Moses, the Reluctant Prophet
At the end of the book of Genesis, the sons of Israel have moved to Egypt because of the great famine in the land of Canaan. According to God’s sovereign plan, they would be spared the famine because Israel’s favorite son Joseph had been abused by his brothers and sold into slavery to Egypt. They meant it for evil, but God used it for good. God blessed Joseph so that he rose to the rank of Prime Minister in Egypt. He was so favored by the Pharoah of that time that his family was welcome there and even given their own land of Goshen. Exodus is the sequel to the book of Genesis because it takes up where Genesis left off, but the pivot takes place in Ex.1:7-8. The children of Israel multiplied greatly over the next 400 years, so much so that the king about 300 years after Joseph, had either forgotten about Joseph or he was of a different line of kings. As their numbers grew, the Egyptians began fearing that they would be outnumbered by this race of Hebrews. If Egypt were invaded and the Hebrews helped the invaders, they would be overwhelmed.
Pharoah devised a three step plan to limit their growth. First, enslave them and afflict them with hard labor. Next, Pharoah instructed the midwives to kill the male babies. Then lastly, Pharoah commanded all Egyptians to cast all the male Hebrew babies into the Nile. Amazingly, the Hebrew people continued to multiply and became mighty.
The Plan of God
In Genesis 15:13-16, God told Abraham about 600 years before Moses that his descendants would become strangers in a foreign land (Egypt) where they would be enslaved for 400 years. God would judge that nation harshly such that Israel would leave there with many possessions, and return to Canaan to dispossess the evil Canaanites. In considering this plan, I wondered what set of circumstances could come about that a large group of people (about 3 million) would suddenly pick up and leave and take the possessions of the host country with it. In reading Exodus 1-2 it is clear that slavery and attempted genocide would do the trick. In God’s perfect plan, they would come out as a great nation wealthy with all the gold of Egypt, and then God would judge and punish the evil Canaanites by dispossessing them from Canaan, and planting Israel in the land He had promised to give to Abraham and all his descendants.
Three Phases of Moses
God raised up a great deliverer named Moses in a most unique way. The Hebrew baby was saved by Pharoah’s daughter, and raised with all the advantages of a prince of Egypt. At his peak when he was a strong handsome confident man, Moses judged himself able to lead Israel, but Israel rejected him. In telling the story in Acts 7:25, Stephen said Moses supposed that his Hebrew brothers would accept him as their deliverer, but they didn’t. Forty years later, when Moses was 80, a broken fugitive living in the wilderness with goats; God called him to lead. When he had thought himself ready and able, he wasn’t; but when he was humbled and thought he was unable, God called him to be the deliverer of Israel.
And Then God Showed Up
As Forest Gump said, “And then God showed up.” When Moses least expected it, God revealed Himself to Moses and called him to lead Israel out of Egypt. In Exodus 3, Moses was pasturing his flock in the wilderness of Sinai, when he saw an amazing thing. There appeared to him a blazing fire in a large bush, but the bush did not burn up. It was not a fire, but it was the glory of God. Moses was not seeking this experience, his only concern was his flock. At this the appointed time of God, He broke His 400 years of silence and spoke to Moses from the bush. God made it clear that He was the same one and only God that made promises to Moses’ ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Ex.3:10 God commands Moses to go and be His representative first to Israel and then to Pharoah. Moses is to tell Israel to follow him, and he is to tell Pharoah to let the Hebrews go out of Egypt.
The Father of all Excuses
Confronted with God’s command, Moses starts to waffle and squirm. As we read Exodus 3 and 4, we can find at least five great excuses that are way over used by the human race. Saying that Moses was a reluctant prophet is an understatement, but to say he is our great example of the excuses people make not to serve is realistic.
Excuse # 1—Who am I? You’ve got the wrong guy. God answered this by saying, “I will be with you.” We are all called to serve, and even if we don’t feel qualified, it’s not about me, it’s about God blessing me and others with the opportunity. Our confidence does not rely on our ability, but in God who is with me.
