Matthew Poole's Commentary
And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee.Moses’s objection, Exodus 4:1. The answer, Exodus 4:2. God turns his rod into a serpent, Exodus 4:3-5. He adds another sign, Exodus 4:6-8. And lest they would not believe, water is turned into blood, Exodus 4:9. Moses’s objection, Exodus 4:10. God argues with him, Exodus 4:11. God’s command and promise, Exodus 4:12. Moses’s answer, Exodus 4:13. God is angry, and enjoins Aaron to the same employment, Exodus 4:14; tells what Aaron should be, and what Moses should do, Exodus 4:15-17. Moses returning to Jethro, craves leave to go to Egypt to see his brethren: Jethro’s grant, Exodus 4:18. Moses having taken the rod of God, departs with his wife and children into Egypt, Exodus 4:20. God tells him what he should say to Pharaoh, Exodus 4:22,23. God seeketh to kill Moses, Exodus 4:24. Zipporah with a sharp knife cuts off her son’s foreskin and what she said, Exodus 4:25,26. God commands Aaron to meet Moses, Exodus 4:27. Moses declares to Aaron both what he had heard and seen, Exodus 4:28. They gather together the elders of Israel, Exodus 4:29; and Aaron speaks all the words and does all the signs which God commanded, Exodus 4:30. The people believe, Exodus 4:31.
They will not believe me; which he conjectured both from reason, because the greatness and strangeness of the deliverance made it seem incredible; and their minds were so oppressed with cares and labours, that it was not likely they could raise them up to any such expectation; and from the experience which he had of them forty years before, when their deliverance by his means and interest at court seemed much more credible than now it did.
And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.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 the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand:The tail was the dangerous part; whereby God would try Moses’s faith, and prepare him for the approaching difficulties.
That they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee.An imperfect sentence, to be thus completed,
This thou shalt do before them, that they may believe. See the like in 2 Samuel 5:8, compared with 1 Chronicles 11:6; and Mark 14:49, compared with Matthew 26:56.
And the LORD said furthermore unto him, Put now thine hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow.For whiteness. See Numbers 12:10. Hereby God would suggest to them how soon he could weaken and destroy the hard and strong hand by which the Egyptians tyrannised over them. It might also be done to keep Moses humble and depending upon God, and to teach him and Israel to ascribe all the future miracles not to the hand of Moses, which was weak and liable to many distempers, but wholly to the Divine power and goodness.
And he said, Put thine hand into thy bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again; and plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh.No text from Poole on this verse.
And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.To the voice of the first sign; to the voice or word of God delivered and confirmed by the first sign. For Moses did not make dumb shows before them, but acquainted them with the mind of God therein. Or he saith
the voice, to note that God’s works have a voice to speak to us, which we must diligently observe. See Micah 6:9.
And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land.The river Nile, well known to Moses, and called so by way of eminency, as Euphrates also is. Shall become, Heb. shall be, even shall be, i.e. it shall assuredly be so.
And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.I am not eloquent; not able to deliver thy message acceptably and decently, either to Pharaoh or to the Israelites. Since thy appearance to me, thou hast made some change in my hand, but none in my tongue, but still I am, as I was, most unfit for so high an employment. But indeed he was therefore fit for it, as the unlearned apostles were for the preaching of the gospel, that the honour of their glorious works might be entirely given to God, and not to the instruments which he used.
And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?No text from Poole on this verse.
Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.By my Spirit to direct and assist thee what and how to speak. Whence Moses, though he still seems to have remained slow in speech, yet was in truth mighty in words as well as deeds, Acts 7:22. Compare Matthew 10:19,20.
