Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 4

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Exodus 4:1. They will not believe me — He means, they would not take his bare word, unless he showed them some sign. He remembered how they had once rejected him, and feared it would be so again.

Verse 2
Exodus 4:2. He said, A rod — Probably this was his shepherd’s staff, for he was feeding his father-in-law’s flocks when God appeared to him.

Verse 3-4
Exodus 4:3-4. It became a serpent — Was really changed into a serpent. There was a significancy in this sign: it intimated what and how pernicious his rod would be to the Egyptians. It became a rod in his hand — When stretched forth by the hand of Moses or Aaron, it became a token to Israel of guidance, encouragement, and protection; but to Egypt, like the bite of the most poisonous serpent, it betokened desolating judgments.

Verse 5-6
Exodus 4:5-6. That they may believe — The sentence is imperfect, but the meaning is, This thou shalt do before them that they may believe. His hand was leprous as snow — For whiteness. This signified, that Moses, by the power of God, should bring sore diseases upon Egypt, that at his prayer they should be removed. And that whereas the Israelites in Egypt were become leprous, polluted by sin, and almost consumed by oppression, by being taken into the bosom of Moses they should be cleansed and cured.

Verse 7
Exodus 4:7. It was turned again as his other flesh — The inflicting of this disease, and curing it again in an instant, was so much the greater miracle, as the leprosy is a disease generally reckoned incurable by human art, especially the white leprosy, so called, because it overspreads the skin with white spots like snow.

Verse 8
Exodus 4:8. The voice of the first sign — The expression here is peculiarly proper and forcible; for God’s works have a voice as well as his word, to which we ought diligently to attend. And these miracles spoke aloud in the ear of reason, and said, Believe in him whom God hath sent. Bishop Warburton observes here (see Divine Legation, book 4, sect. 4) that “in the first ages of the world, men being obliged to supply the deficiencies of language by significant signs, mutual converse was carried on by a mixed discourse of words and actions. Hence came the eastern phrase of the voice of the sign; and use and custom improving what had arisen out of necessity into ornament, this practice subsisted long after the necessity was over, especially in the East, the natural temperament of the people in that part of the world inclining them to a mode of conversation which exercised their vivacity by motion, and gratified it by a perpetual representation of material images.”

Verse 10
Exodus 4:10. O my Lord, I am not eloquent — He was a great philosopher, statesman, and divine, and yet no orator; a man of a clear head, great thought, and solid judgment, but had not a voluble tongue, nor ready utterance; and therefore he thought himself unfit to speak before great men and about great affairs. Moses was mighty in word, (Acts 7:21,) and yet not eloquent; what he said was strong and nervous, and to the purpose, and distilled as the dew, (Deuteronomy 32:2,) though he did not deliver himself with that readiness, ease, and fineness that some do.

Verse 13-14
Exodus 4:13-14. Send by whom thou wilt send — By any but me. The anger of the Lord was kindled — Even self-diffidence, when it grows into an extreme, when it either hinders us from duty, or clogs us in duty, is very displeasing to him. I know that he can speak well — Moses excelled in wisdom and conduct, Aaron in eloquence. Such is the wise order of Providence. As in the human body each member has its different use and function, and all ministering to the good of the whole; so in the mystical body of Christ, God has dispensed different gifts to different members, and very seldom, if ever, gives all accomplishments to one; but to preserve a mutual dependance and relation, he distributes some to one and some to others, Romans 12:4.

Verse 15-16
Exodus 4:15-16. I will be with thy mouth and with his mouth — Even Aaron that could speak well, yet could not speak to purpose, unless God were with his mouth; without the constant aids of divine grace, the best gifts will fail. Instead of God — To teach and to command him.

Verse 17
Exodus 4:17. Take this rod — The staff or crook he carried as a shepherd, that he might not be ashamed of the mean condition out of which God called him. “This rod must be his staff of authority, and must be to him instead of both sword and sceptre.

Verse 18
Exodus 4:18. Moses returned to Jethro — Justice and decency required Moses to acquaint his father-in-law with his intention of going into Egypt; but he thought fit to conceal from him the errand upon which God sent him, lest he should endeavour to hinder or discourage him from so difficult and dangerous an enterprise. So that Moses, in this instance, has given us a rare example of piety and prudence, in that he took care to avoid all occasions and temptations to disobedience to the divine commands; as well as of singular modesty and humility, in that such glorious and familiar converse with God, and the high commission with which he had honoured him, neither made him forget the duty he owed to his father-in-law, nor break out into any vain-glorious ostentation of such a privilege.

