Moses’ Excuses (Exodus 3:9-15)
Some individuals come up with quite imaginative excuses. Take, for example, the soldier who deserted his regiment during battle. He was brought before the general who upbraided him and called him the vilest of names for betraying his Fatherland. The soldier replied: “I did not betray my Fatherland. I love my country, and would even sacrifice my life for her, but I had to run because I despise the enemy so much that I couldn’t stand the sight of his face.” In New Zealand a woman who drove for 25 years without a license was hauled before a judge to be fined. She told him, “I only drive on roads that have very little traffic. And none of those roads lead to an office where I could apply for a driver’s license.”
As absurd as those excuses sound to us, think of how absurd our excuses must sound before God. It seems quite obvious that Moses’ excuses seemed absurd to God. God’s people were in bondage in Egypt, and God wanted to free them from that bondage. God goes to Moses and tells him to lead His people out of bondage–“Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (v 10).
Moses put forward excuse after excuse. This evening we want to look at Moses’ excuses and compare them to the excuses we make for not sharing God’s message. Moses would in many respects serve as an evangelist. He was to lead the Israelites from bondage to freedom, which would prefigure the salvation Jesus would bring, freedom from the bondage to sin and hell. He would teach both the Israelites and Pharaoh about the God who had called him.
All of us are to serve as evangelists, not just the elders and deacons and preacher. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (Jn 15:1-2). To the apostles, Jesus said, “Go . . . and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). Some might want to say, “Wait a minute! Jesus spoke this to the apostles, so it doesn’t apply to me.” But notice quite carefully what Jesus told the apostles: “Teaching them [new coverts] to observe all things that I have commanded you.”
Moses made multiple excuses, and I’m sure that we do, too. Let’s take a careful look at Moses’ excuses.
Why Should I Go? Exodus 3:11-12
When God told Moses to go to Pharaoh, Moses replies, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
We might really be tempted to praise Moses’ humility here, and say something like, “Look, Moses was simply being humble; he realized he didn’t have the right mix of talents for that daunting task.” That simply cannot be the case, for God was calling Moses to this task. Who knows best who ought to serve in what capacity than the One who made us? I also don’t think Moses is simply being humble here, for he makes a lot of other excuses, and I’m convinced that this first bit of bargaining with God is probably in the same vein.
I wonder if Moses wasn’t saying something along the lines of, “Wait a minute, God. Why should I be the one to go? Let me stay here and continue to raise my father-in-law’s flock. God, have You thought about Levi? He’d be great at it. Or, God, what about Eleazar–he’d be better than Levi. You just leave me where I am and You go get one of those guys.”
Don’t we say similar things to God sometimes? “Look, God, I’m busy–by the time I get home from work, get a bite to eat, get the kids’ homework done, get them to ball practice, and get home and get them in bed, I just can’t do it.” “Look, God, I’m just not that talented. Why don’t you get someone else to go and tell people about Jesus?”
Fortunately, the early church didn’t think like that. “Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). If you read the passage, those who were scattered were the Christians in Judea except the apostles (v 1). These Christians might have said, “Those who are well-equipped to preach the gospel are in Jerusalem–they knew Jesus personally, they can speak in tongues, they can heal, and they can pass on the Holy Spirit. I might as well keep my mouth shut.” But, they didn’t. “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philem 6). We have no record that Philemon was talented in evangelism, but Paul prays that he might be active in sharing his faith.
The other thought going through Moses’ head was a quite egocentric thought. Notice what he says to the Lord, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Moses focused on himself rather than on the Israelites who were in a deplorable condition or on God who would enable him to fulfill his ministry.
Don’t we sometimes do the very same thing? Instead of focusing on our friend next door who is about to be damned to an eternal hell, we’re worried about missing our favorite TV show. Instead of focusing on our friend who is about to be lost for an eternity, we’re concerned about what we’ll get for talking to him about Jesus. Instead of focusing on God’s promises to help us, we’re saying, “God, I just can’t do it.”
Notice what God told Moses in response to this excuse: “I will certainly be with you” (v 12).
You know that God was with Moses: through Moses, He sent plagues upon the Egyptians, through Moses God provided the Law to His people, through Moses God provided His people with water. God continually blessed Moses’ ministry.
God has made the same promise to us. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Granted, Jesus spoke these words to the apostles, and He was with them in a miraculous way: He enabled them to perform miracles, to speak in foreign tongues, and He’d tell them where to go. Yet, I’m convinced that Jesus’ promise still applies–He will still be with us and He will still bless our ministry.
Are you seizing Jesus’ promise to be with you, or are you making excuses?
What if They Don’t Understand Me, Exodus 3:13-15
Moses says, “God, suppose I go to the people, and they say to me, ‘Which God sent you?'” Moses is asking this question with a polytheistic, Egyptian background. The Egyptians had a plethora of gods–they had a sun god, a sea god, an earth god, and the like. Moses basically says here, “If I go to the people and say a God has sent me to you, they’re going to say, ‘Which god?'” Moses is fearful that the people aren’t going to understand who God is and what demands He has.
