Exodus 4:3
And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) A serpent.—The word here used (nakhash) is a generic one for a snake of any kind, and tells us nothing as to the species. A different word (tannin) is used in Exodus 7:10, while nakhash recurs in Exodus 7:15. Tannin is, like nakhash, a generic term.

And Moses fled from before it—It was natural for Moses to remember his alarm, and record it. Any-later writer would have passed over so small a circumstance. (See the Introduction, p. 3.)

Exodus 4:3-4. It became a serpent — Was really changed into a serpent. There was a significancy in this sign: it intimated what and how pernicious his rod would be to the Egyptians. It became a rod in his hand — When stretched forth by the hand of Moses or Aaron, it became a token to Israel of guidance, encouragement, and protection; but to Egypt, like the bite of the most poisonous serpent, it betokened desolating judgments.4:1-9 Moses objects, that the people would not take his word, unless he showed them some sign. God gives him power to work miracles. But those who are now employed to deliver God's messages to men, need not the power to work miracles: their character and their doctrines are to be tried by that word of God to which they appeal. These miracles especially referred to the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ. It belonged to Him only, to cast the power of the devil out of the soul, and to heal the soul of the leprosy of sin; and so it was for Him first to cast the devil out of the body, and to heal the leprosy of the body.A serpent - This miracle had a meaning which Moses could not mistake. The serpent was probably the basilisk or Uraeus, the Cobra. This was the symbol of royal and divine power on the diadem of every Pharaoh. The conversion of the rod was not merely a portent, it was a sign, at once a pledge and representation of victory over the king and gods of Egypt! 2. the Lord said, … What is that in thine hand?—The question was put not to elicit information which God required, but to draw the particular attention of Moses.

A rod—probably the shepherd's crook—among the Arabs, a long staff, with a curved head, varying from three to six feet in length.

It became a serpent, i.e. was really changed into a serpent; whereby it was intimated what and how pernicious his rod should be to the Egyptians. And he said, cast it on the ground,.... That is, the rod or staff:

and he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; not in appearance only, but in reality, it was changed into a real living serpent; for God, who is the author of nature, can change the nature of things as he pleases; nor is it to be supposed that he would only make it look to the sight as if it was one, by working upon the fancy and imagination to think it was one, when it was not; no doubt but it was as really turned into a true serpent, as the water was turned really and truly into wine by our Lord; this was the first miracle that ever was wrought, that we know of. Dr. Lightfoot (h) observes, that as a serpent was the fittest emblem of the devil, Genesis 3:1 so was it a sign that Moses did not these miracles by the power of the devil, but had a power over and beyond him, when he could thus deal with the serpent at his pleasure, as to make his rod a serpent, and the serpent a rod, as he saw good:

and Moses fled from before it; the Jews say (i) it was a fiery serpent, but for this they have no warrant: however, without supposing that it might be terrible and frightful, inasmuch as a common serpent is very disagreeable to men, and such an uncommon and extraordinary one must be very surprising, to see a staff become a serpent, a living one, crawling and leaping about, and perhaps turning itself towards Moses, whose staff it had been. Philo the Jew (k) says, it was a dragon, an exceeding large one.

(h) Works, vol. 1. p. 702. (i) Pirke Eliezer, c. 40. (k) De Vita Mosls, l. 1. 614.