And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.By one who is fitter for the work than I am. Heb. Send by the hand of him whom
thou wilt send, i.e. should send; for the future tense oft signifies what one should do. See Genesis 20:9 34:7 Malachi 1:6 2:7. Thou usest according to thy wisdom to choose fit instruments, and to use none but whom thou dost either find or make fit for their employment, which I am not. Others, Send by the hand of Messias, whom thou wilt certainly send, and canst not send at a fitter time, nor for better work. Moses and the prophets knew that Christ would come, but the particular time of his coming was unknown to them. See 1 Peter 1:11.
And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.He cometh forth to meet thee, by my instigation and direction; which, because I see thou art still diffident, I give thee for a new sign to strengthen thy belief that I will carry thee through this hard work.
And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.Put words in his mouth, i.e. instruct him what to speak, and command him freely and faithfully to express it. See Isaiah 51:16 59:21.
And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.To teach and command him. See Exodus 7:1.
And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.Both those which I have already made thee to do, and others as I shall direct and enable thee.
And Moses went and returned to Jethro his father in law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive. And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace.He pretends only a visit, and so indeed it was, and that no very long one neither: he knew that he should certainly return to this place, and there meet with his father-in-law. So that he did not deceive him, nor intended to do so though he thought fit to conceal from him the errand upon which God sent him, lest his father or wife should attempt to hinder or discourage him from so difficult and dangerous an enterprise. Moses shows here a rare example, as well of modesty and humility, that such glorious and familiar converse with God, and the high calling to which God had advanced him, did neither make him forget the civility and duty which he owed to his father, nor make him break forth into public and vain-glorious boasting of such a privilege; as also of his piety and prudence, that he avoided all occasions and temptations to disobedience to God’s command.
And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life.This seems to have been a second vision, whereby God calls him forth to the present and speedy execution of that command which before was more generally delivered.
Which sought thy life, to wit, to take it away. See the like expression, 1 Samuel 22:23 1 Kings 19:14 Matthew 2:20. God knew very well that one great cause of Moses’s unwillingness to this undertaking was his carnal fear, though he was ashamed to profess it, and therefore gives him this cordial.
And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.His sons, Gershom, Exodus 2:22, and Eliezer, Exodus 18:4, whom he intended to carry with him; but afterwards observing that they were like to be impediments to him in his great business, and being well assured that it would not be long ere he returned to them, he sent them back to Jethro, as may seem from Exodus 18:5.
Upon an ass: one ass might be sufficient for her and her two children, because one of them was but little, Exodus 4:25. Or ass may be put for asses, which changes of the numbers is very frequent in Scripture.
The rod of God; his shepherd’s rod so called, partly because it was appropriated to God’s special service, to be the instrument in all his glorious works; and partly to show that whatsoever was done by that rod, was not done by any virtue in the rod, or in Moses’s hand, but merely by the power of God, who was pleased for the greater confusion of his enemies to use so mean an instrument.
And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.In thine hand, i.e. in thy power or commission, to be clone by thy hand, and the rod in it.
I will harden his heart, that he shall he unmerciful to all the groans and pressures of the Israelites, inexorable to the requests of Moses, unmovable and incorrigible by all my words and works. But God doth not properly and positively make men’s hearts hard, but only privatively, either by denying to them, or withdrawing from them, that grace which alone can make men soft, and flexible, and pliable to the Divine will; as the sun hardens the clay by drawing out of it that moisture which made it soft; or by exposing them to those temptations of the world or the devil, which, meeting with a corrupt heart, are apt to harden it.
And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:By my choice and adoption. They are most dear to me, and reserved by me out of all nations to be my peculiar people; and therefore I will no longer suffer thee to invade my right, nor them to live in the neglect of my service.
And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.I say unto thee; I command thee; for saying is put for commanding, Luke 4:3 9:54; and in 1 Chronicles 21:19, compared with 2 Samuel 24:19.
I will slay thy son; by which plague, coming after the rest, thou wilt be enforced to do what I advise thee now to do upon cheaper terms.
