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Exodus 4:18-23

18. And Moses went and returned to Jethro his father-in-law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive. And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace.

18. Profectus est ergo Moses, et reversus est ad Jethro socerum suum: et dixit ad eum, Vadam nunc, et revertar ad fratres meos qui sunt in Aegypto, ut videam an adhuc ipsi vivant. Et dixit Jethro Mosi, Vade in pace.

19. And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life.

19. Dixerat autem Jehova ad Mosen in Midian, Vade, revertere in Aegyptum; quia mortui sunt omnes viri quaerebant animam tuam.

20. And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the rod of God in his hand.

20. Et accepit Moses uxorem suam, et filios suos, et sustulit eos super asinum: et reversus est in terram Aegypti. Et accepit Moses baculum Dei in manu sua.

21. And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.

21. Et ait Jehova ad Mosen, Quum profectus fueris, et reversus in Aegyptum, vide ut omnia signa quae posui in manu tua, facias illa coram Pharaone. Ego autem constringam cor illius, et non dimittet populum.

22. And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my first-born.

22. Et dices Pharaoni, Sic dicit Jehova, Filius meus, primogenitus meus Israel.

23. And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy first-born.

23. Ego autem jussi te dimittere filium meum ut mihi serviret: et renuisti dimittere eum. Ideo ecce ego occidam filium tuum, primogenitum tuum.

18. And Moses went. It is surprising that Moses should have suppressed the vision whereby the mind of his father-in-law might have been most inclined to let him go; for he speaks merely of human feelings, that he desired to revisit his brethren and relations. Yet it must have been disagreeable to his father-in-law to lose his services, and that diligence and industry by which he had largely profited; nor could it have been pleasant to send away his daughter and grandchildren to a foreign country. Whether he was forbidden to do so by God, or whether he was silent from fear and shame, is uncertain; but I incline rather to this supposition, that he dared not speak of his vocation, lest its incredibility should cause him to be suspected of falsehood and vanity. Since, then, it would have been difficult to obtain belief as to his vocation, he preferred making a pretext of his natural affection. But Jethro being persuaded more by divine inspiration than by that excuse, was easily prevailed on; although I make no doubt that for forty years Moses had been giving such proofs of his honesty, that he was exempted from every evil suspicion. We know how much respect is gained by long experience; since, then, Moses had so long manifested his integrity, his father-in-law could have no fears of his levity, or fraud, or deceit. By this example believers learn ever to seek to obtain a good reputation; for there is nothing which so greatly facilitates the transaction of all affairs as the constant course of an upright and innocent life. For, from whence arises so much difficulty in obtaining what each may want from his neighbor? Whence such hinderances, such reproaches on one side and the other, but because, while every one would be believed, no one labors to obtain credit by his integrity? But although Moses had conciliated his father-in-law by his upright and holy life, still he was confirmed in his vocation by the readiness with which his demand was complied with, for the permission was full of courtesy and kindness without any sign of unwillingness or regret.

19. And the Lord said5656     Lat., “had said.” unto Moses Some connect this sentence with what follows, as if God had spoken to his servant after permission to return had been given him by his father-in-law; but my opinion rather is, that what had before been omitted is here inserted out of its place. Such repetition is frequent in the Scriptures.5757     And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, i e., at a different time from that when he appeared to him in the wilderness at Mount Sinai. Things are not always recorded in the sacred writings in the order in which they happened.” — Rosenmuller in loco Moses, therefore, adds to what he had already said, that the fear of danger was removed, since God had testified that the recollection of his having slain the Egyptian had ceased. For this would have been a stumblingblock at the very outset, if Moses had supposed that this accusation would have met him; not because his conscience smote him before God, but because he would have been rejected by the perverse judgments of men. Therefore, on this point, also, God provides against his fear, assuring him that the enemies were dead who had plotted against his life. And, perhaps, he now particularly notices this, because in asking for leave to depart, he could safely speak of it; for it is probable that Jethro, before he had married his daughter to an unknown foreigner, had demanded the cause of his exile; since it was easy to conjecture by his wandering in the Desert, that he had been expelled from his country. Having then confessed that he fled from the wrath of the king, he now says that he is recalled by divine revelation, and that a safe return is promised him. Nor is he guilty of falsehood; for, amongst other things, God had promised him that no danger awaited him from his former enemies.

