Commentary on Exodus 4 (Moses Returns to Egypt)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Chapter 4 of Exodus can be split into 3 sections: Miraculous Signs for Moses, Moses’ Return to Egypt, and the Reunion of Moses and Aaron.

The first section (Miraculous Signs for Moses) starts at verse 1 and goes through verse 17. In verse 1, Moses expresses, for the third time, his reluctance to go back to Egypt. Moses asks, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”

God then provides three miraculous signs that are to be given to the Israelites to prove that Moses is a true messenger from God. First, his shepherd’s staff would turn into a serpent and then back into a staff. Second, Moses’ hand would become leprous, and then return to normal. Third, water from the Nile would be transformed into blood.

Each of these miracles were meaningful to the Israelites. The staff/serpent miracle represented God’s power over Pharaoh, as Pharaoh was represented by a serpent. The leprous hand miracle symbolized God saving Israel from their suffering. The Nile River-becoming-blood miracle indicated God’s power over all of the Egyptian gods.

Even after these assurances, though, Moses still protested, this time saying that he was not eloquent of speech. God reminds Moses that He is the creator of the human mouth and that He will teach Moses what to say, but Moses continues to protest, angering God.

Because Moses refuses to speak for Him to Pharaoh and the Israelites, God suggests that Moses take along his brother, Aaron, to speak for Moses. This situation is illustrative of what happens when a child of God refuses to do what God wants done. Instead of God being thwarted, He simply brings in another person to complete the tasks. Man’s refusal to obey God does not prevent God’s plans from being accomplished.

The second section of Exodus 4 takes place in verses 18-26. God tells Moses in verse 19 that it is safe for him to return to Egypt because all of the people who wanted him for murder are dead. Moses then starts back toward Egypt with his wife and two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

In verses 21-23, God tells Moses what to say to Pharaoh. God also tells him how Pharaoh will react to his words, and what the consequences of his reaction will be. After Moses shows the miraculous signs to Pharaoh, his heart will be hardened. In other words, Pharaoh will become more and more stubborn and refuse to give in to Moses’s requests. God warns Moses that Pharaoh’s stubbornness will eventually lead to Pharaoh losing his firstborn son.

In verses 24-26, there is a brief episode where Moses’s wife, Zipporah, circumcises their son in order to save his life. Even though the NIV translates verse 24 as Moses being the one God would kill, there is reason to believe from the Hebrew text that it was his son that would be killed. These verses remind us that God will hold his people accountable for obeying him. Moses, as the future leader of Israel, was disobeying a clear command from God to have his sons circumcised. Fortunately his wife acted quickly to resolve the crisis.

In the third section of chapter 4, Moses and Aaron reunite and together go back to Egypt to meet with the elders of the Israelites. Aaron tells the elders everything God commanded Moses to say, and he performs the miraculous signs that would prove they were true messengers of God. The Israelites were convinced and bowed down to worship God.