Tag Archives: Moses

Why Think Moses Was the Primary Author of Deuteronomy?

In chapter 34 of Deuteronomy, there are textual indications that Moses did not write the book of Deuteronomy.

First, chapter 34 records the death of Moses, but how could he record the events surrounding his own death?

Second, verses 1 and 2 state that the Promised Land includes “Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea.” The problem here is that only Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had been given their land up to this point. Dan, Naphtali, Ephraim, and Judah would not receive their land until many years after Moses died.

Third, the author states in verse 10 that “since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses.” This sentence would only make sense if someone was writing this text well after Moses’s death.

Do these texts prove that Moses did not write Deuteronomy? No, not at all. It is entirely possible that Moses wrote most of the book, but that later writers added to the end of the book. In fact, Jewish tradition holds that Joshua wrote some, if not all, of chapter 34.

We have strong internal evidence that Moses did indeed write the majority of the book of Deuteronomy from Deut 31:9 and 31:24. These verses reveal Moses’s command to the Levites to take the law Moses wrote down and store it with the ark of the covenant. Taken in context, what parts of Deuteronomy would have been considered the law?

Eugene Merrill, in The Book of Deuteronomy (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), describes what verse 9 and 24 would be referring to:

The term for ‘law’ (here tôrâ) normally refers to the Mosaic writings generally, but in the context of Deuteronomy it must be limited to that book alone and, in fact, to just the covenant text of chaps. 5–26 (plus the blessings and curses of chaps. 27 and 28).

Therefore we conclude that at least chapters 5-28 were most likely written by Moses, and quite possibly more. To think that chapter 34 proves that Moses had no hand in the composition of Deuteronomy is simply wrong.

Commentary on Numbers 20 (Water from the Rock)

The narrative skips over the next 37 years of wandering in the wilderness to the beginning of the last year before the Israelites would enter the Promised Land. This is where chapter 20 picks up the story.

In verse 1, we learn that after wandering for almost 38 years, the Israelites have returned to Kadesh, the region south of the Promised Land where the older generation had refused to enter. The author notes that Miriam, the older sister of Moses and Aaron, dies after their arrival. Miriam’s death is notable because she is not only the most important woman in Israel at that time, but she symbolizes the older generation that was dying off before the younger generation could take possession of Canaan.

In verses 2-5, the younger generation repeats the rebellious pattern established by their parents. They complain that Moses and Aaron have brought them out of Egypt to die, and that there is no water or food for them to eat.

God instructs Moses to take the staff of Aaron out of the tabernacle, assemble the leadership of Israel, and speak to a particular rock. Out of the rock water will flow so that the people of Israel and their livestock can drink.

Moses grabs the staff, gathers the assembly of Israel in front of the rock, and then disobeys God’s command. Instead of speaking to the rock so that God could cause water to flow out of it, Moses loses his temper, reprimands the assembly, and then strikes the rock twice with his staff. Because of Moses and Aaron’s actions at the rock, God bans both of them from entering the Promised Land, just like the rest of the older generation. Only Joshua and Caleb, from that generation, would now see the Promised Land.

Why did God punish Moses and Aaron for what happened at the rock? Moses and Aaron had been frustrated with the people of Israel before, but this time was different. R. Dennis Cole explains what might have been going on:

This time the fullness of [Moses’] frustration was manifest before God and the whole assembled congregation. Moses did not simply call the people rebels, a mere statement of truth (though perhaps out of anger), but he took the Lord’s instructions and used them as a means to justify his self-interest and self-pity. The Lord had said that Moses and Aaron would be the agents for the delivery of the water from the rock, but then the prophet’s self-centered attitude erupted as he usurped the words of God for his own glorification, saying, ‘Shall we bring forth from this rock for you water?’ Such presumption would have the general effect, notes Budd, that ‘they have prevented the full power and might of Yahweh from becoming evident to the people, and have thus robbed him of the fear and reverence due to him.’

Moses struck the rock not once but twice as he vented his anger and frustration over this ever-rebellious lot. As in previous circumstances of this kind, the rock was a symbol of God’s mercy and benevolence, so striking the rock was in a sense a striking out against God. Moses had damaged severely the intimate personal relationship he had with God. His actions were detrimental to the maintaining of a reverence for God and his mercy in Israel. The trusted servant had fallen into the same trap as the many rebellious people he had complained about to God. Harrison calls Moses’ actions ‘an unpardonable act of insubordination.’

