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Exodus 4:18-23

Context
The Return of Moses

4:18 1 So Moses went back 2  to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Let me go, so that I may return 3  to my relatives 4  in Egypt and see 5  if they are still alive.” Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 4:19 The Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back 6  to Egypt, because all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 7  4:20 Then Moses took 8  his wife and sons 9  and put them on a donkey and headed back 10  to the land of Egypt, and Moses took the staff of God in his hand. 4:21 The Lord said 11  to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, 12  see that you 13  do before Pharaoh all the wonders I have put under your control. 14  But I will harden 15  his heart 16  and 17  he will not let the people go. 4:22 You must say 18  to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says 19  the Lord, “Israel is my son, my firstborn, 20  4:23 and I said to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve 21  me,’ but since you have refused to let him go, 22  I will surely kill 23  your son, your firstborn!”’”

1 sn This last section of the chapter reports Moses’ compliance with the commission. It has four parts: the decision to return (18-20), the instruction (21-23), the confrontation with Yahweh (24-26), and the presentation with Aaron (27-31).

2 tn The two verbs form a verbal hendiadys, the second verb becoming adverbial in the translation: “and he went and he returned” becomes “and he went back.”

3 tn There is a sequence here with the two cohortative forms: אֵלְכָה נָּא וְאָשׁוּבָה (’elÿkhah nnavÿashuva) – “let me go in order that I may return.”

4 tn Heb “brothers.”

5 tn This verb is parallel to the preceding cohortative and so also expresses purpose: “let me go that I may return…and that I may see.”

6 tn The text has two imperatives, “Go, return”; if these are interpreted as a hendiadys (as in the translation), then the second is adverbial.

7 sn The text clearly stated that Pharaoh sought to kill Moses; so this seems to be a reference to Pharaoh’s death shortly before Moses’ return. Moses was forty years in Midian. In the 18th dynasty, only Pharaoh Thutmose III had a reign of the right length (1504-1450 b.c.) to fit this period of Moses’ life. This would place Moses’ returning to Egypt near 1450 b.c., in the beginning of the reign of Amenhotep II, whom most conservatives identify as the pharaoh of the exodus. Rameses II, of course, had a very long reign (1304-1236). But if he were the one from whom Moses fled, then he could not be the pharaoh of the exodus, but his son would be – and that puts the date of the exodus after 1236, a date too late for anyone. See E. H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 62.

8 tn Heb “And Moses took.”

9 sn Only Gershom has been mentioned so far. The other son’s name will be explained in chapter 18. The explanation of Gershom’s name was important to Moses’ sojourn in Midian. The explanation of the name Eliezer fits better in the later chapter (18:2-4).

10 tn The verb would literally be rendered “and returned”; however, the narrative will record other happenings before he arrived in Egypt, so an ingressive nuance fits here – he began to return, or started back.

11 tn Heb “And Yahweh said.”

12 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.

13 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.

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

15 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).

16 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.

17 tn Or “so that.”

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

19 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.

20 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).

21 tn The text uses the imperative, “send out” (שַׁלַּח, shallakh) followed by the imperfect or jussive with the vav (ו) to express purpose.

22 tn The Piel infinitive serves as the direct object of the verb, answering the question of what Pharaoh would refuse to do. The command and refusal to obey are the grounds for the announcement of death for Pharaoh’s son.

23 tn The construction is very emphatic. The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) gives it an immediacy and a vividness, as if God is already beginning to act. The participle with this particle has the nuance of an imminent future act, as if God is saying, “I am about to kill.” These words are not repeated until the last plague.



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