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Exodus 3:11- 4:31

Frank Binford Hole


The hour had struck for God to act but Moses, who forty years before had been so forward, now shrinks backward. God had declared that He would send him, and He never sends any servant without bestowing adequate power for the carrying out of the mission on which he is sent. But for the moment Moses had his eye upon himself and not upon God. His language is "Who am I, that I should go?" During his many years in Midian he had forsaken all thoughts of his own greatness, which was good; but now he had passed to the other extreme

and occupied with himself, was obsessed with the conviction of his own littleness. He had yet to learn that it is the way of God to take up and use just those who are little in their own eyes. Their littleness makes room for God to display His own power.

Hence the assurance God gave "Certainly I will be with thee." This of course guaranteed everything, but Moses was slow to believe it, hence God condescended to give him a token. When God made promise to Abraham, He took account of the frailty of our faith and confirmed His counsel by an oath, as we are reminded in Hebrews 6: 17. With Moses He did not confirm His word by an oath, but by a token, which was fulfilled as we find later in this Book. But Moses had to accept the commission God was giving him and carry it out before the token came to pass; hence the assurance just given to him did not suffice to revive his confidence in undertaking the task.

So in verse 13 we find him raising a great question by way of further objection to what was proposed. The children of Israel had been in a land of idolatry for several centuries, and therefore knew well the names of the false Egyptian deities. Moses was to approach them in the name of the God of their fathers, but, confused in their minds by all that surrounded them, they would be sure to ask, What is His name?

This led to a fresh disclosure on God's part. He made Himself known as the great "I AM"—the One self-existent, ever-existent, unchanging; and therefore ever true to what He is in Himself. Israel were to prove themselves to be an unstable yet stiff-necked people, so had it not been "I AM" with whom they had to do, they would soon have disappeared in judgment. God bore long with them and will ultimately achieve all His purpose concerning them, because He is ever true to Himself. We do well to remind ourselves that though we now know God in a far more intimate way, as He has been revealed in Christ, yet we do not lose the value of these earlier revelations. The One whom we know as Father is still the "I AM" to us, as much as He was to Moses and the children of Israel.

This fact is expressly stated in verse 15. Looking backward, the "I AM" is "Jehovah God of your fathers." Looking forward, He declares it to be His name for ever and His memorial to all generations. Evidently then this great name carried the revelation of God to a climax, as far as the Old Testament is concerned. Verse 3 of chapter 6 may be consulted at this point. He had been known to the patriarchs as God Almighty, He had been mentioned as the Most High, but "Jehovah" carries within itself a fulness of meaning not found in these. The actual name, Jehovah, was known to the patriarchs, yet they did not understand its full import, which was now to come to light through Moses. Having come to light, it stands good for ever.

Having revealed Himself, and thereby answered Moses' question, God instructed him as to how he should approach the elders of Israel, and then with them approach Pharaoh. To the elders he was to declare God's remembrance of the fathers and His notice and concern regarding all that Egypt had done to them, together with His promise to bring them out, and then into the land flowing with milk and honey. Then to the king they were all to go with the request from Jehovah God of the Hebrews that they be let go three days' journey into the wilderness so that, free of the pollutions of Egypt, they might sacrifice to Him.

At the same time Moses was to be under no illusion as to the way the king would react to this request, so the last four verses of the chapter predict what would happen. As to Pharaoh he would powerfully and stubbornly resist. But Jehovah would stretch out His hand in wonders, smiting in judgment, so that the king's "mighty hand" would lose its might and he would release them. And God would do this in such a way that the common people of Egypt would be glad to see them go. The children of Israel would be able to ask great favours of them and go out enriched. Thus these four verses give a prophecy which we see fulfilled as we read the next ten or eleven chapters.

Unbelievers have seized upon the word "borrow" in verse 22, and raised the objection that it represents God as telling the people to practise deceit by pretending to borrow what they never intended to repay. The word occurs again in Exodus 11: 2 and Exodus 12: 35. But the word really is "ask," and is so translated in Darby's version. The people had been but slaves, working for a mere subsistence. The position was to be entirely reversed, and their former masters would fear them and give them what they asked. All they could carry out of Egypt would be a mere fraction of what was really due to them.

Moses was still not satisfied, and raised a third objection. The people would not listen to him nor believe the Lord had appeared to him. This we see in Exodus 4: 1. He knew they were incredulous by nature. The Lord knew it too, and hence He did not rebuke Moses but rather gave him three miraculous signs, by which he might convince the people of the reality of his mission. Two of the signs were then and there performed on Moses himself.

The first sign we have in verses 2—5. A rod is the symbol of authority. Cast to the ground, and thus debased, it becomes thoroughly evil, and even satanic, so that a man may flee from before it. But Moses seized the serpent by the tail, as he was commanded, and it became again a rod in his hand. The bearing of this is plain. In Egypt power was debased and satanic. As ordered by God, Moses was to seize it, when the authority, rescued from Satan would be in his hands. We live in a day when satanic power is increasingly in evidence. But as Christians we have no command to seize the serpent by the tail. If we attempt to do it before the time, we shall only get bitten in the process. That action is reserved for the One of whom Moses serves as a type. He will do it finally and gloriously at His second advent.

