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Exodus 4:1-9

1. And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.

1. Tunc respondit Moses, et dixit, Sed ecce non credent mihi, neque obedient voci meae quia dicent, Non apparuit tibi Jehova.

2. And the Lord said unto him, What is that in thine hand? and he said, A rod.

2. Et dixit ad eum Jehova, Quid est hoc in manu tua? Et dixit, Baculus.

3. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it.

3. Tunc dixit, Projice eum in terram. Et projecit in terram, et factus est serpens, et fugit Moses a conspectu ejus.

4. And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand:

4. Et dixit Jehova ad Mosen, Extende manum tuam, et apprehende caudam ejus. Et extendit manum suam, et apprehendit eum: et factus est baculus in manu ejus;

5. That they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee.

5. Ut credant quod apparuerit tibi Jehova Deus patrum ipsorum, Deus Abraham, Deus Isaac, et Deus Jacob.

6. And the Lord said furthermore unto him, Put now thine hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow.

6. Et dixit Jehova illi rursum, Induc nunc manum tuam in sinum tuum. Et induxit manum suam in sinum suum, et ecce manus ejus leprosa quasi nix.

7. And he said, Put thine hand into thy bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again; and plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh.

7. Et air, Reduc manum tuam ad sinum tuum. Et reduxit manum suam ad sinum suum: et postquam extraxit e sinu suo, ecce, reversa est sicut caro ejus.

8. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.

8. Et erit, si non crediderint tibi, neque obedierint voci signi prioris, credent voci signi posterioris.

9. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water, which thou takest out of the river, shall become blood upon the dry land

9. Erit autem, si non crediderint etiam duobus signis istis, neque obedierint voci tuae, tunc accipies ex aquis fluvii, et effundes in aridam: et erunt aquae quas sumpseris e fluvio, erunt inquam sanguis in arida.

1. And Moses answered. Moses relates in this chapter how hesitatingly he obeyed God, not from stubbornness, but from timidity, for he does not shake off the yoke, as unruly beasts do, but shrinks away from it, that it may not be placed upon him.5050     “Pensant qu’il ne luy peut estre approprie;” thinking that it cannot be fitted to him. — Fr. And hence we may better perceive under what infirmity he labored, so that his faith was almost stifled. On the one side, he was willing and ready to obey; but when the arduous difficulties of his task presented themselves, he could not escape from this conflict until he had exhausted all efforts to escape. Nor indeed can we greatly wonder that he resisted for a time, since he could see scarcely any advantage in his undertaking. I admit that he ought to have proceeded according to God’s command, even with his eyes shut, since on His will alone all believers are bound to depend; he ought not to have judged of a thing (in itself) incredible, from his own reasoning, but from the voice of God. Nor, in point of fact, did he either refuse to credit God’s words, or wish to reject the burden imposed upon him; but when, on the other hand, he beheld dangers from which he could not disentangle himself, his mind was thus a prey to distracting feelings. Neither is there any believer who is not often drawn into such harassing discussions, whenever his mind is darkened by the perception of obstacles. There was, therefore, in the mind of Moses, willingness and zeal, though alacrity and firmness were wanting; because through his weakness he was compelled to hold back by the hinderances which presented themselves. We must carefully distinguish between the timidity which delays our progress and the bold refusal which is allied to contempt. Many, in flying from trouble, are so withheld from duty, that they grow hardened in their inactivity; while those who desire to act rightly, although through anxiety and fear they apparently recoil, still aspire to ulterior progress, and, in a word, do not so far alternate as to withdraw themselves altogether from the command of God. Moses seems, indeed, to murmur, and to enter into altercation with God; but whether this were audacity or simplicity, there was more of modesty in it, than as if he had hidden himself in silence, as we have said that many do, who by their silence only strengthen themselves in the liberty to disobey. This was clearly his object, that he might afterwards be more fitted to proceed. The holy man was very anxious, because he knew from experience that his countrymen were depraved, and almost intractable; disburdening himself, then, of this anxiety into the bosom of God, he desires to be confirmed by a fresh promise, so that he may be freed from this impediment, and proceed with alacrity.

