Objections Overruled

| Exodus 3:11-15; 4:1-17 | July 23, 2017

Week of July 30, 2017

The Point:  God will work through us despite our shortcomings.

The God Who Is Sufficient:  Exodus 3:11-15; 4:1-17.

[3:11] But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” [12] He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” [13] Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” [14] God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” [15] God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

[4:1] Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.'” [2] The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” [3] And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. [4] But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”–so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand– [5] “that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” [6] Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. [7] Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. [8] “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. [9] If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” [10] But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” [11] Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? [12] Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” [13] But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” [14] Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. [15] You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. [16] He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. [17] And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”  [ESV]

Moses’ first objection [3:11-12].  Moses’ first problem was his sense of personal inadequacy, the ‘What? Me?’ syndrome. Moses said, Who am I …, and the Lord replied, But I …. Notice the Lord’s graciousness here in not trying to deny Moses’ inadequacy. How differently we react to each other. Somebody comes to us and says, ‘I’m not really up to it,’ and we immediately and thoughtlessly reply, ‘Of course you are!’ That is not the way the Lord dealt with Moses – or the way He deals with us. He does not sweep the difficulties we feel aside. Moses said, ‘Lord, I’m not adequate,’ and the Lord said, ‘No, but I am!’ He accepted Moses’ self-estimate and graciously promised His presence as adequate for the inadequate man. He neither said to him, ‘Of course you’re adequate,’ denying Moses’ feeling, nor did He say to him, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ He accepted Moses’ sense of inadequacy as one of the facts of the situation, but then countered it by the adequacy of His own presence. This is so important it is worth trying to put it another way. Moses’ position was, ‘Look, I’m not up to the job. You shouldn’t have picked me.’ The Lord’s reply was, ‘Of course you are not up to the job. I knew that when I chose you for it. The point is not your ability but mine!’ In a nutshell, that is how matters stand – and not just for Moses, but for always and in every situation of divine choice and call. The Lord does not call us because of our adequacy, nor is His presence conditional upon us becoming adequate, it is rather promised to those who are inadequate. Furthermore, the Lord’s reaction was not to promise to make Moses adequate, somehow to transform him into someone who was up to the task. (Although that is what He did do as time went on.) What He did promise was the sufficiency of His own presence. In other words, He called Moses to a position of faith – to go into this work not expecting to be a different man but expecting a sufficient God. He met Moses’ inadequacy with the pledge of His own sufficiency, and called Moses to believe the promises and to demonstrate the obedience of faith. In the Old Testament signs fulfil two purposes. In some circumstances they can serve as present persuaders. The signs in 4:1-9 are like that, designed to persuade those who saw them that Moses had indeed been sent by the Lord. At other times they are future ratifications or confirmations of something said or done earlier as, for example, when the signs which Saul experienced [1 Sam 10:1-7] ratified the word Samuel had earlier spoken about kingship. The flow of verse 12 is forward-looking, suggesting that the sign will act as a future ratification. Once the people have been delivered, they will come to Sinai and worship God there, and this will confirm to Moses that the Lord did indeed send him. What purpose would this subsequent confirmation serve? If Moses had entertained doubts as Pharaoh’s opposition grew more and more obdurate, then the appearance of a confirmatory sign would have been very welcome. But once Sinai was in sight, why would he then have needed reassuring? This, in fact, is the nub of the matter. The prediction that the Israelites would worship God on this mountain was a cause for wonder because Mount Horeb was not situated on the direct road from Egypt to Canaan. Indeed, when Pharaoh saw the direction the people were taking, he exclaimed they are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in [14:3], and the people themselves later gave vent to disquiet about the route they were taking saying, you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger [16:3]. Even Moses himself could not have failed to notice the difference between the expected land flowing with milk and honey [3:8] which was the goal to which he had been called and the aridity of the actual landscape into which he was leading the people. When, therefore, the Lord spoke of worshipping on this mountain, Moses must have been astonished, and he must have lived to be grateful for this anticipatory word of the Lord and the sign to which it was leading. In spite of every appearance to the contrary, he could be confident that all was well and going according to plan. Had not the Lord told him it would be so? Thus, standing in the presence of the Lord and listening to the word of the Lord, Moses was being prepared both to withstand coming shocks and also to reassure the people when they were overtaken by what would otherwise be to them an inexplicable turn of events.

