God delivers Moses through a watery judgment to preserve him as a deliverer for his people. But those people reject God’s deliverance through Moses’ hand. Forty years later, God appears to Moses in a bush the burns yet is not consumed. And though he once again calls Moses to a compassionate deliverance of the afflicted people of God, Moses is understandably reluctant to commit. He’s willing to try (or at least not risk God’s further anger – Ex 4:14) and see if it just might work.
Observation of Exodus 4:18-31
Significant repeated words in ESV: Moses (12 times), him (9x), go, LORD/Yahweh (8x), he, said (7x), all (6x), back, Egypt, let, people, son (5x).
- This list effectively comprises a good summary of observations: Moses and Yahweh go back to Egypt to let all the people/sons of Israel go.
- Moses, Yahweh, and Pharaoh are all named multiple times.
- Zipporah shows up again, with a feat of courageous valor.
- Zipporah’s son is not named (unlike Ex 2:22). He’s just “her son.”
- Aaron comes on-stage for the first time.
Structure: This passage takes the form of 4 short scenes marked by the changes in setting and characters:
- Paragraph 1 (Ex 4:18-20): Moses request Jethro’s permission to leave. God repeats the mission, and Moses departs with staff in hand.
- Paragraph 2 (Ex 4:21-23): Yahweh tells Moses what to expect: Do all the miracles, but I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and threaten his son.
- Paragraph 3 (Ex 4:24-26): By means of a sudden, bloody circumcision, Zipporah delivers him when God seeks to put him to death.
- Paragraph 4 (Ex 4:27-31): Aaron and Moses meet, gather Israel’s elders, speak God’s words, and perform God’s signs. The people believe and worship.
Interpretation of Exodus 4:18-31
Some of my questions:
- Why are the first 3 paragraphs here? The story would have made plenty of sense if Ex 4:17 was immediately followed by Ex 4:27-31. And it would have saved us many questions…
- Why does Moses say he wants to see if his brothers are alive (Ex 4:18)? Doesn’t he yet understand his mission to rescue them?
- What kind of God would harden someone’s heart (Ex 4:21)? Why would God make this deliverance any more difficult than it needs to be?
- What on earth is happening at the lodging place (Ex 4:24-26)? Why would God seek to kill Moses when he went through all the trouble of calling him as the deliverer?
Answers (numbers correspond to the preceding questions):
- The terminology of this section has much overlap with Genesis 46, where Jacob and his family move to Egypt: go back to Egypt, see if my brother(s) is/are still alive, took wife and sons, describe what they rode on, preparing to meet Pharaoh, encounter with Yahweh at a lodging place along the way, repetition of “people” and “son,” brother coming the other way from Egypt to meet him, happy reunion. Really, you should read Genesis 46:1-34 back-to-back with Exodus 4:18-31. You can’t miss all the similarities.
- This question cements the connection to Israel’s descent into Egypt in Genesis 46 (see especially Gen 45:28, 46:30). I think there is much reason to believe the narrator wants us to see the parallels, and think of Moses’ descent into Egypt as parallel to Israel’s descent to Egypt. We’ve already seen that Moses has begun to experience what Israel will later experience (Ex 3:12). If he is to qualify as their mediator, he should understand what it’s like to be them, right? What better way to do that than to have Moses relive Israel’s experience?
- Unfortunately, I don’t think this text answers this question. We’ll have to hang on to it for another day. At this point, it seems all we need to know is that he is, in fact, this kind of God. And that he has some reason for increasing the difficulty level of this challenge.
- There is much mystery here. Some translations fill in names where there are none in the Hebrew. Yahweh met “him” and sought to put “him” to death (Ex 4:24). Zipporah cut off her son’s foreskin and touched “his” feet with it (Ex 4:25). So “he” let “him” alone. Many things are unclear, but a few are clear: At a place of lodging, God draws near to put someone to death. It has something to do with the son. The thing that causes God to let him alone is the flinging of blood (blood is even repeated two times). Do you get it? This sounds a lot like Passover, yet to come in chapters 11-13! Moses experiences his own Passover-type event as part of his preparation to be a mediator for the people. It’s easy for us to forget how tense and terrifying that first Passover night must have been for the people of Israel. But Moses had already been through it. He could relate to them, and he could help them through it. It takes a gruesome display of blood to rescue God’s sons and make them his true sons.
Train of thought:
- Moses leaves the mountain and descends into Egypt, just as Israel did 400 years earlier.
- God will defend his son, even if he has to harden Pharaoh’s heart and kill his son.
- Moses must experience the worst of what Israel will soon likewise experience.
- With Moses now able to both represent God and understand what his people are going through, all are ready for the great deliverance.
Main Point: One qualified to serve as God’s faithful and merciful mediator must be made like his brothers in every way. Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Connection to Christ: You’ll see I’ve already drawn heavily on Hebrews 2:17-18:
Therefore [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
It’s no coincidence that the very next verses contrast Jesus, the faithful Son, with Moses, the faithful servant (Heb 3:1-6).
My Application of Exodus 4:18-31
Outward, Hands application: When I want to influence others toward Christ, words are not enough. Of course, I must speak God’s words; I cannot make excuses to do away with that step. But I must also enter in. I must experience what they experience, suffer what they suffer, weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. My evangelism should be not as focused on packaging the message just right, as it should be focused on crafting the message to connect with the real-world hopes, dreams, fears, and histories of the people God has called me to serve.
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