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Exodus 4:1-17

Context
The Source of Sufficiency

4:1 1 Moses answered again, 2  “And if 3  they do not believe me or pay attention to me, 4  but say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you’?” 4:2 The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 5  4:3 The Lord 6  said, “Throw it to the ground.” So he threw it to the ground, and it became a snake, 7  and Moses ran from it. 4:4 But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and grab it by the tail” – so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand 8 4:5 “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

4:6 The Lord also said to him, “Put your hand into your robe.” 9  So he put his hand into his robe, and when he brought it out – there was his hand, 10  leprous like snow! 11  4:7 He said, “Put your hand back into your robe.” So he put his hand back into his robe, and when he brought it out from his robe – there it was, 12  restored 13  like the rest of his skin! 14  4:8 “If 15  they do not believe you or pay attention to 16  the former sign, then they may 17  believe the latter sign. 18  4:9 And if 19  they do not believe even these two signs or listen to you, 20  then take 21  some water from the Nile and pour it out on the dry ground. The water you take out of the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” 22 

4:10 Then Moses said to the Lord, 23  “O 24  my Lord, 25  I am not an eloquent man, 26  neither in the past 27  nor since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 28 

4:11 The Lord said to him, “Who gave 29  a mouth to man, or who makes a person mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 30  4:12 So now go, and I will be with your mouth 31  and will teach you 32  what you must say.” 33 

4:13 But Moses said, 34  “O 35  my Lord, please send anyone else whom you wish to send!” 36 

4:14 Then the Lord became angry with 37  Moses, and he said, “What about 38  your brother Aaron the Levite? 39  I know that he can speak very well. 40  Moreover, he is coming 41  to meet you, and when he sees you he will be glad in his heart. 42 

4:15 “So you are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And as for me, I will be with your mouth 43  and with his mouth, 44  and I will teach you both 45  what you must do. 46  4:16 He 47  will speak for you to the people, and it will be as if 48  he 49  were your mouth 50  and as if you were his God. 51  4:17 You will also take in your hand this staff, with which you will do the signs.” 52 

1 sn In chap. 3, the first part of this extensive call, Yahweh promises to deliver his people. At the hesitancy of Moses, God guarantees his presence will be with him, and that assures the success of the mission. But with chap. 4, the second half of the call, the tone changes sharply. Now Moses protests his inadequacies in view of the nature of the task. In many ways, these verses address the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” There are three basic movements in the passage. The first nine verses tell how God gave Moses signs in case Israel did not believe him (4:1-9). The second section records how God dealt with the speech problem of Moses (4:10-12). And finally, the last section records God’s provision of a helper, someone who could talk well (4:13-17). See also J. E. Hamlin, “The Liberator’s Ordeal: A Study of Exodus 4:1-9,” Rhetorical Criticism [PTMS], 33-42.

2 tn Heb “and Moses answered and said.”

3 tn Or “What if.” The use of הֵן (hen) is unusual here, introducing a conditional idea in the question without a following consequence clause (see Exod 8:22 HT [8:26 ET]; Jer 2:10; 2 Chr 7:13). The Greek has “if not” but adds the clause “what shall I say to them?”

4 tn Heb “listen to my voice,” so as to respond positively.

5 tn Or “rod” (KJV, ASV); NCV, CEV “walking stick”; NLT “shepherd’s staff.”

sn The staff appears here to be the shepherd’s staff that he was holding. It now will become the instrument with which Moses will do the mighty works, for it is the medium of the display of the divine power (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 27; also, L. Shalit, “How Moses Turned a Staff into a Snake and Back Again,” BAR 9 [1983]: 72-73).

6 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

7 sn The details of the verse are designed to show that there was a staff that became a snake. The question is used to affirm that there truly was a staff, and then the report of Moses running from it shows it was a genuine snake. Using the serpent as a sign would have had an impact on the religious ideas of Egypt, for the sacred cobra was one of their symbols.

8 sn The signs authenticated Moses’ ministry as the Lord’s emissary. This sign will show that the Lord had control over Egypt and its stability, over life and death. But first Moses has to be convinced that he can turn it into a dead stick again.

9 tn The word חֵיק (kheq), often rendered “bosom,” refers to the front of the chest and a fold in the garment there where an item could be placed for carrying (see Prov 6:27; 16:33; 21:14). So “into your robe” should be understood loosely here and in v. 7 as referring to the inside of the top front of Moses’ garment. The inside chest pocket of a jacket is a rough modern equivalent.

10 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) points out the startling or amazing sight as if the reader were catching first glimpse of it with Moses.

