YHWH, God of Slaves and Destroyer of Egypt gods

A Shepherd Meets God in the Wilderness

The story begins with Moses tending his father-in-law’s flock, but he went by a different name when we last read about his father-in-law. Here in the opening of chapter 3, he’s Jethro (as well as 18:1), but he was Reuel (2:18). As if things aren’t confusing enough, he’s called Hobab in Numbers 10:29 and Judges 4:11. Now, because our translators don’t want us to be too confused, they refer to him as Jethro in Exodus 4:18, but in Hebrew, his name is Jeter. Oy vey! Since we’re on multiple names, Moses came to Horeb, also referred to as Sinai.

Moses comes upon a burning bush (seneh) in Sinai (sinay). Nice pun, no? Anyway, it’s burning but not consumed. God has previously disclosed Himself as fire (Gen. 15:13–17). As he turns to inspect, God calls out to Moses and stops him. He’s on holy ground. This is unlike anything else, so it can’t be regarded carelessly. We later read that God dwells on seneh (Deut. 33:16). Still, when He later instructs Moses on the tabernacle, it becomes a portable Sinai. Nevertheless, God knows the suffering of His people. He has heard their cry (Exod. 3:7, 9)—the same word used by Sodom and Gomorrah’s inhabitants (Gen. 18:21; 19:13). God wants Moses to do this thing, and the sign will be that they will worship Him at the very mountain where Moses stands (Exod. 3:12). God will “stretch out” His hand (shalahti), and it will cause Pharaoh to “let go” (yeshalach) in Exodus 3:20.

Moses objects several times (Exod. 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10), but God answers him at every turn, even giving him signs. The signs that God gives Moses in Exodus 4:1–9 represent a couple of things. The snake may have been the cobra that Pharaoh typically wore around their headdress. Pharaoh’s power was absolute. He was as good as a god in ancient Egypt, but, later, when his magicians duplicate this miracle, and Aaron’s rod swallows up theirs, it’s a foretaste of the downfall of Pharaoh (Exod. 7:8–12). The second miracle of Moses’ hand turning to leprosy and back to normal foretastes the plagues that are to come. Moses’ final objection is that he just doesn’t want to do it (Exod. 4:13). God becomes angry but offers Aaron as the mouthpiece.

Moses has requested permission from his father-in-law to go to Egypt and see his countrymen. Jethro bid him “Godspeed,” and Moses left. In the meantime, God spoke to Moses’ elder brother, Aaron, and asked him to meet Moses in the wilderness. After they met and talked, they go to the elders of Israel and tell them all that God has told Moses. They bow their heads in trusting what has been said to them, so the showdown begins. Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and say that Yahweh has ordered that they go on the three-day journey to worship Him. Still, Pharaoh refuses to acknowledge Israel’s God. He thinks they have too much time on their hands to contemplate such a thing, so he multiplies their labors by requiring the same daily quota. Instead of the materials being brought to them as previously, they’re to procure them independently. It’s too hard, so they gripe at Moses, and Moses gripes to God. Yahweh reassures Moses about what He’s going to do, and Moses relays the message. Because Israel’s oppression is worse than before, they refuse to listen to Moses. For the first time in the story, God speaks to Moses and Aaron (Exod. 6:13). This is a sign of things to come—the high priesthood—because the genealogy that follows reveals that they are Levites, priests.

Plaguing Egypt

The plagues would be an undoing of God’s order, just as He allowed chaos to reign in the deluge, so He’d let chaos temporarily reign in the plagues. Each of God’s creative acts finds its negative counterpart in the plagues. Interestingly, each domain that God plagued also corresponds to the realm of a reigning Egyptian god or gods. We read ten times, “And God said,” in creation (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28–29). We also see a unique plague corresponding to most creative acts.

This particular episode has mixed in it the creation of observance, a memorial that would last through generations.            

