Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Moses now started a fresh difficulty: the Israelites would not believe that Jehovah had appeared to him. There was so far a reason for this difficulty, that from the time of Jacob-an interval, therefore, of 430 years - God had never appeared to any Israelite. God therefore removed it by giving him three signs by which he might attest his divine mission to his people. These three signs were intended indeed for the Israelites, to convince them of the reality of the appearance of Jehovah to Moses; at the same time, as even Ephraem Syrus observed, they also served to strengthen Moses' faith, and dissipate his fears as to the result of his mission. For it was apparent enough that Moses did not possess true and entire confidence in God, from the fact that he still raised this difficulty, and distrusted the divine assurance, "They will hearken to thy voice," Exo 3:18). And finally, these signs were intended for Pharaoh, as is stated in Exo 4:21; and to him the אתות (σημεῖα) were to become מפתים (τέρατα). By these signs Moses was installed as the servant of Jehovah (Exo 14:31), and furnished with divine power, with which he could and was to appear before the children of Israel and Pharaoh as the messenger of Jehovah. The character of the three signs corresponded to this intention.
The First Sign. - The turning of Moses' staff into a serpent, which became a staff again when Moses took it by the tail, had reference to the calling of Moses. The staff in his hand was his shepherd's crook (מזּה Exo 4:2, for מה־זה, in this place alone), and represented his calling as a shepherd. At the bidding of God he threw it upon the ground, and the staff became a serpent, before which Moses fled. The giving up of his shepherd-life would expose him to dangers, from which he would desire to escape. At the same time, there was more implied in the figure of a serpent than danger which merely threatened his life. The serpent had been the constant enemy of the seed of the woman (Gen 3), and represented the power of the wicked one which prevailed in Egypt. The explanation in Pirke Elieser, c. 40, points to this: ideo Deum hoc signum Mosi ostendisse, quia sicut serpens mordet et morte afficit homines, ita quoque Pharao et Aegyptii mordebant et necabant Israelitas. But at the bidding of God, Moses seized the serpent by the tail, and received his staff again as "the rod of God," with which he smote Egypt with great plagues. From this sign the people of Israel would necessarily perceive, that Jehovah had not only called Moses to be the leader of Israel, but had endowed him with the power to overcome the serpent-like cunning and the might of Egypt; in other words, they would "believe that Jehovah, the God of the fathers, had appeared to him." (On the special meaning of this sign for Pharaoh, see Exo 7:10.)
The Second Sign. - Moses' hand became leprous, and was afterwards cleansed again. The expression כּשּׁלג מצרעת, covered with leprosy like snow, refers to the white leprosy (vid., Lev 13:3). - "Was turned again as his flesh;" i.e., was restored, became healthy, or clean like the rest of his body. So far as the meaning of this sign is concerned, Moses' hand has been explained in a perfectly arbitrary manner as representing the Israelitish nation, and his bosom as representing first Egypt, and then Canaan, as the hiding-place of Israel. If the shepherd's staff represented Moses' calling, the hand was that which directed or ruled the calling. It is in the bosom that the nurse carried the sucking child (Num 11:12), the shepherd the lambs (Isa 40:11), and the sacred singer the many nations, from whom he has suffered reproach and injury (Psa 89:50). So Moses also carried his people in his bosom, i.e., in his heart: of that his first appearance in Egypt was a proof (Exo 2:11-12). But now he was to set his hand to deliver them from the reproach and bondage of Egypt. He put (הביא) his hand into his bosom, and his hand was covered with leprosy. The nation was like a leper, who defiled every one that touched him. The leprosy represented not only "the servitude and contemptuous treatment of the Israelites in Egypt" (Kurtz), but the ἀσέβεια of the Egyptians also, as Theodoret expresses it, or rather the impurity of Egypt in which Israel was sunken. This Moses soon discovered (cf. Exo 5:17.), and on more than one occasion afterwards (cf. Num 11); so that he had to complain to Jehovah, "Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant, that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?...Have I conceived all this people, that Thou shouldest say to me, Carry them in thy bosom?" (Num 11:11-12). But God had the power to purify the nation from this leprosy, and would endow His servant Moses with that power. At the command of God, Moses put his hand, now covered with leprosy, once more into his bosom, and drew it out quite cleansed. This was what Moses was to learn by the sign; whilst Israel also learned that God both could and would deliver it, through the cleansed hand of Moses, from all its bodily and spiritual misery. The object of the first miracle was to exhibit Moses as the man whom Jehovah had called to be the leader of His people; that of the second, to show that, as the messenger of Jehovah, he was furnished with the necessary power for the execution of this calling. In this sense God says, in Exo 4:8, "If they will not hearken to the voice of the first sign, they will believe the voice of the latter sign." A voice is ascribed to the sign, as being a clear witness to the divine mission of the person performing it. (Psa 105:27).
