Exodus 4: Lessons on Faith from Moses’ Reluctant Commission to Serve God

Introduction. Exodus chapter 4 continues God’s dialogue with Moses at the burning bush and concludes with his initial meeting with the Jewish elders in Egypt. In Exodus chapter 4 and in chapter 5, Moses raised a series of five objections to God’s calling in his life. Some might wonder why chapter 5 begins in the middle of God’s conversation with Moses at the burning bush. The chapter breaks do not appear in the original Hebrew text. Nevertheless, they have existed for centuries and are believed to have been created at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The answer is that Moses’ first two objections or questions represented a lack of faith in himself. By contrast, Moses’ three objections to service in Exodus chapter 4 represented his lack of faith in God. Moses’ struggle with his faith should give hope to everyone. If God was willing to select Moses knowing the weakness of his faith, there is no reason He cannot forgive you when your faith falters. From Moses’ failures, God reveals seven important lessons for every believer.

First, from Moses’ doubt that others would accept him, He reveals that you must have faith in His promises for your life. Second, from the three miracles that He performed through Moses, He reveals He will either transform you through your faith, or you will face His judgment. This is symbolized by the fact that the first two miracles involved the transformation of evil things into good things while the third miracle only involved judgment. Third, from Moses’ refusal to serve based upon his allegedly poor speech, He reveals that you must have faith that He will speak for you when you serve Him. Fourth, through Moses’ plea for God to send someone else, He reveals that you must have faith to accept His calling in your life. Fifth, from Moses’ failure to tell his father-in-law his real reason for returning to Egypt, He reveals that you should never fear telling others the truth when you are serving Him. Sixth, from Moses’ failure to circumcise his son, He reveals that you must have faith in the Word and fear Him. This includes practicing what you preach. As His representative, He does not want you to turn people away by being a hypocrite. Finally, from the faith of the Jews in accepting God’s Word as true, He reveals that He also wants you to accept His recorded miracles as confirmation of the inerrancy of His Word.

1. Through Faith, Trust in God’s Promises for You. Ex. 4:1.

  • Moses’ refusal to serve based upon his fear of rejection. At the burning bush, Moses questioned God’s calling by doubting whether others would believe him: “Then Moses said, ‘What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’” (Ex. 4:1). God had just promised to be with Moses: “12 And He said, ‘Certainly I will be with you, . . ..’” (Ex. 3:10-12). He also promised that the Jewish elders would believe Moses: “16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together . . . 18 They will pay heed to what you say;” (Ex. 3:16-18). While Moses’ initial doubts represented a lack of faith in himself, his continued questions at this point represented a lack of faith in God. There are lessons here for every believer.

  • Trust God and not your own understanding. Like Moses, believers frequently face the problem of doubt. Unlike Moses, believers must trust God and not rely upon their own understanding: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5; 28:26; Ps. 62:8). “Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock.” (Is. 26:4). When you are facing a doubt in yourself, are you trusting in God and giving your burdens to Him?

Moses questioned God’s calling for his life1

2. Through Faith, God Will Transform You, or You Will Face Judgment. Ex. 4:2-9.

  • God’s first miracle – Moses’ ability to control the serpent staff. Instead of judging Moses for his lack of faith, God showed His mercy and grace by offering to perform three miracles through him. The first miracle involved turning Moses’ staff into a snake and giving Moses the ability to turn it back into a staff by acting in faith by grabbing the tail of the serpent: “ The Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ And he said, ‘A staff.’ Then He said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’ So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail’—so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— ‘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.’” (Ex. 4:2-5). The serpent represented the devil. God symbolically showed that Moses had the power over the devil when he acted in faith. Grabbing a deadly serpent by its tail is the most dangerous place to grab a snake because the snake can bite you. Grabbing the serpent by the tail showed Moses’ complete faith in God that the snake would not bite him. Faith later allowed those who looked upon God’s bronze serpent (a foreshadow of the Cross) to escape death after being bitten by a snake: “And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Nu. 21:9). Jesus also is clear that a person who grabs a snake when expressly told to do so will not be harmed: “17 These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16: 17-18). God does not want believers to test Him by grabbing a wild snake. Moses was not hurt by the snake because God told him to pick it up. The message for believers is symbolic; - don’t fear the devil when you serve God.