Moses’ second objection [3:13-15].  Moses’ second problem was his lack of knowledge – If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them? [3:13]. This is a very ordinary, common problem, and one we ourselves often echo when we think of speaking out about the Lord Jesus or taking a public stand on some current issue. It is comforting to know that Moses was there before us. He envisaged himself going into Egypt, announcing to the people that he had been sent by the God of your fathers, and then being asked the most extraordinary question, What is his name? Notice that he was not asking what God’s name is, but was expecting Israel to ask him the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What were the people really asking for when they wanted to know God’s name? In the Bible, names often had a serious significance, and in the case of the Lord His name was His story, it summed up who He was and what He wanted to make known about Himself. In other words, asking Moses for God’s name was a shorthand way of saying, ‘What revelation of God do you bring?’ It was in these terms that the Lord met and graciously condescended to answer the question Moses expected to be asked. Just as Moses was made to stand in the presence of the living God as the foundation of everything that was to follow, so Israel must (through Moses) meet with God in His word as the starting-point of their liberation. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a God of many titles and one single name. At last Moses was to be allowed to supplement what had been missing in Genesis: Yahweh (‘The Lord’) would no longer be a mere form of address but would tell its own story about the divine nature and do so in a way immediately relevant, endlessly satisfying and bafflingly enigmatic – the famous I AM WHO I AM! The link between the divine name and the Hebrew verb ‘to be’ is the plainest feature of this passage. In every place, at every point of time, in every circumstance or need, He ‘is’. Unlike Greek, which uses different verbs to express either existence or active presence, Hebrew has only one verb for both meanings, and leans strongly in the direction of ‘active presence’. The presence of this God is not, therefore, a bare ‘is’ but a living force, vital and personal. In no situation is He an ornamental extra; in every situation He is the key active ingredient. We can feel the surging force of this by looking at verse 12 where, in reply to Moses’ sense of inadequacy, there is the simple and sufficient, I will be with you, as if the divine name had been announced even before the question of verse 13 was asked. Does God just mean that He is omnipresent? Certainly not. Rather, it is that where Moses is inadequate, there was a more than sufficient make-weight in the living, omnicompetent God; where Moses was weak, almighty power would be at work. The God of the flame that needed no outside nourishing, bursting with His own superabundant vitality, would be there – and not because He had been invited or called upon but by His own will in fulfilment of His own nature as the God whose name is I AM and who allows His people to know Him as ‘He is’ (the third person verb, Yahweh, the Lord [15]). The construction I AM WHO I AM finds an instructive parallel in Exodus 33:19, I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. In other words, ‘I bestow my grace exactly and only where I choose.’ The same applies here, ‘It rests solely with me when and where and with whom I make my presence felt.’ Moses was given an all-embracing assurance in verse 12, I will be with you, but he had yet to learn that there are things which comply with the presence of the Lord and things which alienate Him. His presence as such is guaranteed, but the enjoyment and realization of that presence is another matter. By revealing Himself as I AM WHO I AM the Lord had in effect said, ‘Yes, I have committed myself to you to be actively present with you, but I am not at your unfettered disposal. My active presence is mine and mine alone to exercise as and when and under what conditions I choose.’ In chapter 5 and again in chapter 7 we will learn the secret that to know God by name is a wondrous revelation and a great privilege, but the name itself is also a warning that God remains God. Lightness, careless irreverence, thoughtlessness or bland assumption before Him will not do.

