IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




Moses' Reluctance

Date: Jun. 27, 2021

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Exodus 4:1-31

Key Verse: Exodus 4:13

But Moses said, "Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else."

Have you ever not wanted to do something, especially if someone asked you to do something, but you really don’t want to do it? It is a common occurrence. Sometimes you give a non-answer in hopes that the other person forgets about it. My youngest, Liam, just seems to ignore what you ask when he doesn’t want to do something. You can say his name and he will just not even acknowledge that you are speaking to him. My older kids, on the other hand, just seem to repeatedly mention how much they do not want to do whatever we ask. There are times where we ask them to do something, and we are met with at least a dozen or so mentions that they don’t want to do it. I heard them the first time, but they are convinced that repeating their displeasure will change our minds. Instead, it makes us frustrated and a bit angry. Sometimes, after we ask them to do the task, they turn around and ask their sibling to do it for them. They try to pass off the task on someone else. It can be just as simple as asking for a glass of water, but even something as simple as getting a glass of water causes the hemming and hawing, the ignoring or the trying to get someone else to do it. It is not something that just kids do. Even as adults there is so much that we don’t want to do. How many times has your boss told you do something that you don’t want? There are tons of meetings that I go to that I don’t want to attend. But how would we act if it was God that asked us to do something. Would we be reluctant toward God? Today, we will see Moses being really reluctant toward what God has asked him to do, but we also get to see God’s grace to Moses when he is being like that.

So, today’s passage is still about Moses. We learned a bit about him quite a bit in the past two chapters. After Pharaoh declared that all the newborn Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile, Moses was born. His mother hid him for three months, but eventually put him in the Nile, albeit in a basket, but he was put in the Nile. While in the basket, Moses was picked up by Pharaoh’s daughter who chose to raise him as her own son. So, Moses was raised as a prince in Egypt and had a very fulfilling life. At some point in time, Moses began to feel for his oppressed people, but he was still a trust fund kid and knew nothing of the world. When an Egyptian was mistreating his fellow Hebrews, he killed the man and hid the body. His people were not impressed and at his help and he ran away. He ran hundreds of miles away, a 19-day journey and came to the region of Midian. There, he helped out a family, got married and settled down to become a shepherd in the wilderness. He was a prince for 40 years and a shepherd for another 40. It was a quiet life and one day, while out with the flock, he saw a bush on fire, but not burning up. When Moses got close, God spoke to him and told Moses that he was going to send him to lead his people out of Egypt. God said that he would be with him, but Moses started to bring up some questions. He doesn’t think that the other Israelites will believe that God sent him to deliver them from Egypt, so he wants to provide them proof by knowing God’s name. God, then, goes into this spiel about what is going to happen. The elders will believe him; Pharaoh will be reluctant to send them unless a mighty hand compels him; and the Israelites will plunder the Egyptians as the leave.

All that sound wonderful, but Moses doesn’t seem so impressed with those thoughts. Instead, he is focused on his part. “Moses answered, ‘What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, “The Lord did not appear to you”?’” (1) Moses completely ignored the entire discourse that God gave Moses. The entire story went in one ear and out the other. Moses only held on to the part that concerned his question. God moved on from that point, but Moses brought it back to himself. “What if they don’t believe me?” he asks the Lord. Before we move on, I want to make a note that if you notice in the passage, it no longer says “God”. The author Moses, switched to using “the Lord”, which is the English translation of God’s name “I am” or “Yahweh”. There is this shift to using God’s name after we are introduced to him by name. Let’s get back to the passage. Moses is still not sure that the Israelite elders will believe him. This is in part because of how he left Egypt. He wanted to help his people, but his entitled methods were not welcomed among the Israelites. Now he wonders, “Why would they accept me now?” In fact, from Moses’ point of view, not much has changed from that point.