Verse 19-20
Exodus 4:19-20. The Lord said unto Moses — This seems to have been a second vision, whereby God calls him to the present execution of the command given before. The rod of God — His shepherd’s crook, so called, as it was God’s instrument in so many glorious works.

Verses 21-23
Exodus 4:21-23. Which I have put in thy hand — In thy power: I will harden his heart — After he has frequently hardened it himself, wilfully shutting his eyes against the light, I will at last permit Satan to harden it effectually.

Thus saith the Lord — This is the first time that preface is used by any man, which afterward is used so frequently by all the prophets: Israel is my son, my firstborn — Precious in my sight, honourable, and dear to me. Let my son go — Not only my servant, whom thou hast no right to detain, but my son, whose liberty and honour I am jealous for. If thou refuse, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn — As men deal with God’s people, let them expect to be themselves dealt with.

Verse 24
Exodus 4:24. By the way in the inn — Here our translation uses the modern word inn: but the original signifies only the place where they rested that night, which was probably in some cave, or under some shade of trees. The Lord met him — The Septuagint says, The angel of the Lord, with which agree the Chaldee and some other ancient versions: and sought to kill him — He appeared in a threatening posture, probably with a sword drawn in his hand, or inflicted upon him some disease which threatened him with death. This was a great change: very lately God was conversing with him as a friend, and is now coming forth against him as an enemy. The cause seems to have been Moses’s neglecting to circumcise his son; which, perhaps, was the effect of his being unequally yoked with a Midianite, who was too indulgent of her child, and Moses so of her. Now God was offended with him for this neglect of duty, not only because Moses knew that no child could be admitted a member of the Israelitish community without circumcision, nor be entitled to the blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham’s seed, but also, because Moses’s example was of great consequence; for who would have regarded the law if the lawgiver himself had neglected it? As Moses was raised up for an extraordinary service, it was peculiarly proper that he should set an example of exact obedience in his own conduct. Hence he was thus sharply rebuked.

Verse 25
Exodus 4:25. Zipporah took a sharp stone — Or a knife made of flint, a species of knives commonly used, as ancient writers assure us, in those days; and cut off the foreskin of her son — She perceived, it seems, the danger of her husband, and the cause of it, and he being disabled from performing the office, whether by some stroke of affliction, or the terror of so dreadful and unexpected an appearance, and a delay in a matter of such moment being dangerous, she immediately performed the work herself. And now, the cause being removed, God’s anger ceased, and Moses was permitted to pursue his journey. Surely a bloody husband art thou to me — The words in the original are short and ambiguous. As here translated, they imply that she passionately reprobated both him and his religion, which required this bloody ceremony, as if she had said, This I have for marrying a Hebrew. But the words may be understood as expressing great affection, and signifying that she had now espoused him afresh by circumcising her son, the blood of that rite having been the means of restoring him to her again, or that her child was now espoused to God by the covenant of circumcision, as some read it. The Septuagint renders the passage, Zipporah, having taken a sharp knife, circumcised her son, and fell down at his (Moses’s) feet, and said, The blood of the circumcision of my child is stopped, and she went away from him; that is, she and her children went home to Midian, when she found the child was out of danger, and able to travel. It is at least probable, that on this occasion she went back to her father with the children, and that Moses consented to this that they might not create him any further uneasiness. When we have any special service to do for God, we should remove as far from us as we can whatsoever is likely to be our hinderance. Let the dead bury their dead, but follow thou me.

Verse 27-28
Exodus 4:27-28. He met him in the mount of God — Almost as soon as he had set out. For while Moses had met with many delays, through his family, Aaron had made great haste. And, no doubt, his coming was a great encouragement to Moses. Moses told Aaron all — Those that are fellow- servants to God, in the same work, should use a mutual freedom, and endeavour rightly and fully to understand one another.

Verse 30
Exodus 4:30. Aaron did the signs — By the direction of Moses. Hereby full proof was given to the people of the divine mission of Moses, and their concurrence was gained before he applied to Pharaoh in their behalf.

Verse 31
Exodus 4:31. The people believed — That Moses was God’s messenger, sent for their deliverance, and bowed their heads, and worshipped Jehovah as the true God, and the God of their fathers, acknowledging his goodness, and testifying their gratitude for his thus graciously visiting them.