Exodus 4


‘Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?” Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.” Then the LORD said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow. “Now put it back into your cloak,” he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh. Then the LORD said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.” Exodus 4:1-9

Signs For Moses

Moses didn’t want the task of bringing his people out of Egypt and so he gave God excuse after excuse.

1. “Who am I, that I should go?” Exodus 3:11.

2. “What shall I say when they ask, `What is his (God’s) name?'” Exodus 3:13.

3. “They will not believe.” Exodus 4:1.

4. “I am not eloquent”. Exodus 4:10.

5. “Send someone else.” Exodus 4:13.

Moses’ lack of leadership skills is really beginning to show and understandably he knew that his fellow Hebrews would really struggle to accept that he was now representing the one true God of Israel. The good news is that God totally understands and so to give Moses some assurance, God is going to give him three signs.

The Staff

Because Moses was a shepherd, he would have a staff with him, Exodus 3:1, and so, the staff would represent the leadership, care and protection of a shepherd. In other words, under God’s protection, Moses would lead, care and protect God’s people.

The purpose of this miracle is told by God, that they, that is His people, might believe. When the staff became a snake, notice ‘he ran from it’, this indicates that it was probably a poisonous snake, although we’re not told which kind of snake it was.

There’s no doubt that when God asked him to ‘take it by the tail’, this was a real test of faith for Moses. It’s well documented that if you want to pick up a poisonous snake, you grab it by the head to avoid being bitten. Here, God was strengthening the faith of Moses.

The Leprous Hand

Notice that God Himself says, ‘if they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second’. This tells us that miracles alone cannot actually give faith, John 6:14 / John 6:30 / John 12:37.

God gave Moses the second sign which resulted in Moses’ hand becoming leprous. Notice his hand became ‘white as snow’, this is the worst kind of leprosy. This sign was also given so that they, that is God’s people believe.

It appears that God is signifying that He would take care of their physical needs. God again with this sign was strengthening Moses’ faith, Hebrews 11:24-29.


The third and final sign for God’s people would be seen in the water of the river Nile would turn into blood. The changing of the waters of the Nile into blood was, the first of the ten plagues, Exodus 7:14-25.

The blood represents the struggle Israel would have in being delivered, God would bring judgment upon the Egyptians. These three signs were given to Moses to prove that he was a genuine messenger of God.

‘Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.” Exodus 4:10-17

After being given assurance from God, Moses was still very reluctant to take on the mission God has for him. He asks for God’s pardon on two occasions, asking for pardon doesn’t occur too many times within the Scriptures, Genesis 43:20 / Genesis 44:18 / Numbers 12:11 / Joshua 7:8.

It appears that Moses is still focused on his own abilities. Here, he gives the excuse that he isn’t a very good speaker, that is, he has a speech problem. Some commentators believe he had a speech impediment such as a stammer, but we simply don’t know.

God appears to have excused Moses for all his other excuses but here, He doesn’t accept Moses’ excuse, instead, God rebukes him by reminding him of who He is and what He has done.

I guess we need to ask the question, does God purposely make some people to be mute, deaf, or blind, and others with all such abilities? In some instances, this is surely true, as in John 9:1-3.

Fields, in his commentary, says the following.

‘God is not responsible for all the cases of blindness and deafness. Many human handicaps are clearly the result of sin and or the violation, whether knowingly or not, of God’s eternal laws. The great lesson here is that one should not depreciate or despise the gifts which God has given, nor refuse to use those gifts which men may deem less perfect. Even the most gifted can find no grounds for pride and egotism, because, as Paul stated it, ‘what hast thou that thou hast not received?’ 1 Corinthians 4:7. The answer to that question, of course, is nothing!’

God then commands Moses to ‘go’ and He will help him speak, Matthew 10:19. Moses still refused to take up the mission and asks God to send someone else and it’s clear that God was becoming really angry with him.

Notice that it was God who mentioned Aaron, Moses’ brother, but he also called him a Levite. It appears that God ordained that the priesthood should reside not in Moses but Aaron and the Levites.

As always God was looking into the future, He knew that Aaron was a good speaker and He knew Aaron was on his way to meet Moses, Exodus 4:27. God was going to equip them in speech and actions in order for them to do the mission ahead.

