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Subject: Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study Exodus 3:1-11; 4:10-17. A Reluctant Servant
Date: September 2nd 2017
Exodus 3:1-11; 4:10-17.
A Reluctant Servant
The American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright (c) 2017. Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter
What is God’s purpose for your life? I it has been said, “The two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Attempts to answer to questions like, “why am I here?” have been a part of universal human culture for all of recorded history. For people who have placed their faith and trust in God, the biblical narrative has provided a fundamental answer: God created you so that you would “love the LORD with all of your heart, and all of your mind, and all of your strength,” and be faithful to Him. The Apostle Paul refers to the expression of that faithfulness as a “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
What is the “high calling” of God? Led of the Holy Spirit, much of God’s work among the people He has created is done by faithful Christians who are submitted to His Lordship in their lives. Faithful Christians share God’s unconditional, agape, love with one another and with those who still have yet to turn to the LORD in faith. Through this work many people find the LORD, and many people are blessed as people of faith work together to meet one another’s needs.
However, it is not unusual for people of faith to turn away from God’s call upon them to be part of His kingdom work on earth. There is an “80-20” axiom that describes the dynamics of most social organizations, and the church is no exception: 80% of the resources and work that is completed within a typical Christian fellowship is done by 20% of its membership. This means that those who are contributing to the work of the kingdom fo God in any significant manner are required to do four times their share. So that the work can be completed, people often find themselves working in areas outside of their giftedness, and often burn out from overcommitment. A lack of support by the vast majority of its members limits the ministries of our churches and makes paupers of our ministers. Meanwhile, 80% of the membership is reluctant to contribute to the work in any meaningful way, turning a deaf ear to the needs of the kingdom of God and its church.
For some, their reluctance might be a result of the cacophony or worldly influence that bombards our spirit, drawing us away from faith and from obedience to the LORD. For some, their reluctance might be a result of their acceptance of lies that diminish their belief of their own worth or ability. The truth is simply that God has called all Christians to serve one another and to serve Him as He leads and directs. When God calls upon us to accomplish some task or some work He always first prepares us for that task, provides the resources to accomplish that task, and blesses us with its execution and completion. Yet, knowing this, most of our people are still reluctant to commit themselves fully to God’s call.
The biblical narrative is repleate with examples of the LORD’s calling upon people to serve Him to accomplish His kingdom work on earth, and many (if not most) of those who we find in the text approach the call with fear, anxiety, and feelings of incapability. However, when the LORD calls, and the LORD provides the resource, He empowers us to accomplish through Him things that we could never do on our own. When called, we often look at our own capabilities and find ourselves coming up short, in our own opinion. Our reluctance is always an expression of our lack of faith, and our lack of trust in the LORD to accomplish His purpose through us.
This passage is a record of the call of Moses who, like most who are called by the LORD, approach that call with hesitation, reluctance, and even a little rebellion. However, once surrendered to the task, the LORD is able to work through him to accomplish great things.
Exodus 3:1. Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
Moses is certainly well-known to virtually anyone who has been exposed to an Judeo-Christian teaching. Moses’ life can be divided into three parts, each approximately forty years in length. Exodus, Chapter 2 is a record of the first eighty of those years. Moses was born to Israelite parents, Amram and Jochebed from the tribe of Levi, who were part of the growing nation of Israel that had settled in Egypt at a time when the Egyptian Pharaoh led a campaign to kill all of the Hebrew newborn males in order to control the Hebrew population. The parents hid Moses in the weeds alongside the Nile River within view of the Pharaoh’s daughter who rescued him, invited Jochebed to serve as his nurse, and raised him as a Prince of Egypt.
Though very little is recorded concerning Moses’ during his first forty years living in the palace of the Pharaoh, it is reasonable to believe that he became quite familiar with Egyptian language and custom, as well as the culture that defined the daily operations of the Pharaoh’s administration. It is likely that, had circumstances been different, he my have risen to a position of influence equal to that of Joseph almost 400 years before his birth.
Moses’ tenure in Egypt came to a sudden end when he killed an Egyptian who was beating upon a Hebrew slave. Moses ran from Egypt, fearing the reprisal of the Pharaoh, and fled to the land of Midian, to his father-in-law, Jethro where he worked as a shepherd for another forty years. What he may have lacked in Hebrew upbringing during his first forty years he certainly gained during this period working under Jethro who was a “high priest” among the Midianites.