  • Plague 1: “bodies” or “gatherings” of water (Exod. 7:19) correspond to when God created the seas in Gen. 1:10. Hapi was the god of the Nile, and it turning to blood symbolizes the god’s slaying as well as payback for Egypt’s slaying of Israelites children.
  • Plagues 2–4: This triad of plagues (frogs, lice, and flies) are associated with the three elements of the earth—water (Gen. 1:20), land (Gen. 1:24), and air (Gen. 1:22). This is all contra Genesis 1:28. The goddess Heket had the head of a frog and controlled fertility. Geb was over the dust of the earth, and Kephri was the god of creation and had the head of a fly.
  • Plague 5: Pestilence among livestock reverses Genesis 2:18–20. There was a marked distinction between Israel and Egypt (Exod. 9:6–7; cf. 8:22). Hathor was a goddess depicted with the head of a cow.
  • Plague 6: This plague corresponds to the creation of humanity in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27). They weren’t made sickly but whole. God’s affliction of the flesh reminds the people that they aren’t superior to others, and Pharaoh isn’t a god. Isis was the goddess of medicine and peace.
  • Plagues 7–8: These two demolish the vegetation, which was a reversal of God giving it (Gen. 1:12; cf. Exod. 10:15). Nut was the goddess of the sky, and Seth, the god of storms and disorder.
  • Plague 9: When God darkened the earth, He took creation back to the state that existed between Genesis 1:4–5. Ra was the sun god and personally backed Pharaoh, so this was enormous.
  • Plague 10: Osiris was the god of death, but Pharaoh was considered the god of Egypt. The taking of life was the reversal of God breathing life into humanity (Gen. 2:7).

God instructed Moses on the Passover. A male lamb without blemish was to be taken and sacrificed for each household according to its number. The blood was to be applied to the doorposts and lintels of the houses. This meal was to be eaten in haste, and they were protected by the lamb’s blood. Egypt, however, suffered the loss of its firstborns. Keep in mind, a firstborn isn’t always an infant or toddler. I’m a firstborn, and many of us, regardless of age, are too. This doesn’t specify children but firstborn. On that note, God gives the law regarding the firstborn. Every firstborn of their livestock and children are God’s. Children may be redeemed by a sacrifice as well as donkeys, but the firstborn belongs to God. We later see this when descendants of Levi are substituted as the firstborn child (Num. 3:11–13). Descendants of Levi were sacrificed to serve the Lord all the days of their lives. This sort of reminds us of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac: luckily, God provided the substitute for Isaac’s redemption.

Israel now leaves Egypt, but a detail emerges that we’d do well to notice. Moses procures the bones of Joseph (Exod. 13:19; cf. Gen. 50:25). This oath made by the children of Israel looked ahead to a day when Israel would leave Egypt. When they arrived, they did so in good standing with the Egyptians and were welcomed because of who Joseph was to Egypt. Similarly, you and I will be accepted by God because of who Jesus is and what He’s done. Our attachment to Him, the lamb of God, causes God to stay His hand and pass us over when judgment comes.

Slavish Tendencies

Shortly after leaving Egypt, Israel is once more faced with the dilemma of liberty. It isn’t always cheap, and it often means self-reliance more than anything. So, they complained (Exod. 14:11–12). Pharaoh and his army close in on Israel, but luckily, it wouldn’t be long after this complaint that they’d walk through the Sea of Reeds. One might think their mood would have vastly improved after that miracle, not to mention the fact that God placed Himself as a cloud between them, giving Egypt cloudy darkness while giving Israel light. Their mood wouldn’t improve much after that. They’d left on the 10th of the first month, and now on the 15th of the second month, just a little over a month since they departed Egypt, they grumble once more (Exod. 16:3). God provides for them and gives them instructions about the Sabbath. These complainers: do you think they followed His words to the T? Nope (Exod. 16:20). Now, God isn’t too pleased (Exod. 16:28–30). It’s not too long before they complain again (Exod. 17:3). Wouldn’t we think that having seen what they saw and having lived through what they endured would be a good enough reason to rejoice like they had in chapter 15?

