And the LORD said, "If they refuse to believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe that of the second.
I. HE WAS AS YET UNFURNISHED WITH DISTINCT CREDENTIALS. In so grave a matter Moses could not expect the people to believe his bare word. This was a real difficulty. Before committing themselves to his proposals, the Hebrews would be entitled to ask for very distinct proofs that the message brought to them had really come from God - that there was no mistake, no deception. God acknowledges the justice of this plea, by furnishing Moses with the credentials that he needed. From which we gather that it is no part of the business of a preacher of the Gospel to run down "evidences." Evidences are both required and forthcoming. God asks no man to confide in a message as of Divine authority, without furnishing him with sufficient grounds for believing that this character really belongs to it. The reality of revelation, the supernatural mission of Christ, the inspiration of prophets and apostles, the authority of Scripture, all admit of proof; and it is the duty of the preacher to keep this fact in view, and in delivering his message, to exhibit along with the message the evidences of its Divine original.
II. MORAL CAUSES, AS DISTINGUISHED FROM MERE DEFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE, WOULD MAKE IT DIFFICULT FOR HIM TO SECURE CREDENCE. Moses anticipated being met, not simply with hesitation and suspense of judgment, which would be all that the mere absence of credentials would warrant, but by positive disbelief. "The Lord hath not appeared to thee." How account for this?
1. The message he had to bring was a very wonderful one. He had to ask the people to believe that, after centuries of silence, God, the God of the patriarchs, had again appeared to him, and had spoken with him. This in itself was not incredible, but it would assume an incredible aspect to those whose faith in a living God had become shadowy and uninfluential - who had learned to look on such appearances as connected, not with the present, but with a distant and already faded past. Credulous enough in some things, they would be incredulous as to this; just as a believer in witchcraft or fairies might be the hardest to convince of a case of the supernatural aside from the lines of his ordinary thinking and beliefs. It is a similar difficulty which the preacher of the Gospel has to encounter in the indisposition of the natural mind to believe in anything outside of, or beyond, the sphere in which it ordinarily works and judges, - the sphere of things sensible (John 14:17). The supernatural is strange to it. It pushes it aside as inherently incredible, or at least as of no interest to it. From this the advance is easy to that which is so peculiarly a characteristic of our age, the denial of the supernatural as such - the fiat assertion that miracle is impossible.
2. The announcement contained in his message was so good as almost to surpass belief. Great good news has often this effect of producing incredulity. Cf. Genesis 45:26, - "Jacob's heart fainted, and he believed them not," and Psalm 126. And would not the Hebrews require evidence for the great good news that God had visited them, and was about to bring them out of Egypt, and plant them in Caanan! In like manner, is it not vastly wonderful, almost passing belief, that God should have done for man all that the Gospel declares him to have done! Sending his Son, making atonement for sin, etc.
3. The difficulties in the way of the execution of the purpose seemed insuperable. Even with God on their side, it might seem to the Israelites as if the chances of their deliverance from Pharaoh were very small. True, God was omnipotent; but we know little if we have not learned how much easier it is to believe in God's power in the abstract, than to realise that this power is able to cope successfully with the actual difficulties of our position. The tendency of unbelief is to "limit the Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:41). And this tendency is nowhere more manifest than in the difficulty men feel in believing that the Gospel of the Cross is indeed the very "power of God unto salvation" - able to cope with and overcome the moral evil of the world, and of their own hearts.
4. One difficulty Moses would not have to contend with, viz.: aversion to his message in itself. For, after all, the message brought to the Israelites was in the line of their own fondest wishes - a fact which ought, if anything could, powerfully to have recommended it. How different with the Gospel, which, with its spiritual salvation, rouses in arms against itself every propensity of a heart at enmity against God! The Israelites must at least have desired that Moses' message would turn out to be true; but not so the mass of the hearers of the Gospel. They desire neither God nor his ways; have no taste for his salvation; are only eager to find excuses for getting rid of the unwelcome truths. To overcome an obstacle of this kind, more is needed than outward credentials - even an effectual working of the Holy Ghost.
III. INFERENCES FROM THESE CONSIDERATIONS.
1. Preachers of the Gospel must prepare themselves for encountering unbelief. It is the old complaint - "Who hath believed our report?" (Isaiah 53:1).
2. The success of Moses in overcoming the people's unbelief shows that he must have possessed decisive credentials of his mission. The complaint of this verse does not tally with what is sometimes alleged as to the unlimited drafts that may be made on human credulity. Moses did not find the people all readiness to believe him. He was bringing them a message in the line of their dearest wishes, yet he anticipated nothing but incredulity. He had never much reason to complain of the over-credulity of the Israelites; his complaint was usually of their unbelief. Even after signs and wonders had been wrought, he had a constant battle to fight with their unbelieving tendencies. How then, unless his credentials had been of the clearest and most decisive kind, could he possibly have succeeded? For, mark
(1) It was not merely a few enthusiasts he had to carry with him, but the whole body of the people.
(2) He was no demagogue, but a man of slow, diffident, self-distrustful nature, the last man who might be expected to play successfully on popular credulity or enthusiasm.
(3) His plans were not to be laid before the multitude at all, but before the "elders" - the cool, cautious heads of the nation, who would be sure to ask him for very distinct credentials before committing themselves to a contest with Pharaoh. The inference is that there must have been a true supernatural in the founding of the Mosaic era; as afterwards there must have been a true supernatural in the founding of the Christian era. Imposture, credulity, the force of mere ideas, the commanding power of a great personality, are, together or apart, incapable of explaining all the facts. Wonders must have been wrought, alike in the accrediting of the mission of Moses and in the stupendous work of the deliverance itself. - J.O.
1. It speaks of the thraldom of man.
I. THE DIVINE BEING RECOGNIZES THE PROBABILITY THAT MEN WILL NOT WELCOME THE TRUTH UPON ITS FIRST PRESENTATION TO THEM. Yet the message proclaimed by Moses was —
They will believe the voice of the latter sign.
1. Adapted to their condition Announcing freedom. The tendency of all unbelief is to intensify slavery of moral nature.
2. Wonderfully simple.
3. Divinely authenticated. Miracles will not convince a sceptic.
II. THE DIVINE BEING MERCIFULLY MAKES PROVISION FOR THE CONVICTION AND PERSUASION OF MEN in reference to the reality of the truth proclaimed, notwithstanding their confirmed unbelief. This method of treatment is —
1. Considerate. Every facility given for complete investigation.
2. Merciful. Sign after sign.
III. THE PERSISTENT UNBELIEF OF MEN IS LIKELY TO AWAKEN EVIDENCES OF TRUTH INDICATIVE OF THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE (ver. 9).
1. Evidences that recall past sorrows. Reminding of murder of children in river.
2. Evidences prophetic of future woe. Indicating a strange and unhappy change in their condition, if they embraced not the message of Moses.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
2. It speaks of the inability of man to liberate himself therefrom.
3. It speaks of the agency that God has provided for the freedom of man.
4. It speaks of the strange unwillingness of man to credit the tidings of freedom.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
2. Second miracles may do that which the first failed to effect.
3. God's word and promise alone can make miracles themselves effectual means of faith.
4. Miracles have voices which should command faith and obedience.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)— That a true minister, notwithstanding —
1. His call.
2. His spiritual preparation.
3. His knowledge of the Divine name.
4. His supreme moral power, and —
5. Intimate communion with God — is exposed to the unbelief of those whom he seeks to benefit.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. In opposition to the word of him by whom it is brought.
2. In opposition to the Divine power by which it is accompanied.
3. In opposition to the benevolent design it contemplates.
4. In opposition to accumulative demonstration.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
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