While tending Jethro’s sheep, (and considering the status and stature of Jethro, this was probably a very significant flock, requiring several workers to manage) he took them to the “backside of the desert” near Mount Horeb. The name “Horeb” is both the Greek and Latin rendering of the Hebrew name “Sinai.” Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are one in the same.
This passage brings about some curiosity since the land of Midian is in the northwest region of the Arabian peninsula, and the mountain currently considered to be Mount Sinai is north of the southern tip with a distance of about 200 miles between them. However, we actually have little evidence to firmly establish the “land of Midian” since the language can also be understood to mean, the “tribe” or “people of Midian,” devoid of geographical context. The geographical location has been determined by archeological analysis, though as a nomadic people, they could have been located anywhere in the region. Also, the location of Mount Sinai is not firmly established. There is significant scriptural context that would imply that the biblical Mt. Horeb is, like Midian, located in the northwestern part of the Arabian peninsula. This mountain would become a significant part of Israelite history as it would be here that the LORD would speak to Moses, to Israel, and to His prophets.
Exodus 3:2. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
The appearance of the “burning bush” is one of the more familiar events in the Old Testament for most Christians. It is the first manifestations of the presence of the LORD through the means of fire. God often made His presence known through the image of fire, including this bush, and through the Pillar of Fire, the Shekinah Glory of God that will be introduced later in this narrative and appeared to the nation of Israel for over a millennia. God presented Himself to His people as light, contrasting the power of His presence with the impotence of darkness, a metaphor for evil. When Moses looked upon the bush he was witnessing a metaphor for God’s presence as light that chases away darkness.
Upon the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, He made the proclamation, “I am the Light of the World.” YAHWEH Himself entered the world through Jesus Christ, and “dwelt among us.” God’s presence was seen in Jesus Christ, a presence that had not been witnessed for almost 400 years. Prior to Jesus’ ascension to Eternity, Jesus proclaimed of those who placed their faith and trust in Him, that “You are the light of the world.” Upon His ascension, it is through the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of every true believer that the presence of God remains, and still “dwells among us.” The use of the metaphor of light to represent the presence of God continues from this passage through the Revelation of John.
Needless to say, the burning bush drew Moses’ attention, the very purpose of the phenomenon. It is noted that this was not a consuming fire. When we observe the presence of the LORD in the form of fire in the future, we will find several occurrences where the fire descends and consumes the sacrifices given to the LORD. This non-consuming fire would be something that Moses had never observed, and certainly drew his curiosity and led him to approach it. It is likely that, at this point, the bush was nothing more than a curiosity. Moses would have had no reason to interpret this phenomenon as an Angel of the LORD.
Everything that Moses had experienced in his life led up to this moment. His 40 years in the house of the Egyptian Pharaoh and his 40 years in the house of Jethro had uniquely prepared him for the task to which the LORD would call him. There was simply no other person in the world who was so uniquely qualified. As we observe Old Testament examples of people who the LORD called to a task, there are two things that are universally evident: (1) the LORD had brought them through experiences that qualified them for the task, and (2) they felt wholly unqualified.
Exodus 3:4. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
Does the LORD speak audibly to His people? An exhaustive concordance search reveals no less than 581 unique biblical references to God speaking and 1141 to the LORD speaking. Though the LORD communicates with us through many different means, the audible word is certainly one of them. Whether translated God or LORD, in all of these occasions it is the voice of YAHWEH that is heard. One can argue that YAHWEH is that person of God through which He communicates directly to us. This idea is also consistent with the identity of Jesus, who is the Messiah, the LORD: another name for YAHWEH. Those who testify to hearing the voice of the LORD have one common response: a strengthened faith. This would certainly be the response of Moses to this experience.
There is no indication at this point that Moses fully understood that he was witnessing a manifestation of the Glory of God, and probably did not realize that it was the voice of God that he was hearing. Upon hearing his name called, Moses simply acknowledged that he had heard the call.
Exodus 3:5. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
Though God is present everywhere in this created universe, there are circumstances where His presence is manifested in us in a special way. How are we to respond when we are in the presence of God? Jesus taught us that He desires a relationship with us as a friend, and established friendships with His disciples. However, we should also consider the full gospel, that also states that “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” We should never allow God’s offer of “friendship” to compromise our awe and respect for Him.