But the Lord, in his grace, was patient with Moses. “Then the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ ‘A staff,’ he replied. The Lord said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’ Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.” (2-3) The Lord began to provide Moses with some tricks to show the people that he had met the Lord. Now, I say tricks because these signs are miraculous, but they are just for show to help the Israelites believe that Moses actually met the Lord. I find the first one a bit funny. God asks Moses what is in his hand and Moses says that it is a staff. Now staffs have an important role in the society of the region and the time. One commentary had pages of information about staffs in the time period. It was a bit much. But in short, a man’s staff was like his ID card. It was like a driver’s license or your phone nowadays. Each one was unique and it could be easily identified just by looking at it. Everybody knew your staff and you knew everyone else’s staffs. You rarely went anywhere without it, but it didn’t have any apps. Well, in this passage, the Lord did install one app on Moses’ staff. The Lord told Moses to throw it on the ground. He did so, but I don’t think he knew what to expect. When it fell on the ground, it turned into a snake. Moses was so startled by it that he ran away. I find it a bit funny, but his staff did something he did not expect, and Moses didn’t know if the snake would be venomous. It was so unexpected and potentially dangerous that it freaked Moses out. When in doubt, run away, just like Moses did.

I’m not calling Moses a scaredy cat, because of what happens next. “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.’ So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand.” (4) The Lord told Moses to grab the snake by the tail. Moses was courageous in that he listened to God and picked the snake up by the tail. When he did so, it turned back into a staff. It reverted back to its original state. Two of the three signs that God shows Moses are reversible. Something is changed and it is able to be changed back to its original state, like that staff into the snake and back into the staff, again. The third sign is irreversible. Something is changed, but not changed back. Right after the snake became a staff again, the Lord reiterates that the sign was to make sure that people would know that Moses has met the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. (5)

But God wasn’t done with just one sign. There was more to show Moses. “Then the Lord said, ‘Put your hand inside your cloak.’ So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow. ‘Now put it back into your cloak,’ he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.” (6-7) This time, what the Lord wanted Moses to do was done on Moses himself. Again, the Lord does not tell Moses what is going to happen, so Moses only saw the result. The Lord told Moses to put his hand inside his cloak. When he took it out, it was all diseased and nasty. It was leprous with the skin as white as snow. The Bible doesn’t say what Moses’ reaction was. Perhaps he was freaked out and thought that God made him sick. Perhaps he trusted God and just waited for his next instruction. When he put his hand back into his cloak, it returned to normal. It was the second reversible sign.

The third sign could not be demonstrated, so the Lord just told Moses about it. “Then the Lord said, ‘If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.’” (8-9) The Lord gave him multiple signs so that they might believe one of them. The last was that he was to take water from the Nile River in Egypt and pour it on the ground. When he would do so it would turn the water to blood. This sign was less for the Israelites, and more had to do with Egypt. The Nile was the source of life of the Egyptians. If the Lord had the power to turn water from the Nile into blood, then he had power over Egypt itself. The Israelites could have solace knowing their God, the Lord who appeared to Moses at the mountain of God, had power over the mightiest nation on earth.

The Lord gave Moses more than he needed, but Moses was still reluctant to go. “Moses said to the Lord, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’” (10) It really sounds like Moses is just making up excuses now. Some people have wondered if Moses was speaking truthfully here. Did he have some sort of speech impediment, or did he forget how to speak Egyptian while in his exile? More likely Moses is speaking with this form of excessive humility that was common in the culture of the time. Moses is exaggerating himself in order to appear humble before the Lord.

But the Lord is able to see through this ploy. “The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’” (11-12) The Lord is in charge of all things. He created people and gave them the ability to speak. If he is with you, then you have all you need. The Lord told Moses that he would go with him and teach him what to say. Even if Moses had some sort of speech impediment, God could correct it. Even if Moses couldn’t speak at all, the Lord can change that and give him words to speak. The Lord would take care of things.

Again, it wasn’t enough for Moses, and he finally reveals what he has been trying to do. “But Moses said, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.’” (13) Just simply, Moses asks the Lord to send someone else. Moses doesn’t want to go, and all of his concerns were just smokescreens for his real reluctance. Moses just doesn’t want to go back to Egypt. This sort of thing happens often. When person really doesn’t want to do something, he might try to find every excuse not to. However, the Lord struck down each and every excuse. All that Moses was left with was the fact that he didn’t want to go, so he asks that someone else to go instead.

