PERSISTENT HESITATION AND OBJECTIONS REGARDING OBEYING GOD’S CALL (DESPITE DIVINE ASSURANCES) END UP ANGERING GOD
Our life as a believer should be all about pleasing our Lord Jesus Christ. But if you want to learn how to anger God, this account of Moses’ feeble excuses and hesitation to obey provides the perfect pattern. God’s Call to Moses had been clear and specific. We have already studied two earlier objections that Moses offered (I lack Confidence and Clout). We have seen how the Lord patiently encouraged His servant. He provided abundant assurances regarding the positive response he could expect from the Jewish elders as well as the ultimate victory that would be achieved as God delivers His people out of Egypt and brings them into the Promised Land. But Moses was not fully persuaded. He was still living in doubt and fear and unbelief.
Motyer: simple statements of inadequacy (3:11), inability (3:13), ineffectiveness (4:1), incompetence (4:10) and grudging submission (4:13)
I. (:1-9) HESITATION #3 – I LACK CREDIBILITY
A. (:1) Credibility Smokescreen
“Then Moses answered and 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.’”
Alan Redpath: Fear is always the enemy of faith; this is the battleground of Christian experience. A man grows and triumphs as his faith overcomes his fear. To believe God, to rest in the Word of God, to enjoy the promises of God is to conquer our fear.
B. (:2-9) Confirming Signs
1. (:2-5) First Sign – Turning Staff into Serpent
a. (:2-3) Presentation of the Sign – Using Something Ordinary to
Accomplish Something Extraordinary
“And the LORD said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ And he said, ‘A staff.’ Then He said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’ So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.”
J Ligon Duncan: — “What is that in your hand?” – He already knows what is in Moses’ hand. But Moses, and the people of God need to be reminded of something. By asking Moses what is in your hand, he is confirming as Moses writes it down and as Moses retells it to the people of God, that all that Moses has in his hand is an ordinary staff. This isn’t a secret voodoo stick. This isn’t a mighty powerful something or other. It’s just a staff. It’s a shepherd’s staff, and God wants Moses to say it out loud. And he does. “Well, Lord, it’s a rod.” Just like the one that David talks about in Psalm 23:4, it’s the rod, the staff that comforts him. It’s a shepherd’s staff. That’s all it is. There’s nothing magical, supernatural or powerful about that staff that’s important to know. Because God is going to use that very ordinary staff to conquer Egypt. God asks Moses, what is in your hand, in order to confirm that that staff is ordinary, and then God tells him to throw the staff on the ground, and suddenly the staff transforms itself into a serpent; or God, by His own might, transforms the staff into a serpent. And Moses flees away. Now you just learned something else. Moses is not a trickster. Moses is scared to death of the serpent on the ground. He throws the staff down, it turns into a snake, and he beats it, like any normal human being with an inkling of sense. In other words, God is telling you that Moses is not a magician. You see the people of God lived in a culture in Egypt where magic was rife. Egyptian magicians did these kind of tricks. Egyptians believed in these kinds of methodology and magic. And God is confirming to you that His leader is no magician.
Dan Duncan: suggests the following meaning of this staff/serpent “sign” (Ex 4:8-9) – In Egypt that snake was a symbol of Royal and divine power the Pharaoh possessed, the Pharaoh being considered by the Egyptians to be a god. And the serpent that he wore on his crown was the testimony to his divinity. The scepter he held in his hand was emblematic of royalty and power. So Moses threw down a simple shepherd’s staff in contrast to the Pharaoh’s royal scepter and it turned into a serpent. And then it returned to his staff when he simply picked it up and picked it up by the tail, of all places. It would seem that it was signified that Moses had divine authority and divine power over what that serpent represented, Pharaoh himself. He had been given God’s power over the Pharaoh.
Steven Cole: By miraculously changing Moses’ staff into a snake and back again into a staff, the Lord was showing Moses that as he, the lowly shepherd, obediently depended on God’s power, he would have dominion over even this fearful Egyptian tyrant. And, of course, the serpent goes back to the garden as the enemy of God and those made in His image. Ultimately, the seed of the woman (Christ) would crush the head of the serpent, who would bruise Him on the heel (Gen. 3:15). The shepherd’s staff also showed Moses that that which is common and impotent in itself becomes powerful when yielded in obedience to the Lord. This is a foundational lesson for all who serve the Lord. He taught it to the disciples in the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. After giving the disciples the impossible command, “You give them something to eat!” (Mark 6:37), Jesus asked them (Mark 6:38), “How many loaves do you have?” That’s parallel to the Lord’s question to Moses, “What is that in your hand?” After telling Jesus that they had five barley loaves and two fish, Andrew asked the obvious question (John 6:9), “But what are these for so many people?” The point is, the ordinary and impotent becomes sufficient and powerful when we yield it in obedience to the Lord.
