The five excuses of Moses

To the mind of a child, my hometown church was huge! I remember the long stairway that led downstairs into my Sabbath school room. The fellowship hall was massive because we could play crab football there. And the playground was the ultimate.

While still in my teens, I suddenly realized that my church wasn’t that large. It’s not the smallest of churches, mind you, but it’s definitely not the huge, massive structure of my childhood.

Moses’ life of faith didn’t begin in Hebrews 11—“The Who’s Who of Faith” chapter. It began beside a burning bush in conversation with God. Moses didn’t say boldly, “Yes, Lord, Your will be done.” It was more like, “Lord, can’t you send someone else?”

The powerful image of an Egyptian prince, prophet, and military general who led millions of people out of slavery is what we remember from our childhood stories. We saw the picture of a bigger-than-life character and thought, “Wow! I could never be like him.” But a mature reading of the Bible narrative helps us see Moses in a more realistic light. It is this picture, while not downplaying the impact he made on world history and salvation history, that gives me hope and courage and faith.

Moses grew up as a prince in Egypt, but fled from Pharaoh after he had broken up a fight between a Hebrew and an Egyptian, and killed the Egyptian. Having been in exile in the desert for about 40 years, Moses, roughly 80 at this point in our narrative, was tending sheep near Horeb, when he saw a strange sight. Flames were rising from a bush, but the bush wasn’t burning up. As Moses approached the bush, he heard a voice calling his name. The voice identified the speaker: “‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’”* God then proceeded to share His plan with Moses: He had heard the cries of His people about their oppression in Egyptian slavery. He was coming down to take care of the situation. And He wanted Moses to join with Him in their deliverance (Exodus 3:7-10). At this point, Moses began presenting a series of excuses, some of which may sound familiar to you.

Excuse No. 1: “‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’” (verse 11).

Good question. Moses had been herding sheep for 40 years, and the thought of a shepherd, whom Egyptians despised, going to speak to a king was contrary to the usual protocol.

God’s reply: “‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I that have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain’” (verse 12).

Not only did God promise His presence, He also gave Moses assurance that the mission would be successful. Even in the presence of an earthly king, he had no cause to fear or feel inferior. However, Moses didn’t quite see it that way.

Excuse No. 2: “‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’” (verse 13).

Another good question. If you’re going to tell a group of hundreds of thousands of people that you’ve been asked to lead in their deliverance, it would be helpful to have the name of the person from whom you get your authority. Also, names were very important to the Semitic mind because they described the character of the person.

God’s reply: “‘I am who I am’” (verse 14).

In Scripture, after God had revealed Himself to His people, frequently they often described Him in a new way because of how they experienced Him (see for example Psalm 140:7, “my strong deliverer”; Psalm 71:5, “my hope”; 2 Corinthians 1:3, “God of all comfort”).

The Jews always recognized I AM as the name that distinguished the true God from false gods. There would be no mistaking who would send Moses on his mission. Not only did God tell him who He was, He also told him exactly who to talk to, what to say, and gave him the assurance that they would listen to him. Now Moses is ready for his mission. Well, not quite!

Excuse No. 3: “‘What if they do not believe me or listen to me?’” (Exodus 4:1).

Let’s note this: God had just assured Moses that the leaders of the people would listen to him. It’s becoming quite apparent that Moses is not a willing subject. However, God knew that Moses’ faith still needed to be strengthened. So, the Lord worked through Moses to turn a staff (or rod) into a snake, to make Moses’ hand leprous and then healed it, and to turn water into blood.

Don’t we often wish God would show us supernatural signs, and then we’d promise to trust and obey? His Word doesn’t seem to be enough.

Egypt, here we come! Well, not exactly.

Excuse No. 4: “‘O 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’” (verse 10 ).

In the light of what has taken place—God has promised Moses His company, has assured him of the success of his mission, and has provided him with miraculous signs—Moses’ reluctance is not a sign of humility or a recognition of his own inabilities. It reveals his lack of trust in God’s abilities.

When we refuse to join God in His work, we are revealing a distrust of His ability to work in us. God’s Word is full of promises and assurances of His presence and His ability to work in us. We need to learn to take Him at His Word.

There have been times when I’ve asked God, “Why have You given me this assignment? There are so many other people who don’t have the weaknesses I do. Why don’t you use them?” But then the response comes: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9). If we feel weak, limited, or inadequate, we are the best material through which God’s power can work.

This is not meant to insinuate that God wants to keep us under His thumb as weaklings. God is in the business of growing people. He desires that we be confident and have a strong sense of worth. However, instead of our confidence and feelings of self-worth coming from things or other people, they are to be the result of our relationship with Him.

God’s reply: “‘Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say’” (verses 11, 12).

Apparently, Moses didn’t quite grasp that the God who created his mouth, ears, and his eyes was fully capable of making them function. At times we forget we’re dealing with the Creator of the universe.

Now, God commands Moses to go and promises to be with him. Is Moses ready?

Excuse No. 5: “‘O Lord, please send someone else to do it’” (verse 13).

In our English translation, it sounds like a whine, but in the original Hebrew it actually borders on rudeness: “Please send by the hand of him whom you will send.” In other words, “Would you please give this information to a person who’s going to accept the assignment!”

When God met all of Moses’s excuses, his hidden motives were revealed: He didn’t want the assignment. I think Moses wanted to join God in His work—he just had difficulty believing that God could make him good enough for the job.

It’s the same way with many of us. When we are reluctant to obey God, it’s not that we don’t want to. It’s that we don’t feel good enough. But that’s where we must learn to take God at His word. We must trust Him enough to believe that He is capable of equipping us for the work to which He calls us. And when we are willing to step out in faith and obey Him, we will experience God as we have never experienced Him before.

God’s reply: “‘What about your brother, Aaron?’” (verse 14).

God had established a relationship with Moses. He wanted Moses to join Him in His work for His people, so God was willing to meet Moses where he was. Unfortunately, the power that God promised Moses wasn’t sufficient for him. He only acquiesced when the aid of a finite creature was offered. Moses would speak through Aaron, and this limited him in his work.

What about you? Have you used any of Moses’ excuses in dialogue with God? Are you having trouble trusting that God is capable of equipping you for the work to which He has called you?

If God wanted perfect creatures to join Him in His work, He could have used angels. But, instead, He has chosen us. If we allow God to work through us, we will become an unquestionable evidence of His power. Through obedience, Moses became a powerful leader—powerful enough to change the course of history. Even more important, he became a powerful man of faith who participated with God in salvation history, and who was resurrected and taken to heaven because God considered him “his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

You’re in good company.

Bonita J. Shields is an associate pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spencerville, Maryland. Her E-mail: b.shields@spencervillesda.org

* All Bible passages are quoted from the New International Version.