The AssignmentSeries: Authority
After 40 years of tending sheep in the wilderness, Moses suddenly comes upon a bush that is burning, yet is not being consumed by the fire (Exodus 3:2). God then calls Moses to go back to Egypt and deliver His people (3:10).
His First Excuse: Exodus 3:11
Far from being eager for the assignment, Moses is very hesitant, and offers the excuse, “Who am I?” The forty years in the wilderness had definitely humbled Moses. His last attempt to deliver God’s people had resulted in a total failure. While it is healthy to distrust our own powers, lacking faith in God and His power is another thing. Such distrust often leads to spiritual paralysis and the unwillingness to move ahead. God reassures Moses that he will not be alone in this undertaking. This time the end result will not be Moses fleeing, but Moses bringing the nation to worship God at this very mountain.
His Second Excuse: Exodus 3:13
Moses wanted to know how he could validate his claims before the nation of Israel. 40 years previous, they had not been impressed with his efforts to deliver them. “I AM WHO I AM”: This expression is from a root word which means “to be”. This is the fundamental idea behind the Hebrew word Yahweh (YHWH), which is commonly translated “Jehovah” or LORD. The name given isn’t entirely new, for Jehovah, Yahweh (YHWH) had been used in Abraham’s time (Genesis 15:2; 22:14), and long before then (Genesis 4:26). Yet it may have been neglected in Egypt.
The Third Excuse: 4:1
Moses knew that people can be very skeptical, and he feared that the people wouldn’t believe that he had actually been sent by God. Why should the Israelites believe a sheep-herding, fugitive who had already failed in one attempt to deliver them? In addition, it had been 430 years since God had spoken directly to any Israelite. God isn’t insensitive or uncaring, rather He gives Moses everything he really needs to accomplish the task being given to him. Likewise we have been given everything we need (2 Peter 1:3).
The Fourth Excuse: 4:10
Now that Moses could no longer use the argument of Israel’s possible unbelief, he pointed to his own lack of eloquence. Stephen says that Moses was “a man of power in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22), and this was prior to being called by God. Moses is definitely downplaying his abilities. Yet Moses might also be placing too much confidence in human ability. For what really would deliver Israel would not be an eloquent speaker, but the power of God. Moses is claiming that he had a hard time recalling words, putting his thoughts into words, and thinking on his feet and responding to the objections that a man like Pharaoh would present. Moses had to learn that God’s purposes do not depend upon human eloquence and wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1-4). In fact, many people thought that Paul was a horrible speaker (2 Corinthians 10:10). Yet we can make the same mistake that Moses made, we can start thinking that the presentation, atmosphere, our own human wit and so on are more important than the gospel message (Romans 1:16). Observe that Moses had used his language talents and abilities while serving in Pharaoh’s court, but now he is claiming that he is unqualified. Do we act like this? Do we give our secular interests more of ourselves than we give to God? Who is really getting our best?
The Final Excuse: 4:13
This is not really an excuse but rather Moses is turning God down, “Would you please send another person, I don’t want this job”. This statement reveals that Moses’ excuses were not about his weaknesses but rather more about his unwillingness to submit to this assignment. This verse reveals that many of our excuses are nothing more than a cover for our own unwillingness to obey. So next time we say, “I can’t”, are we really saying, “I won’t”? We can see why God would be angry (4:14), in fact, I think that we are surprised that God hasn’t expressed such anger much sooner in this conversation. For even the casual reader has become very frustrated with Moses and his excuses before this verse. Yet once again, tempered with His anger, we see the God’s compassion and mercy. Far from being alone, Aaron at that very moment was coming to meet Moses to assist him in this task. In like manner, we are not alone, there are many brothers and sisters in Christ who can help us as well.
