Moses’ character is challenged in Exodus 3 and 4. As his faith and courage are tested, he is both a failure and a victor. His faith in God’s identity is strong as he sees God’s burning bush and he removes his sandals. Moses does not balk at God’s explanation of who He is. He knew that he was in the presence of God. However, Moses is concerned with how the people will take the message that God will bring all of the Israelites out of Egypt. This is how chapter 4 begins.
“What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
God then shows Moses a series of three miracles that can be employed to convince the people that the divine and Almighty God is there to help them. He has heard their grief! The miracles:
- Moses throws his staff on the ground, which becomes a snake. Then, when picked up again, the snake returns to a staff.
- Moses’ hand turns leprous when placed inside his cloak and removed. The affliction of leprosy is removed when he places his hand inside his cloak and removes it again.
- Moses takes water from the Nile river and pours it on the ground, where it becomes blood.
Moses’ faith and courage falter here. Despite being armed with amazing miracles, Moses still fears that he does not have the ability to speak on behalf of God. He sees himself as a poor speaker, unpossessed of the abilities required to speak with authority and sway opinions. God assures Moses that He is the author of Moses and that He will judge whether or not Moses is capable.
But God’s assurances do not satisfy Moses and he says to God, ““Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” This angers God. God had a plan for Moses, that is plain enough to see by the pattern of his life. Interestingly though, God has mercy. Although we are not told exactly why, we can reasonably assume that God was willing to be patient and allow Moses to grow into the man of faith and action that God knew he would become. Evidently eloquent Aaron is given the job of spokesperson, with Moses acting as authority and performing the miracles.
Moses heads back to Egypt with his family, secure in the knowledge that the men that had sought him in connection with killing the Egyptian were now dead. God tells Moses that Pharaoh needs to be told that if Pharaoh would not let God’s “son” Israel go, then God would kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son. This is a prophecy of interest because we have the detail of the tenth plague and the death of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. God says, “Israel is My Son, My Firstborn.” God was contrasting His firstborn “son” Israel with Pharaoh’s firstborn son, who will eventually die due to Pharaoh’s inability to relinquish the Israelites.
As Moses is traveling back to Egypt to deliver the news, God confronts him about the fact that one of his sons is not circumcised. This is a crime punishable by death to the Israelites and Moses shirked this duty, perhaps to appease his Midianite in-laws. Midianite culture did not typically circumcise their young men until before their wedding. At any rate, Zipporah understood the gravity of the situation and circumcised the son. After this, the threat of death on Moses relented.
When Moses meets Aaron again, it must have been an emotional meeting due to their having been estranged for so long. Moses told Aaron about all that he was to do for God. When Moses and Aaron gathered all of the Israelites together and gave them the news and the signs, they were humbled that God had seen their affliction, and they bowed their heads and worshipped.
The Israelites were a people beloved by God. Although they did not yet possess a written record of God, His directives, or their history, they knew who He was and they recognized His intervention in their lives with humility, gratitude and worship. In a sense, I think we can relate to these Israelites. When we see a reprieve opening for us connected to some great suffering, we recognize God is the source. We know from Whom our blessings flow. We do not need the signs and miracles that the ancient Israelites had to recognize the great sway that God holds over the details and broad strokes of our lives.