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Exodus 4:1-9

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 

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.



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