The ancient Israelites had not understood God’s offer of “friendship” to those who place their faith and trust in Him, and established traditions that insured that the LORD would always be given appropriate worship and respect. Along with the idea of friendship is the imperative from the LORD that “one cannot see God and live.” We always must approach God on His terms, not ours. However, unlike one of the ancient kings who will bring an indictment upon anyone who approaches them without invitation, God’s amazing grace and His love for us is demonstrated in His allowing us to approach Him, the Creator of the Universe.
Because of this, God gave two commands to Moses:
Draw no closer. Moses has been drawn into a manifestation of the presence of God. Since God is Holy, wherever God is present is Holy. Though God has prepared Moses for this moment, he has not yet had a communicative relationship with Him, and Moses is not yet ready to become “close” to God. Reminding Moses of His own Holiness, as Moses was approaching this wonderous sign of a bush that is burning without consumption, God spoke and told him to draw no closer.
Remove your shoes. God must establish for Moses an environment where He can allow Moses to “see” Him. Consequently, God commanded Moses to remove his shoes as an act of humility, as God is not only allowing Moses into His presence, but He is also allowing Moses to stand in His presence.
Exodus 3:6. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.
At this point, God revealed His identity to Moses, and Moses’ response is reasonable. It is likely that if any of us suddenly found ourselves standing before God we would probably fall prostrate in humility before Him. As demonstrated in God’s appearance to Moses, His first statements would probably be something like, “Do not be afraid, be at peace, and stand.”
Moses’ act of prostration was shown by covering his face, again noting that he understood that looking upon God carried with it a sentence of death. However, the indictment is relevant only for those who do not have faith in God. There is no evidence of anyone who loved God to find their demise in this manner. In fact, quite the opposite is true, as many have seen the LORD and lived. The biblical narrative demonstrates that to see the LORD or to hear His voice is a life-changing experience. No one who had heard or seen God left the experience unchanged, but rather left it with a strengthened faith and a better understanding of God’s purpose for them.
Exodus 3:7-9. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them.
While teaching an adult Sunday School class in Clinton Road Baptist Church in the late 1980s, one of the class members, a deacon in the fellowship, made a statement that I never forgot: “Be careful what you pray for: the LORD put that desire into your heart, and it is likely that He is calling you to be a part of the solution.” It is evident that those first forty years in Egypt had a profound impact on Moses, as his loyalty to the Israelites never wavered. He was gravely concerned for the welfare of the Israelites, indicated by the event that initiated his exile from Egypt. Moses spent forty years with Jethro in Midian, and had a great deal of time to think about Israel as he was tending sheep. It is possible that Moses’ prayers included something like, “LORD you need to do something for the Israelites!” Moses was hoping for the deliverance of Israel, and it is very likely that he never had any thought that he might have something to do with the solution.
In a short statement, God clearly explained His purpose of deliverance for Israel. He “saw” their affliction, “heard” their cry, and knows of their sorrows. Knowing of the oppression of Israel by the Pharoah, God revealed to Moses that He is going to bring them out of Egypt and back to Canaan, the land that was originally given to Abraham.
At this point, Moses might have been overjoyed. This is exactly what Moses had been hoping and praying for. The deliverance of Israel is something that he certainly wanted to see. He probably wondered how God would do this since Israel had been maintained in bondage for several generations.
Exodus 3:10. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
As my friend said, “be careful what you pray for.” Though God had fully prepared Moses for this task, it is unlikely that Moses ever thought that he would have any part in Israel again. He left Egypt forty years ago and was now quite advanced in years. He had no intention of ever returning to Israel.
God makes use of His faithful people to accomplish much of His kingdom work on this earth. We can observe how God used a small group of faithful Apostles to initiate the spread of the good news of the gospel to the entire world, a task that continues today and will continue until the end of the age. The tasks that one can do for the LORD is limitless. It is unlikely that many of us will be called upon to accomplish a task of the historical significance of the Exodus, but every task that the LORD assigns is important simply because it is the LORD who is assigning it.
For example, if you are reading these words, then it is quite likely that you have been prepared by God to share His love with your neighbor who is in need of Him. How we approach that calling reveals much about the nature of our faith in God. Many Christians claim to be faithful, yet like the ancient Israelites, choose to keep their knowledge of the LORD to themselves and have no true desire to be part of sharing God’s love with others. God has given to each of us a myriad of skills and talents that we can (1) let fade away, (2) keep sharp and use for ourselves, or (3) keep sharp and give them to the LORD for His kingdom use.