God provided Moses with a staff that could turn into a snake2

  • God’s second miracle – healing Moses of leprosy. God’s second miracle involved placing leprosy on Moses’ hand and then removing it when Moses acted in faith by following God’s directions: “The Lord furthermore said to him, ‘Now put your hand into your bosom.’ So he put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then He said, ‘Put your hand into your bosom again.’ So he put his hand into his bosom again, and when he took it out of his bosom, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. ‘If they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign.” (Ex. 4:6-8). Leprosy is a symbol of both sin and God’s punishment of sin. For example, God infected Miriam with leprosy as a punishment when she rebelled against Moses’ leadership (Nu. 12:10). As another example, God infected King Uzziah with leprosy when he tried to take on the dual roles of King and High Priest, roles which God had separated (2 Chron. 26:19-21). No one can say: “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin” (Prov. 20:9). By transforming Moses’ leprous hand into a clean hand, God was demonstrating that He can heal sin and restore a person who would otherwise be judged. Likewise, Jesus was sending a message when He healed 10 lepers and told them to show themselves to the priest (Lk. 17:14). He alone has the power to heal sin (1 Pet. 2:24). Moses’ miracle therefore foreshadowed the miracle that Jesus would use to confirm His identity. When you repent, are you trusting in Jesus’ promises that your sins are forgiven? (1 Jo. 1:19).

  • God’s third miracle – turning water into blood. Unlike His first two miracles, God’s third miracle did not involve the control of evil or the transformation of sin to cleanliness. His third miracle involved judgment for those who refused to believe. This was symbolized by His transformation of water into blood: “‘But if they will not believe even these two signs or heed what you say, then you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water which you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Ex. 4:9). Because the Egyptians refused to believe in God through Moses’ miracles, He later judged them by turning the Nile river into blood (Ex. 7:17-20). “And turned their rivers to blood, and their streams, they could not drink.” (Ps. 78:44; 105:29). He will later use this same judgment in the end times for those who refuse to believe: “Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, ‘Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things;’” (Rev. 16:4-5). Are you doing anything to warn nonbelievers of the coming judgment?

  • God frequently uses things within your possession to perform His will. God used what was in Moses’ hand to perform His miracles (Ex. 4:2). As one commentator points out, He did this throughout the Bible: “God used what was in Shamgar’s hand (Judges 3:31); God used what was in David’s hand (1 Samuel 17:49); God used the jawbone of a donkey in Samson’s hand (Judges 15:15); · God used five loaves and two fish in the hand of a little boy (John 6:9).” (David Guzik Exodus Chapter 4).3 The message is that God can use the ordinary to do the extraordinary. You don’t need to be rich or important for Him to use you. Are you making yourself and your things available for His use?

3. Through Faith, God Will Give You the Words to Speak for Him. Ex. 4:10-12.

  • Moses’ refusal to serve based upon his allegedly poor speech. Even after God comforted Moses and offered to perform miracles through Him, Moses refused to accept God’s calling. At this point, Moses claimed that he was inarticulate and not a gifted speaker: “10 Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue. 11 The Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.”’ (Ex. 4:10-12). Some interpret these verses to imagine that Moses had a speech impediment. But Stephan is clear that “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.” (Acts 7:22). Thus, Moses may have exaggerated his alleged speaking difficulties to get out of being God’s representative.

  • God will give you the words to speak for Him as well. Like Moses, God also promises to give you the words to speak on His behalf when you are doing His will: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (John 16:13; 14:16-17; 14:26). Are you praying for God to guide your words? Or, are you responding to the stresses of life by speaking out of your own flesh?

  • Jesus’ healings confirmed that He is God. While God was speaking with Moses, He gave a test for someone claiming to be God. Only God has the power to make the blind see (Ex. 4:11-12). Jesus later confirmed that He was God by healing the blind (John 9:1-38). Those who claim to understand things on their own remain blind: “39 And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’ 40 Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, ‘We are not blind too, are we?’ 41 Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.’” (John 9:39-41). If you are trusting in your own understanding, you are still blind.