Moses’ reluctance is probably rooted in his previous experiences in Egypt. Before he fled to Midian, he killed an Egyptian who was harassing the Hebrews. He took the body and hid it in the sand. He was trying to stand up for his people, but when he was confronting his people about fighting amongst themselves, they retorted wondering if he would kill them if they did not comply to his words. Moses freaked out at this, and Pharaoh wanted Moses dead for killing an Egyptian. So, Moses left Egypt and ended up in Midian. The circumstances of his departure probably colored his feelings toward returning. He may have been traumatized by those events and it changed him. No longer was he a pompous man that knew better, but one who knew better than sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. Moses didn’t want to do it again, so he refused the Lord’s offer. There are only two prophets who refused the Lord’s calling. The first is here in Moses and the second is Jonah. There are other prophets who have concern at the calling, but only two outright refuse the calling.

The Lord is not too happy with Moses at this point. “Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, ‘What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you.’” (14) The Lord was angry with Moses over the games he was playing. God had answered all of his concerns, but that wasn’t enough. Moses just did not want to obey God’s direction. Moses did not want to trust God. He refused to listen to what God was saying. The Lord repeated told Moses about what was going to happen, but Moses kept focusing on step one. It must have been frustrating to the Lord and he got angry. The passage says that Lord’s anger burned against Moses and it looks quite serious. If the Lord’s anger is burning, then you might want to prepare for the wrath of God. One commentary that I read said that the verse would be better translated as “Even though the Lord’s anger burned against Moses, he said…” What is significant about thinking of the verse in this way is that it shows the Lord’s grace to Moses. Even though the Lord was angry, he did not allow that anger to stop showing grace to Moses. If you didn’t have the part about the Lord’s anger there, you wouldn’t know from his words that he was angry.

When we think of God, we tend to think of him having only one emotion at a time. He is angry or he is full of grace. We don’t usually think of him as being very complex in his nature, but here we see that the Lord is angry and showing his grace to Moses. It is something to remember as we go about our lives. There are times where things aren’t going well, and we might think that the Lord is angry with us and punishing us. He might be angry with us, but in that anger, he still shows us so much grace. He still has compassion. As a parent, I understand this a bit. There are times where my kids just make my blood boil, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them. I love them and give them so much grace. I am nowhere near God’s level of grace, but I do understand God’s heart some, enough for me to relate to this combination of anger and grace.

The Lord may be angry with us at times, but he still provides us with what we need, and sometimes he doesn’t just give us what we need, but what we think we need. Look a Moses. “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.” (14-17) If Moses was so wound up about not going and no one listening to him, then the Lord was going to use Moses’ brother Aaron as is mouthpiece. Moses would tell Aaron what to say and he would say it. If you go ahead in the passage, you find that it happens only once or twice in the Bible. The first is here in this chapter. Moses didn’t need his brother to speak for him because God was with him, just like the Lord said he would be. And the Lord told him to not forget the staff.

So, finally, Moses goes to this father-in-law Jethro and tells him that he is going to return to Egypt to check up on his people. He gets Jethro’s blessing and begins to head out. He packs up his family and heads out toward Egypt. While on the way, the Lord spoke to Moses again, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.”’” (21-23) The Lord, again, tells Moses about what is going to happen. Moses would go to Pharaoh, but the king’s heart will be made hard and he will not let the people go. Instead, the Lord will kill his firstborn son. This is an allusion to the final plague that will be put upon Egypt, the plague of the firstborn. All firstborn sons in Egypt will die, from Pharaoh’s household to the lowest of peasants will feel the sting of death.

What happens next is a little odd. “At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,’ she said. So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said ‘bridegroom of blood,’ referring to circumcision.)” (24-26) While on the way to Egypt, the Lord wanted to kill Moses. Suddenly, the Lord wanted to kill Moses and his wife Zipporah knew why. Their son Gershom was not circumcised, as the Lord directed his people to be. Moses had neglected to have his son to be circumcised when he was eight days old. Now the Midianites did have a sort of circumcision, but it was not as complete at the one the Israelites performed. So perhaps Moses followed the Midianite process and Gershom was not fully circumcised. In Midianite culture, a full circumcision was performed around the time of marriage. Again, this shows Moses’ reluctance to going to Egypt. He was not fully prepared to go and meet his people. He had not yet completed all the rituals in his own family and he was going to Egypt to speak on the Lord’s behalf. However, Moses’ wife Zipporah took charge and circumcised her son. She probably knew how to do so because she was the daughter of a priest. What she said to Moses is probably what the Midianites said upon circumcision, especially if they were circumcised right before marriage.