The Bridegroom of Blood: 4:24-26
At a lodging place on the way back to Egypt, the text says that the Lord met Moses and sought to put him to death. The text does not reveal how this happened. Was Moses suddenly struck with a mysterious illness or did some angelic messenger suddenly attack him? Yet Zipporah knew the exact reason why the Lord was upset with Moses. Without anyone telling her to do so she took a sharp rock and used it as a knife to circumcise her son. Before Moses could lead the people of God, he had to demonstrate complete loyalty to God’s covenant with Abraham, which included circumcision (Genesis 17:14). He could not be the leader of Israel, if he was unwilling to lead his own family in obeying God, even if his wife did not approve of the practice. Yet there is another lesson here. If I happen to be a weak Christian or maybe an unfaithful Christian has it dawned on me that my lack of faithfulness could destroy my mate or children? Zipporah’s reluctance about circumcision nearly cost her the life of her husband.
When Things Seem to Fall Apart
Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh with a very reasonable request (5:1) and are very respectful and polite (“Please” 5:3). Yet, like many evil people, Pharaoh who has all the wrong motives accuses everyone else of having the evil motives (5:4-5). Then he punishes the people with extra work and burdens (5:6-9). Near the end of the chapter nobody seems to like or appreciate Moses. Pharaoh does not grant his request and the leaders among the Israelites accuse Moses of doing more harm than good (5:21). So after one attempt it appears that the whole thing has been a huge failure, in fact, things appear to be far worse now than before, and Pharaoh’s clever tactic seems to be invincible to overcome. Moses also feels sorry for himself and justified in his earlier request not to be sent. The chapter concludes with Moses saying, “Why did you ever send me?” (5:22). What we need to learn is that sometimes in life we do the right thing and everything only appears to get worse. This does not mean that we did anything wrong or went about it in the wrong way, it is just the way that sinners react at times. We may attempt to share the gospel with a co-worker or family member and instead of appreciation and a conversion to Christ, we lose a friend or seem to only create a lot of family drama. Yet things are about to change for Moses and the Israelites. This is one of those times in Scripture when the enemies of God seem to have the upper hand, and then everything changes.
Pharaoh’s Hard Heart: 3:19-22
Pharaoh did not have to resist God's will. Even wicked, rebellious, and head-strong people can change when confronted with the truth (Ezek. 18:21-23; Jonah 3:4-10; 1 Timothy 1:13-16; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). God's will could have been worked out in two ways. Pharaoh could have submitted to God, and everyone would have heard that the great king of Egypt even bows before the God of Israel. Thus God is glorified and His name is published far and wide. Or, Pharaoh could foolishly resist, and God could destroy Egypt to the point that Pharaoh would be forced to let Israel go. God would still be glorified as the other nations hear about what He has done for Israel (Joshua 2:10). Even here, in dealing with a rebellious man, God demonstrates tremendous mercy and forbearance. God allows this man to survive through ten plagues, to give him the opportunity to repent (Romans 2:4-5; Exodus 10:3).
Seeing that God does not want to see anyone end up lost (2 Peter 3:9), it is clear that God did not harden Pharaoh against his will, or that God did not create Pharaoh with a hard heart. Rather, God gave Pharaoh a command that Pharaoh did not like, yet Pharaoh could have obeyed. He was able, but unwilling. God kept pressing the issue, and Pharaoh kept refusing. The Bible points out that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15,32; 9:34). It reminds us that Pharaoh was a willing contributor to his own stubbornness.
Someone might say, “But why did God “pick on” this particular Pharaoh?” First, being “picked on” can result in our salvation. God picked on the people of Nineveh, and they repented and were delivered (Jonah 3). God picked on Saul, and he became a Christian (Acts 9). In the final analysis, God picks on everyone in one degree or another. God picked on me when someone confronted me with the truth and challenged my former view and way of life. We also must note that a number of times, what seemed to make Pharaoh more stubborn, was when God showed Pharaoh mercy (Ex. 8:15; 28; 9:27; 10:24; 8:15). Some people grow more stubborn when it seems that God is slow in exercising his wrath or when He mercifully gives them another chance (2 Peter 3:4ff). Let us learn the lesson. When we encounter the truth, let’s be quick to listen and obey (Hebrews 3:7).
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017