Moses Answers the Call
In our previous lesson we read about the plight of the oppressed Israelites in Egypt and Moses, a Jewish baby cast away in the river, but rescued and eventually taken into the royal court by an Egyptian princess.
We also learn of Moses, as a young man, attempting to lead his people in some way, but ending up fleeing Egypt to escape the consequences of his killing a fellow Egyptian while trying to defend a Jewish kinsman.
This brings Moses into the employ and family, through marriage, of Jethro, a priest of the most high God, in the country of Midian where the Midianite people are related to the Jews since their heritage, like Moses, also begins with Abraham, but down through Keturah, Abraham's wife after Sarah died. Moses' life is fairly uneventful for forty years as he tends sheep and raises a family in the safety and obscurity of Midian.
All of this changes as one day the Lord calls to him amidst the miraculous scene of a bush that was burning with fire, but not destroyed – a sign of God's eternal presence among temporal mankind. From the burning bush God relates the suffering and pleas for deliverance from Moses' people, the Israelites, in Egypt and calls upon Moses to lead them to the promised land.
The Deliverer – Moses (Continued) – Exodus 3:10-4:26
Despite the miracle before his eyes and his and previous attempt to free his people, Moses is reluctant to believe that God is calling on him to lead his people. His attitude is – "surely, not me Lord! Send someone more qualified, gifted, and suitable."
1. Round 1 (of 4) Exodus 3:10-12 – Moses' Attempt to Reject His Call
10Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." 11But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?" 12And He said, "Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain."
- Exodus 3:10-12
God outlines the plan – Go to Pharaoh and tell him God wants His people to leave Egypt. Moses responds that he's in no position to go to the king and make demands. He's a nobody. God tells him that he won't be alone, the Lord will be with him. Also, he will know it was God with him because after they came out, they'll worship God at the very place where he received the original call.
2. Round 2 – Exodus 3:13-22
In this second encounter Moses complains that if he is to lead the people why would they follow him? They're going to question his authority. The underlying point is that I'm a nobody, who will follow me? God equips him with the only authority he'll need - that he is being sent by the true and living God, not one of the pagan deities of the area and era.
- He tells Moses His name and identity.
- "I AM WHO I AM" is the One sending him.
- He is the Lord, the God worshipped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- This same God who made promises to the patriarchs has heard your prayers.
- He tells Moses to gather the elders of the people and say to them that He is aware of their suffering in Egypt and will lead them to their promised land.
He then instructs Moses to go to Pharaoh with the elders and tell him that the Lord has instructed them to ask this ruler to release the Israelites to go on a three-day journey so they can sacrifice to the Lord. He warns them that at first Pharaoh will refuse and will only relent when forced, which the Lord will do miraculously. God even describes what will happen when they leave – the Israelites will be given gold, silver, and clothing by the Egyptians as they depart. In other words, they will plunder the Egyptians without even lifting a finger against them.
3. Round 3 – Exodus 4:1-9
1Then Moses said, "What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, 'The Lord has not appeared to you.'" 2The Lord said to him, "What is that in your hand?" And he said, "A staff." 3Then He said, "Throw it on the ground." So, he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. 4But the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail"— so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5"that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you." 6The Lord furthermore said to him, "Now put your hand into your bosom." So, he put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. 7Then He said, "Put your hand into your bosom again." So, he put his hand into his bosom again, and when he took it out of his bosom, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. 8"If they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign. 9But if they will not believe even these two signs or heed what you say, then you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water which you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground."
- Exodus 4:1-9
Moses now circles back to an old argument stating that even if he gets before Pharaoh and his leaders - what will he do if they just don't believe he's been sent by the Lord?
At this point God provides him with three signs he can produce to prove what he claims is true:
- The transformation of his staff into a snake and back into a staff at his bidding.
- The changing of his healthy flesh to leprosy and back again at will.
- The converting of the water of the Nile River to blood.
The signs were powerful enough to convince the Jews that Moses was a prophet sent from God and substantial enough to convince the Pharaoh (who was considered a god by the Egyptians) that Moses had formidable power only possessed by the gods and someone he needed to listen to.
4. Round 4 – Exodus 4:10-17
10Then Moses said to the Lord, "Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." 11The Lord said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say." 13But he said, "Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will." 14Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, and He said, "Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. 15You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. 16Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you, and you will be as God to him. 17You shall take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs."
- Exodus 4:10-17
This time Moses tries to excuse and plead his way out twice.
1. The first time by pleading lack of eloquent speech.
- The idea being he didn't have the skill to speak to men of high position (even though he had been brought up and educated at the royal court as the son of a princess).
- He emphasizes that he has always had problems of one kind or another.
The Lord responds that He controls the speech of all men, and it will be Him speaking through Moses and not Moses himself.
2. The second effort made in this round sees Moses out of excuses, simply pleading with God to send somebody else – anyone but me!
God's answer is to fortify Moses with human help in the person of his older brother, Aaron. The Lord assures Moses:
- Aaron will gladly follow him.
