The Excuses of Moses

Exodus 3:11-4:17

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2016

Last week, we looked at the burning bush.  God appeared suddenly and miraculously in a mountain in Saudi Arabia.  He appeared to Moses in a bush that was on fire.  The bush spoke to Moses and identified himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God appeared to Moses because God’s people were suffering and their cries went up to heaven.

God answered those prayers with the burning bush.  God appeared to Moses and gave him a mission.  He gave him a job to do.  He gives him an assignment.  Moses received a great commission.  God calls some people when they are young.  He called Moses when he was eighty.  He told him that he wanted him to change careers.  Instead of working with sheep, he would have a different occupation.  God still does that today.  He calls people to change careers.

Today, we want to look at Moses’ reaction to this call and how it applies to us.  Many of us respond the same way to God today. Moses was not a great role model here.  Isaiah was a good example of how to respond to God’s call.  Isaiah had an incredible vision of God high and lifted up, sitting on a throne and surrounded by angels, who said “holy, holy, holy”.  Then he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And he said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go” (Isaiah 6:8-9).  Moses says, “Here I am.  Send my brother”.

Some of us are not sure what God wants us to do.  It is not always easy to tell if it is God’s call or our own idea.  How do we know if it is God or the devil guiding us to do something?  Moses didn’t have that problem.  He had this incredible bush, appearance of God.  It got his attention, the fire that never went out.  He heard an audible voice.

It was a fire that spoke and knew his name.  It was a fire that commanded him to do something and the command was clear.  There was no doubt about what God was telling Moses to do.  There was no ambiguity.  Moses God his assignment from God.  He found out what his life’s work was to be in clear language and he still said “No”.

God appeared to Moses in a ball of fire and said “I have a special job that is reserved just for you.  This is your mission in life”.  Moses said, “thanks but no thanks”.  God says “Go” and Moses says “No”.  It is easy to criticize Moses here but many of us do the same thing today.

God didn’t just call Moses.  He calls us today.  Every believer has a job to do. God calls us to salvation.  He also calls us to service.  He has a special work for each one of us to do.  He has something great that he wants us to do for him as well. We are not all called to be leaders.  We are not all called to be in politics.  We are not all called to be freedom fighters and liberate whole nations but God calls us all to do something.

That raises this question.  Have we ever said no to the call of God in our life?  Are we open to the call of God when He calls us?  We all think we would but I am not so sure.  If we have a burdened that God placed on our heart, we might want to do it.  What if God called us to do something that we don’t want to do?  Would we do it?  Jonah had that problem.  God told him to go to one place and he went to the exact opposite location.

Moses had two problems.  First, he acted too quickly.  Then, he acted too slowly.  His first problem was that he ran before he was sent.  We saw that in Exodus 2.  He believed that God would use him to free the Jews from their bondage and he killed an Egyptian but God had not called him yet.  He acted without any call or permission from God to do what he did, even though he meant well.

Moses’ second problem was that he resisted when He was called.  He probably had many reasons why he did not want to go.  He was eighty.  Maybe he thought he was too old and that was a better job for a young guy. He might have thought “I tried to lead the Jews before and they rejected my leadership”.  He tried it before and failed.

Our passage in Exodus 3-4 is all about excuses.  People make excuses today all of the time.  Our kids make excuses why they did not do what they were supposed to do but adults make excuses as well.  If we get stopped for speeding, we give the officer an excuse.  The excuse may even be true.  The last time I was stopped for speeding, I told the officer I was late to a funeral.  It was true but the officer did not seem to care.

Adam and Eve made excuses why they disobeyed.  Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve.  Eve blamed it on the serpent. Moses made some excuses as well.  God took the time to answer each objection.

This section gives us the excuses of Moses and the answers of God.  Moses gave God four excuses for not doing what God told him to do. I want to look at the four objections of Moses to the mission God gave him and see if they are ever used by Christians today.  Excuses did not really work with Moses and excuses will not work with us.

There are many people who think when they stand before God and have to give an account why they lived in deliberate disobedience to his Word that they will be able to give him an excuse. God does not accept excuses.  God showed some patience with Moses.  He answered his objections but eventually God got angry with Moses (4:14). God says, “You’re going anyway”.

There are many Christians that emphasize free will.  We have the right to choose.  It is all up to us.  We decide.  It is called Arminianism.  There is an element of truth in Arminianism.  Whole churches are built around this system.  The interesting thing is that God did not give Moses a whole lot of choice in this call.

