Call to Ministry Series: #9 Moses’ Third and Fourth Objections
July 16, 2012
Then Moses answered, "But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, 'Yhwh did not appear to you.'"
What if they don't believe that you have sent me? In essence the third question supposes that the Israelites may question Moses' call. In verse 18 the Lord has already said that they would listen to his speech, that they would be convinced. The "they" must be the common people of Israel since the elders are also mentioned. They may not believe God appeared to Moses and asked him to lead Israel out of Egypt. You can see how this might be interpreted if a person appeared out of the blue (actually, the desert) and claimed God told him to lead them out of Egypt, out of their home for 400 years.
God does not refute Moses' supposition. Instead he answers with three signs, a staff that turns into a snake (4:2-5), his hand that turns white when hidden in his cloak and then returns to normal (4:6-7), and the ability to pour water on the ground where it turns to blood as in the first plague (7:14-24). These signs find usefulness in the confrontations with pharaoh more than with the Israelites.
God makes several comments in these verses of chapter four that reveal his perspective. In verse 5 he reasons that the staff sign should convince the Israelites that God appeared to Moses. In addition he observes in verse 8 that they may not believe him or the first sign, but surely they will believe the second sign. At that point God adds the third sign, the water from the Nile poured out and turning to blood. No further comment is made.
These signs serve as tools in Moses' leadership belt. They should display the power of God through his servant, Moses, thus convincing everyone to follow his directions. But, as in Jesus' day, signs are not enough. At least it gives assurance to Moses at this point.
God gave some miraculous signs for support. Moses will utilize the signs at some point in the stories that follow. Moses supposes the people might question his meeting Yhwh in this appearance event. God gives simple but clear samples of his ability to work. Much larger demonstrations than these will follow, but these three give immediate assurance to Moses.
Just a word of warning: be careful about signs! If God grants a sign, remind yourself that the magicians in Egypt could duplicate some of them. Signs will never contradict the scriptures. They may prove helpful in the short run, but may not prove important in the long haul. Looking for a sign may simply be an excuse for not responding in obedience. In my priority list for discerning God's will divine signs appear towards the bottom. They may help, but they may also be like the cherry on the top of a sundae, nice as a last touch but not nearly as good as the rest of the treat.
But Moses said to Yhwh, "O my Master, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."
I can't speak (i.e., my abilities are inabilities and will not be good enough). This fourth statement in Exodus 4:10 is the first real excuse Moses has made. Evidently, he realizes how much his role as a spokesman and an advocate for Israel will play in Egypt and in his leadership.
Moses literally says he is not "a man of words." Never has been, and the inference is, never will be because he is literally "heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue." Commentators have tried to determine whether Moses had a speech impediment or some other physical defect, but I think this comment is an excuse, plain and simple.
The divine reply revolves around a theological perspective on the creative sovereignty of God (4:11). It is God who has made the mouth of humans, addressing Moses' excuse in direct terms. Then God adds his determination of the mute, deaf, seeing, and blind, going far beyond Moses' excuse.
Next, the Lord promises to be with Moses' mouth and to teach him what to say (4:12). God's first word of assurance was his presence (3:12). Now bookended with the first is the same promise, only appropriate to the specific objection or, in this case, excuse, Moses' ability to speak to get the job done. Perhaps this issue was at stake in the New Testament when Jesus promised the "Advocate," the Spirit of truth, who would teach the disciples what to say when the need arose (John 16:7-15)
At this juncture Moses upsets God by actually refusing to go. He ticks God off. He says, "Please, send someone else" (4:13). At least he is polite.
The divine promises and perspectives have not proved enough for Moses. God gets angry. He offers a compromise in the person of Moses' brother, Aaron, who will speak for Moses to the people (4:14-17). God says that he will teach Aaron and Moses what to say. In an interesting turn of phrase Moses will be "as god ('elohim) to him" (to Aaron) (4:16). In the chapters and books that follow, we never actually have an occasion where Aaron speaks for Moses. Perhaps it is not recorded or perhaps it was really an excuse after all.
God doesn't permit any more questions or excuses. Moses heads back to his father-in-law and Egypt.
God answered every objection. It should be a comfort to freely express our doubts. It should also be a help to expect God's answers to those objections. The answers given to Moses went further than anyone might expect ? the burning and not consumed bush, the personal conversation, the personal name of Yhwh, the signs, even a spokesperson in Moses' brother, Aaron. We often can look back and understand God's answers better than when we first raise objections. But we can expect answers. If we look back, we will observe God working to address every concern. Like prayer we are asked to persist in faith, perhaps only in time finding how God answered.
A profound truth emerges from Moses' call. Yhwh is a divine person who opens himself to Moses, revealing a personal name and its implications, speaking freely with Moses, interacting in a fair exchange of very real discussion, giving instructions and sending his leader off to do his will.
Moses will ascend to Yhwh's presence on the mountain several times. His experience sets him apart from other biblical characters. Even his face would glow for days afterward as it reflected God's glory. Moses' personal relationship with Yhwh pervades the stories presented through Exodus to Deuteronomy. Moses' theology of a personal, imminent God by the name Yhwh provides one of the greatest pictures of our God.
We will see that every instance of call in the biblical record reflects the person's theological perspective. When confronted with some aspect of Yhwh, the person called will show a tendency to frame their work or message around that aspect of Yhwh's character. For Moses it is the personal nature of the great God, Yhwh. He is on intimate terms with Moses. The records tell us about this relationship. It begins with the call in Exodus 3-4.
In the end, God did not allow Moses to refuse. Even reluctant obedience pays amazing results. We will see the same truth as we turn in future installments to other biblical call accounts.