The Third Sign. - If the first two signs should not be sufficient to lead the people to believe in the divine mission of Moses, he was to give them one more practical demonstration of the power which he had received to overcome the might and gods of Egypt. He was to take of the water of the Nile (the river, Gen 41:1) and pour it upon the dry land, and it would become blood (the second והיוּ is a resumption of the first, cf. Exo 12:41). The Nile received divine honours as the source of every good and all prosperity in the natural life of Egypt, and was even identified with Osiris (cf. Hengstenberg, Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 109 transl.). If Moses therefore had power to turn the life-distributing water of the Nile into blood, he must also have received power to destroy Pharaoh and his gods. Israel was to learn this from the sign, whilst Pharaoh and the Egyptians were afterwards to experience this might of Jehovah in the form of punishment (Exo 7:15.). Thus Moses as not only entrusted with the word of God, but also endowed with the power of God; and as he was the first God-sent prophet, so was he also the first worker of miracles, and in this capacity a type of the Apostle of our profession (Heb 3:1), even the God-man, Christ Jesus.
Moses raised another difficulty. "I am not a man of words," he said (i.e., I do not possess the gift of speech), "but am heavy in mouth and heavy in tongue" (i.e., I find a difficulty in the use of mouth and tongue, not exactly "stammering"); and that "both of yesterday and the day before" (i.e., from the very first, Gen 31:2), "and also since Thy speaking to Thy servant." Moses meant to say, "I neither possess the gift of speech by nature, nor have I received it since Thou hast spoken to me."
Jehovah both could and would provide for this defect. He had made man's mouth, and He made dumb or deaf, seeing or blind. He possessed unlimited power over all the senses, could give them or take them away; and He would be with Moses' mouth, and teach him what he was to say, i.e., impart to him the necessary qualification both as to matter and mode. - Moses' difficulties were now all exhausted, and removed by the assurances of God. But this only brought to light the secret reason in his heart. He did not wish to undertake the divine mission.
"Send, I pray Thee," he says, "by whom Thou wilt send;" i.e., carry out Thy mission by whomsoever Thou wilt. בּיד שׁלח: to carry out a mission through any one, originally with accus. rei (Sa1 16:20; Sa2 11:14), then without the object, as here, "to send a person" (cf. Sa2 12:25; Kg1 2:25). Before תּשׁלח the word אשׁר is omitted, which stands with בּיד in the construct state (vid., Ges. 123, 3). The anger of God was now excited by this groundless opposition. But as this unwillingness also arose from weakness of the flesh, the mercy of God came to the help of his weakness, and He referred Moses to his brother Aaron, who could speak well, and would address the people for him (Exo 4:14-17). Aaron is called הלּוי, the Levite, from his lineage, possibly with reference to the primary signification of לוה "to connect one's self" (Baumgarten), but not with any allusion to the future calling of the tribe of Levi (Rashi and Calvin). הוּא ידבּר דּבּר speak will he. The inf. abs. gives emphasis to the verb, and the position of הוּא to the subject. He both can and will speak, if thou dost not know it.
