6 Furthermore the Lord said to him, “Now put your hand in your bosom.” And he put his hand in his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, like snow. 7 And He said, “Put your hand in your bosom again.” So he put his hand in his bosom again, and drew it out of his bosom, and behold, it was restored like his other flesh. 8 “Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign. 9 And it shall be, if they do not believe even these two signs, or listen to your voice, that you shall take water from the river and pour it on the dry land. The water which you take from the river will become blood on the dry land.” (Ex 4:6-9)
The controversy behind this passage is found in verses eight and nine. The argument is: God told Moses what to do if Pharaoh and the Egyptians did not believe the first two signs; thus, since God didn’t tell Moses what to do, but only how to respond to however the Egyptians reacted, it must mean that God did not know what their response would be.
As we have been doing in these studies let’s begin with what is not said in the text – nowhere is it stated that God did not know what the reaction of Pharaoh and his servants would be. Nowhere. That leaves us with two options: either God knew what they would choose and had reasons for speaking conditionally, or God did not know what they would do so He had to speak conditionally. Being that God is the One who makes known the end from the beginning (Is 40:28), whose understanding is infinite (Ps 147:5), and that He knows even the words that are on our tongues before we speak them (Ps 139:4), I believe the former is the right answer.
Furthermore, consider the passage at hand.
God chose to communicate to Moses on his level. Earlier in the chapter the LORD asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?” (Ex 4:2). God didn’t ask that question because He had never seen a rod before and was curious as to what it was; rather, He was interacting with Moses on an interpersonal level. Likewise, when God speaks in conditionals a little later on in the chapter, rather than jumping to the conclusion that such communication communicates ignorance, we should instead be quick to assume relational divine condescension.
There are plenty of times when God speaks in conditional ways in the Scriptures. Perhaps one of the best examples of this can be seen in the way that God dealt with Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18 the LORD said, “I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (18:21 NASB). Prior to this, in Genesis 6, we were told that God knew that the thoughts of men’s hearts were continually wicked before Him, and that God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth (Gen 6:5). So, when we come to the text of Genesis 18 we already know that God searches men’s hearts and that He can see the wickedness that is done on the earth. Thus, when God spoke in a conditional manner in Genesis 18, He was not communicating a lack of knowledge, but something different; namely, His reluctance (as it were) to bring devastating judgment and His judicial condescension by which He affirms to man the legitimacy of His ultimate verdict.
God had just demonstrated that He knew what human beings would choose. In Exodus 3:18 God told Moses that the elders of Israel would heed his voice. God knew what they would do. Therefore, just because God chose not to reveal to Moses what Pharaoh and the Egyptians would do, did not mean that He did not know. He simply chose to reveal instructions to Moses as opposed to others’ actions.