- God will speak to Moses, Moses will relay to Aaron, and Aaron will speak Moses' words to the people.
- Aside from one occasion later on, Aaron will submit to Moses and his instructions as if these were coming from God. Moses was like a prophet in the eyes of Aaron.
There are no more objections from Moses and as he prepares to go, God reminds him to bring his shepherd's staff, which he will use to perform miracles before Pharaoh and the Israelites.
5. Moses Prepares for His Departure – 4:18-23
At this point Moses prepares his family, receives a blessing and assurances from his father-in-law, Jethro, that it is safe to return and make his way back to Egypt. Providing a donkey suggests transport for his wife and youngest son on a long journey.
Along the way God speaks again to Moses and lays out, in a brief summary, the details of what will happen when he faces Pharaoh:
- Moses will perform miracles.
- God will harden Pharaoh's heart in refusing to release the people (we will discuss this and its meaning later).
- Moses will warn Pharaoh, but in the end only the killing of every firstborn child and animal in Egypt will move the Pharaoh into releasing the people.
6. Bridegroom of Blood – 4:24-26
Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death.
- Exodus 4:24
This is an obscure passage that does not seem to fit in, not relate to anything else, and uses an unusual expression, "bridegroom of blood." Let's break it down. Only three persons are mentioned:
- The Lord (angel of the Lord)
- Zipporah – Moses' Midianite wife, mother of his two sons, daughter of Jethro the priest of the Most High God.
- Moses' son (Gershom – oldest/Eliezer – youngest – Exodus 18:3-4)
Probably his youngest son since Moses was circumcised and had probably circumcised his first-born but for some reason had not yet done so with the younger. Moses gathered his family and began the journey back to Egypt to mobilize his people, gather the elders and make his request to Pharaoh to release the Israelites. While at a lodging place on route, the Lord (probably in appearance as an angel) appears to Zipporah and his uncircumcised son, not Moses (some translations say Moses or his son in the margin). God had said that all males had to be circumcised or they were cut off from the people.
But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."
- Genesis 17:14
This judgment was literally falling on Moses' child, the man sent by God to liberate the Jewish people. His own son was outside of the covenant and about to be killed as opposed to being discovered later on and compromising his father's leadership. Similar to David's illegitimate son with Bathsheba being taken, avoiding the prospect that his child become heir to David's throne and compromise its legitimacy and spiritual nature.
25Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and threw it at Moses' feet, and she said, "You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me." 26So He let him alone. At that time, she said, "You are a bridegroom of blood"—because of the circumcision. -
- Exodus 4:25-26
Zipporah circumcises the child and touches the child's feet with the foreskin (not Moses who has not been mentioned at all in this passage). The touching of the child's feet would be the completion of this ritual as the Midianites practiced it signifying that the entire body has been sanctified and thus saved from destruction. Here is a helpful reconstruction of the scene provided by Garret's Commentary:
"We might, therefore, suggest the following reconstruction of the story behind this text. Moses and Zipporah set out for Egypt. Along the way, their son suddenly became deathly ill. Zipporah recognized that the boy needed circumcised, and she did the act with a flint knife (flint can be more finely sharpened than can bronze and is therefore better for performing surgery). After the removal of the foreskin, she ritually touched the boy's feet (or genitals) with her hand or the flint while saying, 'You are hatan damim to me' (a member of my community by virtue of the blood circumcision). These formulaic words concluded the circumcision ceremony. The act formalized the inclusion of the boy in the community. After that, the boy recovered. Zipporah had turned aside the wrath of God." P. 230
Deliverance – 1 – (Exodus 1:1-6:27)
C. Initial Failure – (4:27-6:13)
27Now the Lord said to Aaron, "Go to meet Moses in the wilderness." So, he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which He had sent him, and all the signs that He had commanded him to do. 29Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; 30and Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped. - --
- Exodus 4:27-31
Note that Aaron is called by God also (no details given), however he enthusiastically greets his brother and takes in, without doubt or hesitation, all that Moses shares with him. Aaron takes on his role immediately in that he does the speaking to the Jewish leaders and performed the signs – both of which were first given to Moses by God. This initial meeting resulted in the faith of the people in the persons (Moses and Aaron) and the message that they proclaimed (freedom from Egyptian slavery). The witness of their faith was the humble (bowed down) worship they offered to God based on the message they received.
1. First Meeting with Pharaoh – (5:1-5)
Moses and Aaron have momentum – the people believe the miracles and the message and bless the mission to go before the Pharaoh to demand, in the name of God, their immediate release.
1And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'" 2But Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go." 3Then they said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, otherwise He will fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword." 4But the king of Egypt said to them, "Moses and Aaron, why do you draw the people away from their work? Get back to your labors!" 5Again Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!"