It wasn’t optional.  God did not tell Moses, “If you would like to go to Egypt and do this that would be great.  I really need somebody for this mission.  I could use you.  Your people are suffering greatly”.  This was an effectual call.

The First Excuse: Inferiority

So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:10-11)

Once God told Moses his mission, what was his reaction?  What was the first thing he said to God?  “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11). Moses says, “I am not qualified to do something like this.  Who am I to do something like this? I am not anyone special.” It was very humble on Moses’ part.  He went from two extremes.  First, he thought he was hot stuff as the Prince of Egypt.

He used to be a member of the royal house of Egypt.  He had big political connections.  His grandfather was the most powerful man on the planet at that time.  He was self confident.  He was important.  Then he was spent forty years in the desert as a nobody in the desert watching sheep.

Moses had been out to pasture for forty years, as Chuck Swindoll said.[1] Moses is so humble that he does not think that he is worthy to do anything great for God.  He went from being too quick to respond to God to too slow to respond.  He went from thinking too highly of himself to thinking too lowly of himself.  Now he thinks he cannot do anything for God.

Moses says to God, “That is a big job for an old shepherd.  I do not think I am up to the challenge. Someone needs to do it but I am not the right man for the job.  I am eighty.  It requires some big shot to emancipate two million slaves from the most powerful country in the world at that time.  That is a big operation.  I am just a poor shepherd.”  Do we ever use this excuse today?  Do Christians ever feel insecure and completely unable to do what God has called them to do?

What was God’s answer to his first excuse?  And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (3:12) God says, “I will be with you”.  He was with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  Now he promises to be with Moses.  The same one who promises to be with us until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  He said that he would never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  Whatever ministry he calls us to do, He will be with us as well, as He was with Moses.

Now let’s think about God’s answer to Moses.  What God said was very different from what we would have told Moses if we were talking to him.  We would have tried to build up Moses’ self esteem and give him some confidence so he is not down on himself.

We would have told him that he was the perfect man for the job.  We would have told him what leadership potential he had.  We would have reminded him of his phenomenal education in Egypt.  He studied all the wisdom of the Egyptians.  We would tell him how the hand of God has been all over his life and how his life was supernaturally saved from death three times.

God didn’t try to build up Moses’ self-esteem.  He simply said, “I will be with you”.  That did not seem to answer his question.  Moses asks, “Who am I?”  God says, “I will be with you”.  God didn’t tell him who he was.   It did not matter who Moses was.  The only thing that mattered was who God was.

The answer does not tell Moses who he is but who God is.  Moses asked the wrong question.  James MacDonald says, “The best discovery you can make in life is who God is.  Everything flows from this.  You will never know who you are until you know who God is.  If you know who God is, you know who you are.”[2]

The Second Excuse: Ignorance

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (3:13).  This was a dumb excuse.  Moses says, “I can’t go, because I don’t know your name.  If the Jews ask me what your name is, I don’t know what to tell them, so I can’t go.”

Moses’ first question was, “Who am I?”  His second question was, “Who are you?”  He already knew who God was.  He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (3:6).

What was God’s answer to him?  God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation (3:14-15).

Now this sounds a little strange.  Moses asks for God’s name and God says “I AM”.  What kind of a name is “I AM”.  That sounds like a strange name.  I never really understood that.  The truth is that this is NOT God’s name.  You need to understand several things here.  First, God has a name.  His name is not God.

God is a title, not a name.  You name is not “man” or “woman”.  That is what you are but it is not your name.  God’s name is Yahweh in Hebrew (not Jehovah).  It is used over five thousand times in Scripture.  His name is Yahweh, not I AM.  I AM is not so much a name of God as a description of God.

God is self existent and self-sufficient.  God is independent.  He does not need anything, like the burning bush, which did not need any fuel to burn.  He needs nothing to exist and depends on nothing.

God is eternal.  He had no beginning and has no end.  He needs nothing to exist and depends on nothing.  Yahweh is a pun on I AM.  It is the third person singular of the verb “to be” in Hebrew.  Many people worship the God who WAS, not the God who IS.  He did great things in the past but is not doing them today.

Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’  But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.  So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.  And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty,  but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” (3:16-22 ESV)

God tells Moses that the leaders of the Jews will listen to him but that the leader of the Egyptians will not until God stretches out his hand and strikes the country will all his wonders.  Then, he will let you go and the Egyptians will want the Jews to go so bad, they will pay them to go.  They will give them all kinds of gifts.

