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Exodus 4:21-22

Context
4:21 The Lord said 1  to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, 2  see that you 3  do before Pharaoh all the wonders I have put under your control. 4  But I will harden 5  his heart 6  and 7  he will not let the people go. 4:22 You must say 8  to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says 9  the Lord, “Israel is my son, my firstborn, 10 

1 tn Heb “And Yahweh said.”

2 tn The construction may involve a verbal hendiadys using the two infinitive forms: “when you go to return” (בְּלֶכְתְּךָ לָשׁוּב, bÿlekhtÿkha lashuv). The clause is temporal, subordinated to the instruction to do the signs. Therefore, its focus cannot be on going to return, i.e., preparing or beginning to return.

3 tn The two verb forms in this section are the imperative (רְאֵה, rÿeh) followed by the perfect with the vav (וַעֲשִׂיתָם, vaasitam). The second could be coordinated and function as a second command: “see…and [then] do”; or it could be subordinated logically: “see…so that you do.” Some commentators who take the first option suggest that Moses was supposed to contemplate these wonders before doing them before Pharaoh. That does not seem as likely as the second interpretation reflected in the translation.

4 tn Or “in your power”; Heb “in your hand.”

5 tn Heb “strengthen” (in the sense of making stubborn or obstinate). The text has the expression וַאֲנִי אֲחַזֵּק אֶת־לִבּוֹ (vaaniakhazzeqet-libbo), “I will make strong his will,” or “I will strengthen his resolve,” recognizing the “heart” as the location of decision making (see Prov 16:1, 9).

6 sn Here is the first mention of the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh. God first tells Moses he must do the miracles, but he also announces that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart, as if working against Moses. It will help Moses to know that God is bringing about the resistance in order to bring a greater victory with greater glory. There is a great deal of literature on this, but see among the resources F. W. Danker, “Hardness of Heart: A Study in Biblical Thematic,” CTM 44 (1973): 89-100; R. R. Wilson, “The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart,” CBQ 41 (1979): 18-36; and R. B. Chisholm Jr., “Divine Hardening in the Old Testament,” BSac 153 (1996): 410-34.

7 tn Or “so that.”

8 tn The sequence of the instruction from God uses the perfect tense with vav (ו), following the preceding imperfects.

9 tn The instantaneous use of the perfect tense fits well with the prophetic announcement of what Yahweh said or says. It shows that the words given to the prophet are still binding.

10 sn The metaphor uses the word “son” in its connotation of a political dependent, as it was used in ancient documents to describe what was intended to be a loyal relationship with well-known privileges and responsibilities, like that between a good father and son. The word can mean a literal son, a descendant, a chosen king (and so, the Messiah), a disciple (in Proverbs), and here, a nation subject to God. If the people of Israel were God’s “son,” then they should serve him and not Pharaoh. Malachi reminds people that the Law said “a son honors his father,” and so God asked, “If I am a father, where is my honor?” (Mal 1:6).



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