Moses’ third objection [4:1-9].  The third of Moses’ objections and yet another area in which he felt inadequate was his certainty that his mission to Israel, should he go on it, would prove ineffective. He knew himself to be the sort of person no one would believe! And he is surely on stronger ground here than with his previous protestations, for forty years ago he had tried and failed to deliver Israel [2:11-15]. The passing years had not relieved him of that sense of failure, and he speaks like a thoroughly discredited person. Once again the Lord took Moses at the level of his own self-appraisal, but this time He answered him with three actions for him to perform, involving a rod that became a snake [4:2-5], a hand that became leprous [6-7] and the Nile water that became blood [8-9]. We might well ask what on earth we are to make of this small collection. They are recorded without comment in Exodus, and their subsequent performance is given only the briefest possible notice [30], so that we have scarcely any pointers to help us understand them. But we can note that they are called signs because they point beyond themselves to deeper truths. They are signs to Egypt, Israel and to Moses. For Moses they were signs that the path of obedience is the path of victory. The Lord is the God of transforming power. He can take the ordinary (the staff) and make it the deadly (the snake), but He can also make the deadly subordinate to the man of obedient faith. The Lord is Lord of power – to transform [2-5], to renew [6-7] and to conquer [8-9], and obedience is the channel through which all this power flows. In terms of resources, what Moses had in his hand looked pathetically inadequate, but the Lord could make it more than sufficient [2-5]. In terms of fitness for the task, Moses was the source of his own contagion, but the Lord could make the foul not only clean but the source of cleanness [6-7]. In terms of opposition, Moses against the superpower looked like a foregone disaster, but the Lord was more than a match for the enemy [8-9]. Moses acting alone had no hope of taking on the might of Egypt, but when he obeyed the word of God he mobilized the power and resources of God and the expected outcome was totally transformed.