And Aaron is quite ready to do so. He is already coming to meet thee, and is glad to see thee. The statement in Exo 4:27, where Jehovah directs Aaron to go and meet Moses, is not at variance with this. They can both be reconciled in the following simple manner: "As soon as Aaron heard that his brother had left Midian, he went to meet him of his own accord, and then God showed him by what road he must go to find him, viz., towards the desert" (R. Mose ben Nachman). - "Put the words" (sc., which I have told thee) "into his mouth;" and I will support both thee and him in speaking. "He will be mouth to thee, and thou shalt be God to him." Cf. Exo 7:1, "Thy brother Aaron shall be thy prophet." Aaron would stand in the same relation to Moses, as a prophet to God: the prophet only spoke what God inspired him with, and Moses should be the inspiring God to him. The Targum softens down the word "God" into "master, teacher." Moses was called God, as being the possessor and medium of the divine word. As Luther explains it, "Whoever possesses and believes the word of God, possesses the Spirit and power of God, and also the divine wisdom, truth, heart, mind, and everything that belongs to God." In Exo 4:17, the plural "signs" points to the penal wonders that followed; for only one of the three signs given to Moses was performed with the rod.
In consequence of this appearance of God, Moses took leave of his father-in-law to return to his brethren in Egypt, though without telling him the real object of his journey, no doubt because Jethro had not the mind to understand such a divine revelation, though he subsequently recognised the miracles that God wrought for Israel (Exo 18). By the "brethren" we are to understand not merely the nearer relatives of Moses, or the family of Amram, but the Israelites generally. Considering the oppression under which they were suffering at the time of Moses' flight, the question might naturally arise, whether they were still living, and had not been altogether exterminated.
Return of Moses to Egypt. - Exo 4:19-23. On leaving Midian, Moses received another communication from God with reference to his mission to Pharaoh. The word of Jehovah, in Exo 4:19, is not to be regarded as a summary of the previous revelation, in which case ויּאמר would be a pluperfect, nor as the account of another writer, who placed the summons to return to Egypt not in Sinai but in Midian. It is not a fact that the departure of Moses is given in Exo 4:18; all that is stated there is, that Jethro consented to Moses' decision to return to Egypt. It was not till after this consent that Moses was able to prepare for the journey. During these preparations God appeared to him in Midian, and encouraged him to return, by informing him that all the men who had sought his life, i.e., Pharaoh and the relatives of the Egyptian whom he had slain, were now dead.
Moses then set out upon his journey, with his wife and sons. בּניו is not to be altered into בּנו, as Knobel supposes, notwithstanding the fact that the birth of only one son has hitherto been mentioned (Exo 2:22); for neither there, nor in this passage (Exo 4:25), is he described as the only son. The wife and sons, who were still young, he placed upon the ass (the one taken for the purpose), whilst he himself went on foot with "the staff of God" - as the staff was called with which he was to perform the divine miracles (Exo 4:17) - in his hand. Poor as his outward appearance might be, he had in his hand the staff before which the pride of Pharaoh and all his might would have to bow.
"In thy going (returning) to Egypt, behold, all the wonders which I have put into thy hand, thou doest them before Pharaoh." מופת, τὸ τέρας, portentum, is any object (natural event, thing, or person) of significance which surpasses expectation or the ordinary course of nature, and excites wonder in consequence. It is frequently connected with אות, σημεῖον, a sign (Deu 4:34; Deu 6:22; Deu 7:19, etc.), and embraces the idea of אות within itself, i.e., wonder-sign. The expression, "all those wonders," does not refer merely to the three signs mentioned in Exo 4:2-9, but to all the miracles which were to be performed by Moses with the staff in the presence of Pharaoh, and which, though not named, were put into his hand potentially along with the staff. - But all the miracles would not induce Pharaoh to let Israel go, for Jehovah would harden his heart. את־לבּו אחזּק אני, lit., I will make his heart firm, so that it will not move, his feelings and attitude towards Israel will not change. For אחזּק אני or וחזּקתּי (Exo 14:4) and מחזּק אני (Exo 14:17), we find אקשׁה אני in Exo 7:3, "I will make Pharaoh's heart hard, or unfeeling;" and in Exo 10:1, הכבּדתּי אני "I have made his heart heavy," i.e., obtuse, or insensible to impressions or divine influences. These three words are expressive of the hardening of the heart.