Not only did Moses and Aaron disrespect God in front of Israel, they tried to claim that it was through their striking the rock that water would flow. They had acted like pagan magicians performing an incantation instead of acting as the representatives of the one true God of the universe.

God himself tells Moses and Aaron why they were being punished. “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses and Aaron did not trust God. They lacked faith, and thus they were punished in the same way that the unbelieving older generation was punished: they would not enter the Promised Land.

After this incident, the people of Israel try to make their way directly north to the plains of Moab, directly across the Jordan River from the town of Jericho. This is where they would enter the Promised Land. But, in order to go directly north they would have to go through the land of Edom.

Verses 14-21 recount a diplomatic exchange between Israel and Edom, where Israel twice asks for safe passage through Edom using a north-south road called the king’s highway. Edom twice refuses and then sends a large army to meet the Israelites and prevent them from entering Edom’s lands.

What is especially sad about this incident is that the people of Edom are descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. Moses appeals to Edom as the brother of Israel (Jacob), and reminds Edom of the trials and tribulations of Israel in Egypt. The descendants of Esau, however, show no mercy. Since the land of Edom was not part of the Promised Land, the Israelites refused to fight, and instead would head south to go around Edom.

The final eight verses of chapter 20 close with the death of the first high priest of Israel, Aaron. God reminds Moses and Aaron that they will not enter the Promised Land because of their rebellion. Moses is to climb atop Mount Hor with Aaron and his eldest son, Eleazar. There Moses removed the priestly garments from Aaron and placed them on his son, thus transferring the role of high priest to Eleazar. Aaron died on Mount Hor and the people of Israel mourned his death for 30 days.

The death of Aaron was indeed a blow to the nation of Israel. It must have been difficult for his brother and son to bury him. R. Dennis Cole reminds us of the highlights (both good and bad) of Aaron’s life:

The date of his death and his age (123 years) as recounted in the journey itinerary in Num 33:38 coincide with the data given in Exod 7:7, which states that Moses was eighty years of age and Aaron eighty-three when they first spoke to the pharaoh in Egypt. The first high priest of Israel was an enigmatic figure in the Old Testament. On one hand he functioned as a spokesman for Moses before the pharaoh (Exod 4:14; 5:2–3; 7:6, 10); at the command of the Lord through Moses he held out his hand over the Nile River and a swarm of frogs emerged (Exod 8:5–9); he stretched out his rod and the dust turned to lice throughout the land (Exod 8:16–17). Later during the judgment against the rebellious gang led by the Levite Korah, Aaron literally stood wielding his censer between the living and the dead, acting as their exemplary mediator (Num 16:48; Heb 17:13).

On the other hand he succumbed to the whims of the people in the production of the golden calf, which led to idolatrous worship and eventual judgment (Exod 32:1–35), and he followed Moses’ example in the rebellion at the Waters of Meribah (Num 20:10).

In the Book of Hebrews, Aaron serves as a prototype of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ, though his priesthood was deemed inferior to that of the Melchizedek typology that was applied to Jesus (Heb 7:1–9:28). . . . Aaron supervised an earthly priesthood and cult that was but a mere shadow of things to come, in which the sacrifice of animals and plants symbolized the rendering of the life of the offerer when the life of the element was presented to God.

Out of the three siblings (Moses, Miriam, and Aaron) that had been together in the wilderness for 40 years, only Moses remains, and his time is short. The torch would soon be passed on to the next generation.

Commentary on Leviticus 8-10 (The Ordination of Aaron and His Sons)

The first seven chapters of Leviticus regulate the offerings to be given to God. Now that these instructions have been given, it is time for Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his four sons, to be anointed as the first Israelite priests under the new Mosaic covenant.

Since there are no priests yet, Moses acts in the role of high priest to anoint Aaron and his sons, according to the commands of God. In verses 1-3, God gives Moses instructions to begin the anointing ceremony. The following people and items are needed: 1) Aaron and his four sons, 2) the garments that were made for them as specified by God in the book of Exodus, 3) anointing oil, 4) a bull for a sin offering, 5) two rams and bread without yeast for additional offerings, and 6) the elders representing all of the tribes and clans of Israel. Everyone was to gather in the tabernacle courtyard to witness what was about to happen.

