The hour had struck for God to act but Moses, who forty years
before had been so forward, now shrinks backward. God had declared that
He would send him, and He never sends any servant without bestowing
adequate power for the carrying out of the mission on which he is sent.
But for the moment Moses had his eye upon himself and not upon God. His
language is "Who am I, that I should go?" During his many years in
Midian he had forsaken all thoughts of his own greatness, which was
good; but now he had passed to the other extreme
occupied with himself, was obsessed with the conviction of his own
littleness. He had yet to learn that it is the way of God to take up
and use just those who are little in their own eyes. Their littleness
makes room for God to display His own power.
assurance God gave "Certainly I will be with thee." This of course
guaranteed everything, but Moses was slow to believe it, hence God
condescended to give him a token. When God made promise to Abraham, He
took account of the frailty of our faith and confirmed His counsel by
an oath, as we are reminded in Hebrews 6: 17. With Moses He did not
confirm His word by an oath, but by a token, which was fulfilled as we
find later in this Book. But Moses had to accept the commission God was
giving him and carry it out before the token came to pass; hence the
assurance just given to him did not suffice to revive his confidence in
undertaking the task.
So in verse 13 we find him raising a
great question by way of further objection to what was proposed. The
children of Israel had been in a land of idolatry for several
centuries, and therefore knew well the names of the false Egyptian
deities. Moses was to approach them in the name of the God of their
fathers, but, confused in their minds by all that surrounded them, they
would be sure to ask, What is His name?
This led to a fresh
disclosure on God's part. He made Himself known as the great "I AM"—the
One self-existent, ever-existent, unchanging; and therefore ever true
to what He is in Himself. Israel were to prove themselves to be an
unstable yet stiff-necked people, so had it not been "I AM" with whom
they had to do, they would soon have disappeared in judgment. God bore
long with them and will ultimately achieve all His purpose concerning
them, because He is ever true to Himself. We do well to remind
ourselves that though we now know God in a far more intimate way, as He
has been revealed in Christ, yet we do not lose the value of these
earlier revelations. The One whom we know as Father is still the "I AM"
to us, as much as He was to Moses and the children of Israel.
This fact is expressly stated in verse 15. Looking backward, the "I AM"
is "Jehovah God of your fathers." Looking forward, He declares it to be
His name for ever and His memorial to all generations. Evidently then
this great name carried the revelation of God to a climax, as far as
the Old Testament is concerned. Verse 3 of chapter 6 may be consulted
at this point. He had been known to the patriarchs as God Almighty, He
had been mentioned as the Most High, but "Jehovah" carries within
itself a fulness of meaning not found in these. The actual name,
Jehovah, was known to the patriarchs, yet they did not understand its
full import, which was now to come to light through Moses. Having come
to light, it stands good for ever.
Having revealed Himself,
and thereby answered Moses' question, God instructed him as to how he
should approach the elders of Israel, and then with them approach
Pharaoh. To the elders he was to declare God's remembrance of the
fathers and His notice and concern regarding all that Egypt had done to
them, together with His promise to bring them out, and then into the
land flowing with milk and honey. Then to the king they were all to go
with the request from Jehovah God of the Hebrews that they be let go
three days' journey into the wilderness so that, free of the pollutions
of Egypt, they might sacrifice to Him.
At the same time
Moses was to be under no illusion as to the way the king would react to
this request, so the last four verses of the chapter predict what would
happen. As to Pharaoh he would powerfully and stubbornly resist. But
Jehovah would stretch out His hand in wonders, smiting in judgment, so
that the king's "mighty hand" would lose its might and he would release
them. And God would do this in such a way that the common people of
Egypt would be glad to see them go. The children of Israel would be
able to ask great favours of them and go out enriched. Thus these four
verses give a prophecy which we see fulfilled as we read the next ten
or eleven chapters.
Unbelievers have seized upon the word
"borrow" in verse 22, and raised the objection that it represents God
as telling the people to practise deceit by pretending to borrow what
they never intended to repay. The word occurs again in Exodus 11: 2 and
Exodus 12: 35. But the word really is "ask," and is so translated in
Darby's version. The people had been but slaves, working for a mere
subsistence. The position was to be entirely reversed, and their former
masters would fear them and give them what they asked. All they could
carry out of Egypt would be a mere fraction of what was really due to
Moses was still not satisfied, and raised a third
objection. The people would not listen to him nor believe the Lord had
appeared to him. This we see in Exodus 4: 1. He knew they were
incredulous by nature. The Lord knew it too, and hence He did not
rebuke Moses but rather gave him three miraculous signs, by which he
might convince the people of the reality of his mission. Two of the
signs were then and there performed on Moses himself.
first sign we have in verses 2—5. A rod is the symbol of authority.
Cast to the ground, and thus debased, it becomes thoroughly evil, and
even satanic, so that a man may flee from before it. But Moses seized
the serpent by the tail, as he was commanded, and it became again a rod
in his hand. The bearing of this is plain. In Egypt power was debased
and satanic. As ordered by God, Moses was to seize it, when the
authority, rescued from Satan would be in his hands. We live in a day
when satanic power is increasingly in evidence. But as Christians we
have no command to seize the serpent by the tail. If we attempt to do
it before the time, we shall only get bitten in the process. That
action is reserved for the One of whom Moses serves as a type. He will
do it finally and gloriously at His second advent.
sign is given in verses 6 and 7. It deals, not with outward power like
the first, but with inward defilement. Moses was to put his hand into
his bosom and it came out leprous and defiled. It was not a case of his
hand defiling his heart but of his heart defiling his hand. Here we
have in picture what our Lord taught in His words, recorded in Mark 7:
21-23. Then as commanded, Moses put his defiled hand to his heart
again, and it was restored whole as the other. A sign this, that
cleansing must begin in the heart, which is unseen. Only thus can the
hand, which is seen, be cleansed.