Similarly, Paul wrote to the Roman Christians something similar (Rom. 6:16–23). The Roman Christians still behaved as if they had before. No transformation. No change. But they had heard the good news, obeyed the gospel, and kept on living as they had. God no more expected Israel to live as slaves as He does. We are Christians to live as slaves. We are either slaves to sin, the taskmaster that oppresses us and kills us, or to righteousness. The latter is life-giving through Jesus Christ, our Lord. The former is life-taking. As Christians, when we live after the precepts of our God and follow His path, we demonstrate that we have truly been redeemed. Many of us acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, but do we live as if Jesus is our Lord? In the ancient world, one’s lord was their master. They couldn’t do anything to shame their lord, and if their lord gave an order, they were obliged to follow it. We have a good Lord who loves us, and rather than barking orders, He tells us what to do because it’s what’s best for us. Shall we be slaves to Egypt and sin, or righteousness and God?


In our first lesson on Exodus, I pointed out how Moses used language akin to the creation narrative in Genesis as well as the flood. In the previous study, I pointed out how the plagues were demonstrative of God removing His order from certain creation elements to punish the Egyptians. Keeping with this theme of creation, when the Israelites cross the Sea of Reeds, we note a recreation theme, just as it was post-flood. Notice in Exodus 14:21 how a “wind” drives the water back to create “dry land.” The word translated wind is the same word that can be translated as “spirit”—ruach. We remember how the Spirit of God, His ruach, hovered over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). On Day 2 of creation, God divided the waters, and some were below, and others were above. On Day 3, God further separated the waters below to reveal the dry ground. Notice the theme?

Crossing the Sea of Reeds is a replay of creation. In Genesis, the earth came out of the water, but in Exodus, waters are split to reveal dry ground. As the distinction between land and water was created, the earth was made habitable to humans. This dry ground is life-giving to the Israelites. Then, in a replay of the flood, the waters crash down on the unrighteous Egyptians, just as God flooded the earth. Waters are tamed to bring life and released to bring death (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:5–6). Notice how Paul ties the Christian initiatory rite of baptism to Israel (1 Cor. 10:1–2).[1] As water saved Noah and his family, and Israel and their family, the waters of baptism save us too (Rom. 6:3–6). We are, therefore, a new creation just as the earth was recreated after the flood, and Israel was created anew by passing through the waters. This is why we live as slaves to righteousness and God rather than to sin.

[1] I must give credit to Peter Enns and his book, Exodus for Normal People (Perkiomenville, PA: The Bible for Normal People, 2021). A lot of the information in these lessons that I’ve preached have come from him and his book.

What Exodus Has To Do With Creation

A recurring theme in Genesis was the threat of famine that sent the Hebrews to Egypt for food (Gen. 12:10; 26:1–2; 42:1; 46:1–4). The last time it occurred in Genesis, the entire family of Israel wound up there due to the seven-year famine Pharaoh dreamt about. That sojourn ultimately led them to settle in the land of Goshen. What began as an effort to sustain themselves would turn into a reversal of fortune. Somewhere along the continuum of time, things changed, but this is expected since Yahweh had promised Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years (Gen. 15:13–14). Yet, He would bring them back to the land of Canaan after the fourth generation. Before they’d return, things would get worse before they got better.

What Moses is Showing Us

In the early chapters of Exodus, we notice a retelling of the creation story in a sense, but through the history of Israel. Israel is depicted to the ancient reader as fulfilling the vocation of humanity from the beginning. The first evidence being the divine order to fill the earth and subdue it (Exod. 1:7; cf. Gen. 1:20, 28; 9:1; 17:6). Whereas it was commanded of Adam/Eve and Noah, God told Abraham that He would make it happen for him. In each instance, God is narrowing down His purpose for creation through specific ones. He began with Adam (human) and Eve (life). After their expulsion from Eden because of sin, the line was narrowed through Seth, and the mandate was once again given to Noah. As sin persisted, the vocation was given to Abraham to be realized in Israel. They had multiplied and filled the land.

