DIG: What promptings, promises and provisions does Moses receive to encourage him on his way home? In what way was Israel God’s firstborn son?
REFLECT: You cannot stay where you are and follow God. He requires change. Hearing God’s voice, changing, and obeying is not a one time thing. It happens throughout our lives. How do you feel about that? Are you a child of God?
Then Moses left the burning bush and went back to Jethro, his father-in-law. This was necessary because he had Jethro’s flock under his care and he couldn’t just leave them stranded without making some provisions. In addition, he needed to ask Jethro’s permission to leave because he was the head of the household. Moses said to him: Let me go back to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are alive. Jethro replied: Go in peace; I wish you well (4:18).
Now back in Midian, evidently God had to prod Moses to return to Egypt. He was lingering. Apparently he was reluctant to go back and face Thutmose III, the Napoleon of Egypt, who had wanted to kill him forty years earlier. But ADONAI said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead” (4:19). There was an incident in the early life of Jesus that mirrored this event. In Matthew 2:19-20, Joseph took Mary and baby Jesus and fled to Egypt because Herod wanted the baby killed. But after Herod died, an angel of ADONAI appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said: Get up, take the child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead. Therefore, both deliverers were forced to flee from tyrannical rulers and they return only after they were dead.
So Moses took his wife and two sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. It is interesting that he took his family with him. He must have been thoroughly convinced that they would be protected by God in Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand (4:20). On his way to Egypt, ADONAI spoke to Moses again and said: When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh the three miracles that I have given you the power to do (4:21a).
But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go (4:21b). This concept of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart will be the leading motif in the conflict between God and Pharaoh in Chapters 4 to 14. The Ancient Egyptian texts teach that the heart was the essence of the person, the inner spiritual center of the self. Pharaoh’s heart was particularly important because the Egyptians believed it was the all-controlling factor in both history and society. It was further held that the hearts of the gods Ra and Horus were sovereign over everything. Because the king of Egypt was the incarnation of those two gods, his heart was thought to be sovereign over all creation. The whole point was that ADONAI controlled the heart of Pharaoh.65
To understand this, we need to look at the book of Romans. Paul writes: What shall we say then? Is God unjust? Not at all! For He said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion,” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Old Covenant, or the TANAKH, says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore, God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy (Romans 9:14-18).
The main point of the Romans passage is this. God does not harden the hearts of men so that they can be lost; God hardens their hearts because they already are lost. When we are born, we inherit Adam’s sin nature and are lost, separated from God. But He does not leave us in this hopeless spiritual condition. He woos us so that we might believe in Him. He pursues us so that we might accept Him as our Savior. He does this in various ways through different people and circumstances because He does not control our decision. We can say no to God and make it stick. In the final analysis, He gives those who reject Him over to their sin (Romans 1:24-32). This breaks His heart. But our free will to choose or reject Him is too important to violate. Thus, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because he had already rejected Him.
Another factor in God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is that it was a reversal of an Egyptian belief. Egyptians believed that when a person died his or heart was weighed in the hall of judgment. If one’s heart was heavy with sin, that person was judged. A stone beetle scarab was placed on the heart of a dead person to suppress his or her natural tendency to confess their sin, which would subject them to judgment. The Egyptians believed that the scarab would prevent a hardening of the heart, and would result in salvation for the deceased.
However, God reversed this process in Pharaoh’s case. Instead of his heart being suppressed so that he was silent about his sin and thus delivered, his heart became hardened, he confessed his sin (9:27 and 34, 10:16-17), and his sinfully heavy heart resulted in judgment. For the Egyptians, hardening of the heart resulted in silence (or the absence of confession of sin) and therefore salvation. But God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart resulted in acknowledgement of sin, and therefore, judgment.66
Then Moses was to say to Pharaoh, “This is what ADONAI says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let My son go, so he may worship Me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son” (4:22-23). Just as Isra'el has a unique relationship with God, and is called His firstborn son (Jeremiah 3:19, 31:9 and 20; Hosea 11:1), the Egyptians had a unique relationship with their deity Pharaoh. Because Pharaoh will not let Israel go, God will not let Pharaoh’s firstborn son go, in the tenth and final plague.
God the Father said of Jesus: This is My Son, whom I love (Matthew 3:17). This idea of sonship gets to the heart of the special relationship that God has with His people Israel. But if you are a believer in Yeshua, God is your Father also. The Apostle John wrote: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God (First John 3:1). If you have had a bad experience with your imperfect earthly father, I would encourage you to allow God be your perfect heavenly Father.
As a result in Chapters 3 and 4, God has appeared to Moses three different times with a similar commission. The first time at the foot of Mount Sinai at the burning bush. The second time in the land of Midian, and now a third time on his way to Egypt. The message from ADONAI has been consistent. Go to Pharaoh and tell him to let My people go.
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017