20. And Moses took his wife. By taking his wife and children with him, Moses clearly and freely professed, that he was returning to Egypt, to dwell there. The ass upon which he set them, is a plain proof how humble was his condition, and how slender his substance. For it is improbable that he left either money or silver vessels or precious garments with his father-in-law, so as to present himself to his people in poverty and nakedness. But as he had been content in the land of Midian with his indigence and coarse fare, he continues in the same simple estate; nor is he ashamed in his contemptible and common habit to mount the stage on which his poverty would be conspicuous, which in the Desert had been concealed. It is well known as a matter of experience, that the poor are led to crime more by the fear of shame than by hunger, cold, and other discomforts. Wherefore Moses withstood a very heavy temptation, when he cared not for being laughed at, and despised, and presented himself without any earthly splendor. But there is here an implied antithesis between “the rod of God” and the appearance of the humble and despised man, without any other equipment whatever; it is as much as to say, that it did not trouble him that he was without everything else, as long as he had the rod, which abundantly compensated for all deficiencies. Therefore, although he perceived that he would be exposed to the scorn of high and low, in leading the ass, burdened, as we have been observing, still he thought himself well, and more than well provided in his rod, the instrument of divine power, by which he should magnificently triumph, and could afford to dispense with the pomp of royalty. And surely the marks by which God would have his servants distinguished, deserve this honor, that we should require nothing to be added to their dignity. We must observe the epithet applied to the rod; it is called no longer the rod of Moses, but “the rod of God,” because it is not used, as of old, to conduct his flock, but5858     Pour estre lieutenant de Dieu. — Fr. to represent the power of God. For since it was by the sovereign power of God that it worked miracles, whatever concerned their glory is truly and properly ascribed to God. Elsewhere, indeed, it is called the rod of Moses; inasmuch as God communicates his own titles to the ministers chosen and created by himself, since he supplies them with the efficacy of his Spirit.

21. When thou goest to return. Moses had not previously enumerated the wonders; but from this verse we gather, that whatever we shall presently read to be done, was already commanded by God. There is then, no doubt, but that God had already advised him of his whole course of proceeding, lest he might yield to the obstinacy of the proud tyrant, and when two or three miracles had been wrought in vain, might cast away his rod, together with the charge committed to him. Now, therefore, God exhorts him to perseverance; and although he might perceive after three or four miracles that the obstinacy of the king was indomitable, still that he should not turn back, nor be discouraged, but should continue even unto the end. This, then, is the sum, that he should not faint nor fail, when he saw the inutility of his first efforts; nor cease to contend boldly till he had fulfilled all the objects of his vocation. Moreover, lest he might think it the effect of chance, that he did not immediately obtain the victory, or might consider it strange that the miracles should be eluded with impunity by a mere mortal, as if he stood before God unconquered in his boldness, God himself foretells that he would be the moderator of all this contest, nay, that whatsoever should seem to oppose the deliverance of his people would arise from his own secret counsel. Thus he shews Moses the reason why he should not stop until he had performed all the miracles; because the tyrant must be gloriously conquered, and overwhelmed in so many hard-fought engagements, that the victory might be more splendid. In the meantime He declares that the king of Egypt would not be thus obstinate contrary to His will; as if He could not reduce him to order in a moment; but rather that He would harden his heart in order that He might violently overwhelm his madness.5959     חזק. Constrinxit, revinxit; hinc roboravit, confirmavit; intransitive etiam invaluit, praevaluit. — Prof J Robertson Clavis Pentateuch, in loco W The word which Moses uses signifies sometimes to apprehend, sometimes to restrain by force, sometimes to strengthen; but it seemed to me that I should best render its sense by the word “constringo,” to constrain; since undoubtedly God would make it appear that he would be the President6060     Agonotheta. — Lat. Le maistre du camp. — Fr. (as it were) of all the contests in which Moses was to engage, so as even to control the heart of his adversary, and to harden it into obstinacy. Since the expression seems harsh to delicate ears, many soften it away, by turning the act into mere permission; as if there were no difference between doing and permitting to be done; or as if God would commend his passivity, and not rather his power. As to myself, I am certainly not ashamed of speaking as the Holy Spirit speaks, nor do I hesitate to believe what so often occurs in Scripture, that God gives the wicked over to a reprobate mind, gives them up to vile affections, blinds their minds and hardens their hearts. But they object, that in this way God would be made the author of sin; which would be a detestable impiety. I reply, that God is very far from the reach of blame, when he is said to exercise his judgments: wherefore, if blindness be a judgment of God, it ought not to be brought in accusation against him, that he inflicts punishment. But if the cause be often concealed from us, we should remember that God’s judgments are not without reason called a “great deep,” and, therefore, let us regard them with admiration and not with railing. But those who substitute his permission in the place of his act, not only deprive him of his authority as a judge, but in their repining, subject him to a weighty reproach, since they grant him no more of justice than their senses can understand.

