Our passage begins with Moses heeding the word of God and determining to go back to Egypt. This shows the faith of Moses. God then tells Moses to perform signs before Pharaoh when he gets to Egypt (this would be Pharaoh Thutmose III). And it is here that we see that interplay between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility – Pharaoh was not going to listen (3:19), and it is God Who was going to harden his heart (4:21). We will see that Pharaoh, no matter what God does or how plain it is that He is and that He has all the power, will not relent until it is too late. Such are all unbelievers (Rom 1:18-21).
Then we have this peculiar story about God wanting to kill Moses. Commentators are all over the place on this one. What we know for sure is that the circumcision of Moses’ son allayed the anger of God. Many conjecture that Zipporah’s reaction to the circumcision – calling Moses a bridegroom of blood – reflects her dislike of the rite of circumcision, so it may be that Moses chose not to circumcise his son to appease his wife. The anger of God, then, may have been Moses’ willingness to compromise with the world. Moses may record this story to teach Israel that even he understands the tendency to compromise with the world, but as God’s chosen nation, they simply cannot do that.
In verse 27, we see that it is God that sends Aaron to Moses (see 4:14). Note that Aaron performs the signs God gave to Moses (v. 30). And we see that through the obedience of Moses and Aaron, God brings about what He promised (compare 3:16-18 with 4:29-31).
Chapter 5 records the intensification of the persecution of Israel. Moses and Aaron are obedient, and Pharaoh makes things worse for God’s people. This is to be expected – the more we live by faith, the more the world will persecute us. And we see, already, the faith of Israel waiver. The foremen confront Moses and Aaron for increasing the persecution (5:9). Even Moses questions God (v. 22). We hear echoes of Job, here. Even those of faith are not immune to losing sight of God’s grace when we suffer.
In chapter 6, God gives Moses a similar answer that He gives to Job (albeit, a much softer answer): “I am sovereign!” In verses 2-3, God reminds Moses and Israel – again – Who He is. And note that He even tells them that His relationship to them is even better, in a way, than His relationship with the patriarchs. They knew Him as the all powerful God – but He was not the personal God that He is and will be to the nation of Israel.* Then, God explains that what is to happen is a (partial) fulfillment of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (vv. 4-8). We see, however, that Israel – demoralized by their persecution – does not listen to Moses. Even Moses has trouble believing God (v. 30).
The incomplete genealogy given in verses 14-25 is meant to tie in the generation of Joseph and his brothers to the current leadership of Aaron and Moses. The genealogy stops with Levi, the third son. The intent is that Israel can see the historical tie between that generation and their own. This is the same family, the same God, and the same eternal plan.
Chapter 7 records the promise of God, once again, that Pharaoh will eventually let Israel go free. And God tells Moses exactly what will happen when he speaks to Pharaoh, because God tells him what to say and what to do. When Aaron’s staff turns to a snake, the sorcerers of Egypt are able to duplicate the sign. Yet we see in the destruction of those snakes that it is God Who has all the real power – a foreshadowing of the defeat of these sorcerers and their power – and of Pharaoh. And as God promised, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. So God begins the plagues, as promised.
The first plague is the water in Egypt turning to blood. Notice that the purpose is that Pharaoh would know that God is God. He has power over life and death. The life giving water turns to blood, killing all life in the waters. And, again, the sorcerers are able to duplicate the sign**, and Pharaoh’s heart is further hardened, according to God’s promise.
We see the plan of God playing out exactly as He promised. It is not easy for His people, but this is where faith is needed. Can we wait with patience for God to fulfill His promises? Or will we forget Who He is when we are called to suffer?
*When God says, “by my name YHWH I did not make myself known to them,” He is referring to the relationship, not the name. The name YHWH is used by the patriarchs. It is the personal nature of God’s relationship to the nation that is in view here. He is saying that His personal, permanent dwelling among Israel makes their relationship with Him, and therefore, His protection of and provision for them, something unknown to even the patriarchs. And God provided for their very need! We even see this difference in how God revealed His name to Moses. Moses asked His name, and God told Him it was YHWH – when Jacob asked God’s name, God does not tell him (see Gen 32:29).
**The sorcery involved here can have a few explanations. First, it could be sleight of hand on the part of the sorcerers. Second, it could be demonic powers at work. Recall how Satan was able to send fire from the sky and afflict Job with boils – turning a staff to a snake or turning water to blood is certainly not outside the capability of demons. However, also recall how all of that was all done according to God’s permissive will, which the works of these sorcerers are. The important thing to notice, however, is that while they can duplicate to some extent what God does (or fake it), they have absolutely no power to reverse what God has done. They are powerless against Him.