- Exodus 5:1-5
One thing we need to know about the Pharaoh is that he too considered himself to be a god as well as the "so called God of these Jewish slaves" who now had temerity to not only challenge his exalted position as leader and king of mighty Egypt, but they also suggested that their God might be a greater divine force than himself – well, we'll see about that!
Moses only asks for three days to organize a corporate worship of the Jewish people; this was a fairly reasonable request.
- The Egyptians had numerous feasts throughout the year to honor various gods which required them to be away from their work.
- Having the feast away from the city in the desert would not be an offense against the Egyptian population who despised the Jews and their religion.
- Moses didn't ask to leave for good (this time), only three days for the journey and time for worship.
- The worship had been commanded by their God and Egyptians knew the seriousness of this because they also had worship obligations that would bring curses on them if they disobeyed.
We're familiar with the Pharaoh's arrogant and dismissive response. He dismisses their request as a cover for laziness and increases the degree of difficulty of their task by no longer providing straw for the making of bricks while maintaining the same production quota:
- Bricks were made with mud and mixed with straw, which was kneaded by foot and then placed in forms to dry in the sun.
- To force the Jews to collect their own straw while demanding the same quota was the Pharaoh's way of breaking the spirit of the people because their sheer number and strength posed a threat to him and his rule and nation.
The passage describes the loss of faith in Moses and Aaron's plan and the consequences for the people. Even pleas by the Israelites' foreman are rejected by the Pharaoh as lazy excuses to avoid doing their jobs.
In the end the Jewish leaders return and blame Moses and Aaron for giving the king an excuse to annihilate their people. The first attempt to deliver the people is an abject failure. At this point Moses returns to God in prayer acknowledging that this whole idea was a failure from the start since their meeting with the Pharaoh resulted in worse conditions for the people and not better. In his prayer you can almost hear Moses say, "I told you this would not work!" in accusing God Himself of failure.
In every chapter, no matter the topic or scene, we can draw practical lessons that can apply to our lives, our situations today. Here are four lessons from today's section:
When dealing with God you have to interact with Him by faith not reason.
With humans or human organizations, you use logic, persuasion, reason, or clarity of thought, and speech, among other things to make a point, to understand, to cooperate, to succeed in a joint effort of getting things done or getting what you want or need.
God however, who speaks stars into existence, defeats armies with a single angel, who begins a baby's life through His Holy Spirit, or raises the dead with a simple command does not deal with man using the tools that humans use to interact with each other. Our relationship with Him is based on faith, not reason.
All things are possible for those who believe.
- Mark 9:23
- This failure Moses experienced has more to do with teaching how to properly relate to God and less about how to convince the Pharaoh – God even told Moses that He would fail in this first attempt (Ex. 4:21) and Moses' reaction simply demonstrated that he didn't really believe this would happen.
Many times, when things go wrong, or you have fear or discouragement and think you're not understanding God - don't examine your plan or your prayer, examine your faith and see if you're living, working, and serving by faith – not reason or logic.
Never Doubt God's Word. He will do what He Promises.
The thing that Moses had to learn was that God could actually do the impossible or what seemed impossible. Just learning that lesson took almost 40 years in the desert.
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
- I Corinthians 10:11
Paul explains to the church that the past events are recorded so we will have concrete examples of how God operates, and one key lesson taught over and over again is that God's word is sure. For example:
- If He says there is a heaven, there is a heaven.
- If He says sins are forgiven, they are forgiven.
- If He warns of punishment, be careful because there will be punishment.
Like Moses, much of our Christian lives are spent learning to believe and trust that God says He will do for you personally – He will do! You can't experience the peace that surpasses understanding that Paul talks about in Philippians 4:7 unless we begin taking God at His word.
If God Sends, He Provides.
This point is especially important to understand if you are involved in serving the Lord in ministry. If you feel called to ministry of some kind in the church (preaching, teaching, service, worship, benevolence, leadership, etc.), know this – if God gives you a task, you can be sure He will provide what you need to finish that task to His glory. Sometimes He provides in unusual ways or ways you're not used to, or He provides just on time, but if He calls and sends you, He will provide for you too.
It Won't Be Easy
Just because you believe and you are faithful and you are sincerely doing your best to serve the Lord, there will always be trouble, injustice, mistakes and disagreements.
Moses was well equipped with Aaron as his spokesman, miracles ready at hand, the Jewish leaders behind him and look what happened – the Pharaoh wasn't impressed, literally threw him out of the palace and unjustly punished the people and they blamed Moses for their troubles.
- You try to organize something for the congregation with lots of personal time and effort – but nobody comes.
- You volunteer to help a family in need and find out that you've been accused of not minding your own business.
- You are always ready to serve, to help, to visit, to give and then your mother dies, and no one calls, no cards, no visits from those you've visited in the past.
Why do I even try?!
At those critical moments when Satan has managed to make your service to God seem worthless, thankless, unnoticed, and unappreciated, remember this Christian truism: God never said that it would be easy, but He did promise it would be worth it.
2In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way where I am going."
- John 14:2-4