Motyer: The kings of Egypt wore crowns adorned with the ‘uraeus’, a cobra with raised hood threatening Egypt’s enemies. The cobra crown was also associated with the sun god Re, the ‘Living King’, who, when united with Amon, was the most powerful deity in Egypt. Victory over the serpent was, therefore, a comprehensive motif for challenging and overthrowing the central realities of Egyptian religion and sovereignty, and thus by this sign, Egypt’s power, whether divine or royal, is shown to be under the Lord’s sovereign sway. Moses may well have fled from it in the past, but by obedience he can also subdue it.
b. (:4) Possession of the Sign
“But 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—“
It required faith for Moses to obey God and possess back the staff – taking ownership of the performance of this sign
Bruce Hurt: This is fascinating, for when snake handlers pick up snakes, they pick them up by the neck, right behind the head, so that the snake cannot swing around quickly (which they can easily do) and inflict a fatal bite. And despite this seemingly illogical, even potentially dangerous command, Moses obeyed. This time there was no arguing with God, no objecting, no excuses. This took faith, faith that he would not be bitten and die. Faith is obeying God in spite of the consequences. While Moses clearly had many objections regarding his role as the designated “deliverer,” he does manifest trust by grasping the snake. Trust is not demonstrated by fearlessness but by obedience. God called Moses to obey, and to discover that when he focused on obedience, God would deal with his fear. God was teaching Moses that he was to obey what God commanded him to do even when it was uncomfortable.
Ryken: If God could do all that with a stick, imagine what he could do with Moses! And imagine what he might be able to do with you! In a wonderful sermon entitled “No Little People, No Little Places,” Francis Schaeffer pointed out that in order for it to become an instrument of divine power, the staff of Moses had to become the rod of God (see Exodus 4:20, where it is called “the staff of God”). Schaeffer went on to say: “Consider the mighty ways in which God used a dead stick of wood. ‘God so used a stick of wood’ can be a banner cry for each of us. Though we are limited and weak in talent, physical energy, and psychological strength, we are not less than a stick of wood. But as the rod of Moses had to become the rod of God, so that which is me must become the me of God. Then I can become useful in God’s hands. The Scripture emphasizes that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God.” What Moses learned from the stick was that in order to be used for God’s glory, he had to place his life in God’s hands. To use Schaeffer’s expression, when we become the we of God in every aspect of our being, in every area of our lives, then God will use us for his great glory.
c. (:5) Purpose of the Sign
“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.”
2. (:6-8) Second Sign – Turning Healthy Hand into Leprous Hand
a. (:6) Presentation of the Sign
“And the 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.”
b. (:7) Possession of the Sign
“Then 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.”
c. (:8) Purpose of the Sign
“And it shall come about that if they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign.”
Youngblood: The term “miraculous sign” (v. 8), applicable to all three signs, is a specific Hebrew word referring to a supernatural phenomenon or event intended to encourage faith, demonstrate authority, provide assurance (Josh. 2:12-13), bear witness (Isa. 19:19-20), or give warning (Num. 17:10).
Motyer: If anything could be said to sum up Moses’ unworthiness before God and his unfitness for divine service this outbreak of leprosy did. Moses’ low estimation of his qualification for divine service had all been true, but the Lord made him go lower still and discover a contagion within himself. This was so that the Lord could make the very place of contagion the place of renewal and restoration. The old Moses could become the new – Cf. Exod. 15:26; Deut. 28:27, 60. In the Bible ‘leprosy’ was a general term for various skin diseases and could well have been used to represent the afflictions listed here. Moses, not imprisoned by what he had been, and indeed still was. The power of the Lord is a power of regeneration, making people new.
3. (:9) Third Sign – Turning Water from Nile into Blood
“But it shall be that 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.”
Wiersbe: If God can turn rods into serpents and serpents into rods, if He can cause and cure leprosy, and if He can urn water into blood, then He can enable Moses to speak His Word with power. Moses was making the mistake of looking at himself instead of looking to God (6:12). The God who made us is able to use the gifts and abilities He’s given us to accomplish the tasks He assigns to us.
Motyer: The third sign, the corruption of the Nile, struck at the very heart of Egypt’s existence. It is estimated that the Nile basin received as much as thirty feet of mud in the river’s annual inundation, making it ‘the black land’ in contrast to ‘the red land’ of the surrounding desert. Every year the Nile waters washed, cleansed, renewed and increased Egypt’s soil and were the reason for Egypt’s famed fertility and so her great wealth and power. The Nile also abounded in fish and fowl. ‘The river was endless in its bounty, and the people sang its praises continually … [It] was “the Father of Life” … “the Mother of All” … the manifestation of the god HAPI, the divine spirit that unceasingly blessed the land’. To threaten and destroy the Nile was to destroy Egypt itself—and this, too, the Lord showed he could do.