In verse 5, Moses says, “This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.” The entire process of ordination was detailed in Exodus 29, and Leviticus 8 and 9 confirm that Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel, did exactly as God had earlier commanded. Verses 6-29 recount the first day of the ordination of the first High Priest (Aaron) and his sons.

Gordon J. Wenham, in The Book of Leviticus (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament), explains the significance of the role of high priest and his garments. “The nation of Israel as a whole was called to be a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6), and the church is also (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6). Israel could see in the glorious figure of the high priest the personal embodiment of all that the nation ought to be both individually and corporately.”

As we pick up at verse 30, we see Moses completing the first day’s ceremonies. Moses takes anointing oil and blood from the altar (placed there during the sacrifices of the bull and rams) and sprinkles Aaron and his sons with them. This completed the first day of the ordination (which would last 7 days).

For the next 6 days, Aaron and his sons would have to offer sacrifices for themselves every day. Moses commands them not to leave the tabernacle courtyard for the remainder of the 7-day period, lest they become unclean.

Moses explains to Aaron and his sons, in verse 34, that the ordination rituals just completed were to make atonement for their sins. After all, the primary duty of the High Priest was to atone for the sins of Israel so that Israel could remain in relationship with God. But the High Priest cannot make atonement for the people before he atones for his own sins. That was the purpose of the day’s sacrifices. Again, we see in verse 36 that they “did everything the Lord commanded through Moses.”

Wenham brings out a central theme of chapter 8, the pervasiveness of sin. He writes,

In this section one doctrine emerges very clearly: the universality and pervasiveness of sin. The men chosen to minister to God in the tabernacle pollute the tabernacle and therefore purification offerings have to be offered. Their clothes and bodies are stained with sin and they must be smeared with blood to purify them. These sacrifices are not offered just once; they have to be repeated, because sin is deep-rooted in human nature and often recurs. There is no once-for-all cleansing known to the OT. It is the incorrigibility of the human heart that these ordination ceremonies bring into focus.

In chapter 9, we have moved ahead to the 8th day of the ordination of Aaron and his sons. Now that they have atoned for their sins, it is time for them to atone for the sins of all of Israel. In verses 1-5, Moses explains all of the offerings that must be made for the people. The purpose for the sacrifices is stated in verse 6: “This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” Once the sins of Aaron and sons were atoned for, and then the sins of the rest of Israel were atoned for, God would appear and confirm his presence and covenant with Israel.

In verse 22 of chapter 9, Aaron completes the sacrifices for the people of Israel. With the process completed Moses and Aaron go into the tabernacle. When they come back out, God’s glory appears in the form of fire on the brazen altar that instantly consumes all of the remaining offering. The elders of Israel react as any of us would when confronted with the God of the universe. They fell flat on their faces and shouted for joy!

Why was the whole process of sacrifices and ordination necessary for God’s presence to be made known? Wenham comments:

Aaron’s gorgeous garments, the multiplicity of animal sacrifices, were not ends in themselves but only means to the end, namely, the proper worship of God. These elaborate vestments and sacrifices helped simple human minds appreciate the majestic holiness of God. But all the ritual in the OT would have been pointless if God had not deigned to reveal himself to the people. The clothing and the sacrifices merely helped to put the worshippers in a state of mind that was prepared for God’s coming, and removed the obstacles of human sin that prevented fellowship, but they did not necessarily ensure God’s presence.

Throughout all of chapters 8 and 9, we are reminded that every command of God was followed with exactitude. In the first three verses of chapter 10, however, we see what happens when the newly anointed priests disobey God’s commands.

Aaron’s two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, offer incense to God, but they do it in a way that is unauthorized, that is contrary to God’s commands. The text is not clear as to their exact violation. Some scholars have speculated that they performed a Canaanite or Egyptian ritual. Regardless, it seems they knew what they were doing and they paid for their disobedience with their lives.

Fire consumed both of them, fire from God. Moses, in verse 3, explains to Aaron that the priests must honor God because he is holy, with the implication being that Nadab and Abihu did not honor God. Rather than dispute what Moses said, Aaron remained silent.

