I Will Be with Your Mouth | Exodus 3:16-4:17

The text before us is a direct continuation of what we studied last week. After four hundred years of slavery in Egypt and after Moses’ forty years of living in the wilderness of Midian, God came down to reveal Himself to Moses and to send him back to Egypt to deliver His people out of their bondage. In those first fifteen verses, God already answered two of Moses’ fears regarding the task before him, and here we find God answering two more as well as Moses’ directly plea for God to send someone else. Thankfully, God is more than able to make up for Moses’s deficiencies.

SAY THIS TO THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL // VERSES 16-22

We pick up here immediately where our previous study left off. After God’s revealing of His name to Moses, the LORD now tells Moses His plan for Israel’s exodus from Egypt:

Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.

It is significant that God made Himself known to Moses and immediately told Moses to go and tell the elders of Israel. This is a pattern that we repeatedly see in the Bible, that God most often reveals Himself to someone in order to be proclaimed to others. Two realms of application become apparent. First, for all who are called to teach and preach God’s Word, we must have encountered God in His Word before we are ready to proclaim it to others. Second, we can also see a parallel of Moses’ commission in the Great Commission, in which, after revealing Him in life, death, and resurrection to His disciples, Jesus prepared to ascend to the Father and told them: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). Like Moses, we are sent out as those to whom the LORD has appeared. Of course, we have not witnessed a visible appearing of Christ today, yet through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination, “the grace of God has appeared” to us in the person of Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11). And as we wait for Christ’ future appearing, we are sent to the nations to teach them all that our Lord has taught us. Let us keep this reality in mind as we continue to read the dialogue between God and Moses here.

After telling Moses to tell the Israelite elders that He promises to bring them into the Promise Land, the LORD then says that Moses and the elders must go to Pharaoh and request to go three days into the wilderness to sacrifice to the LORD. Since we know that God’s plan is to bring the Israelite’s out of Egypt entirely, we may rightly ask: Why does God tell Moses to speak about only going three days to Pharaoh? Was God planning to have the Israelites run away for good after only asking to leave Egypt for three-day journey? Is this a case of God attempting to deceive Pharaoh? I do not think so. Instead, it seems as though God begins with this request (and notice that it is very much not yet a demand) in order to further display the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. Just as verse 19 says, But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. Pharaoh’s denial of their initial request to go into the wilderness to sacrifice to the LORD is a preview of just how resolved Pharaoh is to keep the Israelites as his slaves.

We should also notice that verse 18 does reveal to us the reason for the exodus from Egypt: that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. We will come back to the theme again in the coming weeks but let us observe it here as well: God liberated the Israelites so that they could be free to worship Him. Philosophers have observed that there are two kinds of freedom, positive and negative. Or we may say a freedom to something and a freedom from something. We tend to only think about freedom negatively, freedom from things. And certainly, that was a significant part of the exodus, freedom from Pharaoh and slavery. Yet there is also a positive freedom, which, in the case of the Israelites, was their freedom to worship the LORD. The lack of any conception of positive freedom is a significant factor in our society’s equation of freedom with individual autonomy. The secularism around largely only longs to be free of any and all limitations, most notably seen in their push toward freedom from biological realities of sex and gender. Yet as the Bible shows, sin always masks itself as freedom from God’s oppressive limitations, while the reality is that God gives tremendous freedom within the limitations that He sets for us. For example, placing plugs on electric outlets should not rightly be seen as withholding the freedom of children to stick things in said outlets; instead, we should view it as giving children the freedom to play safely by withholding potentially fatal dangers from them until they are old enough to understand the reality of that danger. So it is with the Israelites and with us in Christ. They were rescued from Pharaoh and us from our sin in order to worship and serve the LORD our God.

Thankfully, we would always do well to remember that God delights in blessing His people, as we see in verses 20-22. When we think of the exodus account, we typically only think of verse 20 as being how the LORD blessed Israel. Yet as verses 21-22 make clear, God did not only intend to liberate them from their bondage in Egypt, but He would also enable them to plunder the Egyptians on their way out. Of course, this is another of the Bible’s many examples of ironic reversals. After all, who has ever heard of a people under the yoke of slavery being delivered through no effort on their part and leaving with much of their captors’ wealth? Joyously our God delights in turning times of pain and affliction into joy and prosperity, and it shall ultimately be so with all of creation. As one hymn rightly declares:

