4 Moses answered, “What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
Exodus 4:11-13 CSB
In yesterday’s post, we looked at the first two questions Moses had for God:
- Who am I? (Ex 3:11) Answer: You are the one I will be with through this entire ordeal (Ex. 3:12).
- Who are you? (Ex. 3:13) in response, God revealed His personal name YHWH to Moses. In English it is pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah. In Hebrew it is not pronounced at all. They take the third commandment very seriously.
Beginning with chapter 4, we get the rest of Moses’ argument for why he thought God had picked the wrong guy. Something about the third question hit me in a different way when I read it this time:
What if they won’t listen?
I had always assumed that the “they” in that question was Pharaoh and his officials. But when I looked at it closely, I think “they” is also (if not mostly) about the Israelites. Follow along:
Moses anticipated that Pharaoh wouldn’t believe him, and so God gave him some signs to perform— a slithering staff, a leprous hand, water turned to blood. Pharaoh was unimpressed. His magicians would reproduce two of these (see Exodus 7:8-22).
What Moses maybe didn’t anticipate was that his own people the Israelites wouldn’t listen. They did at first. In 4:31, when Moses and Aaron met with the elders prior to going to Pharaoh, they did a dress rehearsal of the signs God gave them to perform before Pharaoh. Scripture says, 31 The people believed, and when they heard that the Lord had paid attention to them and that he had seen their misery, they knelt low and worshiped.
All was well until they faced opposition. Pharaoh rejected Moses request for a three day journey into the wilderness, and then spitefully took away the straw the Hebrew slaves used to make the daily quota of bricks he required. Then, the Hebrews change their tune faster than a bad karaoke singer:
21 “May the Lord take note of you and judge,” they said to them, “because you have made us reek to Pharaoh and his officials—putting a sword in their hand to kill us!” (5:21)
This reinforces Moses’ self-doubting, and he blames God for ever picking him in the first place:
22 So Moses went back to the Lord and asked, “Lord, why have you caused trouble for this people? And why did you ever send me? 23 Ever since I went in to Pharaoh to speak in your name he has caused trouble for this people, and you haven’t rescued your people at all.” (5:22-23)
In the next chapter, God again states His plan for the Israelites. Again the people don’t listen. And again Moses feels like his self-doubt is confirmed:
6 “Therefore tell the Israelites: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians and rescue you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the forced labor of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you to the land that I swore[b] to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.” 9 Moses told this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their broken spirit and hard labor.
10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, 11 “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go from his land.”
12 But Moses said in the Lord’s presence, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, then how will Pharaoh listen to me, since I am such a poor speaker?”
My heart is so tender to Moses at this point. I’ve doubted my leadership capabilities for as long as I’ve been in ministry, often feeling like I was an actor playing the part of a minister rather than actually being called.
I can preach and teach. That’s my wheelhouse. And I am a decent leader, as long as nothing ever happens.
But in ministry, something always happens. A family feels slighted if I don’t speak to them. A member reads something about a Bible teacher we are using in a video series and stops coming to church because I’m promoting it. A business meeting gets contentious. There is conflict with the staff.
And whenever there is any disruption or opposition, I point to God and say, “See? I told You You picked the wrong guy.”
But every time I do that, I submit to the heresy that all of this depends on me. I make an idol of my own insecurity, and I am continually making sacrifices to it. And when I read passages like Exodus 6:6-12, what jumps out is Moses’ confirmation bias: This is what I believe about myself, and this circumstance confirms it.
But notice there are only two lines where Moses talks about who he is and what he can do. The rest of the passage emphasizes who God is and what God will do:
- I am the Lord.
- I will bring you out and rescue you.
- I will redeem yoiu.
- I will take you as my people.
- I will be your God.
- I will bring you to the land I promised.
- I will give it to you as a possession.
Oh, Lord, when I believe you picked the wrong guy, remind me that I am following the right God. When I highlight my doubt, remind me of Your truth.