“This is your mission, should you choose to accept it” – I think Moses must have felt a bit like the folks in Mission Impossible when he encountered the LORD in the desert. To go back to Egypt and lead Israel out of there? To win over his own people and then take on the Pharaoh, with all of Egypt’s might against him? No wonder Moses asked “Who am I?”
As we saw last time, the Lord assured him that he would be with him; Moses would not be going alone – but still he has questions and concerns. We’re going to see that Moses responded to the Lord’s call with 3 questions in the passage before us.
But before we do, let’s just notice 2 general points: firstly, the LORD is big enough to allow us to ask him questions. Some people in powerful positions can’t stand to have their instructions questioned – but not the Lord. You can dialogue with him; he’s not interested in getting us to cringe before him and to do his will in abject terror. He calls us to be his children and to serve him in that relationship. And as our Father in heaven, he can handle the questions.
Secondly, while Moses’ call was unique, we can rightly think through his situation with a view to our own. We are called by God: called to belong to Jesus Christ; called as his church to go and make disciples; and we are called personally to be servants of the Most High God, in a whole variety of ways. It may well be that, in the light of those multiple callings, we also have questions we’d like to ask.
1. Who shall I say has sent me?
The first question Moses asks in v.13 shows that he is concerned about the reception he might get from his own people: if they ask me who sent me, what shall I say?
The answer he is given has been the subject of great debate for many years now: just what does God mean? What is his name? And was this name unknown to Abraham and the other patriarchs?
While we let the scholars sort those issues out, the main point is clear: the God who is speaking to Moses declares, “I am who I am”.
He is not some local tribal deity; this is the eternal ever-living God who is sending Moses back to Egypt. This is the great I AM who is declaring his intent to rescue the Israelites from their bondage and, through them, to further his purposes for the whole world.
“I am who I am” doesn’t seem to be the name itself; that comes later and is now generally translated as Yahweh. What v.14 does is impress on Moses the being of God, the reality that the living God, the eternal I AM is the one who is sending him. No commission could come with greater intensity or authority.
It is the same God who is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth and who has also commissioned the church. We are not peddling an opinion about God as we share the gospel; we are rather taking the words of the eternal God and speaking them to needy men and women.
While that may make us feel even more unworthy, it also gives added strength to our task as the Lord’s people.
2. What if they don’t believe me?
But Moses is still not convinced: “What if they do not believe me?” (4:1). What is he to do then? The Lord’s response is to ask Moses what he has in his hand – a staff – and then to throw it to the ground. It becomes a snake! Pick it up by the tail – it turns back into a staff. Now put his hand into his cloak and take it out again – it’s turned leprous! Put it in and out again – it’s healed.
Signs – signs of power and authority. The snake was a symbol of Egypt’s power (think of those headdresses) but Moses would demonstrate a greater power. The leprosy sign would speak of the Lord’s power to afflict and to heal. And a third sign is told to Moses – he could pour out water from the Nile onto the ground and it would become blood, a foretaste of one of the plagues.
The Lord who is sending Moses is more than able to demonstrate his power and authority. Moses need have no qualms about that!
But what if your friends and colleagues don’t believe you? What signs can we expect the Lord to show to them? Let me just say 2 things on this point.
Firstly, we have in the gospel records all the evidence that we or anyone else needs. Remember what Jesus himself said in Lk 16 to the rich man who was in Hades: it isn’t more signs that they need. And when he spoke to Thomas in the upper room he tells him and us that it is possible for people to believe without seeing signs – and that it is a blessed thing when they do.
That doesn’t mean that the Lord won’t in some ways give some people various signs of his power; that is entirely up to him. But what it does say is that we can go out with his word in our hearts confident that he can and does work through the gospel message, calling people to himself. We don’t need to be hung up on the issue of signs.
Secondly, there is a sense in which our lives function as a sign to others. Paul writes to the Corinthians about their lives being like a letter that all people can read – a letter that bears clear testimony to the gracious, saving power of God. And our lives are to be that too – lives that had been marked by sin and evil now showing the forgiving and renewing grace of God.
Let’s pray that the reality of his saving power will be seen in us and indeed be a sign to others.
3. But I’m not a good speaker!
So the eternal God is sending Moses and will work powerfully by signs and wonders to confirm his status as the Lord’s messenger. But still Moses is unsure. He doesn’t really feel up to the task – “I am slow of speech and tongue” (4:10; which sounds like some kind of speech defect).
Reading Acts 7:22 it doesn’t sound like Moses had a problem with speaking but maybe this is Moses lacking confidence because of what happened in the past. And if truth be told maybe many of us have thought similar things when faced with God’s call on our lives – not necessarily in terms of our speech but simply our fitness for certain tasks. Is that a valid point to bring to the Lord?
It seems not. The Lord’s response is to remind Moses that he is the one who created Moses!
When we feel our weakness and frailty, we must remember that those things are not surprises to God; he does not call us to serve him because he thinks we’re superhuman! The one who calls us into his service will enable us to serve him, despite all our foibles and weaknesses.
Do you notice something that is common to all 3 questions that Moses raises? He constantly thinks in terms of himself going to Pharaoh and not the Lord going with him. It is all a case of ‘I’ and that’s a trap we can fall into. The battle is not ours; it’s the Lord’s – he sends, he equips, he authenticates.
Now, I said that we were going to look at the 3 ways that Moses responds to the Lord’s call in this passage but, actually, there are 4 points to notice. But the fourth isn’t a reasoned response; it is a blunt refusal to do what the Lord has said. Having asked his questions and having received such gracious responses from the Lord, Moses simply says in 4:13, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”
At this, the Lord is angry with Moses. Yes, we can dialogue with him and ask our questions and voice our insecurities but, having received his genuine and gracious promises of help and support, to ask him to send someone else is to refuse to trust him. It is sheer rebellion, however much its origin is in our fears.
And, yet, notice once more how gracious our God is. He is rightly angry with Moses but he doesn’t cut him off; he doesn’t dump him but rather accommodates even this response from him. He tells Moses that his brother Aaron is on the way and the Lord will make them into a team – he will give his words to Moses and Aaron will then act as spokesman.
We should not see this as letting us off the hook, as it were. It is never right to refuse our God; it is never wise to anger him through our unbelief. But even when we have done so, even when we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself.
What great encouragement to serve him where we are and to say with the hymn-writer, “What he says we will do, where he sends we will go, never fear, only trust and obey.”