“Moses answered, ‘What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, “The Lord did not appear to you”?'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the bumper sticker truisms about the Christian faith that sometimes gets thrown around is that whatever God calls us to, He equips us for. That process, however, is not always direct and smooth, and sometimes – especially if we don’t want to do it – we can be rather reluctant recipients of His help. Moses fits rather spectacularly into this category. In the first part of chapter four here, we find Moses trying to get out of what God was sending him to do. What we see here is not the great man of faith we know him to be, but who he was before that. Moses tries three times to get out of what God wants him to do. Let’s look at each of these in turn this week, starting with this first one.
But for a couple of minor objections from Moses that are rooted more in mechanics than anything more personal than that, Exodus 3 is mostly God’s making His pitch to Moses that he is going to be the man who will lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and to the land God has reserved for them as promised to Abraham and his immediate descendants. And God makes a pretty compelling case. He not only promises to be with him the whole time, but He tells him in advance how the whole process is going to go. You are going to go, the people are going to accept you, Pharaoh is going to reject you, I will deal with Pharaoh, and in the end, I am going to leave them basically paying you to leave. It’ll be great!
After a presentation like that, it seems like it would be all but impossible for Moses to do anything but say, “Let’s go!” and get right to work. Certainly given the character we all know him as having by the end of his story that’s what we expect. But this Moses is not yet that Moses. This Moses is a whiny coward who makes excuses almost faster than God can answer them. Moses’ initial response to God’s assurance of how things are going to go with the whole venture is to reveal that he really hadn’t been paying attention to any of it.
Moses’ first objection back in chapter three was to ask God how and why the people were going to trust him as their leader. This wasn’t an unreasonable question on his part either. As we talked about some then, Moses was an outsider and God was telling him to march into town and announce that he was going to be their new leader. We really can’t blame him for thinking that whole plan sounded a little suspect. But God addressed it. He addressed it pretty impressively too. And then He gave Moses the assurance that everything was going to work out in his favor. Instead of listening to all of that, though, Moses kept dwelling on their likely rejection of him and when God gives him a chance to respond he says, “What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” In other words, “Yeah, but what if they don’t do what you say they’ll do.” To put that yet another way, “What if you’re wrong, God?”
This not only reveals how badly Moses wants to get out of this task, but it also reveals just how little he actually knows God. This is the God who just revealed Himself to Moses as the foundation of all of reality. He assured Moses that He was going to personally take down the man Moses knew to be the most powerful man in the world. How on earth could He possibly be wrong? Moses is basically asking God here for a contingency plan. Talk about guts, right!?!
Yet while we might expect God to not even put up with this kind of nonsense, or even to say something along the lines of, “Forget it. I’ll find somebody else.” That’s not what He does. He responds instead by giving Moses some contingency plans. He gives Moses three specific miraculous signs he can use to convince the people he really is coming to them as a representative from God.
The first is to throw down his staff on the ground at which point it would turn into a snake. This one is actually rather funny because Moses’ first reaction to the snake is to run from it. Some bold and courageous leader he was. He was scared of snakes. The second sign was to momentarily give himself a nasty skin disease and immediately heal it. This one is interesting because in most cases the leader trying to prove his claim to authority would inflict someone else with the skin disease. God has Moses do it to himself. He wanted the people to fear Him, not Moses. The third sign was a bit of a preview of coming attractions. He was to pour out some water from the Nile on the ground at which point it would become blood.
There are two things that really jump out at us here. First of all, it is simply shocking that God responds like this. He didn’t owe this to Moses. Moses owed Him his obedience and devotion. He was God. Moses was not in a position of responding with anything other than a, “Yes, Lord,” here. God’s patience and graciousness with him is absolutely stunning here. The other thing is the realization that we do this same sort of thing with God still today. He calls us to something and rather than believing Him, we make excuses and pathetic objections and doubt His power and authority. We ask Him for contingency plans. Contingency plans are not about giving more substance to our trust in the Lord. They are about just the opposite. They are about giving ourselves things that give us the illusion of control in case God doesn’t come through and we need to take over. This is all How to be Faithless 101.
And yet and again, God’s first response is not anger or frustration, but to meet Moses in his weakness and play along with his demands. He gives Moses the things he needs to feel more confident so that He can grow his trust in Him. Now, yes, eventually His patience does wear thin, and we’ll talk about that in a couple of days, Lord willing, but at least at the beginning, God meets Moses where he is rather than expecting him to be where he will one day be.
Friends: He does the same thing with us. When we are weak and filled with doubts, God is patient and gentle and kind. He holds us accountable for the knowledge and experience we have gained. There will yet be moments when he expects us to be more than we believe ourselves to be because of the amount of time we have had to grow, but not in the beginning. If you are wrestling with trust in God, He doesn’t insist on your having something you haven’t yet been able to gain. He helps you gain it. He is gentle and kind when we are weak. He lends us His strength. He meets us where we are and helps us forward to where He wants us to be. You may not have the faith of Moses right now, but there was a day when Moses didn’t either. If he grew from this point forward with God’s help, so can you.