22. Israel is my son, even my first-born. God thus refutes, by anticipation, the only pretext by which Pharaoh could justify his refusal to let the people go. For Jacob had spontaneously submitted himself and all his family to his government; he had then free power to retain the people, which, by the common law of nations, was subject to the dominion of Egypt. But if it be an act of impiety to violate the ordinance instituted by God, the demand of Moses might appear improper, that the legitimate authority of the king should be abolished against his own will. For what was the object of proposing the departure of the people, except to compel the king to renounce his own authority? In order, then, to shew that he took nothing away unjustly or unreasonably from Pharaoh, God alleges the privilege by which the Israelites were excepted from ordinary laws; for by calling them His sons, He claims liberty for them; since it would be absurd that God himself, the supreme Ruler of heaven and earth, should be deprived of the sons whom He had deigned to adopt. He, therefore, indirectly compares his own paternal power with Pharaoh’s earthly rule; because nothing could be less reasonable than that a mortal should refuse to yield to the Maker of himself and all the world. Still this is not applicable to all believers in general; as if it were wrong for them to be subject to kings, or as if their temporal subjection deprived them of their inheritance of the world; but mention is here only made of the special prerogative with which God had honored the posterity of Abraham, when he gave them the dominion of the land of Canaan. Therefore, not content with the simple appellation of son, He calls Israel his first-born. By this honorable title He unquestionably prefers him to the other nations; as though He had said, that he was raised to the degree of the primogeniture, and was superior to all the world. This passage, then, may be accommodated to the calling of the Gentiles, whom God had already decreed to bring into fellowship with his elect people, so that, although they were younger, they might be united with his first-born. I allow, indeed, that all the race of Adam was then cast off; but, because Adam was made in the image of God, his posterity were always reckoned, in a certain sense, to be the children of God; for, whilst I readily admit that the holy offspring of Abraham are here compared with the nations who at that time were still heathen, and that in this respect they are called his first-born, because they are pre-eminent in dignity; still we must come to Christ, the only head, in order that the adoption should be sure. For we must hold fast to that statement of St. Paul, that the blessing of Abraham was not promised to his seeds, but to his seed; because not all that sprang from his flesh are accounted to be children, but those that were called; as Isaac, Ishmael being rejected, and as Jacob, Esau being passed by. (Galatians 3:16; Romans 9:6.) But Christ is the root of our calling. Therefore, what in Hosea is spoken, as here, of the whole people, Matthew limits to Christ; and justly, since upon Him alone the grace of adoption is founded. (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15.)

23. And I say unto thee, Let my son go. This was not the beginning of the legation, but its final clause; for Moses warned the desperate man of his son’s death, when everything else had been tried in vain. The meaning is, then, that the obstinacy of the tyrant must not prevent Moses from pressing him even to this final act. Therefore this injunction was an exhortation to perseverance; as appears from the context, when God declares that he will punish the obstinacy of the tyrant, because he refused to obey the command to let the people go. Moreover, since this denunciation was very severe, and might very greatly awaken the tyrant’s wrath, therefore Moses is thus early commanded to prepare himself lest he should fail in this particular.


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