Because of a need for leadership and ministry within the church fellowship, we sometimes fall into the lie that it is within the fellowship that we are to exercise our gifts for ministry. We may hear a church leader plead with us to serve the fellowship in any of many different ministry tasks. However, if we keep our ministry within the walls of the church, the church loses its relevance in the world, and its primary task of evangelism and ministry to the lost goes uncompleted.
It is likely that Moses always thought in terms of someone leading the Israelites out of Egypt some day. However, like us, his prayer was probably, something like “LORD lead someone to do this…” rather than “lead me to do this.” Unfortunately, it is far easier for us to pray the first request rather than the second. When we are reluctant to follow the LORD’s call to a ministry task we are rebelling against the call of the LORD, Whether we cite our own fears, or our own perceived inability, we find many ways to refuse to move when the LORD calls. Moses was no exception.
Exodus 3:11. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?
Moses’ first recorded statement reveals a response that is probably not much different than our own: “Who am I?” Though God has prepared us for the task, we can create no few reasons why we feel inadequate for the task. There are two constituents that Moses refers to, and he has no relationship with either one. First, “Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh?” Moses perceives of himself as a humble old man with no political connections, a man on the run who has no means to be able to speak with the Pharaoh of Egypt. He thinks that he lacks the social status that is necessary to approach a King, particularly one as powerful as the King of Egypt. Second, Moses expresses doubts concerning his ability to lead the Israelite people out of Egypt. They do not know who he is, so why would they follow him?
There are some common barriers that we build around ourselves so that we can rationalize away God’s call in our lives. Moses’ response to the LORD illustrates three of these: (1) feelings of inadequacy, (2) a lack of preparation for a task, or (3) ignorance of how we will complete a task. We will often engage these in our lives and by so doing refuse to follow the LORD in obedience.
Feelings of inadequacy. There is a universal and worldly lie that many people have bought into, and that lie has been brought into the faith experience, creating no little discouragement, a lie that states “you are not worthy.” This world determines the worth of people based upon a convoluted system of meaningless criteria including their skin color, gender, education, economic status, physical appearance, and an endless list of descriptions of the characteristics of people. It is impossible for any person to measure themselves by such a system and find any worth. Consequently, many people live their lives with a defeated spirit because they measure themselves using the wrong criteria.
There is no reason for people of faith to retain this lie. Called by God to have a relationship with Him, we are also called to “put on” the “mind of Christ.” We are not to value ourselves and others as the pagan and ungodly world does, but as Christ does, with unconditional agape love. God holds you to be of unestimable value. YAHWEH Himself came to the Cross of Calvary to die for you. Low self-esteem is the product of buying into a lie. God holds you in full love and esteem and desires for you to do the same. He has a purpose for your life that cannot be fully realized when one is submitted to this lie rather than to His grace and love. Moses said, “Who am I?” When we answer this question we may likely come up with one that is dramatically different that God’s answer: You are a child of the King, a beloved member of the kingdom of God, the Creator.
Lack of preparation. Another of the worldly lies that people have bought into is indicated by a response of, “I can’t …” when the LORD opens an opportunity for obedience His calling. One of the most obvious examples of the relevance of this lie is found in the paucity of Christians who share their knowledge of the gospel with others. When we approach a task with, “I can’t”, we have allowed ourselves to be defeated before we even start. Every faithful Christian knows the gospel message and has been given, by the Holy Spirit, the resources to share it with others. The biblical narrative illustrates that the LORD always prepares those He calls by combining the abilities of the ones He calls with His own power as given through the Holy Spirit. We may not be prepared to take on a spiritual task on our own, but we are always prepared when we are submitted to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to empower our efforts.
Ignorance of the solution. There is a dramatically different resource given to people fo faith that empowers them to embrace a new and different task: faith. When we have faith, we understand that God is going to lead us as we join Him in His kingdom work. We do not need to know all of the answers up front. We simply need to know that it is God who has called us to obedience, and we can look forward to discovering the journey that He takes us on.
Exodus 4:10. And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.
When called upon by the LORD to follow Him in obedience, our first thoughts are often focused upon our own perceived inabilities. The task to which God is calling Moses is largely one of communication: convincing the Pharaoh and all of the nation of Israel of his identity and calling. He must complete this task through spoken communication, something that Moses does not feel that he is particularly skilled in. Actually, this is one of the many rationalizations that we use when we deny God’s calling in our lives. If asked of their greatest fear, many people will list “public speaking” at or near the top. Moses has been a shepherd for his last fourty years, providing no occasion for him to lead people. As a Hebrew prince of Egypt, he had no position of authority with which to lead the Israelites, much less have any significant relationship with them.
