You may have noticed that there was no expository blogging post last Monday. Part of that was so I could talk about my trip to Louisville. The other part was that I intended to move the series to Saturdays. But life happens, and my plans to post this Saturday did not materialize, so here we are.
You may also notice I am offering a title rather than just a reference. Part of this is because you can tell what it is now without me announcing it. The other part is I just thought it would be better to give the posts in the series more interesting titles. And so here we are.
When we last checked in on Moses, he was talking to God via the medium of a flaming shrubbery. God had announced his intentions to show Pharaoh what’s up, and in the process save Israel from their oppression. This is all well and good, but Moses has a key pragmatic concerns:
Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.'” (4:1)
In response, God offers Moses 3 distinct signs he can use to validate his prophetic message:
The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “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.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (4:2-9)
Some of the significance of these signs can be lost on us 3000 years later. Concerning the staff to snake and back trick, Alec Motyer explains:
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 [Ra], the ‘Living King,’ who, when united with Amon [or Amun], 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.” 1
As far as being able to conjure leprosy, one could see this as the most significant physical disease in that culture. Being able to manifest it and then get it rid of demonstrated a power of the body that would be similar to being able to summon skin cancer onto a person and then just as easily “cure” it.
Although mentioned as an almost last resort, the sign involving the Nile is actually a prominent foreshadowing of the eventual first plague. Stuart explains that this is sign is “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.” 2 Furthermore, if you keep in mind that Egyptian religion would have considered the Nile to be a personification of a certain god, turning it to blood implied that god had been killed. The primary source of life in the region was now dripping death.
I imagine most of us would have been content to head on back to Egypt at this point. But not Moses. Though you can read this as cowardice on Moses’ part, it is also kind of ballsy to argue with God about whether you should do what he says. If God was speaking you audibly from a fire in your backyard, how comfortable would you be pushing back on what he’s asking you do to? Moses it seems was pretty comfortable:
But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.” (4:10-17)
If you’re keeping score, this is Moses’ 2nd and 3rd objections, with the 3rd one finally getting to the root problem: Moses just doesn’t want to go. In his anger, God makes a concession which will come back to haunt Moses. Since Moses isn’t keen on being the spokesman for God to Pharaoh, Aaron will do all the talking with Moses being the go-between. In this sense, the word of God comes to Moses, who relays it to Aaron, who relays it to Pharaoh. This is a rather cumbersome setup and Aaron will prove to be a liability, but we see God accommodate Moses’ insecurities. While this is gracious on God’s part, we can also see that it would have probably been better had Moses simply acquiesced to God’s initial request.
For many of us, God won’t ask us to lead a nation out of centuries long slavery. Most of us also aren’t wanted fugitives in our hometown either. But, God has callings for each of us that may involve missions that are not our first choice of a lifestyle. When that calling becomes clear, we should learn from Moses’ story that a certain level dialogue with God is acceptable. But after a certain point, God’s accommodation might not prove to be what we think it is in the long run. It would be better for us to obey and go when God has made himself clear. The clarity might not be as brilliant as an audible voice from a bush that burns but is not consumed. But if God is calling us to something specific, he has his ways of making sure we get the memo. While we have our ways of playing Jonah, we’ll be far better off to respond in faith rather than fear and take the next step toward whatever Egypt or Ninevah God has called us to pursue.
In the end, if you feel God is calling you toward a specific mission, is it perfectly ok to ask questions about it. You can ask God for clarification, you can push back on the nature of the mission and your role in it. But, what you shouldn’t do is say, “Hey God, thanks for the offer, but can you find someone else?” God’s specific calling for you to join his mission is not a job offer you can take or leave. It is a vital part of your purpose in the body of Christ. Take your cues from Isaiah instead of Moses and say “Here I am, send me” not “Here I am, send someone else.”