God’s “I Will” Trumps Your “I Can’t”

March 29, 2014 — Leave a comment


When we left Moses, he was having a heart to heart with God after things didn’t go as planned. A bad situation became worse, and Moses wanted some answers. In chapter 6, God responds.

Exodus 6:1-13

We drop in mid conversation:

But the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” (6:1)

Realizing that requires some explanation, God continues:

“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’ ” (6:2-8)

Notice how covenantal God’s answer is. “On the basis of the promises I made with your ancestors I will act,” is essentially what he is saying. Moses wants answers in the present, but God points his attention to the past. He then shifts to the future promises as part of his directions for Moses in the present. Everything is centered on knowing how God is and a more intense way. Moses wants God to answer for what is happening. God wants Moses to know who he is.

This underlies how God-centered the book of Exodus is. Ryken explains:

Exodus is a God-centered book with a God-centered message that teaches us to have a God-centered life. Whatever problems we have, whatever difficulties we face, the most important thing is to know who God is. We are called to place our trust in the One who says, “I am the LORD.” When there is trouble in the family, and we don’t know how to bring peace, he says, “I am the LORD.” When a relationship is broken and cannot be mended, he says, “I am the LORD.” When nothing seems to go right , and it is not certain how things will ever work out — even then he says, “I am the LORD. 1

Ryken also helps to underscore the 7 “I wills” that God presents in his response to Moses. God will be Israel’s liberator, they only need to trust. This may have worked for Moses, but unfortunately, Israel wasn’t buying it and I essentially responds with “I won’t”:

Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (6:9)

In some ways, this is understandable. I have no understanding of what slavery is like or how harsh it might be for my spiritual well-being. Israel is at the end of her rope, but deliverance is just around the corner.

So the Lord said to Moses, “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” But the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them a charge about the people of Israel and about Pharaoh king of Egypt: to bring the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. (6:10-13)

Exodus 6:14-30

What comes next may seem like an intrusion:

These are the heads of their fathers’ houses: the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi; these are the clans of Reuben. The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman; these are the clans of Simeon. These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the years of the life of Levi being 137 years. The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, by their clans. The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, the years of the life of Kohath being 133 years. The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the clans of the Levites according to their generations. Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years. The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri. Aaron took as his wife Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab and the sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph; these are the clans of the Korahites. Eleazar, Aaron’s son, took as his wife one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites by their clans.

These are the Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said: “Bring out the people of Israel from the land of Egypt by their hosts.”  It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing out the people of Israel from Egypt, this Moses and this Aaron. (6:14-27)

Why put a genealogy in all of a sudden? Good question. I’m gonna let Douglas Stuart answer:

In the style of ancient Near Eastern writing and according to the concerns of ancient Near Eastern culture, a genealogy here is neither out of place nor stylistically intrusive but welcome and perfectly placed. At the end of 6:12, the ongoing narrative stops for a moment: right at the point where Moses said, in effect, “I can’t do it.” This would be the ideal point for a commercial in a modern TV dramatic presentation, the point just before the resolution of the suspense, since the viewer’s interest level is held by the emotional interest in story resolution. Most ancient narratives had no concern for preservation of suspense per se. But neither did it hurt to place a review and retrospective, which is what 6:13–27 functions as in Exodus, at a location just prior to a major story resolution, the final, great divine reassurance of Moses’ call, commission, and challenge (6:28–7:7) equipping him for the launching of the plagues (7:8 and following).” 2

Right after this point, the story picks up dramatically. The beginning of the next chapter is when Moses and Aaron throw down the gauntlet, and the plagues start rolling out. Here is the prime place to introduce to first time readers/hearers that, oh by the way, Moses and Aaron are part of the first priestly tribe. From their line comes the high priest who represents the nation to God. Here, they are about to represent the nation before Pharaoh.

Unfortunately, Moses is essentially still unsure as the chapter ends:

On the day when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, the Lord said to Moses, “I am the Lord; tell Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say to you.” But Moses said to the Lord, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips. How will Pharaoh listen to me?” (6:28-30)

You get the feeling that Moses just really does want to do what God is calling him to do. God will make concessions, but here is a man who does not in any way feel qualified for the job. Even after God assures him with 7 “I wills,” he isn’t quite saying “I won’t,” but more of a “I don’t think I can.” The important point for us is that when we most often feel like “I can’t” or “I’m not qualified,” that’s when God seems to delight to use us. Though it’s cliche, God definitely qualifies the called more than he calls the qualified. I think the reason for that, in my own experience, is that the more confident you are in your own ability to do things, the less you’ll depend on God to work through you. “It’s alright God, I got this,” is something you’ll never verbalize, but you’ll essentially life like that, or worse, do ministry like that. I’ve had to learn, especially post-seminary, this isn’t the way to do things. Thankfully, I didn’t have a major disaster come along to teach me that. Instead, God worked through ordinary means to get my attention and get me to start feeling my need for grace and to depend on him in all areas of my life. I’m still learning, but then again, aren’t we all?


  1. Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory, Kindle Loc., 3222-3227
  2. Stuart, Exodus, 175


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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