What are we to make of the death of Aaron’s sons? It seems that the closer a man is to God (Levite priest being very close indeed) the stricter is the standard by which he will be judged. The New Testament reiterates this teaching. Consider Luke 12:48: “Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required.” Peter said in 1 Pet 4:17, “Judgment begins with the household of God.” James said in James 3:1, “We who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” Christians in visible leadership are held to a higher standard.

#4 Post of 2014 – Commentary on Exodus 7-11 (The 10 Plagues)

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In chapters 7-12, the power of God would be demonstrated to Pharaoh and all the people of Egypt. Recall that Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron that he did not know their God, and God promised that he soon would. Ten plagues would be visited upon the Egyptians, with each successive plague bringing yet more devastation on top of the previous.

The ten plagues may have occurred over a period of about nine months, with the first beginning in the months of July or August, when the Nile typically floods. The first plague is described in verses 14-25 of chapter 7. These are the words Moses is to speak to Pharaoh: “With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood. The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.”

In verses 19-21, Aaron held out his staff over the waters of the Nile and the waters did become blood (or red like blood, as it could be translated). As a result, “The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.”

Pharaoh’s magicians were able to use trickery to partially duplicate this first plague, and so Pharaoh pays no mind and leaves Moses and Aaron to return to his palace.

Why make the waters of the Nile turn into blood, or into blood-colored water? The Egyptians worshiped many different gods that were associated with natural objects. The Nile River, in particular, was associated with at least 3 major gods and goddesses (Hapi, Isis, and Khnum). Therefore, when the God of Israel turned the water into blood, rendering the water undrinkable, it was a clear demonstration of God’s superiority over the Egyptian gods and goddesses. Each of the subsequent plagues would also “defeat” other Egyptian gods.

It is also worth noting the reactions of both Pharaoh and his magicians. The magicians clearly believed that through their own trickery they could duplicate, at least partially, this sign from God. They see no reason to believe that the God of Israel is anything special at this point.

Pharaoh, likewise, does not seem to be overly impressed, given that his own magicians can duplicate the sign. As the plagues progress, it is interesting to see the attitudes of Pharaoh and his magicians transform from smug contempt for Moses and his alleged God, to fear and open acknowledgment of his power.

If we skip ahead to the time period just before the seventh plague, the hailstorm, God reminds us in clear language what his purposes are in bringing the devastation of the plagues on the people of Egypt. In chapter 9, verses 13-16, we read the following:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

God’s purposes are the following: 1) to force Pharaoh to release the Israelites from captivity so that they may worship him, 2) to teach Pharaoh that there is no one like God, 3) to demonstrate his power so that his name would be proclaimed over the earth.

After nine plagues have taken place, over a period of nine or ten months, Pharaoh is still not willing to let the Israelites go. Up to this point Pharaoh’s responses to each plague have been the following: 1) Nile turned to blood – ignored the request of Moses; 2) Frogs – agreed to let Israelites leave for worship, then reneged; 3) Gnats – ignored his magicians’ suggestion that the Hebrew God’s power was real; 4) Flies – suggested the Israelites worship in Egypt instead of leaving; 5) Death of livestock – refused Moses’ request; 6) Boils – refused Moses’ request; 7) Hail – agreed to let Israelites leave for worship, then reneged; 8) Locusts – offered to let only the men go; 9) Darkness – agreed that people could go, but not their animals.

So finally, in chapter 11, verses 1-10, God tells Moses that only one more plague will be brought on Pharaoh and Egypt. This plague will be so awful that Pharaoh will drive them completely out of the land. Recall that Moses has been asking for three days of worship, but God is saying that Pharaoh will go beyond that request and ask them to leave forever.

What is the tenth plague? God, through Moses, explains what will happen:

About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.’ Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

This final plague, the death of the firstborn, would strike the Egyptians harder than all the others. In particular, the firstborn of Pharaoh was considered to be a god, and for him to be killed would be a clear divine demonstration of superiority by the God of Israel. And, so that there would be no doubt about God’s desire to have Pharaoh release the Hebrew slaves, God assures Pharaoh that no Israelites will be harmed. Death will pass over them.

