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Exodus 4:10-17

10. And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant; but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.

10. Tunc dixit Moses ad Jehovam, Obsecro Domine, ego non sum vir disertus, neque a die hesterno, neque nudius tertius, neque ex quo locutus es servo tuo: quoniam ore lento, et lingua lenta ego sum.

11. And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?

11. Respondit autem illi Jehova, Quis posuit os in homine? aut quis statuit mutum, vel surdum, aut videntem, vel caecum? annon ego Jehova?

12. Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

12. Nunc igitur proficiscere, et ego adero ori tuo, et te docebo quae loquaris.

13. And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.

13. Et dixit, obsecro Domine, mitte per manum per quam mittes.

14. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.

14. Et iratus est furor Jehovae contra Mosen, et dixit, Annon Aharon fratrem tuum Levitam novi, quod loquendo loquuturus sit ipse? Atque etiam ecce egredietur in occursum tuum, et te aspiciens laetabitur in corde suo.

15. And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.

15. Loqueris igitur ad cum, et pones verba in os ejus, et ego ero cum ore tuo, et cum ore ejus, et ostendam vobis quae sitis facturi.

16. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.

16. Et loquetur ipse pro te ad populum, eritque tibi pro ore, et tu eris illi pro Deo.

17. And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.

17. Et baculum hunc accipies in manu tua, ut facias per eum (vel, cum eo) signa.

10. O my Lord. Moses catches at every word of escape, so as to force himself from the task imposed on him, not that he desires to refuse the command, but because he trembles at its importance. It is this distrust of his own powers which makes him so hesitating and timid. The remedy was obvious, that he should assure himself, since he well knew that he was undertaking nothing rashly, that God, whose command he obeyed, would supply him with ample strength. In this, then, lay the fault, that he did not cast all his cares on God, and, setting aside his own weakness, hope against hope, like Abraham, who

“considered not his own body now dead; neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb; being fully persuaded that what God had promised, he was able also to perform.” (Romans 4:18, 19, 21.)

It was an act of modesty in him to reflect on the defect which he mentioned, if he had but asked for succor from God; but when he proceeds further, and requests to be altogether discharged, he does an injustice to God, as if He would lay a greater burden on His servants than they could bear, or would give any inconsiderate command. This over-anxious caution is, therefore, deservedly condemned, although it may have some admixture of virtue; because whatever difficulty we encounter, this ought to be a sufficient encouragement to us, that as often as God chooses men as His ministers, although they are in themselves good for nothing, He forms and prepares them for their work. It is, indeed, lawful to fear in perplexities, provided that our anxiety overcomes not the desire to obey; but whatever God enjoins it is never right to refuse on any pretext. Moreover, we see that the instruments which seem but little suitable are especially employed by Him, in order that His power may more fully appear. He might, if He had chosen to use Moses as His ambassador, have made him eloquent from the womb; or, at least, when He sends him to his work, have corrected his stammering tongue. It seems a mockery, then, to give a commission of speaking to a stammerer; but in this way, (as I have said,) He causes His glory to shine forth more brightly, proving that He can do all things without extrinsic aid. Interpreters vary as to the meaning of the words. Some think that the clause “since thou hast spoken to thy servant” is added in amplification, as if the tongue of Moses began to be more slow than ever since the vision had appeared; but since the particle גם,5252     גם, properly also Here rendered since in A V.; the margin of which exhibits, otherwise, the Hebrew idiom with exactness. — W gam, is thrice repeated, I interpret it simply, that Moses had never been eloquent from his infancy, and that he was not now endued with any new eloquence.