God never asks us to do something He hasn’t already equipped us to do and so Moses is told to take the staff with which he will show the Israelites the signs that He is representing the one true God, the God of their fathers.

Moses Returns To Egypt

‘Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Let me return to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.” Jethro said, “Go, and I wish you well.” Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.” So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand. The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’” Exodus 4:18-23

When Moses arrived back to Jethro, he asks to return to Egypt to see his people. Notice he didn’t go into any detail about what had just happened at the burning bush or God’s mission for him. However, what he did tell Jethro was enough for Jethro to bless his visit.

Moses obviously was still thinking about the time he fled from Egypt after killing an Egyptian and those who were out to kill him, Exodus 2:11-15, but God reassures him in Midian, Exodus 3:1, that all those who were out to kill him were now dead. It appears that the sons of Zipporah, Exodus 16:22 / Exodus 18:4, and Moses accompanied Moses on their journey.

When Moses reaches Egypt, he is use ‘the staff of God’ to perform all the wonders God has enabled him to do. The miracles that God would work before Pharaoh would leave Pharaoh without excuse. If Pharaoh refused to allow God to have His firstborn, that is, the nation of Israel, then God would take the firstborn of Egypt.

The Hardening Of Pharaoh’s Heart

Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Behind this question for many is the idea that Pharaoh didn’t have any free will, and therefore, he had no choice but to do what God wanted him to do.

In the Book of Exodus, we read how Moses had been commanded by God to go to Pharaoh and demand that Pharaoh let his people go, Exodus 9:1. Understandably, Pharaoh was reluctant to do so because the Israelites were his slaves and they worked hard to help build and maintain his kingdom.

Moses goes to Pharaoh and by faith and the power of God, he confirms that God is with him by using signs and wonders. These signs and wonders were used to confirm Moses’ message to Pharaoh, to let His people go, Exodus 7:1-7.

The last plague of Egypt was when the firstborn of every animal and human died, but none of the Israelites died, Exodus 11:4. It wasn’t until Pharaoh’s firstborn son died, did he decide to let God’s people go, Exodus 12:31.

But even when he allowed them to go, his pride and arrogance led him to change his mind and so he went after them. We don’t know if Pharaoh himself died but many Egyptians died in the process, Exodus 14:28 / Exodus 15:19.

God Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart

Now remember that all this hardening of the heart business was done during the ten plagues, but there’s an important point which is often overlooked. God said that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart ten times throughout the Book of Exodus, Exodus 4:21 / Exodus 7:3 / Exodus 9:12 / Exodus 10:1 / Exodus 10:20 / Exodus 10:27 / Exodus 11:10 / Exodus 14:4 / Exodus 14:8 / Exodus 14:17.

Pharaoh Hardened His Own Heart

Now what is often overlooked is that Pharaoh himself is said to have hardened his own heart ten times throughout Exodus, Exodus 7:13 / Exodus 7:14 / Exodus 7:22 / Exodus 8:15 / Exodus 8:19 / Exodus 8:32 / Exodus 9:7 / Exodus 9:34 / Exodus 9:35 / Exodus 13:15.

The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is something which God told Moses He would have to do because God knew Pharaoh wouldn’t let His people go straight away, Exodus 4:21, but it’s clear after reading the above Scriptures that the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was done by both God and Pharaoh himself.

What we see in all those Scriptures, is Pharaoh hardened his own heart during the first five plagues. Pharaoh hardened his own heart because he wouldn’t listen to Moses and Aaron, he wouldn’t let God’s people go but God didn’t harden his heart until the sixth plague came, Exodus 9:12.

God gave him the opportunity to exercise his own free will five times, God called Pharaoh to humble himself and acknowledge that God is his authority but Pharaoh chose to harden his own heart against the will of God, 1 Samuel 6:6.

Did Pharaoh Have A Choice?

When we read Romans 9:14-18, we find Paul answering a question that someone in Rome may have been asking, ‘What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!’ Romans 9:14.

Is there injustice on God’s part, when He accepts and rejects people in this way, i.e. Jacob and Esau? Paul says, ‘Not at all’ or ‘perish the thought! Paul says don’t even think that for one minute.