Commentary on Exodus 14 (Parting of the Red Sea)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In chapters 12 and 13, the Israelites escaped from Egypt due to the mighty hand of God, and have traveled some distance to the southeast, but not out of Egyptian territory. Chapter 14 begins the account of one of the most famous miracles performed by God for the Israelites, the parting of the Red (or Reed) Sea.

In verses 1-4, God tells Moses to stop their progress and turn back. They are to park themselves right on the coast of a sea. The purpose for their turning around, traveling back the way they had come, and then stopping, is to make Pharaoh believe that they are confused and unwilling to travel into the desert (which is the only way for them to escape Egyptian territory). This will cause Pharaoh to pursue them with his army.

The exact location of the Israelite encampment by the sea is unknown. The very northern tip of the Gulf of Suez, which is part of the Red Sea, could be where the Israelites camped and crossed, or the other options are Lake Balah or Lake Timsah, which are two larger bodies of water further north. In any case, from the text it is clear that it is a body of water that is deep enough to drown men.

God’s purpose is to invite Pharaoh to attack Israel so that, once again, God can demonstrate his power over Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods. “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” The Egyptian gods don’t exist, and the Egyptians must come to understand that the God of the Hebrews is the only true God.

In verses 5-9, Pharaoh does exactly what God said he would do. Pharaoh and his officials regret the fact that they have lost the Hebrew slaves, and so they decide to dispatch chariots to bring the Israelites back to Egypt. At least 600 chariots are sent and this hastily gathered army quickly catches up to the Israelites who have stopped their progress by the sea.

Why would Pharaoh chase after the Israelites after witnessing the ten plagues brought on by God? Is he crazy? Douglas Stuart, in his Exodus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (New American Commentary), explains:

The answer requires appreciating Egyptian religion in its ancient Near Eastern context. To all the ancients (except those Israelites who were beginning to understand the only true God) the gods and goddesses that controlled the world were arbitrary and capricious, quick to change their actions and attitudes, constantly vying with one another for power, not omnipresent but manifesting themselves at given locations and then leaving those locations unpredictably. . . . Likewise, the Egyptians’ gods were considered beings who might not always be present among their people. Accordingly, Yahweh knew that it would be natural for Pharaoh to think that he, Yahweh, after having expended great effort to demonstrate his power to the Egyptians, might now no longer be directly involved in helping the Israelites so that he, Pharaoh, could once again assert his power over them unhindered.

Seeing the Egyptian army advancing upon them, the Israelites, in verses 10-12, cry out to Moses that he should have never brought them out of Egypt to die at the hands of Pharaoh’s chariots. They were better off as slaves. Douglas Stuart notes that

this was the first of the postexodus declarations by Israelites that they should have stayed where they came from. The others (e.g., Num 14:1–4; Josh 7:6–9) share considerably the theme of this one: when hardship is encountered, the miserable past suddenly looks like the good old days.

Moses, however, is confident that God will save them. God tells Moses, in verses 15-18, “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” God promises that the Egyptians will follow them so that God “will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army.”

In order to give the Israelites time to break camp and prepare themselves for crossing the sea (the remainder of the day and almost the entire evening were used in the process of getting the Israelites out of their camp and across the sea), the angel of God, who was in the form of a pillar of cloud, moved from the front of the Israelites to the rear, as a barrier between the Egyptian army and the Israelite camp. The Egyptians cannot attack with the angel of the Lord protecting the Israelites.

When Moses held out his staff, God caused a strong east wind to blow back the waters and clear a dry path for the Israelites to cross the body of water. There were walls of water on the right and left of the people as they advanced.

In verses 23-28, as God predicted, the Egyptian chariots, with the angel of God no longer impeding their progress, followed the Hebrews into the sea. God, however, caused the chariot wheels of the Egyptians to get stuck and come off, throwing their drivers into confusion and chaos.

Douglas Stuart elaborates on the problems with the chariot wheels:

The sea floor was soft and sandy/silty so that even though it was dry, it was not a suitable surface for narrow, metal-bound chariot wheels bearing the weight of a chariot and two or three armed men. The horses pulling the chariots, like the Israelite goats and sheep, would have been able to get through satisfactorily; the chariot wheels, however, effectively sliced deep into the soft ground and bound so that the horses could not pull their own weight and that of the fully loaded chariots.