The hardening of Pharaoh is ascribed to God, not only in the passages just quoted, but also in Exo 9:12; Exo 10:20, Exo 10:27; Exo 11:10; Exo 14:8; that is to say, ten times in all; and that not merely as foreknown or foretold by Jehovah, but as caused and effected by Him. In the last five passages it is invariably stated that "Jehovah hardened (יהזּק) Pharaoh's heart." But it is also stated just as often, viz., ten times, that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, or made it heavy or firm; e.g., in Exo 7:13, Exo 7:22; Exo 8:15; Exo 9:35, לב ויּחזק "and Pharaoh's heart was (or became) hard;" Exo 7:14, לב כּבד "Pharaoh's heart was heavy;" in Exo 9:7, ל יכבּד; in Exo 8:11, Exo 8:28; Exo 9:34, את־לבּו ויּכבּד or והכבּד; in Exo 13:15, פ הקשׁה כּי "for Pharaoh made his heart hard." According to this, the hardening of Pharaoh was quite as much his own act as the decree of God. But if, in order to determine the precise relation of the divine to the human causality, we look more carefully at the two classes of expressions, we shall find that not only in connection with the first sign, by which Moses and Aaron were to show their credentials as the messengers of Jehovah, sent with the demand that he would let the people of Israel go (Exo 7:13-14), but after the first five penal miracles, the hardening is invariably represented as his own. After every one of these miracles, it is stated that Pharaoh's heart was firm, or dull, i.e., insensible to the voice of God, and unaffected by the miracles performed before his eyes, and the judgments of God suspended over him and his kingdom, and he did not listen to them (to Moses and Aaron with their demand), or let the people go (Exo 7:22; Exo 8:8, Exo 8:15, Exo 8:28; Exo 9:7). It is not till after the sixth plague that it is stated that Jehovah made the heart of Pharaoh firm (Exo 9:12). At the seventh the statement is repeated, that "Pharaoh made his heart heavy" (Exo 9:34-35); but the continued refusal on the part of Pharaoh after the eighth and ninth (Exo 10:20, Exo 10:27) and his resolution to follow the Israelites and bring them back again, are attributed to the hardening of his heart by Jehovah (Exo 14:8, cf. Exo 14:4 and Exo 14:17). This hardening of his own heart was manifested first of all in the fact, that he paid not attention to the demand of Jehovah addressed to him through Moses, and would not let Israel go; and that not only at the commencement, so long as the Egyptian magicians imitated the signs performed by Moses and Aaron (though at the very first sign the rods of the magicians, when turned into serpents, were swallowed by Aaron's, Exo 7:12-13), but even when the magicians themselves acknowledged, "This is the finger of God" (Exo 8:19). It was also continued after the fourth and fifth plagues, when a distinction was made between the Egyptians and the Israelites, and the latter were exempted from the plagues, - a fact of which the king took care to convince himself (Exo 9:7). And it was exhibited still further in his breaking his promise, that he would let Israel go if Moses and Aaron would obtain from Jehovah the removal of the plague, and in the fact, that even after he had been obliged to confess, "I have sinned, Jehovah is the righteous one, I and my people are unrighteous" (Exo 9:27), he sinned again, as soon as breathing-time was given him, and would not let the people go (Exo 9:34-35). Thus Pharaoh would not bend his self-will to the will of God, even after he had discerned the finger of God and the omnipotence of Jehovah in the plagues suspended over him and his nation; he would not withdraw his haughty refusal, notwithstanding the fact that he was obliged to acknowledge that it was sin against Jehovah. Looked at from this side, the hardening was a fruit of sin, a consequence of that self-will, high-mindedness, and pride which flow from sin, and a continuous and ever increasing abuse of that freedom of the will which is innate in man, and which involves the possibility of obstinate resistance to the word and chastisement of God even until death. As the freedom of the will has its fixed limits in the unconditional dependence of the creature upon the Creator, so the sinner may resist the will of God as long as he lives. But such resistance plunges him into destruction, and is followed inevitably by death and damnation. God never allows any man to scoff at Him. Whoever will not suffer himself to be led, by the kindness and earnestness of the divine admonitions, to repentance and humble submission to the will of God, must inevitably perish, and by his destruction subserve the glory of God, and the manifestation of the holiness, righteousness, and omnipotence of Jehovah.