And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. a serpent] The marg. ‘Heb. nâḥâsh’ is added for the purpose of shewing that the Heb. word used here is different from the one used in Exodus 7:10-12 (P); see the marg. there.Verse 3. - It became a serpent. The word here used for "serpent," nakhash, is a generic word applicable to any species of snake. We cannot assume that the cobra is the serpent meant, though no doubt Moses, when he fled from before it, believed it to be a venomous serpent. Various reasons for God's choice of this particular sign have been given. Perhaps the best is, that a trick of the kind was known to the Egyptian conjurors, who would be tempted to exhibit it in order to discredit Moses, and would then be discredited themselves by his stick swallowing theirs. (See Exodus 7:10-12.) It is fanciful to suppose a reference either to the serpent of Genesis 3. (Keil and Delitzsch) or to the uraeus (cobra), which the Egyptian kings bore in their headdress as a mark of sovereignty {Canon Cook) With the command, "Go and gather the elders of Israel together," God then gave Moses further instructions with reference to the execution of his mission. On his arrival in Egypt he was first of all to inform the elders, as the representatives of the nation (i.e., the heads of the families, households, and tribes), of the appearance of God to him, and the revelation of His design, to deliver His people out of Egypt and bring them to the land of the Canaanites. He was then to go with them to Pharaoh, and make known to him their resolution, in consequence of this appearance of God, to go a three days' journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to their God. The words, "I have surely visited," point to the fulfilment of the last words of the dying Joseph (Genesis 50:24). עלינוּ נקרה (Exodus 3:18) does not mean "He is named upon us" (lxx, Onk., Jon.), nor "He has called us" (Vulg., Luth.). The latter is grammatically wrong, for the verb is Niphal, or passive; and though the former has some support in the parallel passage in Exodus 5:3, inasmuch as נקרא is the verb used there, it is only in appearance, for if the meaning really were "His name is named upon (over) us," the word שׁמו (שׁם) would not be omitted (vid., Deuteronomy 28:10; 2 Chronicles 7:14). The real meaning is, "He has met with us," from נקרה, obruam fieri, ordinarily construed with אל, but here with על, because God comes down from above to meet with man. The plural us is used, although it was only to Moses that God appeared, because His appearing had reference to the whole nation, which was represented before Pharaoh by Moses and the elders. In the words נלכה־נא, "we will go, then," equivalent to "let us go," the request for Pharaoh's permission to go out is couched in such a form as to answer to the relation of Israel to Pharaoh. He had no right to detain them, but he had a right to consent to their departure, as his predecessor had formerly done to their settlement. Still less had he any good reason for refusing their request to go a three days' journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to their God, since their return at the close of the festival was then taken for granted. But the purpose of God was, that Israel should not return. Was it the case, then, that the delegates were "to deceive the king," as Knobel affirms! By no means. God knew the hard heart of Pharaoh, and therefore directed that no more should be asked at first than he must either grant, or display the hardness of his heart. Had he consented, God would then have made known to him His whole design, and demanded that His people should be allowed to depart altogether. But when Pharaoh scornfully refused the first and smaller request (Exodus 5), Moses was instructed to demand the entire departure of Israel from the land (Exodus 6:10), and to show the omnipotence of the God of the Hebrews before and upon Pharaoh by miracles and heavy judgments (Hebrews 7:8.). Accordingly, Moses persisted in demanding permission for the people to go and serve their God (Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:1; Exodus 9:1, Exodus 9:13; Exodus 10:3); and it was not till Pharaoh offered to allow them to sacrifice in the land that Moses replied, "We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to Jehovah our God" (Exodus 8:27); but, observe, with this proviso, "as He shall command us," which left, under the circumstances, no hope that they would return. It was an act of mercy to Pharaoh, therefore, on the one hand, that the entire departure of the Israelites was not demanded at the very first audience of Moses and the representatives of the nation; for, had this been demanded, it would have been far more difficult for him to bend his heart in obedience to the divine will, than when the request presented was as trifling as it was reasonable. And if he had rendered obedience to the will of God in the smaller, God would have given him strength to be faithful in the greater. On the other hand, as God foresaw his resistance (Exodus 3:19), this condescension, which demanded no more than the natural man could have performed, was also to answer the purpose of clearly displaying the justice of God. It was to prove alike to Egyptians and Israelites that Pharaoh was "without excuse," and that his eventual destruction was the well-merited punishment of his obduracy.

(Note: "This moderate request was made only at the period of the earlier plagues. It served to put Pharaoh to the proof. God did not come forth with His whole plan and desire at first, that his obduracy might appear so much the more glaring, and find no excuse in the greatness of the requirement. Had Pharaoh granted this request, Israel would not have gone beyond it; but had not God foreseen, what He repeatedly says (compare, for instance, Exodus 3:18), that he would not comply with it, He would not thus have presented it; He would from the beginning have revealed His whole design. Thus Augustine remarks (Quaest. 13 in Ex.)." Hengstenberg, Diss. on the Pentateuch. vol. ii. p. 427, Ryland's translation. Clark, 1847.)

חזקה ביד ולא, "not even by means of a strong hand;" "except through great power" is not the true rendering, ולא does not mean ἐὰν μὴ, nisi. What follows, - viz., the statement that God would so smite the Egyptians with miracles that Pharaoh would, after all, let Israel go (Exodus 3:20), - is not really at variance with this, the only admissible rendering of the words. For the meaning is, that Pharaoh would not be willing to let Israel depart even when he should be smitten by the strong hand of God; but that he would be compelled to do so against his will, would be forced to do so by the plagues that were about to fall upon Egypt. Thus even after the ninth plague it is still stated (Exodus 10:27), that "Pharaoh would (אבה) not let them go;" and when he had given permission, in consequence of the last plague, and in fact had driven them out (Exodus 12:31), he speedily repented, and pursued them with his army to bring them back again (Exodus 14:5.); from which it is clearly to be seen that the strong hand of God had not broken his will, and yet Israel was brought out by the same strong hand of Jehovah.

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