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1“But,” objected Moses, “suppose they do not believe me or listen to me? For they may say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” 2The LORD said to him: What is in your hand? “A staff,” he answered. 3God said: Throw it on the ground. So he threw it on the ground and it became a snake,a and Moses backed away from it. 4Then the LORD said to Moses: Now stretch out your hand and take hold of its tail. So he stretched out his hand and took hold of it, and it became a staff in his hand. 5That is so they will believe that the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did appear to you.
6Again the LORD said to him: Put your hand into the fold of your garment. So he put his hand into the fold of his garment, and when he drew it out, there was his hand covered with scales, like snowflakes. 7Then God said: Put your hand back into the fold of your garment. So he put his hand back into the fold of his garment, and when he drew it out, there it was again like his own flesh. 8If they do not believe you or pay attention to the message of the first sign, they should believe the message of the second sign. 9And if they do not believe even these two signs and do not listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry land. The water you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry land.b
Aaron’s Office as Assistant. 10Moses, however, said to the LORD, “If you please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.”c 11The LORD said to him: Who gives one person speech? Who makes another mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12Now go, I will assist you in speaking* and teach you what you are to say. 13But he said, “If you please, my Lord, send someone else!”* 14Then the LORD became angry with Moses and said: I know there is your brother, Aaron the Levite, who is a good speaker; even now he is on his way to meet you. When he sees you, he will truly be glad. 15You will speak to him and put the words in his mouth. I will assist both you and him in speaking and teach you both what you are to do. 16He will speak to the people for you: he will be your spokesman,* and you will be as God to him.d 17Take this staff* in your hand; with it you are to perform the signs.
Moses’ Return to Egypt. 18After this Moses returned to Jethro* his father-in-law and said to him, “Let me return to my kindred in Egypt, to see whether they are still living.” Jethro replied to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19Then the LORD said to Moses in Midian: Return to Egypt, for all those who sought your life are dead. 20So Moses took his wife and his sons, mounted them on the donkey, and started back to the land of Egypt. Moses took the staff of God with him. 21The LORD said to Moses: On your return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart* and he will not let the people go. 22e So you will say to Pharaoh, Thus says the LORD: Israel is my son, my firstborn. 23I said to you: Let my son go, that he may serve me. Since you refused to let him go, I will kill your son, your firstborn.f
24* On the journey, at a place where they spent the night, the LORD came upon Moses and sought to put him to death. 25g But Zipporah took a piece of flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and, touching his feet,* she said, “Surely you are a spouse of blood to me.” 26So God let Moses alone. At that time she said, “A spouse of blood,” in regard to the circumcision.
27The LORD said to Aaron: Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. So he went; when meeting him at the mountain of God, he kissed him. 28Moses told Aaron everything the LORD had sent him to say, and all the signs he had commanded him to do. 29Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered all the elders of the Israelites. 30Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses, and he performed the signs before the people. 31The people believed, and when they heard that the LORD had observed the Israelites and had seen their affliction,* they knelt and bowed down.
* [4:13] Send someone else: lit., “send by means of him whom you will send,” that is, “send whom you will.”
* [4:16] Spokesman: lit., “mouth”; Aaron was to serve as a mouthpiece for Moses, as a prophet does for God; hence the relation between Moses and Aaron is compared to that between God and his prophet: Moses “will be as God to,” i.e., lit., “will become God for him.” Cf. 7:1.
* [4:18] Jethro: the Hebrew text has “Jether,” apparently a variant form of “Jethro” found in the same verse. To see whether they are still living: Moses did not tell his father-in-law his main reason for returning to Egypt.
* [4:21] Harden his heart: in the biblical view, the heart, whose actual function in the circulation of blood was unknown, typically performs functions associated today more with the brain than with the emotions. Therefore, while it may be used in connection with various emotional states ranging from joy to sadness, it very commonly designates the seat of intellectual and volitional activities. For God to harden Pharaoh’s heart is to harden his resolve against the Israelites’ desire to leave. In the ancient world, actions which are out of character are routinely attributed not to the person but to some “outside” superhuman power acting upon the person (Jgs 14:16; 1 Sm 16:10). Uncharacteristically negative actions or states are explained in the same way (1 Sm 16:14). In this instance, the opposition of Pharaoh, in the face of God’s displays of power, would be unintelligible to the ancient Israelites unless he is seen as under some divine constraint. But this does not diminish Pharaoh’s own responsibility. In the anthropology of the ancient Israelites there is no opposition between individual responsibility and God’s sovereignty over all of creation. Cf. Rom 9:17–18.
* [4:24–26] This story continues to perplex commentators and may have circulated in various forms before finding its place here in Exodus. Particularly troublesome is the unique phrase “spouse of blood.” Nevertheless, v. 26, which apparently comes from the hand of a later commentator on the original story, is intended to offer some clarification. It asserts that when Zipporah used the problematic expression (addressing it either to Moses or her son), she did so with reference to the circumcision performed on her son—the only place in the Bible where this rite is performed by a woman. Whatever the precise meaning of the phrase “spouse of blood,” circumcision is the key to understanding it as well as the entire incident. One may conclude, therefore, that God was angry with Moses for having failed to keep the divine command given to Abraham in Gn 17:10–12 and circumcise his son. Moses’ life is spared when his wife circumcises their son.
* [4:25] Touching his feet: a euphemism most probably for the male sexual organ (see 2 Kgs 18:27; Is 7:20); whether the genitals of the child (after Zipporah circumcised him) or of Moses (after the circumcision of his son) is not clear.
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