11. Who hath made man’s mouth? Here the cause is expressed, why the hesitation of Moses was worthy of reprehension; viz., because arrested by his own infirmity, he did not look up to God, who, being above the want of any human aid, easily accomplishes whatsoever He has decreed, and subduing all the obstacles which terrify men, obtains in any direction assistance according to his will. Moses objects his stammering as a cause for holding back; God replies, that it is He alone who governs the tongue which He has created; therefore, that if some be tongueless or dumb, and some quick and eloquent of speech, the difference is all of His good pleasure. Whence it follows that all nature (as it is called) is subject to his government, so that He easily finds means of the things that are not; and, on the other hand, remove far out of the way whatever impediments interpose, and even forces them into obedience. But He not only asserts his right and power of government in the general course of nature, but teaches that it is of His special grace alone that some exceed others in eloquence; and not only so, but that it is in His hand to make wonderful changes, so as to strike the most eloquent dumb, and to fit the tongue of the dumb for speaking. And this experience also shews, that sometimes those who excel in readiness of speech, want words; and, on the contrary, that the stammering and slow of speech plead a single cause with admirable dexterity, although the power may be wanting to them in every other case. Since, then, it is in God’s power to bind or to loose men’s tongues at any moment, it was wrong of Moses to hesitate, as if in surprise, because he possessed not natural freedom of speech; as if it were not possible for the author of nature to remedy this disadvantage. But while it is good to magnify the immense power of God, in removing all the hinderances which oppose us, so must we beware of resting upon it indiscriminately, as though it were subject to our fancies. For we see men, whilst they too boldly undertake whatever their own lusts suggest, shielding themselves with this thought, that all means and events are in God’s hands, so that nothing may stand in the way of their impetuosity. But the power of God is basely profaned by this rashness; and, therefore, this truth is not duly applied to its legitimate purpose, unless a vocation and command clearly invites us on. We must, then, mark the connection: Go, where I shall send thee. Am I not Jehovah, who gives to men speech, and sight, and hearing? the tendency of which is, that Moses, confidently trusting to the bounty of God, should devote himself earnestly to his work.

13. Send, I pray thee, by the hand. Those who interpret this passage as alluding to Christ,5353     Cornelius a Lapide in loc. “Multi patres, ut S. Justinus, Tertll., Cyprian., Euseb., scribentes contra Judaeos, et Rupert. putant Mosen hic petiisse adventum Messiae; hujus enim nomen erat missus vel mittendus, etc. Hic sensus valde probabilis, et accommodatus est, quicquid objiciat Absolen. et audacter nimis tantis patribus obstrepat Eugubinus: ita enim olim alii patriarchae in gravibus causis semper ad Christum promissum respiciebant, et ad eum suspirabant, ut patet de Jacob. Genesis 49:10, 18.” The gloss in the Geneva Bible is, “i.e., (by the hand or ministerie) of the Messias, or some other that is more meete than I.” as though Moses said, that His power was needed to accomplish so mighty a task, introduce a forced and far-fetched sense, which is contradicted by the context, for God would not have been so aroused to anger by such a prayer. I see not why others should suppose it to be spoken of Aaron;5454     “Quia frater Aaron suus erat eo senior, et eloquentior, eum desiderabat habere socium sibi a Domino assignandum,” — Nic, de Lyra Com. in loco. So also R. Sal. Jarchi. for there is no weight in their conjecture, that Moses preferred his brother to himself. The third sense is more probable, viz., that God should stretch forth his hand to direct whomsoever he destined for the work. In that case, the relative must be in the masculine gender; but in order to avoid all ambiguity, I prefer the feminine, as I have translated it. (Mitte per manum per quam.) For there is no doubt but that Moses desires the task, too weighty and difficult for himself, to be transferred to some one else; just as if he had said — Since there are multitudes at hand whom thou mayest employ, choose whomsoever thou wilt of them, provided only it be some other, and that I be excused. There is an implied antithesis between Moses and others, in which he hints at his own natural disqualification, and says that others are endued with dexterity, industry, and activity; and thence he argues that it will be absurd that God should reject the hands which are adapted and ready for the work.

14. And the anger of the Lord was kindled. This passage confirms, by opposition, that expression, that there is no better sacrifice than to obey the voice of the Lord, (1 Samuel 15:22,) since God is so grievously offended with the hesitation of Moses, in spite of his specious excuses. But nothing is more pleasing to God than to maintain the authority of his word, and that men should suffer themselves to be guided by this rein. God had pardoned His servant’s slowness and unwillingness to the work; but beholding that he obstinately refused, He spares him no longer. Hence we are warned cautiously to beware, lest if God bear with us for a time, we give way to self-indulgence, as if we were permitted to abuse His patience with impunity. Still it is a mark of His fatherly kindness, that in His anger He contents Himself with reproof. As to His saying that he knew that Aaron would be his brother’s interpreter, it is questionable whether He had intended from the beginning to employ him in this way, or whether He conceded thus much at length to the diffidence of Moses.