Remember that God has absolute sovereignty, He Himself says, ‘I will have mercy on whoever I choose.’ Romans 9:15. The A.V. says, ‘him that runneth,’ he’s obviously using the illustration of the foot race but it’s not a matter of the prize going to the one who wins the race. Your version may say, ‘it depends not on a man’s will, or exertion’, i.e., on his effort, but upon God’s mercy.

It was not an unjust selection that God had made if God selected Isaac and Jacob because they were the best instruments to work out His plans. It would not be out of harmony for God to reject the Jews because of unbelief and accept the Gentiles for their belief.

Paul quotes what God said to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion,’ Exodus 33:19. This brings us back to the truth that it’s God who determines the basis on which His mercy and compassion are offered to men.

Notice that the pronoun ‘I’ is emphasised, God alone has the right to choose regarding the ones on whom He will have mercy and compassion, no one can keep God from showing mercy and compassion to whom He wills. The Jews said that God’s mercy should be to the Jews only, however, God thought differently, Luke 1:50 / Acts 10:34-35.

In Romans 9:16 we read about the origin of mercy, mercy wasn’t bestowed because man originally wished or desired it. God is the original fountain of it. ‘It does not depend on human desire or effort’ means it didn’t result from any strenuous or intense effort on the part of man, but from God’s own decision to bestow it.

In Romans 9:17 Paul quotes the case of God’s dealing with Pharaoh, and we need to listen very carefully to what Paul says here because if we are not careful we might get the wrong idea. God said that He had raised up Pharaoh, in order to display His power through the Egyptian ruler.

Notice, ‘to display His power’. He did not say that He raised up Pharaoh to ‘destroy’ him, or to ‘drown him in the Red Sea’, but, through His dealings with Pharaoh, to let the nations around see how powerful Israel’s God was. Now, just how God’s intention should be accomplished, depended on Pharaoh himself and on the way he responded to God’s command through Moses.

It was within the sphere of Pharaoh’s choice either to submit to the will of God whom Moses represented or to take the course which, in fact, he did take, to resist God’s will and face the consequences. Either way, either by Pharaoh’s immediate and voluntary submission to God’s demand or by being compelled to let the people go, when the children of Israel marched out of Egypt, the world would know the power of God.

In Exodus 9:16, God is speaking, and so, ‘for Scriptures says’ in Romans 9:17, is the same God who says, ‘for this very purpose, that I may show My power in you’. Each time Pharaoh refused to let Israel go, the power of God was more clearly demonstrated in another plague.

Everyone, including foreign nations, began to hear of God and the mighty power He demonstrated in delivering Israel, Joshua 2:10 / Joshua 9:9. The time had come for God to show mercy on Israel and Pharaoh could not stop Him, Romans 9:18.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by demanding something Pharaoh didn’t want to do. God didn’t harden his heart separate from his will but used his evil disposition to carry out His plans. God shows favour to whom He wills, just as He favoured Isaac, Jacob and Moses. He rejects those whom He wills just as He did Ishmael, Esau and Pharaoh. The means by which He shows mercy or rejection must be learned in other passages.

How Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?

We know that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart but maybe we should also ask the question, how did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?

Adam Clarke in his commentary has the following useful thought.

‘God does not work this hardness of heart in man; but it may be said to harden him who refuses to soften, to blind him who refuses to enlighten, and to repel him who refuses to call.’ It is but just and right that He should withhold those graces which were repeatedly offered, and which the sinner had despised and rejected.’

Other Examples Of God Working On People’s Hearts

In John 16, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, who would convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, John 16:8. In John 17, Jesus spoke of having given the apostles the word they would preach to the world, John 17:8 / John 17:18. Jesus also spoke of all who would believe in Him through the apostles’ words, John 17:20. In Acts 2, the apostles preached the Gospel, that message given to them by the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:4.

Peter’s Audience On Pentecost

We see in Acts 2:36-37 that it was the preaching of the Word of God as the means by which men were convicted in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Stephen’s Jewish Audience

Stephen accused his Jewish audience of being stiff-necked and resisting the Holy Spirit, Acts 7:51, but the question is, were they in a literal battle against the Holy Spirit, or were they resisting the words of Stephen given by the Holy Spirit?


