“But Moses replied to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent – either in the past or recently or since you have been speaking to your servant – because my mouth and my tongue are sluggish.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Who placed a mouth on humans? Who makes a person mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will help you speak and I will teach you what to say.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I hate excuses. Hearing someone else refuse to take responsibility for something they have said or done, but instead offer up a list of reasons why it is everybody else’s fault makes me want to drive my head through a wall (or better yet, their head). I hate excuses. Unless, of course, I am the one making them. Then they aren’t excuses at all. They’re explanations for why things turned out the way they did that are entirely reasonable. When God answered Moses’ hopefully disqualifying question of what would make the people believe he really came from God so convincingly, he switched from objections to excuses. Let’s take a look at what he said and how God responded.
Humans love to rationalize. We rationalize because we have an inherent sense that we have done something wrong, but don’t want to actually face that. So we rationalize. We come up with reasons that it wasn’t so bad or why we really didn’t have another choice or why we feel terrible about whatever it is and so on and so forth. We seek means by which we can justify ourselves. That is, we want to make the wrong we did (even if it is only a personally-perceived wrong) okay.
As a pastor I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been having a conversation with someone and the matter of church attendance came up. Without any provocation from me, the other person starts to fire off a litany of reasons why they feel terrible for not coming, but that they had this or that going on and just couldn’t get there on a specific day. They’ve gotten out of the habit lately and have really been thinking and praying about getting back into it again.
I try to be really gracious in these moments because the Spirit is obviously working on them, and they don’t need my judgment adding to their load. But on the inside I’m always thinking the same thing: Stop making excuses. You’re not coming to church because you’ve chosen to do other things instead. End of story. If you want to come to church more than do these other things, you will. You have time to do everything that’s most important to you. Your priorities are what they are. Own that. If you want them to be something other than they are, don’t make excuses for them, change them. I wait and say that kind of stuff when I’m in the pulpit…or writing on a blog.
The really hard truth here is that we don’t want to do God’s stuff and play by God’s rules all the time. In fact, we usually don’t. We would much rather do our thing in our way and on our schedule. So, when God comes to us to invite us to join Him in advancing His kingdom in some critical way, we come up with excuses as to why we can’t do it. That’s what Moses was doing here.
After God fairly easily dispatched his bringing back up his potential rejection by the Israelite elders, he takes the focus off of the things around him and puts it squarely on himself. “I have never been eloquent.” I’m not a good front man, God. I’ll just make a mess of my words and you won’t be able to get anything accomplished through me. You’ll be better off picking someone else. Don’t miss the humor here either. Moses tells God that he hasn’t ever been a good speaker. I was never any good at expressing myself back in Egypt (in the past). I’m constantly sticking my foot in my mouth nowadays (recently). And I’m even fumbling over my words here talking to you right now (since you have been speaking to your servant). Perhaps Moses had some kind of a speech impediment to justify his complaint of having a mouth and tongue that were sluggish. Maybe he didn’t and was just continuing his track of making excuses. I’ve certainly had my fair share of people tell me they can’t speak in front of others who were perfectly capable of talking your ear off in a smaller group setting. Speaking wasn’t their issue. Speaking in front of others was.
There are three sources for this kind of excuse-making with God on our part. The first source is a disobedient heart. We simply don’t want to do what God wants us to do. End of discussion. Of the three possible sources here, this may be the least problematic because the solution is fairly simple: do it anyway. Get over yourself and get to work. The disobedient heart is often changed by the action of disgruntled obedience into a willingly obedient one.
The second and third possibilities both come from the same source: fear. God has asked us to do something, and we are afraid of doing it. This fear can come from one of two places. The first is a lack of understanding of who God is. When we don’t really understand who God is, we won’t have the necessary trust in His ability and willingness to provide us with the help we need to be able to succeed in whatever it is. This was no doubt part of Moses’ problem here as indicated by God’s revealing (albeit somewhat sarcastically) more of His character and power to him. “I gave you that mouth. I gave you your eyes and ears too. I’ll make sure they work as needed.” Moses was expressing a concern that didn’t need to be a concern because God had things well in hand. The venture was going to be running on God’s power which could not fail.
This same thing is true today when God invites us to be involved in the advance of His kingdom in some way for which we don’t feel prepared at all. I know telling someone their feelings don’t matter isn’t all that popular a thing to do nowadays, but just as was the case for Moses, our feelings of ill-preparedness for a particular venture God has called us to take on are irrelevant. If He has called us to do it, all we have to be is willing to do it. He’ll take care of the rest. He’ll make sure we have all we need as we need it. It may be that He doesn’t provide it until right in our moment of need and not a second before, but He will unfailingly come through in that regard. If you’re feeling scared of jumping in to advance God’s kingdom, that says a whole lot more about you and your lack of understanding of who God is than it does about Him.
The second source is perhaps the most troublesome of all. We’re fearful of following God because of a character of cowardice. That is, we are cowards. Cowardice is a lack of courage. It is an unwillingness to do something good or necessary because of an irrational commitment to fear. A coward is someone who has made fear his god. In this sense, all cowardice is idolatry. Dealing with cowardice requires a whole worldview shift which is no small task. Like dealing with a disobedient heart, though, the way forward is to simply go forward in obedience to God’s command. That is, the only way to overcome cowardice is not with reason and argument, but by doing the thing we fear. It is taking an active step to reject the false god of Fear and embrace the God who actually exists by doing what He says.
Doing this will more than likely not immediately wash away our fear. It may even magnify it. We do it anyway. Then we do it again. And again. And again. And over time, as we begin to taste the sweet fruits of obedience, we will gradually come to trust God more and recognize more clearly the lies that Fear was feeding us.
So then, what has God commanded you to do that you are not doing? Don’t follow Moses’ example here. It is not a good one. We can actually see elements of all three of these different sources of refusing to obey God’s commands here. Moses was not in a good place, and it is a testament to God’s incredible patience that He kept on urging him forward to a better one. It is also a powerful reminder that God doesn’t give up on us when we are hesitant to follow Him. Instead of throwing in the towel on us, He is patient with us. He answers our objections with truth. He puts in place people around us who can help encourage us forward. He gives us the opportunity to take baby steps. He wants to see us grow to become fully who He made us to be, and He’s willing to invest as much as it takes into seeing that happen. This is very good news indeed.