We can note that this argument contains all three of the rationalizations listed above: feelings of inadequacy, lack of preparation for the task, and ignorance of how the task is to be accomplished. Moses simply does not realize how the power of God can be used in His life when he simply allows God to work through Him. There is nobody better suited to this task than Moses, who spent forty years learning the workings of Egyptian government, and forty years learning the intricacies of faith under Jethro.
Moses is still thinking that he must accomplish everything by his own power alone, “hidden” skills that have been given to him by God that he wholly underestimates.
Exodus 4:11. And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?
Unlike this event in Moses’ life, we usually will not dialogue with God concerning our opinions. We tend to state them, ignore the Holy Spirit’s gentle voice or our knowledge of God’s purpose from our study of God’s Word, and move on. However, Moses found himself in dialogue, and at this point the LORD, YAHEWH, had the opportunity to arrest Moses’ attention and cause him to hear the truth.
Moses has moved from simply arguing about his own inadequacies to openly denying that the LORD can use him. By denying the LORD, Moses is literally telling God that he knows more than God. When we deny the LORD by citing our own inadequacies, we are doing the same thing. When Moses insisted upon citing his own perceived inadequacies, the LORD presented a simple argument: “Is it not I that made you? Is it not I that gave you this voice?” In this, the LORD is asking Moses, “Is it not I that gave you the resources to accomplish the task that I call you to?” We are not in a position to tell the LORD that He does not know what He is doing. The LORD, obviously, knows well, and calls us to His work, simply expecting obedience.
Exodus 4:12. Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.
The LORD’s response to Moses is simple, and it is the same response He gives to us when He calls: “Now, therefore, go.” God has promised to provide all of the resourses necessary to accomplish His task through us. All we need to do is put our faith in the LORD into action and go willingly where He calls. Meeting Moses at His point of need (and ours), God told Moses as He also tells us, “I will give you the words that you will need when the time comes.” All that Moses now needs to do is step out in faith. Of course, we know that Moses is such a man of faith that he immediately followed…
Exodus 4:13. And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.
The language and grammar of the KJV may not be as descriptive as the Hebrew text as some other translations that together offer a clearer rendering: “LORD, I beg you: send someone else.”
It is only human nature that when we are surrounded by others and a call goes out for the group to meet a need, we look at the crowd and easily think that this is someone else’s responsibility. However, when everyone in the group is thinking the same thing, the work never gets done. This refusal to follow the LORD in obedience is the reason why such a small core group in a church fellowship must take on far more than their own share of the work of the church. When we hear of a financial need, we may contribute a little, but we look to others to give generously. When we hear the need of someone to take on a menial task, we consider ourselves above it. We come up with rationalizations that lead us to say to the LORD: “send someone else.”
Exodus 4:14-17. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart. 15And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. 16And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. 17And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.
It is rather obvious that the LORD is disappointed in us when we willfully reject His call upon us to be engaged in His kingdom work as He leads us. Moses argued with God to the point that God was angered with him. Again, meeting Moses at his point of need, the LORD already knows of Moses’ abilities, and engaged Aaron to work with Moses so that each could contribute their skills to the task. Aaron would serve as Moses’ spokesman, and would get his direction from Moses. The LORD also directed Moses’ attention to his shepherd’s staff, a tool that he had carried and used for many years, declaring that he would continue to carry it as a reminder of his identity, and as an icon of the task to which Moses is called. Moses will find many uses for this “rod” as the LORD leads him through the Exodus experience.
We may note that Aaron did initially speak for Moses, but Moses’ need for Aaron quickly ebbed as Moses picked up more and more of the task of speaking to the Pharaoh and to the Israelites until it was Moses who spoke to them so dynamically and led them himself.
When we look at the call of Moses, we may see a little bit of ourselves. When yo u consider our contribution to the work of the LORD where are you in the 80-20 spectrum. Are you one of the 80% who depends upon the other 20% to pick up that which the LORD has called you to do? What rationalizations do you use to exercise your reluctance to serve the LORD without hesitation? Let us overcome the lies of the prince of this world and exercise the faith that the LORD has given us, and depending upon His love and His grace, let us press without hesitation toward the mark of the high calling of Jesus Christ.
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