Christ, the sure and steady anchor as we face the waves of death, when these trials give way to glory, and we draw our final breath. We will cross that great horizon, clouds behind and life secured. And our calm will be the greater for the storms that we’ve endured.[1]

THAT THEY MAY BELIEVE // VERSES 1-9

Chapter 4 begins with another protest of Moses: But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’ Notice that this flies in direct contradiction to what God told Moses in verse 18 of chapter 3: And they will listen to your voice… Of course, we cannot be too hard on Moses because we are the same. We know from both Scripture and the past two thousand years of church history that the gospel of Jesus Christ will continue rescue souls from the domain of darkness and graft them into the kingdom of God through God’s people simply sharing it. Yet how many of us have experienced a moment when the LORD has opened the door of conversation for sharing the gospel with a family member, coworker, or neighbor, and we were too frightened to walk through it. We talk ourselves out of it with the same sort of questions. “What if they get angry at me?” “What if it makes things awkward between us?”

Thankfully, the LORD is no less gracious with us in our fears than He was with Moses. Consider God’s response to the prophet:

The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—“that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

To pacify Moses’ fears of not being believed by the elders of Israel, God gave Moses not one miraculous sign, nor two, but three marvelous wonders to perform before their eyes as evidence that God had appeared to him. This is certainly a tremendous amount of grace, but it is also a preview of the even greater wonders that God was about to perform against the Egyptians.

But what about the particular signs that God chose to use here? As we will see with the plagues to come, sound cases can be made for why exactly God chose to use those ten plagues, and the same is true of the parting of the sea. So, what about these signs? Is there any significance to the serpent, leprosy, and the Nile?

While we should take care not to press too hard for one-to-one parallels, I believe that there is a general point to be seen here that Jesus is the greater Moses. You see, these signs that Moses would work were so that the people of Israel may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you. Jesus, likewise, worked miraculous signs (as John called Jesus’ miracles), and just before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus prayed to the Father, saying, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe you sent me” (John 11:41-42). Jesus’ miracles were also signs that He was sent by God, though, of course, with the great difference that God did not merely appear to Jesus rather Jesus was God’s earthly appearance to us! Yet both Moses’ and Jesus’ signs were to support the belief of others.

With this in mind, I find it fascinating that the three signs given to Moses seem to correspond with the three types of miracles that Jesus performed. With a serpent being a representation of evil, we could say that these three miracles display God’s sovereignty over evil (the serpent), illness (leprosy), and nature (water from the Nile). In the same way, Jesus cast out demons (sovereignty over evil), healed the sick and cleansed the lepers (sovereignty over illness), and calmed storms, walked on water, and turned water into wine (sovereignty over nature). But all of those miracles were only a foretaste of Christ’s greatest work upon the cross, wherein He triumphed over the powers of darkness, spilled His own blood to cleanse us of an ailment far more infectious and unclean than leprosy, and is redeeming and renewing all of creation after its fall under Adam’s sin. Indeed, just as God instructed Moses to work these signs with his staff, our Lord also used a piece of wood to work the redemption of His church.

Our redemption through the blood of Christ also leads us to another realm of application, for we can also ask: if we are also sent by God with the gospel, what signs has the LORD given to us that our hearers may believe? In Acts, we find the apostles very purposely doing similar miracles to Jesus, and it also tells of people speaking in other tongues, first in Jerusalem, then in Samaria, and finally among the Gentiles.

Even though such signs and wonders are absent today, the Holy Spirit is still very much present and working within each follower of Christ within the Church. As we noted briefly last week, God has made us into a greater wonder than the burning bush ever was. We are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. He burns within us like a fire, yet we are not consumed. Are we not, therefore, like millions of burning bushes going forth into the world to call others to come and know the LORD?

Yet Revelation 12:11 gives us another very important sign that we should not leave out. After describing a heavenly war between Michael and his angels and Satan and his angels, Satan is cast down from heaven and although he seeks to make war on the saints, “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Our testimony of Christ’s cleansing and redeeming blood is a far greater sign of God’s power than Moses’ hand turning leprous and then turning back to normal. We were dead but are now alive in Christ! We do not need miracles as we often think of them because each one of us can boldly declare with John Newton: “I once was blind, but now I see!”

