Exodus 4-6: Bricks Without Straw
February 2, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Moses is not so sure this is a task that he is up to (4:1), and who could blame him? Going to the regional superpower, the leader of Egypt, and commanding said all-powerful leader to do exactly what you said. This was not a job for the faint-hearted! It must have felt like something of a fool’s errand.
So the LORD gives Moses signs. First, a staff that can miraculously become a snake and then turn back again (4:2-5). Then, an ability to turn his hand leprous and immediately be well again (4:6-8). Finally, the ability to be able to turn Nile water into blood (4:9). As the story unfolds, it will become clear that these signs were the kind of special magic tricks that Pharaoh’s magicians delighted to use to fool the credulous (Ex. 7:11, 22), but in the hands of God they were the real deal.
However, Moses still sees a potentially insurmountable problem. He is not a good speaker (4:10). Many have wondered whether in fact Moses had a stutter. Either way, Moses, the great preacher of the Old Testament, is an encouragement to any recalcitrant contemporary prophet who feels that he does not have the requisite natural gifts to be an effective pulpiteer. Like Paul after him (2 Cor. 10:10, 11:6), Moses was aware that he was not a naturally showy “communicator” (though in Paul’s case that distinction may have been strategic too—1 Cor. 2:1-5), and yet in his weakness God’s strength will be shown.
This last hesitation enflames God’s anger (4:13-14). Still merciful, he points out that Aaron, Moses’ brother, is coming, and he can do any smooth talking that might be necessary (4:14-16). Flat out of excuses, Moses prepares to go (4:17-20).
Along the way comes a mysterious moment. The LORD met Moses and sought to put him to death (4:24). Only the quick thinking of Zipporah, Moses’ wife, prevents calamity: she employs the sacrifice, symbolically, of blood to atone for Moses’ sins (4:25-26). But what is the purpose of this part in the narrative? Why would God suddenly strike Moses, his messenger, down? Surely if God had intended to finish Moses off finally, nothing that Zipporah could do would have stopped him. What God is doing is impressing upon Moses, and us the reader, that he is not (in the famous words of C.S. Lewis) “a tame lion.” God is fearful and greatly to be feared. Only the sacrifice of blood, fulfilled in the place that the covenant of circumcision finds its fulfillment in, the cross, can protect any of us from the just judgment of a holy God. This fear of God would be a necessary factor if Moses was to stand before a person who, humanly speaking, was greatly to be feared. But now Moses had the fear of God, and did not fear Pharaoh.
As predicted (Ex. 3:19, 4:21-23), Moses’ initial request meets with disdain from Pharaoh (5:1-5). In fact, Pharaoh, cunning politician that he no doubt was, comes up with a plan to cut Moses off from his power base. He would make the lot of the people of Israel even worse and then blame that action on Moses (5:6-21). Surely that would finish Moses’ good will connection with God’s people (4:29-31).
But Moses prays (5:22-23)—another characteristic of Moses, a man of prayer who turns calamity into an opportunity for intercession, disaster into a moment of redemption. God tells Moses what to say to Israel (6:1-8), Moses delivers the message, and the Israelites remain willing to follow Moses under God’s leadership (6:9).
Moses is now to go back to Pharaoh (6:10-11, 13). But given the difficulty with his relationship with the Israelites now, he is hesitant to do so (6:12). The story concludes with a list of Moses’ and Aaron’s genealogy (6:14-27), emphasizing that they are true Israelites and cementing their connection and family tie to God’s people.
Opposition, difficulty, and resistance often accompanies first steps in following God. But by prayer, trust, and ongoing faithfulness, God’s Word and his way will prevail. In the end God’s people will be rescued and Pharaoh will let them go.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
To receive God Centered Life devotionals directly in your inbox, as well as other resources, enter your email address in the form at the bottom of this page and click "subscribe."