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Moses is one of the greatest figures to have graced the pages of scripture. He was reputed to have spoken with God face-to-face on a regular basis as a man would speak with a friend (Exodus 33:11). His meekness was unmatched by any of his fellow mortals (Numbers 12:3). In his gospel message to the Jewish council, Stephen affirmed Moses was a “learned” man who was “mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22). The writer of Hebrews tells us that Moses, as a man of faith, had his spiritual priorities in perfect order (11:24-26).
Moses was without doubt the spiritual man’s man. It is difficult to imagine the Old Testament scriptures without his ministry included within its pages. Yet all his miraculous service, spiritual prowess, and sterling example of faith were nearly lost over a single act of disobedience. Moses found himself on God’s Death Row with his life and future ministry hanging in the balance!
Our story begins at the burning bush where the Angel of the Lord appeared to him (Exodus 3:1-6). As he turned aside to behold the display, the words “Moses, Moses” emanated from the bush, to which he responded: “Here am I.” God’s supernatural presence had sanctified the Sinai sand, and so Moses, upon instruction regarding the holiness of the ground upon which he stood, removed his shoes from his feet, and hid his face in fear as the Lord further identified himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So far, so good! Moses had responded perfectly.
The Lord continued the dialogue by explaining to Moses the purpose behind his appearance—the “affliction”, “sorrows” and “oppression” of his people over a fourhundred-year period (3:7-10). The Lord had seen enough! It was time for him to bring his people out of Egypt. He called upon Moses to get the job done, and confirmed that call with these words: “I will send thee unto Pharaoh.”
I suspect that phrase struck trepidation in the heart of this shepherd, who had found safety and contentment far removed from his Egyptian past. This commission meant an inevitable confrontation with the political forces than once sought to take his life. Moreover, it represented a major disruption to his routine as well as the dislocation and relocation of his family to a hostile environment. How many of us would have replied: “Okay, Lord! When do we get started?” Not many…and neither did Moses. But he is not yet in spiritual trouble notwithstanding his less-than-enthusiastic response, as we shall now examine in phase two of our story.
Moses responded by disqualifying himself for the mission, citing a four-fold list of inadequacies. Shall we call them excuses? I can identify with Moses on the matter of inadequacy. After God called me to preach, I spent the next three months trying to convince him that he made a big mistake. I finally saw things his way and made my call public. Now let’s consider the excuses offered by Moses as reasons for God to reconsider his selection.
Excuse 1: No Reputation (3:11-12)
Moses declared: “Who am I?” He was basically appealing to the passage of time as that which had erased any remembrance of his former formidable stature in Egypt. But now, in his mind, he that was once a 'somebody' is now a virtual 'nobody'. God’s rejoinder: “I will be with thee.” It turns out God's presence WAS sufficient to get the job done. Apparently Moses learned this truth well. For after the Exodus from Egypt, the miraculous Red Sea crossing and the return to Sinai, as the Angel had told Moses beforehand, he told the Lord: "If thy presence go not WITH ME, carry us not up hence" (33:15). As Moses contemplated all the future challenges (getting to Sinai was just the beginning), he knew the ONE deciding factor that would spell the difference between success and failure would be the PRESENCE OF GOD. The Lord Jesus gave his Church the same assurance: "Lo, I am WITH YOU alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). Blessed is that individual who comes to learn the PRESENCE OF GOD is the ONE critical factor in his or her life and ministry.
Excuse 2: No Message (3:13-22)
Moses asked: “What shall I say unto them?” Moses claims to be unequipped in terms of message and therefore unable to make the case. God’s rejoinder: “I AM THAT I AM” and “I AM hath sent me.” He assures Moses that they will listen to and follow his message based on an authoritative word from their God. And every God-called preacher in this age has sixty-six inspired, infallible and preserved books of unadulterated truth with which to feed the people of God so they might believe and follow HIM!
Excuse 3: No Credentials (4:1-9)
Moses openly contradicts the Lord with: “But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, ‘The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.’” He claims it will be his word against theirs…that he lacks the credentials to win the day. Moses actually questioned the veracity of God’s prophetic word, yet the Lord continued to deal patiently with him. God’s rejoinder: Three displays of transformative power—(1) The rod that transformed into a serpent, (2) The hand that transformed into a leprous one, and (3) The water from the river transformed into blood when poured upon dry land. Brethren, if we fail to preach the Word in power with the result that lives are overtly transformed for a lost world to see, are not our ministries failures? Is transformative power on display in your church? If not, it’s your word against theirs!
Excuse 4: No Talent (4:10-12)
Moses declares: “O my Lord, I am not eloquent…but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” He claims to have had a speech impediment long before the burning bush caught his attention and that nothing had occurred since their meeting began to alter his articulative handicap. God’s rejoinder: “Go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” The Lord appealed to Moses on the basis of his creative ability to enable him for ministry. And so he appeals to us…never sending any servant on a mission without providing the talent—gifts and abilities—to get the job done! Now to phase three.
Four excuses were offered and answered with a word of provision. Having reached the end of his excusatorial rope, Moses erupts with this: “O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send” (4:13). Now, it’s clear to me that Moses was expressing one of the following sentiments: (1) If you’re set on sending me, although I’ve made it clear that I have no desire to do this, then go ahead and send me! (2) Can’t you take a hint? You need to find and send another messenger boy! As a result of this shift in attitude, the “anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” (4:14). God then enlisted his brother Aaron to serve as spokesman (4:14-17).
Point of instruction: God will reason with one of his own with great longsuffering up to the point where a sense of unworthiness shifts to a spirit of unwillingness. When the recipient of special REVELATION responds with RELUCTANCE, he or she will likely anger the Almighty! And RELUCTANCE spawns DISOBEDIENCE!
Our story now moves into the fourth and final phase. Moses returned to Jethro his father-in-law to secure his blessing. Jethro provides it (4:18). The Lord informs Moses that those who sought his life are now dead. With that word of assurance, Moses heads for Egypt with his wife, sons and the “rod of God” in his hand (4:19-20). One detail, however, was left undone—the circumcision of a son. In reading the text of 4:24-26, it is clear to me that wife Zipporah had objected to the circumcision, causing Moses to back down from the Abrahamic rite. He may have reasoned: “Surely the Lord would rather have my family united for ministry than divided by this ritual.” Or as Christian comedian Jeff Allen would say: “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” But no amount of accommodation manward can compensate for disobedience Godward.
Therefore “it came to pass by the way in the inn that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him.” The scripture does not provide the verbal detail of this meeting, but I sense the Lord said something akin to this: “Moses, I want that boy circumcised or you’re a dead man! You are not indispensable to this mission! I will not tolerate disobedience in my leader! Tell your wife that it’s either a circumcised son or widowhood! No other options exist!” Zipporah opted for circumcision, but not without twice expressing her disgust with Moses. Her problem, however, was with God. Nevertheless obedience pleased the Lord and assuaged his anger, so that “he let him go.”
Having therefore exited death row, Moses and his brother Aaron met with the Jewish leaders and enjoyed the measure of success God had predicted (4:27-31). Moses angered the Almighty with his reluctance and faced execution by reason of his potential disobedience. What set him free to experience all the power and privileges God had in store for his future was OBEDIENCE TO THE KNOWN WILL OF GOD! May the Lord enable us to go and do likewise!