Israel is God’s vessel for demonstrating His creative purposes. It’s meant to be through them that humanity comes to know the God of creation and form a relationship with Him. When we read at the beginning that they “increased abundantly” (Exod. 1:7), it might be better that we substitute that translation with “abounded.” This is the same word used to describe the sea creatures in Gen. 1:21, and it’s also used post-flood in 8:17; 9:7. These usages point initially to the creation and, then, to recreation. The author hints that a new creation is being carried out through Israel, and it is accomplished in part by their multiplication.

Fulfilling God’s divine vocation resulted in the Egyptians taking notice. To Pharaoh, the growing number of Israelites was a threat. However, the more he tried to stop it, the little it did to accomplish his goal. If anything, Pharaoh’s oppression intensified Israel’s growth (Exod. 1:12). With Pharaoh wanting Israel to diminish and God wishing them to fill the earth, a show-off and clash are sure to result. The last time such an occasion reared its ugly head was at the Tower of Babel. Those present had pitted themselves against God, and He scattered them. Pharaoh is about to do the same, and those of us who know the story know it won’t end well for the King of Egypt.

Rather than Israel subduing the land, they were stopped (enslaved). Humanity was suppressed by sin resulting in the fall. Being further subdued resulted in the flood, so the enslavement warrants a liberation just as God had previously given. As Israel continued growing and evil pervaded in their enslavement and oppression, Pharaoh ordered the murder of all male newborns. Of course, the scheme didn’t work because the Hebrew midwives kept it from happening (Exod. 1:17, 21). One specific Levite couple had a “beautiful” son. Literally, this is the same word translated as “good” seven times in Genesis 1—tov. This reminder points to the fact that this son will be used in God’s scheme of recreation.

Pharaoh began ordered newborn males to drown in the Nile. This boy’s parents put him in “an ark of bulrushes” (Exod. 2:3). In Genesis, the flood destroyed the whole human race. Still, in Exodus, Pharaoh wanted male children drowned in the Nile, threatening to destroy Israel. As the ark saved Noah, so an ark saved Moses. Noah saved humanity; Moses would save Israel. Sadly, this wasn’t the story for everyone and likely explains why God later takes the firstborn among Egypt and drowned the Egyptians in the Sea. Moreover, as God parted the chaotic waters above a vault and below as the sea, so He’d part the waters of the Red Sea for Israel’s escape. As the flood destroyed the earth’s inhabitants, God’s releasing of the parted sea would drown the Egyptians.

Moses grows up in Pharaoh’s court, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He kills an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. Afterward, he tries to play peacemaker between two other Hebrews who make it known that they are aware of what he had done to the Egyptian. Pharaoh also learns and seeks Moses’ life, so Moses flees. He finds women being harassed at a well and rescues them, one of whom would become his wife after the manner of Isaac and Jacob. He meets a Midianite priest who becomes his father-in-law, and chapter two ends with a simple verse that our English complicates. “God saw the Israelites. God knew.”

Hebrew Numerology, Archaeology, and Exodus

Around 1800 BCE, people from the land of Canaan had already made their way to Egypt and established a dynasty. This comes to us from historical and archaeological evidence. It isn’t specified that these people were Israelites. Still, they may have been given the timeline of the sojourn in Egypt and the lifetime of Moses. The Israelites were to be slaves in the land of Egypt for 400 years, so this would line up rather nicely with the traditional lifetime of Moses and the writing of the books of Moses (1450–1400 BCE). However, around 1650 BCE, a group called “Hyksos” invaded Egypt and ran things until about 1550 BCE. They’re presumed to have been from Asia.

The traditional dating of Exodus is 1446 BCE, which is given to us from a literal reading of 1 Kings 6:1, which placed the building of Solomon’s temple at 966 BCE, 480 years after the Exodus. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to know if the numbers are used literally or symbolically. The Israelites and ancient peoples of the east believed numbers had symbolic and, therefore, religious meanings. In this case, if we were to read it symbolically, we’d begin with the number 40, which is a go-to number symbolizing a complete or appropriate period. Moses’ life is broken up into three periods of 40 years. Israel would spend 40 years in the wilderness wondering. Jesus fasted for 40 days and was tempted. Are we to understand these numbers literally or symbolically? 40 times 12 gives us 480—twelve symbolizing the tribes of Israel. According to the numbers, these symbolic numbers held religious connotations, which would have been viewed as a divine period of time. There can be problems reading the numbers as literal numbers rather than symbolically as they might have.