But God not only permits a man to harden himself; He also produces obduracy, and suspends this sentence over the impenitent. Not as though God took pleasure in the death of the wicked! No; God desires that the wicked should repent of his evil way and live (Eze 33:11); and He desires this most earnestly, for "He will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (Ti1 2:4, cf. Pe2 3:9). As God causes His earthly sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust (Mat 5:45), so He causes His sun of grace to shine upon all sinners, to lead them to life and salvation. But as the earthly sun produces different effects upon the earth, according to the nature of the soil upon which it shines, so the influence of the divine sun of grace manifests itself in different ways upon the human heart, according to its moral condition.
(Note: "The sun, by the force of its heat, moistens the wax and dries the clay, softening the one and hardening the other; and as this produces opposite effects by the same power, so, through the long-suffering of God, which reaches to all, some receive good and others evil, some are softened and others hardened." - (Theodoret, quaest. 12 in Ex.))
The penitent permit the proofs of divine goodness and grace to lead them to repentance and salvation; but the impenitent harden themselves more and more against the grace of God, and so become ripe for the judgment of damnation. The very same manifestation of the mercy of God leads in the case of the one to salvation and life, and in that of the other to judgment and death, because he hardens himself against that mercy. In this increasing hardness on the part of the impenitent sinner against the mercy that is manifested towards him, there is accomplished the judgment of reprobation, first in God's furnishing the wicked with an opportunity of bringing fully to light the evil inclinations, desires, and thoughts that are in their hearts; and then, according to an invariable law of the moral government of the world, in His rendering the return of the impenitent sinner more and more difficult on account of his continued resistance, and eventually rendering it altogether impossible. It is the curse of sin, that it renders the hard heart harder, and less susceptible to the gracious manifestations of divine love, long-suffering, and patience. In this twofold manner God produces hardness, not only permissive but effective; i.e., not only by giving time and space for the manifestation of human opposition, even to the utmost limits of creaturely freedom, but still more by those continued manifestations of His will which drive the hard heart to such utter obduracy that it is no longer capable of returning, and so giving over the hardened sinner to the judgment of damnation. This is what we find in the case of Pharaoh. After he had hardened his heart against the revealed will of God during the first five plagues, the hardening commenced on the part of Jehovah with the sixth miracle (Exo 9:12), when the omnipotence of God was displayed with such energy that even the Egyptian magicians were covered with the boils, and could no longer stand before Moses (Exo 9:11). And yet, even after this hardening on the part of God, another opportunity was given to the wicked king to repent and change his mind, so that on two other occasions he acknowledged that his resistance was sin, and promised to submit to the will of Jehovah (Exo 9:27., Exo 10:16.). But when at length, even after the seventh plague, he broke his promise to let Israel go, and hardened his heart again as soon as the plague was removed (Exo 9:34-35), Jehovah so hardened Pharaoh's heart that he not only did not let Israel go, but threatened Moses with death if he ever came into his presence again (Exo 10:20, Exo 10:27-28). The hardening was now completed so that he necessarily fell a victim to judgment; though the very first stroke of judgment in the slaying of the first-born was an admonition to consider and return. And it was not till after he had rejected the mercy displayed in this judgment, and manifested a defiant spirit once more, in spite of the words with which he had given Moses and Aaron permission to depart, "Go, and bless me also" (Exo 12:31-32), that God completely hardened his heart, so that he pursued the Israelites with an army, and was overtaken by the judgment of utter destruction.
Now, although the hardening of Pharaoh on the part of Jehovah was only the complement of Pharaoh's hardening of his own heart, in the verse before us the former aspect alone is presented, because the principal object was not only to prepare Moses for the opposition which he would meet with from Pharaoh, but also to strengthen his weak faith, and remove at the very outset every cause for questioning and omnipotence of Jehovah. If it was by Jehovah Himself that Pharaoh was hardened, this hardening, which He not only foresaw and predicted by virtue of His omniscience, but produced and inflicted through His omnipotence, could not possibly hinder the performance of His will concerning Israel, but must rather contribute to the realization of His purposes of salvation and the manifestation of His glory (cf. Exo 9:16; Exo 10:2; Exo 14:4, Exo 14:17-18).