And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.Met him, i.e. appeared to him in some visible shape,
and sought to kill him. Whom? Moses, spoken of and to before. He offered and endeavoured to kill him, either by inflicting some sudden and dangerous disease or stroke upon him, or by showing himself in some threatening posture, possibly as the angel did to Balaam, and afterwards to David, with a drawn sword in his hand, ready to give him a deadly blow. The reason of this severity was not Moses’s distrust of God, or delay in his journey, nor the bringing of his wife and children along with him, (which it was convenient for him to carry with him, both that his father might not think he intended to desert them, and for the greater assurance and encouragement of the Israelites, when they saw that he exposed his dearest relations to the same hazards with them all,) but the neglect of circumcising his child, which also the Lord some way or other signified to Moses and Zipporah, as plainly appears,
1. From Zipporah’s following fact upon that occasion.
2. From the Lord’s dismission of Moses upon the circumcision of the child.
3. From the threatening of death, or cutting off, for this sin, Genesis 17:14, which, because there was now no magistrate to do it, God himself offers to execute it, as he sometimes saith he would do that in case. And this was a greater Sin in Moses than in another man, and at this time than it had been before, because he understood the will and law of God about it better than any man, and God had lately minded him of that covenant of his with Abraham, &c., whereof circumcision was a seal; the blessings and benefits of which covenant Moses was now going to procure for himself and for his people, whilst he remained under the guilt of grossly neglecting the condition of it. Besides, what could be more absurd than that he should come to be a lawgiver, who lived in a manifest violation of God’s law? or that he should be the chief ruler and instructer of the Israelites, whose duty it was to acquaint them with their duty of circumcising their children, and, as far as he could, to punish the wilful neglect of it, and yet at the same time be guilty of the same sin? or that he should undertake to govern the church of God, that could not well rule his own house? 1 Timothy 3:5. And this was not only a great sin in itself, but a great scandal to the Israelites, who might by this great example easily be led into the same miscarriage; and moreover might not without colour of probability suspect the call of such a person, and conclude that God would not honour that man who should continue in such a visible contempt of his law. And therefore it is no wonder that God was so angry at Moses for this sin.
Quest. How came Moses to neglect this evident duty?
Answ. From Zipporah’s averseness to and dread of that painful and, as she thought, dangerous ordinance of God, which she herself evidently discovers in this place; and the rather because of the experience which she had of it in her eldest son. And as she seems to have been a woman of an eager and passionate temper, so Moses was eminently meek and pliable, and in this matter too indulgent to his wife, especially in her father’s house, and therefore he put it off till a more convenient season, when he might either persuade or overrule her therein; which was a great fault, for God had obliged all the children of Abraham not only to the thing, but to the time also, to do it upon the eighth day, which season Moses had grossly, and for some considerable time, slipped, and so had preferred the pleasing of his wife before his obedience to God.
Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.Perceiving the danger of her husband, and the cause of it, and her husband being disenabled from performing that work, whether by some stroke or sickness, or by the terror of so dismal and unexpected an apparition to him, and delays being highly dangerous, she thought it better to do it herself as well as she could, rather than put it off a moment longer; whether because the administration of that sacrament was not confined to any kind or order of persons, or because, if it was so, she did not apprehend it to be so, or because she thought this was the least of two evils, and that it was safer to commit a circumstantial error, than to continue in a substantial fault.
A sharp stone, which she took as next at hand in that stony country. Let none think this strange, for not only this work, but the cutting off of that part, which some used to do, was commonly performed with a flint, or a sharp stone, as is expressly affirmed by Herodotus, 1. 2; Plin. 35. 12. See also Juvenal, Sat. 6. and Martial. Epigram. 3. 18. But the word may be rendered, a sharp knife. See Joshua 5:2,3. Cast it at his feet: the words are very short, and therefore ambiguous, and may be rendered, either thus, she cast herself at his feet; either,
1. At the feet of the angel, as a supplicant for her husband’s life. But it is most probable that she directs this action and her following speech to the same person. Or,
2. The feet of her husband, to make request to him, that she and her Children might depart from him, and return to her father, which also he granted. But neither was she of so humble a temper, nor at this time in so mild a frame, as to put herself into such a lowly posture to her husband; nor was she likely to present her humble supplication to him, to whom at the same time she showed such scorn and indignation. Or rather thus, she cast it at his, i.e. her husband’s, feet: it, either the child; but that being tender, and now in great pain, she would not use it so roughly: or rather the foreskin cut off, or at least the blood which came from it; which she did in spite and anger against her husband, as the cause of so much pain to the child, and grief to herself.