Douglas Stuart: This third proof-of-commission sign is of a grander sort: it anticipates the first plague (7:14–24) in which water—mainly from the Nile in the case of the plague—is turned into blood, hinting at the fact that God had in store some serious threats to unleash upon the Egyptians, which he would first demonstrate, through this sample, to his own people. The third sign, in other words, was not so much about Moses as it was about Egypt, and specifically the Nile. For God’s servant Moses to demonstrate through this simple act God’s power over the Nile would be to demonstrate God’s power generally over Egypt and the Egyptians a fortiori.
Ryken: Each of these signs verified Moses’ credentials and authenticated his ministry as a true prophet. Like most Biblical miracles, the rod, the hand, and the blood served to confirm the truth of God’s word. Whenever Moses performed these signs, he was proven to be a divinely empowered prophet. However incredible the report of his encounter with God may have sounded, his ability to perform miraculous signs would strengthen people’s faith, convincing them to trust his testimony. In much the same way, the miracles of Jesus served to authenticate his teaching and to prove that he was the Christ.
II. (:10-17) HESITATION #4 – I LACK CAPABILITY
A. (:10-12) Pushing the Envelope of God’s Patience
1. (:10) Protestation of Moses
“Then Moses said to the LORD, ‘Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’”
Deffinbaugh: Look at what Stephen has to say about Moses’ abilities: “When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:21-22). Moses did not have a speech problem, as some might suppose. Neither was he ungifted in speech. According to Stephen, Moses was eloquent. Moses is not only doing a disservice to God (by refusing to believe Him and obey in faith), but to himself. Moses should not trust in his own abilities, but neither should he deny the abilities which God has given him.
Mackay: ‘Eloquent’ (literally, ‘a man of words’) and ‘slow of speech and tongue’ (literally ‘heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue’) do not point to a physical speech impediment, but to someone to whom words did not come easily. It does not seem to refer to the fact that after 40 years in Midian Moses no longer had the command of the Egyptian language he once had. This was something that had been true ‘in the past’. It would seem that Moses did not think himself sufficiently quick in thinking up counter-arguments to deal with objections as they arose. This view of himself may have been intensified by the fact that after the relative quiet of his life as a shepherd in Midian he would find it difficult to adjust to the cut and thrust of the debate in the Egyptian court. Moses was afraid that in the intense negotiations that would undoubtedly take place with Pharaoh he would not be quick or persuasive enough to present the case adequately before Pharaoh.
Whatever the precise difficulty Moses had, from experience he knew this had affected him ‘in the past’. However, in the additional words ‘since you have spoken to your servant’, it seems there is an element of complaint, as well as one of contradiction. During the course of his conversation with the Lord, Moses has continued to be aware of his previous difficulty in expressing his thoughts quickly and clearly. The call he has received has not changed him in that respect. So he pleads that he is not up to the task that has been assigned him, implying that the Lord has done nothing to change the situation.
2. (:11-12) Response of God
a. (:11) Trust in God’s Sovereign Design and Equipping
“And the LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?’”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: The gifts of speech, sight, and hearing are from the same Lord who was sending this hesitant leader. While God was not to be blamed for directly creating any defects, his wise providence in allowing these deprivations as well as his goodness in bestowing their ordinary functions mirrors his ability to meet any emergency.
b. (:12) Obey the Divine Call – Relying on Divine Enablement
“Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth,
and teach you what you are to say.”
B. (:13-17) Provoking God Finally to Anger
1. (:13) Anybody but Me
“But he said, ‘Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever Thou wilt.’”
Ryken: Moses’ rebellion is evident from the way he addressed God: “O Lord.” This may sound respectful enough, but it lacked genuine reverence. Notice that ord in the word “Lord” are left uncapitalized. This is because Moses did not use the name that God had revealed to him, the special divine name Yahweh (“Lord”), and thus he failed to acknowledge God’s full sovereignty and majesty. This shows how important it is to worship God properly. The God we praise is the God we serve. If we are not consistent and reverent in our worship, we will be inconstant and reckless in our obedience. . .
But for all the similarities between these two men [Moses and Christ], there are also some crucial ways that Jesus is not like Moses. One of the most obvious is that he was ready and willing to do God’s will. He said to his Father, “Here I am … I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb. 10:7). True, Jesus agonized over the pains of the cross, but he did not refuse to endure them. He said to his Father, “may your will be done” (Matt. 26:42). And then he went out and freely offered his life for our salvation. He did not say, “Send someone else,” for he knew that there was no one else! He and he alone could make perfect atonement for our sins.