In order that Pharaoh might form a true estimate of the solemnity of the divine command, Moses was to make known to him not only the relation of Jehovah to Israel, but also the judgment to which he would be exposed if he refused to let Israel go. The relation in which Israel stood to Jehovah was expressed by God in the words, "Israel is My first-born son." Israel was Jehovah's son by virtue of his election to be the people of possession (Deu 14:1-2). This election began with the call of Abraham to be the father of the nation in which all the families of the earth were to be blessed. On the ground of this promise, which was now to be realized in the seed of Abraham by the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, the nation of Israel is already called Jehovah's "son," although it was through the conclusion of the covenant at Sinai that it was first exalted to be the people of Jehovah's possession out of all the nations (Exo 19:5-6). The divine sonship of Israel was therefore spiritual in its nature: it neither sprang from the fact that God, as the Creator of all nations, was also the Creator, or Begetter, and Father of Israel, nor was it founded, as Baumgarten supposes, upon "the physical generation of Isaac, as having its origin, not in the power of nature, but in the power of grace." The relation of God, as Creator, to man His creature, is never referred to in the Old Testament as that of a father to a son; to say nothing of the fact that the Creator of man is Elohim, and not Jehovah. Wherever Jehovah is called the Father, Begetter, or Creator of Israel (even in Deu 32:18; Jer 2:27; Isa 44:8; Mal 1:6 and Mal 2:10), the fatherhood of God relates to the election of Israel as Jehovah's people of possession. But the election upon which the υἱοθεσία of Israel was founded, is not presented in the aspect of a "begetting through the Spirit;" it is spoken of rather as acquiring or buying (קנה), making (עשׂה), founding or establishing (כּנן, Deu 32:6). Even the expressions, "the Rock that begat thee," "God that bare thee" (Deu 32:18), do not point to the idea of spiritual generation, but are to be understood as referring to the creation; just as in Psa 90:2, where Moses speaks of the mountains as "brought forth" and the earth as "born." The choosing of Israel as the son of God was an adoption flowing from the free grace of God which involved the loving, fatherly treatment of the son, and demanded obedience, reverence, and confidence towards the Father (Mal 1:6). It was this which constituted the very essence of the covenant made by Jehovah with Israel, that He treated it with mercy and love (Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9, Jer 31:20), pitied it as a father pitieth his children (Psa 103:13), chastened it on account of its sins, yet did not withdraw His mercy from it (Sa2 7:14-15; Psa 89:31-35), and trained His son to be a holy nation by the love and severity of paternal discipline. - Still Israel was not only a son, but the "first-born son" of Jehovah. In this title the calling of the heathen is implied. Israel was not to be Jehovah's only son, but simply the first-born, who was peculiarly dear to his Father, and had certain privileges above the rest. Jehovah was about to exalt Israel above all the nations of the earth (Deu 28:1). Now, if Pharaoh would not let Jehovah's first-born son depart, he would pay the penalty in the life of his own first-born (cf. Exo 12:29). In this intense earnestness of the divine command, Moses had a strong support to his faith. If Israel was Jehovah's first-born son, Jehovah could not relinquish him, but must deliver His son from the bondage of Egypt.