What is the modern application here?  Do we use this excuse of Moses today?  Yes.  Moses had his commission and we have ours.  It is called “The Great Commission”.  Many don’t want to do evangelism or lead a bible study because they don’t have all of the answers or because they have not been to seminary and do not know Greek and Hebrew.  Someone might ask them a question they cannot answer and they do not want to look stupid.

The Third Excuse: Ineffectiveness

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 ESV).  What was his third excuse?   It would not work.  He would be a complete failure, like he was before.  No one would believe him.  He could come back to Egypt and tell his people that he had an incredible experience with God in the desert but who would believe him?  What is the proof?  Where is the evidence?  God gives him evidence.  In the next nine verses, God gave Moses three miraculous signs.

The Miracles of Moses 

What happens here is very significant.  Moses is given the ability to do miracles.  He is a type of Jesus here.  Jesus did miracles and so did Moses. In fact, in both times they are called “sign miracles”. God gives Moses three miracles in this chapter to do.  Moses turned a snake into a stick and a stick into a snake.

He then stuck his hand in his shirt and it became leprous.  He did it again and became normal.  This time he turned disease and sickness into perfect health.  Finally, he turned water into blood.  These were not magic tricks.  They were genuine miracles, although they might have looked like magic tricks.  These miracles did not affect anyone else.  Moses did not go around healing the sick like Jesus did.  He did not bring the dead back to life.

Many people in the Bible did not do miracles.  Adam did not perform miracles.  Noah did not perform miracles.  He was known as a great ship builder and a preacher of righteousness but not a miracle worker.  Abraham did not perform miracles either.  He was called a prophet and he did not do any miracles and neither did his son Isaac.  The Bible says that even John the Baptist did not do miracles (John 10:41).  Moses was the first one in Bible to do miracles.

Why did Moses perform miracles?  What was the purpose of the sign miracles?  Their purpose was to authenticate Moses.  There are many examples in the Bible where miracles validated and confirmed the message of God’s people.

Mark 16:19-20 says, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.  And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. Miracles even served to authenticate the ministry of Jesus.”  Acts 2:22 says, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.”

Nicodemus said, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).  In fact, the Fourth Gospel ends with these words.  “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

Jesus’ miracles were signs.  This was not the only function of miracles in the Bible but one of the functions of miracles. Their function was evangelistic or apologetic.  They were intended to cause people to believe. Did this always work?  No.

Without the work of the Holy Spirit, a miracle by itself does not cause faith.  Some people are not open to any type of evidence, not matter how much you give them. Some of the Pharisees looked at the miracles of Christ and just attributed them to Satan.  Moses’ miracles did not convince everyone.  It convinced the Jews but they did not convince Pharaoh.  He saw the miracles and said “You are still not leaving Egypt”.

The Fourth Excuse: Incompetence

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.” (4:10 ESV)

We do not know exactly what Moses is saying here.  His problem may have been merely linguistic.  He may have simply meant, “My Egyptian is a little rusty.  I haven’t spoken it in forty years.  No one will be able to understand me”.

Another possibility is that his problem was not linguistic but verbal. He may have simply meant, “I can’t do this because this is not my gift.  I am not good at public speaking.  I am not polished.  I am a terrible communicator”.  It does not necessarily mean that he stuttered or had a speech impediment.  He may have stuttered or he may not have stuttered at all.  He may have simply had a fear of public speaking, like many do today.

What was God’s response?  “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'” (4:11-12). God says, “I will be with your mouth”.  This was divine speech therapy.

What is the lesson here for us today?  We have already seen that God can use us in spite of our age.  Moses was eighty when God called him.  He can use us in spite of our failures and sins.  Here we see that God can use us in spite of our weakness.  God’s strength is made perfect in weakness (II Corinthians 12:9).  God was calling Moses to do something that he thought that he wasn’t very good at doing.  He promised that He would supernaturally enable Him to do the job.

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.” (4:13-17 ESV)

Finally Moses says, “Send someone else” and God gets angry with him.  None of us want God angry with us.  Does God get angry with believers when they sin?  Yes.  It is the anger of a father, not the anger of a judge.  God has to sometimes discipline his children, like parents do. Because of his unbelief, Moses lost the opportunity for God to work in him and use him in this way.  God could use us in other ways if we were open to it.

Next time, we will resume our study of Exodus and look at what it means that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  It is one of the most difficult questions in the book.


[1] Swindoll, Moses, 115.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5lKQPtmqM8

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