11 sn This sudden skin disease indicated that God was able to bring such diseases on Egypt in the plagues and that only he could remove them. The whitening was the first stage of death for the diseased (Num 12:10; 2 Kgs 5:27). The Hebrew words traditionally rendered “leprous” or “leprosy,” as they are used in Lev 13 and 14, encompass a variety of conditions, not limited to the disease called leprosy and identified as Hansen’s disease in modern times.

12 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) points out the startling or amazing sight as if the reader were catching first glimpse of it with Moses.

13 tn Heb “it returned.”

14 tn Heb “like his flesh.”

15 tn Heb “and it will be if.”

16 tn Heb “listen to the voice of,” meaning listen so as to respond appropriately.

17 tn The nuance of this perfect tense with a vav (ו) consecutive will be equal to the imperfect of possibility – “they may believe.”

18 tn Heb “believe the voice of the latter sign,” so as to understand and accept the meaning of the event.

19 tn Heb “and it will be if.”

20 tn Heb “listen to your voice.”

21 tn The verb form is the perfect tense with the vav (ו) consecutive; it functions then as the equivalent of the imperfect tense – here as an imperfect of instruction.

22 sn This is a powerful sign, for the Nile was always known as the source of life in Egypt, but now it will become the evidence of death. So the three signs were alike, each consisting of life and death. They would clearly anticipate the struggle with Egypt through the plagues. The point is clear that in the face of the possibility that people might not believe, the servants of God must offer clear proof of the power of God as they deliver the message of God. The rest is up to God.

23 sn Now Moses took up another line of argumentation, the issue of his inability to speak fluently (vv. 10-17). The point here is that God’s servants must yield themselves as instruments to God, the Creator. It makes no difference what character traits they have or what weaknesses they think they have (Moses manages to speak very well) if God is present. If the sovereign God has chosen them, then they have everything that God intended them to have.

24 tn The word בִּי (bi) is a particle of entreaty; it seeks permission to speak and is always followed by “my lord” or “my Lord.” Often rendered “please,” it is “employed in petitions, complaints and excuses” (W. H. C. Propp, Exodus 1–18 [AB], 213).

25 tn The designation in Moses’ address is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay), a term of respect and deference such as “lord, master, sir” but pointed as it would be when it represents the tetragrammaton. B. Jacob says since this is the first time Moses spoke directly to Yahweh, he did so hesitatingly (Exodus, 87).

26 tn When a noun clause is negated with לֹא (lo’), rather than אֵין (’en), there is a special emphasis, since the force of the negative falls on a specific word (GKC 479 §152.d). The expression “eloquent man” is אִישׁ דְּבָרִים (’ish dÿvarim, “a man of words”). The genitive may indicate a man characterized by words or a man who is able to command or control words. Moses apparently is resigned to the fact that he can do the signs, but he knows the signs have to be explained.

27 tn Heb “also from yesterday also from three days ago” or “neither since yesterday nor since before that” is idiomatic for “previously” or “in the past.”

28 tn The two expressions are כְבַד־פֶּה (khÿvad peh, “heavy of mouth”), and then כְבַד לָשׁוֹן (khÿvad lashon, “heavy of tongue”). Both use genitives of specification, the mouth and the tongue being what are heavy – slow. “Mouth” and “tongue” are metonymies of cause. Moses is saying that he has a problem speaking well. Perhaps he had been too long at the other side of the desert, or perhaps he was being a little dishonest. At any rate, he has still not captured the meaning of God’s presence. See among other works, J. H. Tigay, “‘Heavy of Mouth’ and ‘Heavy of Tongue’: On Moses’ Speech Difficulty,” BASOR 231 (1978): 57-67.

29 tn The verb שִׂים (sim) means “to place, put, set”; the sentence here more precisely says, “Who put a mouth into a man?”

sn The argumentation by Moses is here met by Yahweh’s rhetorical questions. They are intended to be sharp – it is reproof for Moses. The message is twofold. First, Yahweh is fully able to overcome all of Moses’ deficiencies. Second, Moses is exactly the way that God intended him to be. So the rhetorical questions are meant to prod Moses’ faith.

30 sn The final question obviously demands a positive answer. But the clause is worded in such a way as to return to the theme of “I AM.” Isaiah 45:5-7 developed this same idea of God’s control over life. Moses protests that he is not an eloquent speaker, and the Lord replies with reminders about himself and promises, “I will be with your mouth,” an assertion that repeats the verb he used four times in 3:12 and 14 and in promises to Isaac and Jacob (Gen 26:3; 31:3).

31 sn The promise of divine presence always indicates intervention (for blessing or cursing). Here it means that God would be working through the organs of speech to help Moses speak. See Deut 18:18; Jer 1:9.

