thing that we do. But this worship is not unrelated to the rest of our lives. Freedom here necessarily creates freedom out there. But freedom is never just doing whatever we want. Freedom is receiving the Word of God with faith and joy. Freedom is the ability to do what we were made for. Freedom is the opportunity to lay our lives down for others. If Moses had looked back in faith, he ought to have seen how God had been preparing him to obey. Just as He always does.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!