A bloody husband art thou to me: this some think she spake to the child, whom she calls her spouse, as some late rabbins affirm the infant used to be called, when it was circumcised, though they bring no competent proof for this usage; or her son, as the Hebrew word chathan signifies. But indeed that signifies only a son-in-law, as 1 Samuel 18:18, which is not true nor proper here. Yet some make these to be the form or solemn words used in circumcision, Thou art a spouse, or a son of bloods, to me, i.e. made so to me by the blood of circumcision. But it doth not appear that this was the usual form. Nor was it likely that she, being a Midianitish, not a Hebrew woman, and doing this suddenly, and in a rage, should be so expert to know, and so punctual to use, the right form of words, when she did not use a fit and decent carriage in the action, as appears by her casting it at his feet. It is therefore more probable she spoke thus to her husband. And because she durst not accuse God, the author of this work, she falls foul upon her husband as the occasion of it, and as a costly and bloody husband to her, whose endangered life she was forced to redeem with blood, even the blood of her little child, by which as he received a new life after a sort, so she did anew, and the second time, espouse him; whence she calls him chathah, which properly signifies a spouse, not a husband.
So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.So he let him go; or, he, i.e. God, or the destroying angel sent from God, departed from him, i.e. from Moses, and removed the tokens of God’s indignation, the sickness or stroke laid upon him.
Zipporah both repeats and amplifies her former censure, and reproacheth not only her husband, but also God’s ordinance; which perverse and obstinate spirit her husband observing in her, and wisely forecasting how much disturbance she might give him in his great and difficult work in Egypt, he thought fit to send her and her children back to her father, as appears from Exodus 18:1-3. In the Hebrew it is,
because of the circumcisions, to wit, of her two sons, who possibly were both circumcised at this time, though it be not so expressed; but one being mentioned for an example, we are left to suppose the like concerning the other; or the circumcision of this child brings the other to her remembrance, and so she upbraids him with both. Only this doth more provoke her than it seems the other did, because she was forced to do this speedily, and with her own hands, and that to a tender infant; whereas the elder peradventure was circumcised when he was more grown and strong, and able to bear the pain. Let none think it strange that Zipporah should quarrel so much at circumcision, because the Midianites were descended from Abraham, and therefore were circumcised. For if they were so, it was done when they were grown up, about the thirteenth year of their age, from the example of Ishmael, who was circumcised at that age. But indeed it is more likely that those people, being cast out of God’s covenant, as to the benefit of it, would, and did in a little time, throw off the sign of it, as having much more of pain and danger in it, than of use and privilege.
And the LORD said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him.No text from Poole on this verse.
And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD who had sent him, and all the signs which he had commanded him.No text from Poole on this verse.
And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel:All of them whom they could easily and quickly bring together, or all that were in those parts. Of those elders, see Exodus 3:16 24:1,9 Num 11:16.
And Aaron spake all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people.Thus beginning to execute the office which God had put upon him, which was to be Moses’s mouth, or spokesman. i.e. Aaron did the signs as Moses’s minister, or by the command and direction of Moses.
And the people believed: and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.Had visited, i.e. taken cognizance of their cause and condition, and resolved to deliver them,
they bowed their heads and worshipped; acknowledging and adoring the kindness and faithfulness of God thereto.