32 sn The verb is וְהוֹרֵיתִיךָ (vÿhoretikha), the Hiphil perfect with a vav (ו) consecutive. The form carries the instructional meaning because it follows the imperative “go.” In fact, there is a sequence at work here: “go…and/that I may teach you.” It is from יָרָה (yara), the same root behind תּוֹרָה (torah, “law”). This always referred to teaching either wisdom or revelation. Here Yahweh promises to teach Moses what to say.

33 tn The form is the imperfect tense. While it could be taken as a future (“what you will say”), an obligatory imperfect captures the significance better (“what you must say” or “what you are to say”). Not even the content of the message will be left up to Moses.

34 tn Heb “And he said”; the referent (Moses) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

35 tn The word בִּי (bi) is a particle of entreaty; it seeks permission to speak and is always followed by “Lord” or “my Lord.”

36 tn The text has simply שְׁלַח־נָא בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָח (shÿlakh-nabÿyad tishlakh, “send by the hand you will send”). This is not Moses’ resignation to doing God’s will – it is his final attempt to avoid the call. It carries the force of asking God to send someone else. This is an example of an independent relative clause governed by the genitive: “by the hand of – whomever you will send” (see GKC 488-89 §155.n).

37 tn Heb “and the anger of Yahweh burned against.”

sn Moses had not dared openly to say “except me” when he asked God to send whomever he wanted to send. But God knew that is what he meant. Moses should not have resisted the call or pleaded such excuses or hesitated with such weak faith. Now God abandoned the gentle answer and in anger brought in a form of retribution. Because Moses did not want to do this, he was punished by not having the honor of doing it alone. His reluctance and the result are like the refusal of Israel to enter the land and the result they experienced (see U. Cassuto, Exodus, 49-50).

38 tn Heb “Is not” or perhaps “Is [there] not.”

39 sn S. R. Driver (Exodus, 29) suggests that the term “Levite” may refer to a profession rather than ancestry here, because both Moses and Aaron were from the tribe of Levi and there would be little point in noting that ancestry for Aaron. In thinking through the difficult problem of the identity of Levites, he cites McNeile as saying “the Levite” referred to one who had had official training as a priest (cf. Judg 17:7, where a member of the tribe of Judah was a Levite). If it was the duty of the priest to give “torah” – to teach – then some training in the power of language would have been in order.

40 tn The construction uses the Piel infinitive absolute and the Piel imperfect to express the idea that he spoke very well: דַבֵּר יְדַבֵּר (dabber yÿdabber).

sn Now Yahweh, in condescending to Moses, selects something that Moses (and God) did not really need for the work. It is as if he were saying: “If Moses feels speaking ability is so necessary (rather than the divine presence), then that is what he will have.” Of course, this golden-tongued Aaron had some smooth words about how the golden calf was forged!

41 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) with the participle points to the imminent future; it means “he is about to come” or “here he is coming.”

42 sn It is unlikely that this simply means that as a brother he will be pleased to see Moses, for the narrative has no time for that kind of comment. It is interested in more significant things. The implication is that Aaron will rejoice because of the revelation of God to Moses and the plan to deliver Israel from bondage (see B. Jacob, Exodus, 93).

43 tn Or “I will help you speak.” The independent pronoun puts emphasis (“as for me”) on the subject (“I”).

44 tn Or “and will help him speak.”

45 tn The word “both” is supplied to convey that this object (“you”) and the subject of the next verb (“you must do”) are plural in the Hebrew text, referring to Moses and Aaron. In 4:16 “you” returns to being singular in reference to Moses.

46 tn The imperfect tense carries the obligatory nuance here as well. The relative pronoun with this verb forms a noun clause functioning as the direct object of “I will teach.”

47 tn The word “he” represents the Hebrew independent pronoun, which makes the subject emphatic.

48 tn The phrase “as if” is supplied for clarity.

49 tn Heb “and it will be [that] he, he will be to you for a mouth,” or more simply, “he will be your mouth.”

50 tn Heb “he will be to you for a mouth.”

51 tn The phrase “as if” is supplied for clarity. The word “you” represents the Hebrew independent pronoun, which makes the subject emphatic.

sn Moses will be like God to Aaron, giving him the words to say, inspiring him as God would inspire a prophet. The whole process had now been removed one step. Instead of God speaking to Moses and Moses telling the people, Aaron would be the speaker for a while. But God was still going to work through Moses.

52 sn Mention of the staff makes an appropriate ending to the section, for God’s power (represented by the staff) will work through Moses. The applicable point that this whole section is making could be worded this way: The servants of God who sense their inadequacy must demonstrate the power of God as their sufficiency.



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