Did the Lord operate directly on Lydia’s heart, or did He indirectly use some other means? Acts 16:14.

Notice that it was the Spirit-given Word of God that was preached that convicted the Jews at Pentecost, and as it was the Spirit-given Word of God that was preached that Stephen’s audience resisted, it was the Spirit-given Word of God that Paul preached that opened Lydia’s heart and the hearts of those women with her.

It appears that the Spirit-given Word softens some people while it hardens others. It was the message and signs of God given through Moses that hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

Knowing all things, God knew that Pharaoh’s stubborn heart would not be persuaded. And so, He could speak of hardening Pharaoh’s heart when in truth, it was the Word and signs given through Moses that caused Pharaoh to further harden his own heart.


After considering the above texts, let’s see how this ties together with Pharaoh. In Exodus 10:1 we read that the Lord claimed to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart as well as the hearts of Pharaoh’s servants. In Exodus 10:3 we read that Pharaoh is condemned for refusing to humble himself, which obviously implies he possessed free will.

Notice in Exodus 10:7 that Pharaoh’s servants were pleading with Pharaoh to let Israel go. In other words, the prospect of more plagues softened the hearts of Pharaoh’s servants while hardening the heart of their king. This tells us that both Pharaoh and his officials possessed free will but acted in opposite ways in the same situation.

Pharaoh’s part in hardening his own heart was an active part, he chose not to obey the will of God. God’s part was simply to empower Pharaoh to exercise that choice. This is evident from the fact that Pharaoh was held fully responsible for his hardness and punished for it. God didn’t overrule Pharaoh’s power of choice; Pharaoh actively hardened his own heart and God allowed him to do so.

That old saying, ‘the same sun that melts wax also hardens clay’ is very applicable here. Through the Gospel, God hardens the hearts of some and melts the hearts of others.

Those who accept the offer and obey its requirements are saved, selected and favoured. Those who reject it are lost, hardened and rejected. The same idea is shown in God sending powerful delusions to those who refuse to love the truth, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.

The writer of Hebrews warns believers today not to harden their hearts when they hear the voice of God in His Word, Hebrews 3:8 / Hebrews 3:13 / Hebrews 3:15.

‘At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said, “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)’ Exodus 4:24-26

We don’t know all the details as to why Moses neglected to circumcise his son, but we do know that he didn’t obey God in having his son circumcised, Acts 16:3.

It appears that Zipporah wasn’t happy about her son being circumcised which may be the reason why Moses didn’t have him circumcised in the first place, although some commentators suggest that Moses was seriously ill.

Notice that the words ‘you are a bridegroom of blood to me’ are stated twice. Moffatt translated the verse in the following way, ‘you are my bridegroom in blood by this circumcision’.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘It is quite obvious that the whole bloody business of circumcision was repugnant to Zipporah, and the conjecture seems quite reasonable that it was because of her objections to the rite that Moses had delayed or neglected it. Seeing that it would cost her the life of her bridegroom unless it was done, she did it herself, therefore calling Moses a bloody husband, or a bridegroom in blood. Moses’ respect for his wife’s objections, however, was sinful.’

It’s believed by many commentators that it was at this point that Moses sent Zipporah and the sons back to Jethro in Midian, this is plausible because Moses actually calls for his family to return to him a year after the exodus had taken place, Exodus 18:2-3.

‘The LORD said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. Then Moses told Aaron everything the LORD had sent him to say, and also about all the signs he had commanded him to perform. Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.’ Exodus 4:27-31

Earlier God had told Moses that Aaron was on his way to meet Moses, Exodus 4:14, it appears that it’s at this point that Aaron goes to meet him. God tells Aaron to meet Moses on the very same mountain He appeared to Moses, Mount Sinai.

After explaining everything to Aaron, both Moses and Aaron set off for Egypt where they gathered together the spiritual leaders, that is, the elders of Israel. It’s Aaron who speaks to them and tells them everything that God said to Moses.

Notice he performed ‘the signs’ before they people and they believed. This was exactly what God said they were indented to do, Exodus 4:1-9.

After seeing the signs, they believed and bowed down and worshipped God, which is always the contentious action of anyone who is in the presence of God.

Go To Exodus 5