The significance of these
signs would not have been apparent to the people, and may not have been
to Moses, but at least they would be evidence that the power of God was
with him. But if even these two failed to bring full conviction, a
third was enjoined. He was to take some water out of the Nile and pour
it out, when it should become blood—a preliminary sample of the first
plague that fell upon Egypt. This was a sign of simple judgment. The
river Nile was the natural source of Egypt's fertility and prosperity.
The earthly fount of their life should become death; their blessing
should be made a curse.
We may remark that the record of
Moses giving the people these signs is only found in verse 28, and
there attributed to Aaron, who was acting as the deputy of Moses.
But even these signs did not remove the objections in the mind of
Moses, and so in verse 10 we find him uttering a fourth, based upon his
lack of ability in speech, as if the message of God needed human
eloquence in order to make it effective. When we remember the statement
of Stephen, referring to the time when he was still acknowledged as the
son of Pharaoh's daughter, that he was "mighty in words," whereas he
now pleads, "I am not eloquent, neither heretofore .
. ." we are left wondering. But, knowing something of human nature in
ourselves, we think it was not that he had really lost his powers of
mighty speech, but that while the forty years of discipline in the
desert had completely broken his self-confidence, he had also become
self-occupied, and thus so unwilling to answer to the call and
commission of God.
Therefore what he needed was to become
so God-conscious that he might lose sight of himself altogether. Hence
the words of the Lord to him, as recorded in verses 11 and 12. The
mouth of Moses was to be simply like an instrument upon which the Lord
would play, and whether Moses could play well upon it, or could not,
was immaterial. This is a lesson which every servant of God needs to
learn. The Apostle Paul had learnt it, as we see in 1 Corinthians 2: 1,
and again in 2 Corinthians 4: 2 and 7.
Once more, and for
the fifth time, Moses wished to decline the honour of this commission
from the Lord, as we see in verse 13. The man, who once ran unsent, now
shrinks from running at the command of God, and with the assurance of
His accompanying power! But this is just how the flesh acts in every
one of us, though any service that the Lord may entrust to us is so
minute as compared with his. Such shrinking back may have the
appearance of humility but it really springs from self-occupation, and in the last analysis we find that the self-occupation is produced not by humility but by pride.
Now of all things pride is most distasteful to God, so "the anger of
the Lord was kindled against Moses." In result part of the honour and
activity of this great commission was to be transferred to Aaron, who
should be the spokesman. Moses however was to be to him "instead of
God;" that is, the Lord would still deal direct with Moses and Aaron
would get all his directions through him. The rod that Moses had had in
his hand was now, as it were, given back to him from the hand of God,
as a sign of the authority with which he was vested. The subsequent
history shows the fulfilment of all this. Again and again we read, "The
Lord said unto Moses;" and at critical moments the rod appeared in his
At last Moses is prepared to obey. His way is opened
in peace to return to Egypt with the rod—now called "the rod of God"—in
his hand. But while now clothed with authority he needed to know just
exactly what he had to face. God would give him the words, but in spite
of the words backed with mighty deeds, Pharaoh would resist and God
would harden his heart. Here we might read Exodus 9: 16, which is
quoted in Romans 9: 17. This Pharaoh, whatever his name may have been
as recorded in secular history, was evidently brought to the throne in
some unusual way by the over-ruling hand of God, and had already pitted
himself against the Almighty in such a way that the moment had now come
for him to be abased in signal fashion. God would now harden his heart
and thus seal his doom. We are to see in him what presently was seen in
Nebuchadnezzar, "those that walk in pride He is able to abase" (Dan. 4: 37).
The situation is graphically summed up in verses 22 and 23. God adopted
Israel as His son, His firstborn, and demanded that he be released. If
Pharaoh would not let him go, he would have his own son his firstborn,
slain. The preliminary judgments are passed over in silence. The
ultimate judgment is threatened, and in Exodus 12 we find it fulfilled.
The episode recorded in verses 24-26 is explained when we
observe that God was interfering on Israel's behalf under the covenant
He had made with Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 17: 1-14. Of that
covenant circumcision was the token or sign, and it was definitely
stated by God that if circumcision was not observed death was to be the
penalty. Here was Moses, chosen to be the chief actor in Israel's
deliverance under that covenant, and he had not obeyed the sign! As the
responsible person he was subject to the death penalty! It would appear
that Zipporah, his wife, knowing nothing of the covenant, objected, but
at last gave in and acted herself, though with annoyance. He was a
husband of blood to her.
Just here the firstborn comes much into view. Israel is owned as God's firstborn. If Pharaoh refused to acknowledge this, God would slay his firstborn. And now the sentence of death has to come figuratively upon the firstborn of Moses. Had
it not, death itself would have fallen on Moses at the hand of God. The
significance of the rite of circumcision comes clearly into view here.
It was the sign of death put upon the flesh. This meaning is
corroborated by what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3: 3, "We
are the circumcision, which . . . have no confidence in the flesh."
Circumcision accepted by Moses, we see in the last five verses of the
chapter that the hand of God was with him, and everything moved with
smoothness and precision. The Lord instructed Aaron, who obeyed and met
him. Together they entered Egypt, consulted the elders of Israel
who believed and worshipped. This Moses, who had been rejected forty
years before, was now accepted as their God-appointed leader. He was
sent "a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel which appeared
to him in the bush" (Acts 7: 35).