The second sign God gave him was a leprous hand. He was to put his hand inside his cloak, and when he pulled it out it had turned white with leprosy. When he put it back in again, it was cured. I suppose the power of that came from the fact that the Egyptians were very fastidious about personal cleanliness. They didn’t want defilement, and leprosy was the ultimate defilement. So here you have a revelation of a God who is able to inflict with illness and also to cure. Later on in the plaques, we are going to find out that the gods of Egypt who were supposed to do that were unable to do it. They were powerless before God.
The final sign was turning water to blood. It became, eventually, the first of the ten plaques upon Egypt. It was a sign against the gods and goddesses of the Nile. I am going to explore that as we get to those signs and plagues eventually.
The second objection that Moses gave to God was about his ability to speak well. He said, “I am not eloquent, O LORD, I have never been eloquent, either in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue,” (Ex. 4:10). This excuse was similar to the first. His first objection asked, “Who am I?” which really meant, “I am unworthy.” And this second objection focused on Moses’ lack of adequacy. Both of these were irrelevant.
What was happening was that Moses’ excuses were beginning to go around full circle. Haven’t you found that with God? You begin to object to something God is telling you to do, and you think up a second objection, and then you think up a third objection. You begin to run out of objections after a while, and then you go back and you do the first one all over again, with a slight variation.
God answers Moses this time by telling him that it was God Himself who made him the way he is. “You say you’re slow of speech. That’s the way I made you. So don’t complain to me about it. I knew what I was doing.” As the Lord says in the classic text, “Who gave man his mouth, who makes him deaf or dumb, who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (v. 11). Then in verse 12, the Lord tells Moses to go, for the Lord Himself will give Moses the words to speak.
But Moses only had one more thing to say, and he couched it in typical, polite, Semitic language. What he wants to say is, “I don’t want to do it.” But he actually says, as the King James Version puts it, “Oh my LORD, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send” (v. 13). But the New International Version has the right idea when it translates the verse loosely, not literally: “Oh LORD, please send someone else to do it.” Haven’t you ever felt that? Haven’t you ever responded to God that way? “Evangelize the world, God—I will pray for it—but please don’t send me!” “Reach my neighbor with the Gospel, but don’t send me next door to talk to him or her about it!”
At this point God got angry with Moses. “What about your brother Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well.” I suppose there was something in the tone of that answer that got through to Moses and convinced him that he’d gone just about as far as he dared to go. I suppose with this response from the Lord that Moses shut up—you have to read this a little bit between the lines—and now, with a rather heavy heart, Moses turns his back from the burning bush, dismissed, gathers up his sheep, makes his way back to Jethro his father-in-law and says, “I’ve got to go to Egypt.” I do not detect anywhere in the writings that Moses did this with a buoyant spirit, but he did it because God was using Moses.
On the way back to Egypt we see three more events. First, God revealed to Moses that the people who were trying to kill him earlier were dead. That was meant to encourage him. The old pharaoh had died. There is also an incident regarding the circumcision of Moses’ son. Finally, there’s the meeting with his brother Aaron, and Exodus 4 ends by describing the meeting and how they met together with the elders of the people and got their endorsement of the effort to go to Pharaoh.
Let’s go back to that matter of Moses’ failure to have circumcised his son. It’s only described briefly; three verses deal with it, which makes it a little hard to interpret it. God was about to kill Moses because he had neglected to apply the covenant rite of circumcision to his second and possibly newborn son, probably because his wife Zipporah objected to it. You read that Zipporah seems to be unhappy in the story, and reluctantly did what was necessary.
This incident says something about our need to obey God even if somebody very close to us objects to it—even a husband or a wife. You have to be very careful at that point because God isn’t in the business of dividing families. Nevertheless, Zipporah drops out of the picture at this point. What we’re told is that she was on her way with the children and Moses to Egypt, but then we don’t find anything about her in Egypt. Later, after Moses has come out of Egypt, Jethro comes to see him with Zipporah and the children. So presumably Moses sent her back at this initial point of returning, perhaps because of her attitude. F. B Meyer, whom I quoted before, strikes a wise balance when he says, “We are not always to follow this example in ridding ourselves of family ties in order to do God’s work… The circumstances have to be very exceptional that invade the close ties of the home; but when such circumstances arise, they will be so evidently indicated by God’s providence that there will be no reflection cast on the character of his servants.”1
This story says something about our need for purification and a right heart with God if we are going to do His work. You see, Moses may have been a great man. And he must certainly have learned a great deal from God during those 40 years in the wilderness, not to mention the revelation of God to him at the burning bush. But he still could not proceed until he was right with God in this matter of his child’s circumcision.
Let me close with three points of application. The first is that the most important thing in life is to know God. Do you really know God in terms of His attributes? Do you want to know him better? Are you willing to learn? The way to do it is by studying the Bible and by hearing it taught.
Second, note God’s timing. Moses was 80 years old when God called him to what was to become his life’s work. He certainly must have thought he was too old. But this was the right time, and he was wrong earlier when he was 40 and he tried to take the matter into his own hands. We would look at that and say, “Well when you’re 40, that’s the time to get on with your life’s work! That’s when you are at the peak of your strength and ability!” But he wasn’t ready then. God’s timing involved coming to him later. Don’t be overly impatient. Be ready to serve God. Be willing, and do everything you can. But trust God for His timing.
Finally, when you enter upon a work from God, you can be sure that God will supply what you need to complete it. Because what you really need, all you really need, is God Himself. That’s why Jesus says at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel, as He sends His disciples out to evangelize a hostile, pagan world, “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age,” that is, until He comes again. Do you believe that? He’s with you. If He gives you a task to do He will be with you, just as He was with Moses. And He will carry it to completion, regardless of how strong the opposition may be.
1F. B. Meyer, Moses: The Servant of God (New York: Revell, n.d.), 42-43.