Don’t we make the same basic excuse at times? “God, I can’t talk to that one guy at work. He’s an atheist; he doesn’t believe in You, and if I say anything about You, he’ll think I’m nuts.” “God, I can’t talk to that new guy at work. He’s a Muslim, and he believes in a vastly different god than I do.” “God, that guy over there is a member of a denomination that thinks you still speak to man directly today. There’s no way I can talk to him.”
Notice what God says in response, “I AM WHO I AM. . . . Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”
God here emphasizes His eternal nature, a nature which enables Him to keep His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to make them a great nation and to bless them. Notice what else God tells Moses: “This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” That name “I AM WHO I AM” is the name by which we are to proclaim God today.
This is the name which juxtaposes the God we serve with the gods of others. This is the God who is different from the atheist’s god, for this God exists and is eternal. This is the God who is different than the Muslim Allah, for this God is not a conglomeration of false concepts of God by heretical Christians that Muhammad encountered as is Allah. This is the God who is different than the “god” who speaks directly to people today, for this is the eternal God, not a god who says one thing to one person and another thing to another person.
Yes, the challenges of proclaiming the true God in a pluralistic society such as ours are great, but God is still God and He still reigns!
What if They Don’t Believe Me? Exodus 4:1
Moses said to God, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.'”
Imagine someone in Moses’ shoes. You go to work tomorrow morning, and a co-worker comes up and says, “God appeared to me last night and told me everything we need to do.” Are you going to believe that person, or are you going to call the mental ward to see if you can have him committed for a few days?
We face a daunting task in convincing individuals that we speak for God today. No, we’re not going to claim that God spoke to us last night, for we know that He doesn’t operate that way any longer. But, we’re likely to make claims that seem quite outrageous. “What do you mean that baptism is essential to salvation? My grandpa was a faithful Christian, and he was never baptized.” “What do you mean that one church isn’t as good as another? My Aunt Suzie goes to one denomination, Mom and Dad go to another, and I go to yet another. We all believe in Jesus. What’s the big deal?” “What’s wrong with my living with this woman? We love each other; we don’t need to get married. It’s the 21st century for crying out loud.”
Notice how God responded to Moses. He gave Moses the ability to perform three miracles: to turn his staff into a snake, to turn his hand leprous, and to turn water from the Nile into blood (vv 2-9). Miracles in first-century Christianity served the same purpose: to establish the Word of God. “They went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mk 16:20). “God also [bore] witness [to the word of truth] both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (Heb 2:4).
Here’s my point: God gave Moses and the apostles the ability to perform signs which would establish faith in what Moses and the apostles taught.
God still enables His people to produce faith in what they teach. You don’t need me to tell you, I trust, that God doesn’t use miracles to produce faith today. God uses Scripture to produce faith. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).
We can’t tell people our opinions, our feelings, or our ideas–We need to point them to the Word of God that produces faith. You know how Luke praised the Bereans: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If we want people to believe what we say, we need to make sure that what we say comes from Scripture and that we can point people to Scripture as our source.
What if They Can’t Understand Me? Exodus 4:10-11
Moses said to God, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
I honestly wonder whether or not that was the case. I’ve heard sermons all my life about how Moses wasn’t a good speaker and look at all he accomplished for God. I’m not so certain Moses wasn’t a fine speaker; this is nothing but an excuse to keep Moses from going, and I honestly wonder how much truth is in it.
Don’t we make the same type of excuses for not doing the Lord’s work? “I’m just not that talented at evangelism. I ought to let someone else do it.” “I’m not the right person to talk to him. I’m too close to him. I really ought to wait and let someone else do it.” I wonder about those excuses just like I do about Moses’ excuses–are they true or are they simply ways to get out of doing what we know we ought to do?
Notice what God said to Moses: “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?”
Do you get the thrust of what God is telling Moses? “Moses, I gave you your abilities; you go use them.”
Is it not the case that God has given each of us abilities? You know what we read in the parable of the Talents: “To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability” (Matt 25:15). In a context of supernatural, temporary gifts, we read, Romans 12:6-8.
As you read these two texts and other similar texts, a couple points emerge:
- We have different abilities. You may not be able to do what I can do, and vice versa–God designed it that way so that we could complement one another in His body. We shouldn’t feel inferior if we don’t have a certain talent.
- We each have talents. The texts do not say, “This guy over here doesn’t have any talents.” They all presuppose that we have talents. Therefore, we each need to use our talents to the best of our abilities to serve God and His kingdom.
At the close of a meeting, a critic approached a preacher, and said, “Sir, during your address this evening I counted eighteen mistakes in your English.” Looking at his critic, the preacher said, “Young man, I am using to the glory of God all the grammar that I know. Are you doing the same?” Are you using all of your abilities to the glory of God? Do you need to come this evening and begin using your abilities to God’s glory?