4. Through Faith, Accept God’s Calling to Serve Him. Ex. 4:13-17.

  • Moses’ refusal to serve as God’s messenger. God’s offer to perform miracles through Moses was ultimately not enough to convince him. Because his faith was weak, he pleaded with God to send someone else: “13 But he said, ‘Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will. 14 Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, and He said, ‘Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. 15 You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. 16 Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him. 17 You shall take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”’ (Ex. 4:13-17). Moses was not alone in rejecting God’s calling. “Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos, Jonah and others” all objected to God’s calling in their lives (First Fruits of Zion (Torah Club) Vol. 5, Shadows of the Messiah Shemot (2015) p. 373). These examples all show His mercy and grace. If he is willing to forgive the disobedience of His prophets, He can forgive your sins as well (1 Jo. 1:9). If you have repented of your sins, are you still using them as an excuse not to serve?

Moses continued to resist God’s calling for his life4

  • Don’t reject God’s calling in your life. Like Moses, you also have been commissioned to be God’s messenger to share His good news with others (Matt. 28:18-20). Have you accepted this calling? Or, like Moses, have you told God to send someone else?

5. Through Faith, Never Fear When You are Doing God’s Will. Ex. 4:18-23.

  • Moses’ failure to tell Jethro the truth. After Moses’ miraculous encounter with God at the burning bush, Moses failed his first test of faith. He was unwilling to even tell his father-in-law the real reason for his planned return to Egypt: “18 Then Moses departed and returned to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, ‘Please, let me go, that I may return to my brethren who are in Egypt, and see if they are still alive.’ And Jethro said to Moses, ‘Go in peace.’” (Ex. 4:18). Like Moses, you will frequently face a choice between telling non-believing friends or family that God has done something great in your life and telling them a secular version of your life. Family members are frequently the biggest doubters in a transformed believer: “For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.” (John 4:44). Yet, even if they doubt you, God wants you to have the courage to tell your non-believing friends and family truth when He does great things in your life: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Ro. 1:16). Are you sharing God’s Word and His miracles with your friends and family?

Moses asked Jethro for permission to leave, but without telling him the complete truth5

  • The foreshadow of Jesus in Moses’ trip on a donkey to liberate God’s people. Moses went to liberate God’s people while riding on a donkey: “19 Now the Lord said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.’ 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons and mounted them on a donkey, and returned to the land of Egypt. Moses also took the staff of God in his hand.” (Ex. 4:19-20). Zechariah later prophesized that the Messiah, like Moses, would also come riding on a donkey: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9). Jesus fulfilled this prophesy when He came in to Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Matt. 21:5-8). The most famous Jewish authorities after Christ’s death, Rashi (1040 – 1105 A.D.), believes that Abraham, Moses, and the Messiah all shared the same donkey. The same view is also held by the Jewish writers who drafted an interpretive text for the Torah, called the “Midrash.” Why might some Jews believe this? In the original Hebrew, it says that Moses rode “the donkey.” (Ex. 4:20). Because the preceding text does not reference a donkey, English translators felt that they needed to reference “a donkey” to be grammatically correct. But God’s Word does not contain grammatical errors. Thus, the Jews believed that His reference to “the” donkey had special meaning: “Upon this donkey Abraham rode . . . The same donkey was ridden by Moses when he came to Egypt . . . this same donkey will be ridden in the future by the Son of David.” (First Fruits of Zion (Torah Club) Vol. 2, Shadows of the Messiah Shemot (2015) p. 259, quoting Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezar 31). Thus, even the definite articles in the Bible are inspired by Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16). Everything that Moses wrote pointed to Jesus (Jo. 5:46).

Pietro Perugino (1450 – 1523) “Moses' Journey into Egypt” (fresco 1482)6

  • God is sovereign over everything, including evil. To demonstrate His sovereignty and might to give His people a reason to hope in His promises, God advised Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s already hardened heart: “21 The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”’ (Ex. 4:21). God later fulfilled His Word by hardening Pharaoh’s heart: “But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 7:3). “But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go.” (Ex. 10:20, 27). “Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.” (Ex. 11:10). When a believer becomes filled with evil, He can also harden that person’s heart: “Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.” (Is. 63:17). God hands unrepentant sinners over to their sins (Ro. 1:24). Because He is sovereign over all, He can harden any heart to accomplish His plans for mankind: “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” (Ro. 9:8; John 10:40). Yet, if you are doing His will, you never need to fear having God harden your heart. Are you keeping yourself free from sins that might lead to a hardened heart?