Moses’ fourth objection [4:10-17].  How patient the Lord is. As soon as He replied to Moses on one point, Moses continued working his way down his shopping list. So, even after the demonstration of divine abilities in the three signs, we come to Moses’ last objection, I am slow of speech and of tongue [4:10]. Moses’ final attempt to avoid what God wanted him to do received a double reply. First, there is the fundamental response from the Lord that He is the Creator God, able to give gifts or to make good deficiencies [11-12], and secondly, there is His providential response of sending the eloquent Aaron to act as Moses’ mouthpiece [14-16]. The second solution in no way negates or modifies the divine sovereignty implicit in the first. Neither Moses’ incompetence [10] nor Aaron’s competence [14] are the decisive factors, but the Lord’s masterful presence. He remains in control throughout, for when He points to His own all-sufficiency as Creator He immediately follows it with the promise to Moses, I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak [12], and when He appoints the vocal Aaron and defines the individual roles of Moses and his brother, it is undergirded by the promise that I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do [15]. The Lord provides but He does not abdicate – the promise of His personal presence and help, His truth and His direction remain unchanged. The question very properly arises whether by providing Aaron, the Lord was opting for ‘second best’, i.e. that Moses acting alone was His first and best choice, but since He could not have it, He adapted His plans to accommodate Moses’ infirmities and conscripted Aaron into the proposal. The answer is both yes and no. Yes in the sense that divine mercy takes note of our weaknesses and makes provision for them; no in the sense that I the Lord do not change [Mal. 3:6] and whatever He does is always His first and best intention. He does not deal in second bests, for Himself or for us. It can be stated as a principle that the Lord always bestows His intended blessing in such a way as to expose our weakness and to magnify His grace. Thus, Aaron came on the scene as an antidote to the weakness of Moses’ faith, but as the place of Aaron in the rest of Exodus and in Israel’s religion shows, he was no divine afterthought but an essential part of the Lord’s plan. The point is of some importance for our comfort. Many Christians can look back with sorrow either to some signal refusal to obey the Lord’s will or, more broadly, to those many smaller refusals which make our lives second rate. Is everything then irretrievably ‘second best’? Not if we know the Lord as the Bible reveals Him. The mercy of God understands our weakness and meets us in our frailties; the sovereign magnificence of God fulfils His own purposes without adjustment or alteration – from beginning to end. When Moses addresses God here [10], he uses Lord, not Yahweh but the Hebrew noun meaning ‘sovereign, master, lord’. In a way that is both sad and understandable, Moses appeals to the Sovereign One but goes on to make his own inabilities the determinative factor. If the Lord is truly sovereign over all things, then the only reasonable response is to trust Him; it is His omnipotence that matters, not our incompetence. In His reply to Moses it is as though God says, ‘Look, you call me “Sovereign”. Can you not believe what you say? I am the Sovereign God. Why do you talk to me about gifts that you have or have not got? I made the mouth. I can either give or withhold any and every gift at will.’ If we can say that the Lord introduced Moses to the tenderness of God at 3:11-12 – and He did – then He introduced him to the majesty of God at 4:11-12. Gladly we enter into His tenderness – His patience, His perseverance, His deliverance. Can we not also enter into His greatness? When He calls, is He not great enough for the task He gives? Of course, He is – but in consequence His next word to Moses is, Now therefore go [12]. As the Sovereign, He is inflexible. He took Moses seriously and did not deny his sense of inadequacy, but He made him face realistically the sort of God he professed to believe in. Does Moses believe in a great God – the Sovereign God which the title he uses implies? If he does, Now therefore go. Do not refuse to go because you are what you are, but go because He is what He is. It has to be said that in the final stages of the dialogue the Lord lost patience with Moses and no wonder. But, we need to ask, what was there about Moses’ reply in verse 13 which proved, so to speak, to be the last straw? The Lord looks for trust, loves to be trusted, reacts against the withholding of trust and assures His people that the way of trust is the way of life. This fits in exceedingly well with the thrust of the whole episode of Moses’ call, for in response to the variety of stated needs, whether in Moses himself or in the task to which he was being sent, the Lord just offered Himself. He did not alter Moses’ self-awareness so that he felt competent; He did not undertake to change circumstances or suggest that the task was after all easier than it looked. He did not even guarantee immediate success or urge Moses to ‘think positively’ and not be so defeatist. No, He offered nothing but that He Himself is the accompanying Lord [3:12], self-revealing [3:13-15], promise-making [3:16-17], victorious [3:18-20], transforming [3:21-22], superior to every foe and every opposing factor [4:1-9], the creator [4:10-11] and provider [4:14-16]. The ‘call’ really consists of nothing more than the Lord asking Moses, ‘Do you trust me? Will you go simply trusting me?’ And, of course, the evidence of that trust will be obedience, the obedience that arises from and rests on faith. The Lord knows our needs before we ask [Matt. 6:8]. And even when what we ask is a manifestation of distrust, He still bothers with us and provides for our needs. He is trustworthy, He ought to be trusted and He longs to be trusted. This beautiful God is our God for ever and ever.”  [Motyer, pp. 65-83].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Examine the four objections Moses gives God for not being able to follow God’s call to service. How does God respond to Moses’ objections? Note how God responds in 4:12 with a command and a promise.
  2. But what is the real reason behind Moses’ objections [see 4:13]? What was there about Moses’ reply in 4:13 which aroused God’s anger to be kindled against Moses?
  3. How are your responses to God’s call to serve Him similar to Moses? The key statement by God is in 3:12: But I will be with you. Meditate on how your trust in that promise by God is the key to your obedience to God’s call for your service to Him. Pray that God will enable you to trust in His promises so that you can be an obedient servant to His call in your life.
  4. What is the significance of Moses asking God for His name? How does God answer? What is the meaning of this name? How is this name important for your daily “walk” with God. What promise is given to you in this name?

References:

Exodus, John Mackay, Mentor.

The Message of Exodus, J. A. Motyer, Inter Varsity.

Exodus, Philip Ryken, Crossway.

Exodus, Douglas Stuart, NAC, B & H Publishing.