This is always something I caution when reading the Old Testament. Some who read these books read everything literally, and that’s a product of our Western Civilization, especially for us living in the twenty-first century who’ve inherited the Enlightenment way of processing information. They thought and told stories differently than we do, so we have to try to get in their minds as best as possible. This can be hard, but it makes studying the Old Testament so much more enjoyable once we’re there.  

When Did Exodus Occur?

Archaeology points to a mass Hebrew settlement in the land of Canaan in the 12th century BCE. When you look at it that way, it will make for a massive discrepancy between the actual historical exodus and the conquest of Canaan. Some figures suggest a disparity of 200–300 years. We know that much time didn’t elapse between the departure and conquest, so what are we to make of this gap of centuries between the two based on archaeological evidence?

First, just because this was when the settlements appear doesn’t mean that’s when Israelites arrived in the land of Canaan. They could have been there sooner. The settlements may point to a period of economic prosperity more than arrival in the land. Second, because the Pharaohs are unnamed in the book of Exodus, it may point us to an actual, historical conflict that occurred in the 16th century BCE between a divided Egypt. This second point is what I’ll focus on here.

From Genesis, Israelites settled in Goshen, which was located in northern Egypt. Interestingly enough, Northern Egypt is referred to as “Lower Egypt” while Southern Egypt is referred to as “Upper Egypt.” Anyway, in the sixteenth century BCE, Egypt was divided, culturally and politically. Northern Egypt was ruled by the Hyksos. Some historians believe that the Hebrews were their slaves during this period. Perhaps as we see from the story of Exodus, Pharaoh grew concerned by their numbers and that they may ally themselves with Southern Egypt against them, which would unify the country.

Near the end of the 16th century, the Southern Egyptians began a campaign to unify Egypt. There’s a notable coinciding abandonment of Semitic people, which the Israelites were, around the same time. Before these events, Egyptian sources report natural disasters that afflicted Egypt, including abnormal weather conditions and disease. Could these have been the plagues? That sounds like it. The discrepancy of dates is more about how the data is read than anything. There is a plausible explanation, and this is it.

The Contaminated Waters of Baptism

We’re in a room of different people, and you ask the question, “Who all has been baptized? Raise your hands, please.” Hands go up en masse. Then, as you ask these people to detail their accounts, you give a questionnaire to use for this purpose. One question may be, “How old were you when you were baptized?” Some people put a few weeks old, others nine years old, and others put they were in a specific decade. Another question is how you were baptized. There are multiple choices with a box to check beside their answer: sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. You ask what else they did at the time of their baptism, what the baptizer said as they were baptized, and on and on the questions go. Then, you ask everyone to keep their sheets with their answers, and then you open your Bible and begin studying the topic.

Baptism in the New Testament and Beyond

Since we in churches of Christ use the Bible as our guide, we look to specific passages about how the earliest Christians practiced their baptisms. We note that those who were baptized understood what they were doing and consented to such (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41; 8:37). The only thing that would hinder a person from being baptized would be nonbelief (Acts 8:36–39). Certain people are incapable of faith through no fault of their own (e.g., mentally handicapped, infants). Alongside belief is the confession of Jesus as God’s Son (Acts 8:37; 22:16; Rom. 10:9–13). Since most people in a Bible study lack a working knowledge of Greek, we use our English Bibles and note that baptism was a burial (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12) and that whoever administers baptism pronounces Jesus’ words in the Great Commission for the invocation (Matt. 28:19). The result of this, therefore, is forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), a renewal of one’s spiritual self (Rom. 6:3–4; Titus 3:5), sanctification (1 Cor. 6:11), and the putting on of Jesus (Gal. 3:27). Assuming the person has faith in Jesus as God’s Son and His work on the cross, the medium through which this is accomplished is baptism itself (1 Peter 3:21). The end of that process is called “salvation,” but the key to this salvation is our faith in God (Col. 2:12). Without faith, baptism is meaningless, and with faith, baptism is so meaningful because of Jesus’ work.