Excuse # 2—Who are you? After receiving God’s assurance, he wanted to know who God was that they would listen to him. The Egyptian gods seemed to be on top, and how powerful could a God of slaves be anyway? God answered Moses by giving him His covenant name to Israel, “I AM THAT I AM” or it could also be translated I AM WHO I AM. His short version is simply I AM. In Ex. 6:3, God told Moses that previously men called Him God Almighty, but from that time on His name given by God Himself was I AM THAT I AM. As you dwell on this name you may begin to realize that God alone is self existent and self reliant. God is all powerful and all knowing. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a lot more confidence than some river god or fertility god of the Egyptians. Leave to God to give us such a simple but awesome name.
Excuse # 3—What if I fail? They won’t believe me, a fugitive with a bad reputation. Israel already rejected me 40 years ago, and Egypt sent soldiers to arrest me. In Ex. 4:1, Moses asked, “What if they won’t believe me?” Like all of us, Moses feared failure and rejection. I will just make a fool of myself. After all, this job requires confidence, boldness, and courage, but I don’t have any! God answered Moses’ objection with three dramatic miracles that God would empower him to do. Moses’ fears abated when he was exposed to the power of God. Thankfully, God specializes in working with weak fearful people just like us. Don’t forget what Paul wrote in 2 Cor.12:9, “God’s power is perfected in my weakness.” God will give us what we need, and use us in spite of our weakness.
Excuse # 4—I’m not a good speaker. I’m not talented, and I’m not a leader. Moses said, “I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech.” Moses was still putting all his confidence in himself and none in God. This always causes doubt. The Lord answered by shifting the emphasis back to faith in Him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Is it not I, the Lord? I will be with your mouth.” What Moses didn’t understand was that God was not looking for an All Star, God was calling a servant. People judge each other by how big they are, or how athletic, or how smart, but God simply asks us to serve, to be available. God’s definition of success is obedience by faith and leaving the results to God. If you think you are inadequate, you probably are, but don’t forget what God said to Moses (and us), “I will be with you”.
Excuse # 5—I don’t want to get involved. I’m too busy (this is always code for “I am doing exactly what I want to do, and I want to continue”). This is the bottom line—get someone else. After all the assurances God gave Moses, you expect lightning to strike, or an angel to grab Moses by the scruff of the neck, or some other reaction that Moses certainly deserved. It amazes me how patient God is with difficult people like us. Ex. 4:14 tells us God’s righteous anger burned against Moses, but still He patiently provided Moses with a helper, Aaron. Moses’ brother Aaron would speak for Moses and take some of the heat. Then God gave Moses the staff with which “you shall perform the signs.” OK Moses, I will give you Aaron to talk so you don’t have to do any public speaking, and I give you the ability to do miracles to authenticate your message from God. Finally, the reluctant prophet is ready.
Disappointment with God
At the end of Exodus 4, after Aaron spoke the word of God and Moses performed the miracles, Israel believed and was ready to follow Moses out of Egypt. At this point in the story Moses is convinced of success. God is with them, and they have some really cool miracles to wow Pharoah. Surely there will be a happy ending to this story, but in Ex.5 Moses is blown away by Pharoah’s reaction. Pharoah answered the request by voicing the reaction of the world to the one true God, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice? I do not know the Lord…and I will not let Israel go.” Pharoah well represents the human race that exists in rebellion against God. We should not be surprised at this answer or a like response we may get when we serve God. Not only did Pharoah say no, but he increased Israel’s labor load, then he had the Hebrew foremen beaten and threatened.
Have you ever had 3 million people extremely mad at you? The whole nation sent Moses a message, “What have you done? You have made us odious in Pharoah’s sight and put a sword in his servants hand to kill us!” Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “Why did you ever send me? You have not delivered the people at all.” We all expect or want instant results, but God has a better plan. Therefore, PERSEVERE