  • God’s “firstborn” Israel foreshadowed His “firstborn” Jesus. God told Moses to refer to Israel as His “firstborn” son: “22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is My son, My firstborn. 23 So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.’” (Ex. 4:22-23). David later again referred to Israel as God’s “firstborn” son: “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’” (Ps. 2:7). David later used this term to refer to the Messiah as being God’s “firstborn”: “I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” (Ps. 89:27). The Midrash also citied to these verses in Exodus and Psalms as pointing to the Messiah (First Fruits of Zion (Torah Club) Vol. 2, Shadows of the Messiah Shemot (2015) p. 259, quoting Yalkut Shimoni on the Psalms 621). Jesus pointed out that everything Moses wrote was about Him: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.” (John 5:46). Mormons believe that the term “firstborn” means that Jesus was the first of many spirit babies that God birthed. Yet, God did not birth the Jews. For both the Jews and Jesus, the term “firstborn” means the “preeminent one”. Jesus was preeminent over all creation: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Col. 1:15). Jesus was also God’s only begotten son: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Believers in Christ are His adopted sons (Ro. 8:15, 23; Gal. 5:4-6). The point is that Jesus is not your older spirit brother. He is God. It is only by His mercy and grace that you can be in His presence. Thus, He deserves your worship as Lord and Savior. Does your conduct show appreciation to Him for what He has done for you?

6. Through Faith in the Word and Fearing God, Practice What You Preach. Ex. 4:24-26.

  • Moses’ failure to circumcise his own son. In addition to resisting God’s calling, Moses also failed to circumcise his son. As God’s representative, Moses had to be free from hypocrisy before he could lead. Thus, God threatened to strike Moses down if they proceeded further without circumcising the son: “24 Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, ‘You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.’ 26 So He let him alone. At that time she said, ‘You are a bridegroom of blood’ —because of the circumcision.” (Ex. 4:24-26). Moses was supposed to have circumcised his son exactly eight days after his birth (Gen. 17:12; Ex. 22:30; Lev. 12:3). Moses could not serve as God’s law giver if he failed to follow the Law himself. Hypocrisy is a serious sin. It is one of the few sins that made Jesus angry (e.g., Matt. 7:5; Luke 6:42). Thus, believers should be careful to avoid it.

Zipporah reluctantly agreed to Moses’ request that they circumcise their son Gershom7

  • Your walk with God should be free from rebellion and hypocrisy. Moses’ failure to circumcise his son was part of a bigger problem. He had married outside of God’s family against God’s commandments: “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.” (Dt. 7:3; Ezra 9:2; 2 Cor. 6:14). His foreign wife apparently refused to accept God’s rules. As a result, Moses compromised his walk with God and failed to raise up his family according to God’s rules. Moses could not lead if he failed to obey God’s commandments: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1 Cor. 7:19). “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Ro. 2:25). Moreover, merely going through the motions is not enough. Your obedience must be Spirit led or it is a worthless act of the flesh: ‘“Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised-”’ (Jer. 9:25). “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” (Acts 7:51). Is there any rebellion or hypocrisy in your walk? If so, you run the risk of turning away potential believers in Christ.

7. Through Faith, Accept God’s Miracles as Confirmation of His Word. Ex. 4:27-31.

  • The Jews’ faith in God’s first two miracles. Finally, although Moses was not faithful to God, God showed that He is faithful to His promises by causing the Jews to believe in Him through the miracles performed through Moses: “27 Now the Lord said to Aaron, ‘Go to meet Moses in the wilderness.’ So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which He had sent him, and all the signs that He had commanded him to do. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; 30 and Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.” (Ex. 4:27-31). God’s kiss symbolized His complete forgiveness of Moses’ failures in his faith. God never mentioned them again. The belief of the Jewish elders in God’s miracles also fulfilled God’s promise to Moses at the burning bush that the elders would believe that God had sent Moses (Ex. 3:16-18). This also meant that the Jews believed in the first two miracles that God performed through him. If they had not believed, they would have faced the third miracle – judgment. The first miracle symbolized God’s deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. The second miracle foreshadowed the miracles that Jesus performed. Those who believe in God because of these first two sets of miracles will be saved. Those who fail to believe will face the judgment in the end times.

Moses and Aaron demonstrated God’s authority with signs and wonders8

  • God is faithful even when you are not. God’s willingness to perform miracles through Moses, even when he lacked faith, shows that He is always faithful. He will stay faithful even when you are not: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13; 1 Cor. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:24; Dt. 7:9). Are you trusting Him to keep His promises when all hope seems lost?