But if Moses was to carry out the divine commission with success, he must first of all prove himself to be a faithful servant of Jehovah in his own house. This he was to learn from the occurrence at the inn: an occurrence which has many obscurities on account of the brevity of the narrative, and has received many different interpretations. When Moses was on the way, Jehovah met him at the resting-place (מלון, see Gen 42:27), and sought to kill him. In what manner, is not stated: whether by a sudden seizure with some fatal disease, or, what is more probable, by some act proceeding directly from Himself, which threatened Moses with death. This hostile attitude on the part of God was occasioned by his neglect to circumcise his son; for, as soon as Zipporah cut off (circumcised) the foreskin of her son with a stone, Jehovah let him go. צור = צוּר, a rock, or stone, here a stone knife, with which, according to hereditary custom, the circumcision commanded by Joshua was also performed; not, however, because "stone knives were regarded as less dangerous than those of metal," nor because "for symbolical reasons preference was given to them, as a simple production of nature, over the metal knives that had been prepared by human hands and were applied to daily use." For if the Jews had detected any religious or symbolical meaning in stone, they would never have given it up for iron or steel, but would have retained it, like the Ethiopian tribe of the Alnaii, who used stone knives for that purpose as late as 150 years ago; whereas, in the Talmud, the use of iron or steel knives for the purpose of circumcision is spoken of, as though they were universally employed. Stone knives belong to a time anterior to the manufacture of iron or steel; and wherever they were employed at a later period, this arose from a devoted adherence to the older and simpler custom (see my Commentary on Jos 5:2). From the word "her son," it is evident that Zipporah only circumcised one of the two sons of Moses (Exo 4:20); so that the other, not doubt the elder, had already been circumcised in accordance with the law. Circumcision had been enjoined upon Abraham by Jehovah as a covenant sign for all his descendants; and the sentence of death was pronounced upon any neglect of it, as being a breach of the covenant (Gen 17:14). Although in this passage it is the uncircumcised themselves who are threatened with death, yet in the case of children the punishment fell upon the parents, and first of all upon the father, who had neglected to keep the commandment of God. Now, though Moses had probably omitted circumcision simply from regard to his Midianitish wife, who disliked this operation, he had been guilty of a capital crime, which God could not pass over in the case of one whom He had chosen to be His messenger, to establish His covenant with Israel. Hence He threatened him with death, to bring him to a consciousness of his sin, either by the voice of conscience or by some word which accompanied His attack upon Moses; and also to show him with what earnestness God demanded the keeping of His commandments. Still He did not kill him; for his sin had sprung from weakness of the flesh, from a sinful yielding to his wife, which could both be explained and excused on account of his position in the Midianite's house. That Zipporah's dislike to circumcision had been the cause of the omission, has been justly inferred by commentators from the fact, that on Jehovah's attack upon Moses, she proceeded at once to perform what had been neglected, and, as it seems, with inward repugnance. The expression, "She threw (the foreskin of her son) at his (Moses') feet," points to this (ל הגּיע, as in Isa 25:12). The suffix in רגליו (his feet) cannot refer to the son, not only because such an allusion would give no reasonable sense, but also because the suffix refers to Moses in the immediate context, both before (in המיתו, Exo 4:24) and after (in ממּנּוּ, Exo 4:26); and therefore it is simpler to refer it to Moses here. From this it follows, then, that the words, "a blood-bridegroom art thou to me," were addressed to Moses, and not to the boy. Zipporah calls Moses a blood-bridegroom, "because she had been compelled, as it were, to acquire and purchase him anew as a husband by shedding the blood of her son" (Glass). "Moses had been as good as taken from her by the deadly attack which had been made upon him. She purchased his life by the blood of her son; she received him back, as it were, from the dead, and married him anew; he was, in fact, a bridegroom of blood to her" (Kurtz). This she said, as the historian adds, after God had let Moses, go, למּוּלות, "with reference to the circumcisions." The plural is used quite generally and indefinitely, as Zipporah referred not merely to this one instance, but to circumcision generally. Moses was apparently induced by what had occurred to decide not to take his wife and children with him to Egypt, but to send them back to his father-in-law. We may infer this from the fact, that it was not till after Israel had arrived at Sinai that he brought them to him again (Exo 18:2).
After the removal of the sin, which had excited the threatening wrath of Jehovah, Moses once more received a token of the divine favour in the arrival of Aaron, under the direction of God, to meet him at the Mount of God (Exo 3:1). To Aaron he related all the words of Jehovah, with which He had sent (commissioned) him (שׁלח with a double accusative, as in Sa2 11:22; Jer 42:5), and all the signs which He had commanded him (צוּה also with a double accusative, as in Gen 6:22). Another proof of the favour of God consisted of the believing reception of his mission on the part of the elders and the people of Israel. "The people believed" (ויּאמן) when Aaron communicated to them the words of Jehovah to Moses, and did the signs in their presence. "And when they heard that Jehovah had visited the children of Israel, and had looked upon their affliction, they bowed and worshipped." (Knobel is wrong in proposing to alter ישׁמעוּ into ישׂמחוּ, according to the Sept. rendering, καὶ ἐχάρη). The faith of the people, and the worship by which their faith was expressed, proved that the promise of the fathers still lived in their hearts. And although this faith did not stand the subsequent test (Exo 5), yet, as the first expression of their feelings, it bore witness to the fact that Israel was willing to follow the call of God.