After more than a bit of hemming and hawing, Moses finally agrees to his task, so long as God sends his brother Aaron to help him. After settling the matter, Moses returns to his father-in-law (whose naming inconsistencies I discussed a few posts back) and tells him he's going back to Egypt.
On his way to Egypt, God warns Moses that Pharaoh is going to be stubborn about the whole thing, and refuse to let the Israelites leave. This leads to one of the stranger issues of the Exodus story: Did God make Pharaoh's heart hard, and if so, why? The SAB points out both an apparent contradiction and an injustice here, but I think that it's the two put together that really explain what's going on. The thing is, it's actually a larger theme throughout the Bible that whatever a person wants to be, God will enable them to be that way. Pharaoh was the one who was stubborn, and since he was stubborn, God not only allowed him to stay stubborn, but gave further supernatural firmness to his resolve not to let the Israelites go. Was Pharaoh the one who hardened his heart, or did God do it? Both. Was this unfair? Maybe. It was what Pharaoh wanted anyway, so perhaps not unfair to him personally, but in the grander scheme of things, the question may still be up in the air.
Case in point, just a couple verses down we see that the end result is that Pharaoh's son will die. In fact later on, every firstborn male child of the Egyptians will die. Is this fair? Fair is a subjective thing in this world, and it makes it hard to answer the SAB's claims of injustice. (Somewhere back in the archives, I know there's a post where Steve Wells has many comments on the matter. Maybe I was thinking of this one?) A couple things come to mind in this case, however. First of all, Pharaoh is given plenty of warning that judgment is coming; probably more than any other individual in the Bible. "Hey Pharaoh, let us go or else your son will die. Just in case you think I'm kidding, here's nine plagues to help you mull it over." Second of all, remember that about eighty years back, the Egyptians had perpetrated acts of Genocide against the Israelites. Pharaoh killed all the sons of God's people, so God decides to kill a portion of their sons in retribution. Perhaps this is justice?
The last little story that needs to be addressed here is the story of verses 23-25. Frankly, it's a tough one to address. First and foremost, the SAB refers to it as absurd, and that's probably a good label for it. Moses has not circumcised his sons, for some reason this is a problem that gets him in trouble, and before you know it, foreskins are a-flyin'! What is going on here? Some scholars have suggested that Moses was unaware of the need for circumcising his kids until he met God on the mountain. After being made aware of the need for it, he didn't bother to take care of the matter, being worried that it would slow down his return to Egypt, perhaps making his sons unable to walk, or at least putting them at risk for infection. This would show a lack of faith on Moses' part, which would have to be dealt with. For some reason his wife takes care of it in the end, calling him a "bloody husband" because...?
Okay, for the most part I've been avoiding reading other people's commentaries on these matters before making my posts, but I'll admit that I read someone else's commentary on this very matter, and I liked what he said. Whatever the heck this passage means, it's pretty much incomprehensible to us today. There is something cultural going on here which was significant for Moses and Zipporah, but probably not so important to us. Maybe it meant something to the ancient Israelites as well. Probably. I'm letting this one go and moving on.