Once the army of chariots had advanced far enough into the sea, God instructed Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, and the walls of water collapsed and drowned the army of Pharaoh. Not one of them survived.

Verses 30-31 summarize the lesson the Israelites learned that day: “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

Commentary on Exodus 5 (Bricks Without Straw)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

After successfully convincing their fellow Israelites that the God of their ancestors had sent them, Moses and Aaron boldly approach Pharaoh and request that he let them go to the desert to worship. Pharaoh’s response frames the events that will take place in chapters 7 through 12 of Exodus.

Pharaoh’s response is, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” The purpose of the 10 plagues that will follow is to demonstrate to Pharaoh, the people of Egypt, and the reader, who the God of Israel is.

Not only does Pharaoh reject their request, he acts to further punish the Israelites and turn them against Moses and Aaron. In verses 4-11, Pharaoh accuses Moses and Aaron of distracting the Israelites from their work, that of making bricks for Egyptian construction projects (see this link for more detail on brick-making).

Typically, when bricks were made, the Egyptians would supply the Israelite laborers with straw to mix with clay in order to mold the bricks. Instead, the Israelites would now be expected to gather their own straw to make the bricks, and the number of bricks they would have to make would not decrease, but stay the same.

In verses 12-14, the Israelites fail to make the required number of bricks, and the Israelite foremen are beaten. Disillusioned with the impossible task they’ve been given, the foremen go before Pharaoh to complain about their plight. Pharaoh, showing no mercy, responds, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”

The foremen now realize that Pharaoh is punishing them because of Moses and Aaron, so in verses 20-21 they confront the two men and ask that God judge them for inciting Pharaoh. What a turn of events! A short time earlier, the leaders of Israel were receiving Moses and Aaron with joy, and now they are cursing them. The fickleness of Israel toward God’s prophets will be a central theme of the Bible all the way up through the deaths of Jesus and his apostles.

Moses then questions God, saying, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people?” God, however, in chapter 6, verse 1, reassures Moses. He explains, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”

The focus, again, is put back on God. Moses and Aaron can do nothing for the Israelites, on their own. Only God, acting on behalf of Israel, can effect their release from bondage. Pharaoh has thrown down the gauntlet, so to speak. He has refused to even allow the Israelites to worship God for a measly three days. He has questioned the very existence of the God of Israel. In the following chapters, God will make himself known to Pharaoh and to all the people of Egypt.

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.

Commentary on Exodus 3 (Moses and the Burning Bush)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Chapter 3 of Exodus recounts one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture, the story of Moses and the Burning Bush. Moses is tending his father-in-law’s flocks near a mountain called Horeb. Some scholars believe that this mountain is identical with Mount Sinai, where Moses would later receive the Ten Commandments.

At the mountain, Moses sees the angel of the Lord appearing as flames burning in a bush, but the bush is not consumed by the fire. In verses 4-6, God calls out from the bush (“angel of the Lord” and “God” are sometimes used synonymously) and identifies himself as the “God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

God gets straight to the point with Moses and tells him, in verses 7-10, that he is to go back to Egypt and bring the Israelites out of captivity, and then take them “into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” This is the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by God. After long years in Egypt, the descendants of Abraham would finally receive their inheritance.

Moses, however, had doubts about his own abilities, so he asks God exactly how He will get the people out of Egypt. God then reassures Moses over the next 10 verses by promising that He will be with him.

First, he assures Moses that the Israelites will be brought out of Egypt and travel back to this very mountain, to worship.

Second, God tells Moses to inform the elders of Israel that “I am who I am” is the God who sent Moses to them. This is the same God as the “God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” This name of God (“I am who I am”) can be paraphrased as “It is I who am with you.” Recall that to the ancient Hebrews, names conveyed the essence of who a person was. So God is reminding the Israelites that the one who promised to be with them sent Moses.

God is also called Yahweh, which means “he who is present” or “he who has promised to be present with his people.”

Third, Moses, after having identified God, is to tell the elders of Israel that God has heard their cries and is going to bring them out of Egypt and “into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey,” or the Promised Land.