It is indeed true, that God does nothing which He has not decreed by His secret providence before the creation of the world; yet sometimes second causes intervene why this or that should be done. Either view is probable, — either that God affirms Aaron to be already chosen by Him to be an assistant to Moses, or that He says He will grant this concession to the infirmity of Moses. The latter pleases me best, that Aaron should be added in anger as his brother’s companion, and that part of the honor should be transferred to him; when Moses, by his own repugnance, had deprived himself of some of his dignity. But why is he called “the Levite,” as if he were an unknown person? Some reply, that there were many among the Israelites of that name; but this simple solution satisfies me, that it was not any indifferent individual of the children of Israel who was promised to Moses as his companion, but his own brother; one who, by his close relationship, might exercise greater familiarity with him. Unless, perhaps, God looked forward to the future calling of the tribe of Levi; for he tells us, by the mouth of Malachi, that His covenant was with Levi, that his descendants should be the keepers of the law and of the truth, and the messengers of the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 2:4-8.) Thus the sense would be very satisfactory, that God would restrain His wrath, and although aroused to anger by the refusal of Moses, he would still take an ambassador out of that tribe which he destined to the priesthood. Moreover, no slight confirmation is added, in that Aaron would come forth to meet his brother in the Desert, and would receive him with great joy. It was as much as to shew that whilst God was pressing forward His servant from the land of Midian with the one hand, He would stretch forth the other to draw him into Egypt. Though the vision ought to have quickened him to perform God’s command, yet because it was necessary to stimulate his inactivity, Aaron was sent, as if God openly put forth His hand to excite him forward. For he had neither come into the Desert for pleasure, nor by chance, nor from vain curiosity; but Moses knew assuredly that a banner thus was set up for him by God, to shew him the certainty of his way. So by the coming of Ananias the vision seen by Paul was confirmed, and placed beyond the reach of doubt. (Acts 9:17.) This was, indeed, extorted from God by the importunity of Moses. According to His infinite goodness He willed to elicit from the sin of His servant materials for His grace; just as He is accustomed to bring light out of darkness. (2 Corinthians 4:6.) God mentions his brother’s gladness to Moses, in order to reprove his own indifference; as much as to say, Aaron will willingly come forth, and will receive you with joy and gladness; whilst you, depressed with sorrow and anxiety, or stupified by distrust, can scarcely be induced to stir a foot.

16. And he shall be thy spokesman. God destroys the pretext for his exemption, by assigning to his brother the office of spokesman, and yet does He not put the other in his place; nay, so merciful is the arrangement, that while He yields to His servant’s prayer, He yet confers honor upon him in spite of himself. The offices are thus divided — Moses is to have the authority, Aaron is to be the interpreter. Thus Moses is set before his brother, from no respect to his own dignity; because the grace of God was to shine forth conspicuously in the head no less than in the members; as it is expressed in these words, that “Aaron should be instead of a mouth, and Moses instead of God;” i e., that he was to dictate what Aaron should faithfully report, and to prescribe what he should obediently follow. By this example did God bear witness that the gifts of the Spirit, as well as our vocations, are distributed by Him at His own good pleasure; and that none excels either in honor or in gifts, except according to the measure of His free bounty. But that the first-born is made subject to the younger, and is only appointed to be his spokesman, whereas God might have accomplished by his hand and labor, what he rather chose to perform by Moses; hence let us learn reverently to regard His judgments, because they are incomprehensible to us, and like a deep abyss. “To be instead of God” is the same as to lead or to direct, or to have the chief command; as the Chaldee Paraphrast5555     In the Targum of Onkelos, who has employed רב for the אלהים of the Hebrew. — W renders it, to be the chief or master. It is a very weak calumny of the Arians to abuse this and similar passages, in order to refute the proofs of Christ’s divinity, because there is a great difference in speaking of one as God simply and absolutely, and with circumstantial additions. For we know that the name of God is attributed to every potentate, improperly indeed, yet not unreasonably; as when the devil himself is called “the god of this world,” (2 Corinthians 4:4;) but wherever mention is made of the true Deity, Scripture never profanes that sacred name.

17. And thou shalt take this rod. There is no doubt that God chose this shepherd’s rod to be the instrument of his power, in order the more to confound the pride of Pharaoh. For what but shame and reproach could it bring to Moses, that he should bear with him the crook with which he had heretofore guided his sheep in their folds and hovels? This symbol, then, of a rustic and contemptible occupation, was opposed to the scepter of Pharaoh, not without humiliation. In this respect, therefore, the obedience of Moses is worthy of praise, because he is not ashamed of a mean and humble appearance, but willingly carries his rod, and thus makes himself as nothing, and glorifies God. So is God usually wont to hide his treasures in earthen vessels, and to choose “the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.” But from Moses being commanded to work the miracles with the rod, we gather that outward signs are often made use of by God, when He works by His own hand; not to derogate at all from his power, or to obscure his praise, but to make it manifest that the whole world is subject to him, and that he freely applies to whatever use he pleases, things which are otherwise of no account.


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