2. What is that in thine hand? In accordance with the idiom of the Hebrew language, Moses now explains more fully, and more distinctly pursues, what he had before only generally alluded to respecting the signs. In the three signs which he refers to we must consider their respective meanings The pastoral crook, which he carried in his hand, is flung on the ground, and becomes a serpent; again it is taken back into his hand, and recovers its original nature. I doubt not but that God wished to shew him, that although his condition was abject and despicable, still he would be formidable to the king of Egypt. For his rod was the symbol of a shepherd; and what would be more contemptible than for a keeper of sheep to come up from the desert, and to oppose to the scepter of a most powerful king that crook, by which he could scarcely protect himself and his flock from wild beasts? But God assures him, that although deprived of earthly splendor, wealth, or power, he would still be terrible to Pharaoh; as much as to say, that he need not fear lest Pharaoh should despise him, or take no account of him as a mere rustic, because his rod, turned into a serpent, would inspire more terror than a thousand swords. As to what Moses says, that he himself fled from it in alarm, unquestionably God intended to affright his servant, that he might the better estimate from his own feelings what would be the power of God to terrify that proud king. This, then, was the object of the miracle, that there was no occasion for mighty armies, since Pharaoh would tremble at the sight of the simple rod; and that the rod need not be wielded and violently agitated, because it would inspire sufficient terror by its own movement and agitation. The one part of the miracle, where the rod returned to its former shape, was intended to shew Moses, that what was to be hostile and injurious to his enemy, would be an assistance and safeguard to himself. Therefore, the same rod which encouraged and emboldened Moses, depressed and overwhelmed his foe. But that he dares, in immediate obedience to the voice of God, to lay hold of the serpent, is a proof of his remarkable faith; and this appears more manifestly from his sudden change, that he fears not to provoke a poisonous and noxious animal, by taking hold of its tail, when he had so lately fled from its very sight in consternation. His timid mind, then, was capable of great courage, and his timidity and piety brought forth their fruit alternately. And this is especially worthy of remark, that Moses was strengthened by the presence of God; but that he was weakened when he turned his eyes to the untameable minds of his own race, and to the proud tyranny of Egypt. The question now arises, whether the change of the rod into a serpent was real, and actual, or whether the outward form only was changed? Although I should be unwilling to contend pertinaciously for a thing of little consequence, I embrace that opinion which is more probable, that not merely an image or vision appeared, but that God, who created all things out of nothing, gave a new nature to the rod, and again made a rod out of the serpent, which was in no degree more difficult than to change Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26.) Since this was easy to God’s power, it does not appear likely to me that He had recourse to the illusion of visions. As to the imitation of the magicians, we will speak of their sorceries in their proper place.

5. That they may believe. This spectacle, then, was not shewn to Moses once only, but the power was imparted to him also of frequently repeating the miracle; both to acquire credit from the Israelites, and to repress the audacity of Pharaoh. For although the sentence is incomplete, there is no ambiguity in the sense, viz., that Moses is armed with power from heaven to make his vocation sure, and that none may doubt him to be a Prophet divinely commissioned. It would be tedious here to dilate expressly on the use of miracles, suffice it briefly to lay down, that they sometimes serve as preparatives to faith, sometimes for its confirmation. We see an example of both in the metamorphosis of the rod, by which Moses was the more animated and encouraged to gather strength, although he already believed God’s promise; but the Israelites, who were both incredulous and unteachable, were prepared and compelled to believe. Besides, the miracle opened a door of faith with the Israelites, that, being persuaded of his prophetical office, they might submit to be taught; whilst he was himself led on to greater assurance and perseverance. For although the Almighty begins further back, and refers to the adoption of the patriarchs, and this was calculated to lay the foundation of their hope of redemption, it still does not follow that they were prepared to receive Moses, until the authority of his ministry had been established. Wherefore, I have said, that their faith was commenced by the miracle.