This was the understanding of the church in the days of the apostles, the earliest leaders of the church. However, even the second generation of Christians understood this. There was no forgiveness of sins without baptism.

Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they would never accept that baptism which leads to the remission of sins. (Epistle of Barnabas 11.1; c. 132–35)

Some teachers maintain that there is no other repentance than that which takes place, when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins. He said to me, “That was sound doctrine which you heard; for that is really the case.” (Shepherd of Hermas 2.4.3; c. 150)  

[We] may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, [where] there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 61; c. 153–55)

For centuries, Christianity taught that baptism washed away our sins. It wasn’t until Ulrich Zwingli (c. 1484–1531) that a view contrary to this began being taught.[1]

Contaminated Waters

 A Jewish-Christian source dating to the sixties, Didache, gave instructions for when the optimal environment was unavailable.

Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things [chs. 1–6 instructions], baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. (7.1–3)

Considering that this may have been composed in western Syria, where there may have been areas where water was scarce, explains the exceptions. This in no way mentions sprinkling but pouring. The thrice pouring of water may have been enough to recreate total immersion and count as sufficient for baptism. It wouldn’t be surprising that it corresponded to the thrice-invoked name of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Sprinkling is mentioned in the New Testament, mainly in Hebrews, but invariably concerning the imagery of sacrifice since the priest would sprinkle the animal’s blood upon that which was being sanctified (Heb. 9:19, 21; 11:28; 12:24). The usage also appears metaphorically (Heb. 10:22; 1 Peter 1:2). However, it’s never used about baptism. These are two separate Greek terms, but sprinkling is predominant in some traditions today despite not being so in the early church.

By the third century, some believed it more appropriate to delay baptism until one neared death. That way, they could be the purest upon dying when they met God. This led some people to wait too long to receive baptism as immersion, which the word actually means. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 250–58) defended sprinkling if one was on their sickbed. He also advocated that sprinkling and pouring were adequate measures of imparting the grace of baptism, citing Old Testament passages as justification (e.g., Ezek. 36:25–26; Num. 19:8). As long as this was done in the church, and the faith of the giver and receiver were sound, it was perfected by the Lord (Letters 69).

His view was relatively new given an occasion that arose where a man on his sickbed received this sort of “baptism.” Novation, a presbyter in the Roman church—oddly enough, one wonders how a person could become a presbyter without first becoming a Christian—was the first to receive a sickbed baptism by sprinkling. Of course, by this time, so much had changed. Only priests administered baptism, and they were to have cleansed the water beforehand so remission of sins could occur. More and more, the clergy came to define the faith rather than the rule of faith itself.

Cyprian also wrote extensively about baptizing infants in his works. He’s one of the earliest explicit sources that attest to this practice but not the earliest to mention it outright. That notoriety belongs to Tertullian, who opposed the practice (Baptism 18; c. 200). Other references have been inferred as suggesting infant baptism earlier, such as Justin Martyr (1 Apology 15.6) and Polycarp (Mart. Poly. 9.3). Nevertheless, the other references are stretches at best. By Tertullian’s time, he referred to it as something already being done “for which a practical and scriptural rationale was advanced (themselves indications of a new practice that needed justification).”[2]

On the one hand, you have infant baptism, sprinkling those on deathbeds, and various other methods of administering this one fundamental grace God imparted. The change came by way of well-meaning clergymen. Yet, in the fifth century, Augustine would refine and propose the doctrine of original sin. The custom of infant sprinkling/pouring would become the standard practice for centuries. The third century certainly had its difficulties with baptism. Still, we must decide whether to work within the confusion of the church’s leaders then or those inspired by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Is our baptism apostolic or traditional?

[1] Jack Warren Cottrell, “Covenant and Baptism in the Theology of Huldreich Zwingli,” (Dissertation, Princeton Theological University, 1971).

[2] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 363.

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