Several weeks ago we began our series entitled “Lessons from Moses”. The first week we took a look at Moses' early life and we talked about the beginning of his journey and how God used a terrible situation to ultimately bring God glory. Last week we looked at Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush and how God proved to Moses that we can have confidence in God. Today we are going to look at Moses and his conversation with God and how God deals with Moses' thoughts of unworthiness.
Several years ago I was privileged enough to be accepted into a chaplaincy program at Tampa General Hospital. I met many people during my time there, including Mabel. Mabel had been in the hospital for several months for pain that no one could find. She was feeling worthless and alone and said the only thing she ever did anymore was lie in bed and read. Over the course of the next several months Mabel and I visited and I tried to convince her that she was in fact not worthless or alone. We talked about ways she could feel useful again, I read Scripture with her, I prayed with her. Nothing seemed to help shake this feeling she had.
Well one day during one of our visits we were talking about things she could do to help her with her feelings of unworthiness. I asked her what she liked to do and she said read. I asked what she likes to read and she said everything. I asked her if she ever thought about reading to the other patients. She said no way! What if I get tongue tied? What if they tell me to get out when I ask?
Mabel felt like she had nothing to offer and was giving all sorts of excuses to not get involved. Our Scripture lesson today depicts Moses feeling much that same way.
Last week I explained that 3:1-4:17 is one long section or division of the book of Exodus. Today we are going to focus on this last section where Moses is questioning God. Our story begins at the foot of Mt. Horeb in the middle of a conversation Moses is having with God. But to understand this middle we need to know the beginning. Moses has already told God, at the beginning of chapter 4, that the people he is to deliver will not believe him that God has appeared to him. Well, in order to try and put Moses' mind at ease God shows Moses a few signs of God's power. God first turns Moses' shepherd's staff into a snake and then back into a staff. Next God turns Moses' arm white with leprosy and immediately restores it to full health. Moses is then told to show these wonders to Pharaoh to prove that God is with Moses and that Pharaoh should release the Israelites to Moses. God even goes one step further and tells Moses that if all of that does not work to take some water from the Nile River and pour it on the ground and God will turn it into blood.
None of that seems to phase Moses because, picking up in verse 10, his response to all of this is that “I am not a good speaker”. The Lord counters with a few questions. Who is that makes a person's mouth? Who is it that gives a person the ability to speak or not speak, hear or not hear, see or not see? Is it not I, the Lord? And again God tells Moses to go and do as he has been told.
But then in verse 13 Moses just flat out says “NO!” To read this verse one could see Moses very politely saying God please send someone else. But I envision Moses at the end of his rope. He has given several excuses as to why he cannot do what God is asking of him and he is finally fed up and just says “no”. Now while God is okay will all of Moses' questions, it is when Moses finally puts his foot down and says no that God gets angry. For the first time God gets angry with Moses and his response to being called and tells Moses that Aaron can go and speak for Moses. God is not giving up on Moses.
Now Moses and Aaron will work together, but they will not be equal partners. You see, Aaron is going to be the mouthpiece and Moses is going to be “God to Aaron”. This still shows that Moses is going to be God's instrument while Aaron is simply a concession to Moses' argument of not being worthy.
And note that God's response to all of this is “Moses take your staff”. Why is that staff so important? This staff is what God is going to use to humble the world power through the ten plagues and part the Red Sea so the Israelites can make it across to Mt. Horeb. This staff is the symbol of the shepherd, one of the lowliest and menial jobs of this culture. And God is going to use this symbol to bring about the central salvific act of the Old Testament.
So what can we learn from Moses' questions and God's response here at the foot of Mt. Horeb?
The first thing that stood out to me was not so much an observation but a question. Is it okay to question God? I have heard that question asked many times. Is it okay to question God? Throughout Scripture, and in our own lives, God calls people to serve the Kingdom. And in our case sometimes we may feel that we cannot possibly accomplish what we feel God is calling us to do. Moses certainly felt that way. And that is where we begin to question. But we need to understand that our deficiencies, regardless of what we think they are, do not determine God's actions. Neither do our vocations or experience. Time after time he calls those out of ordinary circumstances for extra-ordinary tasks. Look at Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. All of them were called out of ordinary circumstances. In fact they all respond with questions and disbelief that God is calling them for the tasks that are being placed before them. And none of them were humiliated or fired. God answers each of their concerns and uses them anyway because God is greater than any of our inadequacies, lack of experience, or lack of talent.
But what we find out in those periods of uncertainty is what leads me to our next point and that is God meets us where we are. You see it is in that uncertainty that God comes to us, meets with us, and we grow. How many times have you heard stories of someone being in the right place at the right time to minister to someone? How many of you have been in the right place at the right time? When God calls us I do not believe that we are immediately expected to fully understand the situation. I believe that if we follow the call we will see that God will give us the wisdom, the words, the courage, whatever is needed. God places ministry opportunities right in our path. We just have to be open to responding when called upon. We are all called in some capacity to serve the Kingdom and often times that can be in the places that we are already.
Another lesson we can learn from Moses here is that God can use anyone. At this point Moses was a man wanted for murder, with no kin, and no home. Now Jethro had taken him in but Moses still felt that he had no people. He even named his first son Gershom which means “I am a stranger in a strange land”. Moses felt there was no way he could be associated with the God of his father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. But God had other plans. God created you and God has a purpose for you, regardless of perceived ability. But there is one thing that God will not overcome and that is our will. God will not override our will. We have to be willing to surrender our will to God and be a willing participant in the Kingdom. God can use anyone, God will use everyone. The question is, are you wiling to accept?
Well one week it came time for my weekly visit with Mabel and when I walked into her room she was not there. I went to the nurse's station to see if she was out for a test and they said no, she should be in her room. Just about that time I heard what I thought was Mabel's voice. I started to follow it and sure enough it was Mabel. She was in one of the patients rooms reading a story to her. When she came out she said she no time for me there was someone else waiting for her to read to them.
Mabel took her feelings of uncertainty and grew through them to bring a little joy to her floor of the hospital. Moses took his feelings of uncertainty in Exodus and eventually became the liberator of the Israelite people. God can use any of us. And it is in those times of doubt, in those feelings of unworthiness that God will help us grow, that God will use us, and that the Kingdom will become all that much stronger because of it.