After this, Moses continues his journey back to Egypt, but while that is going on, the Lord talked to Aaron. “The Lord said to Aaron, ‘Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.’ So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. Then Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had sent him to say, and also about all the signs he had commanded him to perform.” (27-28) Back in verse 14, the Lord said that Moses’ brother Aaron was on his way to meet him, and here we see that the Lord called Aaron to meet Moses at the mountain of God, that is Mount Sinai. Aaron had a calling just like Moses did and they met. So Moses told Aaron everything that that Lord told him and showed him. Then they went back to Egypt together.

Finally, we get to the end, “Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.” (29-31) Aaron brought Moses to the elders of Israel, of which he probably was one. Aaron told the elders everything that the Lord said to Moses and then Moses performed the signs. We can assume that he only performed the first two because they believed. It wasn’t just the elders who believed, but all the Israelites. Moses was so concerned about how they people would respond, but they believed. There was no big uproar. There was no skepticism. The people believed. When they heard that the Lord had heard their cries and was concerned for them, the bowed down and worshipped. In Egypt they had become accustomed to worshipping the Egyptian pantheon of Gods. They may have remembered the Lord, but here they worshipped him. The one, true, living God remembered them and they worshipped him.

Moses was very reluctant to obey the Lord. He tried to think of every excuse not to go. He was afraid of what would happen if he went back to Egypt. He left because people were trying to kill him. His own people wanted nothing to do with him. He had no one there and didn’t want to go back. He may have also been comfortable in his life as a shepherd and wanted nothing to do with the daunting task of leading God’s people out of slavery. It was a big deal. He was a man of eighty years of age, such things were the realm of the young folk. It was time for Moses to retire, not start a new stage in life. Despite all of Moses’ protestations, the Lord was patient and gracious to him. He gave Moses everything he needed and even the things that Moses thought he needed, but never actually used.

When the Lord calls someone, he makes sure that he has everything that he needs. He never throws a person out to the wolves without making sure that he has everything he needs to complete his task. The giant Goliath taunted the army of Israel, and everyone was afraid, but the boy David came up and challenged the giant. He didn’t need much to do so, just the Lord, a sling and a stone. The army all trembled in fear of Goliath, but David had the Lord and that was all he really needed. When Jesus sent out his disciples, he gave them the power to heal and drive out demons. Jesus gave them what they needed to do what they were asked to do. God always provides. He always gives us what we need. Sometimes, when a person is called, they might think that they need something more in order to serve. They need money or time or the ability to speak better or the ability to be more friendly. Yet, we already have what we need. God doesn’t call us without giving us what we need. His tasks may not be straightforward, but they are successful. Even with our salvation, he has given us all that we need. God is gracious to us and sent his son to us to save us from our sins. God is angry at us because of our sins, but he is gracious to us to give us salvation.

Our reluctance towards God is always met with grace. We may anger God with our selfishness and stupidity, but that does not diminish his grace towards us. His grace is infinite. There is no end to it. There is nothing that we can do to make God’s grace go away, even making God mad will not do that. I know that I have probably made the Lord angry towards me on multiple occasions. I am definitely not a perfect person. I can get angry at the drop of a hat sometimes, and I am complacent other times. I carry so much insecurity that it colors much of what I do. I can identify with Moses and his insecurity. But that reluctance and insecurity is met by infinite grace from the Lord. His plans always succeed. There is nothing that can stop God. It is pride for us to think that we can mess up God’s plan. He will always give us what we need to do what he asks of us. We just need to look and listen to what the Lord has told us. He told Moses everything that was going to happen, and it did so, as we will continue to see throughout the book of Exodus. But for us, let us remember God’s grace to us. We may be sinners, but God’s grace is greater than all our sins and any reluctance we may have.

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