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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(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.
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) Exodus 4:3The First Sign. - The turning of Moses' staff into a serpent, which became a staff again when Moses took it by the tail, had reference to the calling of Moses. The staff in his hand was his shepherd's crook (מזּה Exodus 4:2, for מה־זה, in this place alone), and represented his calling as a shepherd. At the bidding of God he threw it upon the ground, and the staff became a serpent, before which Moses fled. The giving up of his shepherd-life would expose him to dangers, from which he would desire to escape. At the same time, there was more implied in the figure of a serpent than danger which merely threatened his life. The serpent had been the constant enemy of the seed of the woman (Genesis 3), and represented the power of the wicked one which prevailed in Egypt. The explanation in Pirke Elieser, c. 40, points to this: ideo Deum hoc signum Mosi ostendisse, quia sicut serpens mordet et morte afficit homines, ita quoque Pharao et Aegyptii mordebant et necabant Israelitas. But at the bidding of God, Moses seized the serpent by the tail, and received his staff again as "the rod of God," with which he smote Egypt with great plagues. From this sign the people of Israel would necessarily perceive, that Jehovah had not only called Moses to be the leader of Israel, but had endowed him with the power to overcome the serpent-like cunning and the might of Egypt; in other words, they would "believe that Jehovah, the God of the fathers, had appeared to him." (On the special meaning of this sign for Pharaoh, see Exodus 7:10.)
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