And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,…
I. "UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS." Enquire what the significance of this strange expression mail be, as coming from Moses. It can hardly have been a current proverbial phrase adopted for the occasion by Moses, as a still more forcible statement of what he had said before on his felt inability as a speaker. There is no reason to suppose that up to this time there was any such feeling among the Israelites as would originate the expression "uncircumcised lips." They had, indeed, in one instance professed themselves very tenacious of the outward form (Genesis 34:15), but a general appreciation of the inward and spiritual meaning of this form was not to be expected. Hence we may take these words of Moses as giving a fresh, original and emphatic expression of how deeply Moses felt himself lacking in qualification for this serious enterprise. And evidently also, Moses was doing more than give a forcible variation of the old tale. The new expression goes deeper in its significance than "slow of speech and slow of tongue." It indicates that Moses had been pondering, as indeed he had reason to ponder, the meaning of circumcision. Circumcision was a separating sign, the sign of a peculiar destiny and inheritance, of peculiar duties and privileges. But so far it seemed only to have produced outward separation without inward differences, differences of feeling and disposition. Moses could not see that circumcision had done anything to give him ability for his peculiar task. His way of speaking may therefore be taken as a sign of advance in his appreciation of what was necessary to do Jehovah's work. Hitherto his great concern had been because of natural defects in mere organs of action. He had not thought so much of what was lacking in the life that lay behind the organs, and acted through them. But now we gain some hint that Moses sees what is really wanted. The thing wanted is not simply to be lifted up to the level of men who have all natural qualifications for effective speech, but to be lifted altogether above the ordinary level. Though Moses was "slow of speech, and of a slow tongue," others were not; but they were all of "uncircumcised lips." Moses, we may take it, has now got beyond the personal reluctance which actuated him in his pleas at Horeb. The avengers of the slain Egyptian no longer frown upon him from the horizon of memory. But now comes in this new plea, urged in a worthier spirit, and with a mournful consciousness of its permanent force. It is a plea which is not a mere excuse, but possesses more of the dignity of a reason.
II. JEHOVAH IN HIS REPLY MAKES NO DIRECT REFERENCE TO THIS CIRCUMCISION OF THE LIPS. When Moses aforetime had spoken of his vocal defects, God at once reminded him that defects of this sort were beyond human responsibility, and he also indicated the clear provision through Aaron for the supply of them. Here, indeed, he again takes the opportunity of repeating to Moses that so far as vocal defects are concerned, Aaron will amply compensate for them. But as to the lips being uncircumcised, while this is indeed true, it is a state of things which does not bear upon the present need. Suppose the lips are circumcised - that is, suppose that Moses in his words is brought into full sympathy with the purposes of God - it will make no difference in the immediate results. Pharaoh's heart is being hardened; his ears are being closed. It matters not with what purity, simplicity, devotion, and faithfulness we speak, if we speak to that which is insensible. Let us by all means blame ourselves for the faulty way in which we speak and live the message of God, but our faults do not account for the indifference and the rejections of other men. These faults bring us under censure for our unfaithfulness, but they do not excuse the unbeliever for his neglect. If but one clear word concerning Jesus be spoken - spoken only once - it is enough to fix responsibility on the auditor. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." If ever being on earth spoke with circumcised lips, it was Jesus himself, yet how idly fell all his solemn, weighty, truthful words upon the ear of Pharisee and Sadducee. Moses will have blame enough by-and-by, first, cruel and undeserved blame from Israel; and next, the censure and penalty from Jehovah for the lapse at Meribah. At present, though he is speaking of an unquestionable defect, he is speaking of it in a premature and inapplicable way. He must indeed know the circumcision of the lip and of all other natural faculties; for this is consequent on the circumcision of the heart. But the great object of all this circumcision is not to secure his acceptance with Pharaoh or with any other sinful or rebellious man. It is rather to secure his acceptance with God, and especially his full enjoyment of all that comes through tiffs acceptance.
III. JEHOVAH POINTS OUT THE WAY IN WHICH PHARAOH SHALL BE EFFECTUALLY BROUGHT TO SUBMISSION.
1. In the sight of Pharoh, Moses is to become a God. In effect Pharaoh has said that Jehovah is no God, and in his heart he thinks Moses a presumptuous impostor. Pharaoh is therefore in a state of mind in which it is impossible to reveal Jehovah to him, but Moses in his own person shall set forth - shall incarnate, so to speak - all that Pharaoh can understand or needs to understand of the Divine Fewer. Tie shall be compelled to respect the ever-increasing power of Moses. He may hate it, he may make some attempts to resist it, but at the same time the very force of circumstances will bear it in on his mind as a tremendous reality. He shall see how all these successive devastations of his land are connected in some inscrutable way with the presence of Moses and the waving of his red. Whatever the blindness of his heart so that seeing he does not perceive, he will be obliged to perceive that the strength of Moses does not lie in any visible, terrestrial forces. With all his obduracy, Pharaoh has a certain sense of awe before Moses, and doubtless this is the reason why no attempt is made to treat the person of Moses with violence.
2. Notice the way in which God here applies the method of mediation. Moses was not a mediator as from Pharaoh upwards to Jehovah, but he was a mediator from Jehovah downwards to Pharaoh. God thus seizes upon the disposition among the ignorant to venerate inscrutable power. Pharaoh will not listen to Moses speaking, but when the signs begin, and especially when they advance far beyond anything which his own magicians can simulate, he is ready to look on Moses as having something of a Divine nature. God looked for the impressible part in Pharaoh's mind and found it here. The way in which Pharaoh evidently came to regard Moses (God's word in ver. 1 being the voucher for the feeling) is illustrated by the attitude towards Paul and Barnabas of the Lystrans (Acts 14:8-13) and towards Paul of the Melitans (Acts 28:6).
3. Notice how God lays emphasis on Pharaoh's continued indifference to any verbal message. "Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you." The thoughts of Moses are to be turned away more and more from his own lips or from any other faculty. He is to see that the great antagonists in this contest - even though he is made as a God to Pharaoh - are Jehovah and Pharaoh themselves. It is necessary that Pharaoh should have ample opportunity to show the extent of his passive strength, how long and how stiffly he can resist the constraints of Divine omnipotence. Goal stoops to a patient struggle with this obdurate monarch that he may thereby present, to all who read the Scriptures, an illustration of the complete way in which his power deals with the most stubborn assertions of human power. The Israelites, even with all their sufferings, had as yet seen only a part of what Pharaoh could do. They had seen him in cruel action; they had also to see him in stolid endurance. So Moses had seen signs of Divine power; but he had yet to see that power itself in extensive and awful operation. On the one hand Pharaoh is to be revealed, bringing out all his resources again and again, until at last they are swallowed in the catastrophe of the Red Sea. Then, he is done with, but the operations of Divine power are only as it were beginning. It is a great matter that we should thus see the powers arrayed against God, working at the utmost of their strength; that we may feel how immeasurably the power of God transcends them. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,