PLEASE SEND SOMEONE ELSE // VERSES 10-17

For Moses’ fourth appeal, we read: O, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue. Although some have pondered whether Moses had an actual speech impediment, it is more likely that Moses simply judged himself to be too greatly lacking in public speaking ability to stand before Pharaoh in his court. And, again, Moses would have had firsthand knowledge of what was needed to stand before Pharaoh. Thus, we should not read this as Moses downplaying his abilities. As God’s answer seems to suggest, Moses judged himself rightly. He was truly inadequate for the job. Yet it would not be alone. He again needed to take his eyes off of himself and set them upon God.

Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

As the Maker of mouths, the LORD assures Moses that He will be with his mouth and teach him the words to speak. We too should take great comfort that God has not sent us to proclaim the gospel without aid. When Jesus warned His disciples that they would be dragged into courts to bear witness for the gospel, He also gave them this promise: “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19-20). Furthermore, we are not called to speak just anything; instead, we are told to teach “them all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Of course, we find Christ’s commands in His Word. We ought, therefore, to be diligent students of God’s Word, for it is there that God teaches us what we must speak.

Moses, however, makes one last appeal, and this time he is not offering any excuses but simply (and directly) asking for God to send anyone else: Oh, my Lord, please send someone else. After everything that the LORD has said to Moses, we should not be surprised to read that the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses. We should, however, be surprised by what God does in His anger:

Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.

Philip Ryken notes that “it almost sounds like God was giving in to Moses’ demands, offering him a sort of compromise. But clearly, having Aaron speak for Moses was not God’s first and best plan for the exodus.” He goes on to say:

But Aaron’s involvement would turn out to be a mixed blessing. His assistance did not relieve Moses form the responsibility to speak for God (4:15); but now Moses would have to share part of the honor with his brother. Furthermore, Aaron would later lead the people astray by making them a golden calf (32:1-4). By at first refusing to do what God called him to do, Moses missed out on part of God’s blessing. No one is indispensable—not even Moses. God can always find someone else to do his will. But by refusing to do what God has called us to do, we will miss out on the fullness of God’s blessing.[2]

While that is very much true, I would also balance it by pointing out the comfort that God so often makes up for our fears, inadequacies, and weaknesses. Indeed, just as Aaron would soon hold upon Moses’ weary arms during the Israelites battle with the Amalekites, so was Aaron being sent here to figuratively hold us his fearful hands. Bask in that great reality for moment: in God’s anger, He showed grace to Moses.

The involvement of Aaron was certainly not outside of God’s mind, and it would send an interesting message to Pharaoh. Although the text does not say so, the ancient world knew that Pharaoh had a position in his court called “the mouth of Pharaoh,” which was exactly what it sounds like. When someone spoke to Pharaoh, they would likely never actually hear Pharaoh’s voice but would speak to him through his “mouth.” After all, remember that Pharaoh considered himself a god-man, so why would he not speak through his very own prophet?

Is it not marvelous that God was very purposely making Moses into a greater Pharaoh? Moses was so frightened of Pharaoh’s power, yet the Almighty was in the process of making Moses into what Pharaoh so desperately longed to be. And isn’t that always the path of the Serpent and the path of God? As Satan did with Eve, so he does with each and every temptation to sin: he promises us that we can be like God, that we can become gods ourselves. Pharaoh bought that lie, gladly becoming an offspring of the Serpent. Yet the irony is that God made us in His image to be like Him. We will, of course, never become gods, but God gladly exalts us far beyond what we were ever able to dream of.

Of course, this returns us to the fundamental difference between God’s nature and Satan’s nature. Satan offers power and status, but in the end only consumes things into himself. And he can do no other because his might is limited. God, however, is omnipotent, so He can make Moses like God to Aaron with absolutely no fear of Moses eclipsing His own glory.

We should also note that, while God very often sends Aarons our way in the form of our brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus Himself is the greater Aaron. Indeed, Aaron would later be made the first high priest of Israel, but Jesus now forever stands as the high priest of God’s people, not through the lineage of Levi but in the order of Melchizedek. This is significant because each day we too rise to meet ‘Pharaoh.’ The final petition of the Lord’s Prayer is no joke. The Accuser has been cast down to earth “in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12)! We need deliverance from the evil one, from his accusations and temptations. We need a great high priest to stand between us and him, to answer back to his accusations that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We need the One whose blood speaks a better word over us than did the blood of Abel, a blood that cries out for our redemption rather than our judgment.


[1] Christ, the Sure and Steady Anchor by Matt Boswell

[2] Philip Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, 109.

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