A second sign is given in verses 6 and 7. It deals, not with outward power like the first, but with inward defilement. Moses was to put his hand into his bosom and it came out leprous and defiled. It was not a case of his hand defiling his heart but of his heart defiling his hand. Here we have in picture what our Lord taught in His words, recorded in Mark 7: 21-23. Then as commanded, Moses put his defiled hand to his heart again, and it was restored whole as the other. A sign this, that cleansing must begin in the heart, which is unseen. Only thus can the hand, which is seen, be cleansed.

The significance of these signs would not have been apparent to the people, and may not have been to Moses, but at least they would be evidence that the power of God was with him. But if even these two failed to bring full conviction, a third was enjoined. He was to take some water out of the Nile and pour it out, when it should become blood—a preliminary sample of the first plague that fell upon Egypt. This was a sign of simple judgment. The river Nile was the natural source of Egypt's fertility and prosperity. The earthly fount of their life should become death; their blessing should be made a curse.

We may remark that the record of Moses giving the people these signs is only found in verse 28, and there attributed to Aaron, who was acting as the deputy of Moses.

But even these signs did not remove the objections in the mind of Moses, and so in verse 10 we find him uttering a fourth, based upon his lack of ability in speech, as if the message of God needed human eloquence in order to make it effective. When we remember the statement of Stephen, referring to the time when he was still acknowledged as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, that he was "mighty in words," whereas he now pleads, "I am not eloquent, neither heretofore . . ." we are left wondering. But, knowing something of human nature in ourselves, we think it was not that he had really lost his powers of mighty speech, but that while the forty years of discipline in the desert had completely broken his self-confidence, he had also become self-occupied, and thus so unwilling to answer to the call and commission of God.

Therefore what he needed was to become so God-conscious that he might lose sight of himself altogether. Hence the words of the Lord to him, as recorded in verses 11 and 12. The mouth of Moses was to be simply like an instrument upon which the Lord would play, and whether Moses could play well upon it, or could not, was immaterial. This is a lesson which every servant of God needs to learn. The Apostle Paul had learnt it, as we see in 1 Corinthians 2: 1, and again in 2 Corinthians 4: 2 and 7.

Once more, and for the fifth time, Moses wished to decline the honour of this commission from the Lord, as we see in verse 13. The man, who once ran unsent, now shrinks from running at the command of God, and with the assurance of His accompanying power! But this is just how the flesh acts in every one of us, though any service that the Lord may entrust to us is so minute as compared with his. Such shrinking back may have the appearance of humility but it really springs from self-occupation, and in the last analysis we find that the self-occupation is produced not by humility but by pride.

Now of all things pride is most distasteful to God, so "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses." In result part of the honour and activity of this great commission was to be transferred to Aaron, who should be the spokesman. Moses however was to be to him "instead of God;" that is, the Lord would still deal direct with Moses and Aaron would get all his directions through him. The rod that Moses had had in his hand was now, as it were, given back to him from the hand of God, as a sign of the authority with which he was vested. The subsequent history shows the fulfilment of all this. Again and again we read, "The Lord said unto Moses;" and at critical moments the rod appeared in his hand.

At last Moses is prepared to obey. His way is opened in peace to return to Egypt with the rod—now called "the rod of God"—in his hand. But while now clothed with authority he needed to know just exactly what he had to face. God would give him the words, but in spite of the words backed with mighty deeds, Pharaoh would resist and God would harden his heart. Here we might read Exodus 9: 16, which is quoted in Romans 9: 17. This Pharaoh, whatever his name may have been as recorded in secular history, was evidently brought to the throne in some unusual way by the over-ruling hand of God, and had already pitted himself against the Almighty in such a way that the moment had now come for him to be abased in signal fashion. God would now harden his heart and thus seal his doom. We are to see in him what presently was seen in Nebuchadnezzar, "those that walk in pride He is able to abase" (Dan. 4: 37).

The situation is graphically summed up in verses 22 and 23. God adopted Israel as His son, His firstborn, and demanded that he be released. If Pharaoh would not let him go, he would have his own son his firstborn, slain. The preliminary judgments are passed over in silence. The ultimate judgment is threatened, and in Exodus 12 we find it fulfilled.

The episode recorded in verses 24-26 is explained when we observe that God was interfering on Israel's behalf under the covenant He had made with Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 17: 1-14. Of that covenant circumcision was the token or sign, and it was definitely stated by God that if circumcision was not observed death was to be the penalty. Here was Moses, chosen to be the chief actor in Israel's deliverance under that covenant, and he had not obeyed the sign! As the responsible person he was subject to the death penalty! It would appear that Zipporah, his wife, knowing nothing of the covenant, objected, but at last gave in and acted herself, though with annoyance. He was a husband of blood to her.

Just here the firstborn comes much into view. Israel is owned as God's firstborn. If Pharaoh refused to acknowledge this, God would slay his firstborn. And now the sentence of death has to come figuratively upon the firstborn of Moses. Had it not, death itself would have fallen on Moses at the hand of God. The significance of the rite of circumcision comes clearly into view here. It was the sign of death put upon the flesh. This meaning is corroborated by what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3: 3, "We are the circumcision, which . . . have no confidence in the flesh."

Circumcision accepted by Moses, we see in the last five verses of the chapter that the hand of God was with him, and everything moved with smoothness and precision. The Lord instructed Aaron, who obeyed and met him. Together they entered Egypt, consulted the elders of Israel

who believed and worshipped. This Moses, who had been rejected forty years before, was now accepted as their God-appointed leader. He was sent "a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel which appeared to him in the bush" (Acts 7:35).

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