Davis: it now became apparent that Moses was not speaking out of weakness, but out of a lack of obedience.
Walter Kaiser Jr.: Moses’ groundless opposition angered God (v. 14a). Moses could think of no more good objections, for God had met every one point by point. So God’s unwilling servant revealed the true nature of his heart.
Deffinbaugh: Here is the bottom line. Moses does not want to go. It is not that he lacks the assurance or the authority; he simply lacks the courage to act. No reason is stated here as to why God should send someone else, because Moses is all out of excuses. And so Moses pleads with God for someone else to go.
God is longsuffering and patient, but now He is angry. I do not know precisely what physical manifestations evidenced the anger which Moses mentions in verse 14, but my own impression is that this must have scared Moses half to death. Can you imagine making God mad and then having to stand there faced with His anger? If Moses was afraid of the presence of God in the burning bush before (Exod. 4:6), one can hardly imagine the fear which Moses had at this point.
God’s anger was not only reflected in some visible way (did the burning bush suddenly flare up?), but it was evident in the answer which God gave to Moses (vv. 14-17). Aaron could speak fluently, so let him speak for Moses. As later events will indicate, the presence of Aaron was a burden for Moses and a stumbling block for others. Among other things, Aaron fashioned the “golden calf” and led Israel in false worship (Exod. 32:1-6). Aaron was, at best, a mixed blessing.
2. (:14-17) Introducing Role of Aaron
a. (:14-15) Reaction of the Lord = Anger
“Then the anger of the LORD burned against Moses,”
b. (:14b-15) Resource of Aaron Provided
“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. And you 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.’”
Constable: Unable to excuse himself, Moses finally admitted that he did not want to obey God (Exodus 4:13-16). God became angry with Moses because he refused to obey. However, the sovereign Lord would not let His reluctant servant go (cf. Jonah). Instead He provided a mouthpiece for Moses in his older brother by three years, Aaron (cf. Exodus 7:7). This act was both an aid to Moses and a discipline for his disobedience. On the one hand Aaron was an encouragement to Moses, but on the other he proved to be a source of frustration as a mediator (e.g. ch 32).
Mackay: He is not remote and unaffected by our perverseness and rebellion. He reacts with due displeasure against all that contravenes his holy will. When Moses had presented reasoned arguments against what he was required to do, God gave reasoned responses. Now that he is simply being insubordinate to the one he recognizes as ‘Lord’ the conversation is broken off. There must be no more attempts to get round what he has been told to do.
c. (:16) Relationship between Moses and Aaron
“Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people;
and it shall come about that he shall be as a mouth for you,
and you shall be as God to him.”
Wiersbe: When God in His anger give us what we selfishly want, that gift rarely turns out to be a blessing (Num. 11:33; Hosea 13:11). One of the most painful judgments God can send is to let His people have their own way.
Douglas Stuart: Verse 15 makes clear that both Moses and Aaron would speak for God, and this was in fact the case. Moses eventually did the vast majority of the speaking, with virtually no mention made of Aaron’s public speaking beyond the early chapters of Exodus—but at first Aaron was either speaking for him or with him (4:30; 5:1). Presumably, as Moses’ courage and faith increased, the need for Aaron’s close collegial support and/or public representation of his brother lessened. Verses 15 and 16 together also suggest that, from the first, Moses was the true prophet (the one into whose mind God placed his words with the intent that they be passed on to others) and that Aaron was Moses’ spokesperson rather than a direct recipient of God’s revelation. Thus God was the revealer; Moses, the prophet; and Aaron, the public repeater. . .
Oswalt: The relationship between Moses and Aaron is clearly supposed to be a model of the relationship between God and his prophets. This is underscored when it is said, “you will stand in the place of God for him” (4:16; lit., “you will be God to him”). The message comes from God, and the prophet is God’s mouthpiece. But this does not mean that the Hebrew prophets were merely mindless conduits, mechanically repeating words that had no real meaning for them. This extended dialogue between Moses and God shows the extent of the interaction that God was willing to engage in to make his message clear. The prophets spoke as “stand-ins” for Yahweh himself.
d. (:17) Responsibility for Moses Remains
“And you shall take in your hand this staff,
with which you shall perform the signs.”
Mackay: Moses was therefore left to carry out the task assigned to him with the knowledge that God would authenticate his calling and would be with him to ensure the success of what is done. The reluctance Moses has displayed shows that he was not someone seeking power for his own ends. He was not fomenting a rebellion against the state authorities in Egypt because of the advantages and status that might accrue to him as a result. He is not self-seeking, but compelled by his divine calling he tries to be true to it so that the Lord might receive the glory and his people the blessing.