Fourth, God foretells that Moses will ask Pharaoh (king of the Egyptians) permission for the Israelites to go out into the desert and worship for three days, but Pharaoh will refuse. God will then strike the Egyptians with “wonders” and then Pharaoh will let them go.

Finally, God predicts that the Israelites will ask the Egyptians for “articles of silver and gold and for clothing,” and that they will give these things to them as the Israelites leave. Thus the Israelites will be paid back for the suffering they endured under Egyptian rule.

It is important to note that verses 18-22 are all predictions of what will happen in the future. The reader who studies the rest of the book of Exodus will see that all that God promised to Moses in Exodus 3 does come to pass. Again, the message to the reader is that God is in control. Nothing that Pharaoh can do will thwart God’s plans.

Why Are Wells Involved in So Many Old Testament Marriages?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The astute Bible reader will notice that Moses is the fourth important character in the Pentateuch to find his wife through an incident at a well. The other three are Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. Does this repetition indicate that these stories are being fabricated? Is it possible that wells were involved in all of these marriages?

Hebrew biblical writers were not just writing history in a dry and disinterested way. They commonly highlighted repeating patterns to emphasize theological points. It is entirely likely that these well stories did actually occur, and that the writer of the Pentateuch wanted to emphasize them.

Theologian John Sailhamer notes that these four men, who are in the central line of God’s promised blessing, “take wives from outside the land and the chosen people. In each case the wife is introduced by means of the scene at the well. ”

Sailhamer continues, “It is possible, then, that the pattern established by means of these well narratives is intended to show that behind the apparent anomaly of an important and prominent patriarch taking a wife from another people there lies the ever-present will of God.” (emphasis added)

In other words, the people chosen by God are birthed through God-ordained marriages. Once again, we see that he is in control, not the human patriarchs.

Commentary on Exodus 2 (Birth of Moses)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

After Pharaoh’s previous failures, he tries yet another approach to break the will of the Hebrews. In verse 22 of chapter 1, he decrees that every male child of the Hebrews must be thrown into the Nile River.

One boy, however, is not immediately thrown into the Nile, but is hidden by his parents. We know that these Hebrew parents are descended from Levi, one of Jacob’s twelve sons. Once the boy is old enough so that he can no longer be hidden (3 months), his mother places him in a papyrus basket and sets him among some reeds along the edge of the Nile. The boy’s older sister (we learn her name is Miriam from Ex 15:20) is told to watch what happens to him.

None other than Pharaoh’s own daughter spots the basket and discovers that it contains a Hebrew infant. The baby’s sister, having watched this play out, then offers assistance to the Pharaoh’s daughter. The baby’s own mother is paid by Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse the child! After he is done nursing (somewhere between 2 and 5 years later), the boy is returned to the Pharaoh’s daughter, and she names the child Moses.

There is great irony in this narrative because Moses’s mother places Moses in the Nile River, just as Pharaoh decreed, and Moses is rescued from the Nile by Pharaoh’s own daughter. No matter what Pharaoh plans, he is always thwarted by God. God is in control of events, not Pharaoh.

Starting in verse 11, the remainder of Exodus 2 records several significant events in Moses’ life.  Acts 7:22 claims that “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds,” but his peaceful and privileged upbringing would soon come to a tumultuous end.

In verses 11-14, we learn that Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating a fellow Hebrew. According to Acts 7:23, this happened when Moses was approaching 40 years old. There is definite foreshadowing here, as Moses will deliver Israel from oppression just as he delivered the Hebrew from being beaten. Moses subsequently learns that his crime has been discovered and Pharaoh attempts to kill him for it.

In order to save his life, Moses flees Egypt to a place called Midian. He comes to the aid of some women at a well, and the father of these women invites Moses to marry into his family, taking his daughter Zipporah as a wife. Moses and Zipporah have a son and name him Gershom, which means “I have become an alien in a foreign land.”

According to John Hannah in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, “For 40 years (Acts 7:30) Moses undertook the toilsome life of a sheepherder in the Sinai area, thus gaining valuable knowledge of the topography of the Sinai Peninsula which later was helpful as he led the Israelites in that wilderness land.”

Verses 23-25 remind the reader that many years pass and the Pharaoh who tried to kill Moses dies. More significantly, “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.” God will not forget his promises to the Patriarchs.