In this passage of Scripture, we find Moses going back to Midian with the sheep, asking his father-in-law to leave for Egypt, and God telling Moses on his way out what he must say to Pharaoh. Notice that God had told Moses that Aaron was on his way out to meet Moses, but here we don’t see an interaction. The interaction between Moses and Aaron comes later, after Moses has already traveled for at least one night.
In verse 18, we find the phrase “my kinsmen”, thus relating it back to Exodus 2:11, the reason Moses had left Egypt in the first place. This seems to be an undertone throughout these first few chapters of Exodus. Moses sees the oppression of his kinsmen, opposes this oppression, is rejected as deliverer by his kinsmen, and flees Egypt into the wilderness. Moses finds oppression at a well in the wilderness and opposes that oppression, only to be welcomed into the home of Jethro. Now God is telling Moses to go back to Egypt, and the undertones are connecting the pieces together. He is returning to “his kinsmen”, to those who originally cast him off, and yet they shall not cast him off again.
There is an emphasis in verse 20 about Moses departing with the rod of God. Back in 4:1, this was just a stick. It was only a staff that Moses used for shepherding. Now, the wording changes to being “the rod of God”. It isn’t that this stick is being worshiped, but that the author wants you to recognize that there is significance in this rod. Back in Egypt, Pharaoh also had a staff. When you examine the old pictures of the ancient pharaohs, you find they had in one hand a flail, which stood for fertility in Egypt, and in the other hand a shepherd’s crook, which stood for kingship.
Pharaoh ruled his people as a shepherd “rules” and directs the sheep. It is the ultimate degradation of the masses. The king isn’t just leading his people, but is the mighty shepherd who declares all things for his people. You, as the sheeple, have no voice and no option, but to obey the master Pharaoh.
Moses has a shepherd’s crook too. However, notice that it isn’t Moses’ staff anymore. Moses isn’t saying that he was the ruler of the Israelites. God was the ruler. Moses was just the mouthpiece, which to Aaron was like God (4:16). Within this we see the prophetic and apostolic function. They are set in place as the frontman and voice of God, which to the people are to be like God, but we know that Moses is not God. When we read the words of Paul, we read them as the words of God. When we read the words of Peter, we read them as the words of God. This isn’t to say that God somehow spoke directly to them, or that He possessed these men, but to introduce the tension of what it means to be an apostle or prophet. So united with God is your heart that you represent Him in all things. In the case of Moses and other prophets, this meant that they heard God’s voice like talking with a friend. In other’s cases, like reading Luke or Acts, we take it as the word of God because of their apostolic character.
We have next the declaration of “marvels” that God will perform in Egypt, which I assume to be the plagues. Pharaoh’s heart is said to be stiffened, which is said over and over again a total of 20 times. Ten times it is Pharaoh who hardens his heart, and ten times it is God who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. The heart in Hebrew is the same word for “mind”. There is a connection between the two, that when you set your heart to something you have set your mind to it. Therefore, the hardening of the heart is an expression of arrogant moral degeneracy. It is expressing the state of being unresponsive to God’s voice, purposefully unresponsive, and tenaciously without compassion or reason.
This is the state of Pharaoh. Not only is he already hardened, as we see in the first part of Exodus, but even this new pharaoh continues in oppression most severe. This is already the signs of a hardened heart, one that lacks ability to see the Hebrews as people instead of objects, and that hastens toward wickedness. What must it mean, then, that pharaoh’s heart will be hardened even more? Truly, whatever bit of humanity pharaoh might have contained, by the end of the narrative we are no longer dealing with a man, but rather with an antichrist figure so robbed of his humanity that we cannot tell whether he is human or Satan incarnate. So devoid of any human qualities, reason being one, is this man that we must assume that he has some alternative agenda altogether. Something beyond reason must be motivating this man to go after the Israelites after watching his entire empire collapse under the hand of God. His insurgence is irreversible; his character has become his destiny.