6. Put now thy hand into thy bosom. By this sign Moses was instructed that what is in the greatest vigour withers away at once, at the command of God; and that what is dry is thus restored to its original vigour; in a word, the statement of Paul was confirmed by it, that God “calleth those things which be not, as though they were.” (Romans 4:17.) It was, so to say, a kind of leprosy, when Moses was banished from the court into the land of Midian, where he led his flock through wild and rough places, among thorns and brambles. After he had passed forty years like one half-dead, having no dignity or name, he regained, as by a restoration, (postliminio) what he had lost. Therefore God now promises him that he would soon restore what He had taken away. This is the simple connection of the sign with its effect, with which sober readers will be content, without giving heed to the subtleties of others. For this was particularly needful to be understood, that all men stand or fall according to God’s will; that when they seem most strong, their strength suddenly fails, and they waste away; and, again, as soon as God pleases, they return from their deformed and failing state to rigor and beauty. In this way the holy man learnt that, as he had lain in obscurity for a time, because he had been withdrawn, by God’s hand, from the society of men, and had been cast into solitude, so he need not despair of becoming a different man by the same hand. This condition, too, in some measure, pertained to the whole body of the people; but because it better suits the person of Moses, it is preferable to retain this exposition; lest, only considering his present position, as a mean and humble shepherd, he should distrust his capacity for undertaking his office, and that he should expect dignity and boldness to be given him by God. Moreover, God did not mean to instruct Moses individually only, (as we have said,) but to raise him above the contempt of the people, that the exile by which his dignity had been marred, should not detract from his influence and authority; but, because the calling of God shone forth in him like a resurrection, that he should, at the same time, be invested with weight and reputation.

8. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee. In these words God took away from Moses every handle for doubt; as much as to say, that he was sufficiently provided and strengthened to overcome the stubbornness of the people; and yet, heaping up the measure to overflowing, he afterwards added a third sign, from whence Moses might attain full confidence, and that no further hinderance should oppose his pious desires. This, too, is a remarkable evidence of the kindness of God, that he deigned so liberally to add sign to sign, and to contend with the evil heart of the people, until with a strong hand he drew them out of their torpor of incredulity. Surely, if they neglected the first miracle, they were unworthy to have another proof of his power set before them by God. It was, then, a wonderful exercise of longsuffering still to persevere in arresting their dullness. With equal clemency does He now overlook our sluggishness of heart; because, when with far less reverence than we ought we receive the testimonies whereby He manifests His grace, He avenges not our foul ingratitude, but rather adds new remedies for the cure of our unbelief. As by the two former miracles God shewed the power which he willed to exercise by the hand of Moses, so in this third He taught them what would be His dealings with the Egyptians. And then, both from within and from without, Moses was confirmed before all the people. The conclusion is, then, that when God should lift up His hand against the Egyptians, so far would they be from having strength to resist, that the very strongholds in which they proudly trusted should be felt to be adverse and injurious to them. We know how many and various were the advantages they derived from the Nile. Their land, on one side, was rendered, by its opposing barrier, safe and invincible; its many ports enriched their nation by their convenience for the importation and exportation of merchandise; the fertility of their fields arose from its inundations; in a word, Egypt attributed the chief part of its prosperity to the Nile. But now God gives warning not only that it should not profit the Egyptians, but that it was in His power to turn all its advantages into injuries; nay, that the very stream which used to fertilize their land by its irrigation, should cover and defile it with blood. With respect to the words, the “voice of the sign” is figuratively applied to mean a demonstration of the power of God, by which the Israelites might be taught that Moses was sent them by God as their deliverer. For although the rod turned into a serpent could not speak, yet very loudly, indeed, did it announce, that what the Israelites deemed altogether impossible, would not be difficult to God. Others thus resolve the particle את,5151     את the noun substantive translated a sign, and את the particle indicating an accusative case, are the same word in Hebrew, if points are not used. Hence Calvin has called the את here a particle, though avowedly commenting upon its purport as a noun. — W “If they will not believe your voice, because of the sign;” but the former interpretation is more correct. The meaning of the expression, however, is added soon afterwards, in this distinction — “If they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice;” as though God had said, that His power cried out, or thundered in His miracles, to obtain a hearing for the teaching of His servant.


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