SERIES: Exodus: Moses, God’s Man for the Hour
All Excuses Set Apart
SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus
Introduction: Queen Elizabeth visited the colonies this week. She was treated with respect and enthusiasm, but the fact is Americans don’t respond to royalty quite like the British do. The few among us old enough to recall the Queen’s coronation nearly forty years ago will remember the pomp, pageantry and ceremony that accompanied that incredible event from start to finish. Just prior to the coronation invitations were sent to friends and celebrities of every station in life. It read in part: “We greet You Well. Whereas We have appointed the Second Day of June 1953 for the Solemnity of our Coronation, these are therefore to will and command You, all Excuses set apart, that You make your personal attendance upon Us, at the time above mentioned, furnished and appointed as to Your Rank and Quality appertaineth, there to do and perform such Services as shall be required….”
Those invited were to be there “all excuses set apart.” Frankly, I’m not sure such a strongly worded statement was needed, because I can’t imagine anyone neglecting that invitation, setting it aside and forgetting it, or trying to find someone else to go in his place? But that raises a question for all of us: should the response of the believer be any less to the crowned monarch of all the universe, the King of Kings and the Lord of lords, when He also calls us “to do and perform such services as shall be required”? And yet how freely the excuses flow! I find it very interesting that many of our common excuses are far from new. They have a familiar ring in that they are the same excuses Moses offered when he was called by God. This morning we want to examine his commission from God, his excuses to God, and his final response.
Moses’ commission from God (3:1-10)
His commission is best understood by considering three aspects of it:
The time. Brad, in his outstanding message last Sunday on the “Development of a Deliverer,” covered the first eighty years of Moses’ life. He pointed out how his mother preserved him from certain death, how he was educated in the palace of the Pharaoh, and how his first effort to deliver his people ended in disaster, precipitating his exile to the desert of Midian at age forty. Here we find him at the very prime of his life, eminently well educated, cultured, and motivated to get a job done, yet rejected by his own people and with an Egyptian contract on his head.
Can you imagine the dark times Moses experienced as his exile dragged on from weeks to years to decades? There must have been times during that second forty years when he felt for sure that God had abandoned him, but not so. God is in no hurry when it comes to preparing His Daniels, Davids, Elijahs and Pauls. Each of them went through long periods of character cultivation and spiritual preparation. But there was also a reason for this time away that didn’t relate directly to Moses. Look at verse 23 of chapter 2: “During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”
You see, this 40-year hiatus was important, not only for Moses to mature, but also for the Israelites to come to the end of their rope and cast themselves upon God.
The place where Moses received his commission was the desert of Midian. Brad shared last Sunday that through his exile Moses, the prince of Egypt, became Moses, the desert worker, learning probably for the first time the discipline that can only come from hard work. Moses, the ruler of men, became Moses, the ruler of sheep. As a shepherd he would learn how to care for foolish animals who constantly got themselves into trouble and perish quickly without strong and sacrificial leadership. Moses, the man of action, became Moses, the man of patience and long-suffering.
Have you been in a desert for a while? Do you feel like you’re in one now? If so, you’re a good candidate for an encounter with God. God met Moses in the desert and appeared to him on an ordinary day through an insignificant bush, a shrub not unlike millions of others in the desert. Only this bush was burning with an inextinguishable flame. It caught his attention, and he was ready to listen when God spoke out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” The point I would make is that it is generally in the middle of our normal, humdrum, work-a-day existence that God speaks through an uncommon event or an unusual circumstance. We need to give Him our full attention at such times. We may even need to remove our shoes, to recognize it as a holy encounter, to step away from the distractions of our busy lives to listen to him more readily.
The task God commissions him to do is to return and deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. God has seen the misery of His people and has heard them crying. He has decided to rescue them and bring them to a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey. “So now, go,” he tells Moses. “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Why does God commission Moses? Had He so chosen He could have sent forth His angels and in a single night destroyed all the Egyptians. Had He so pleased He could have appeared before the Hebrews in person and brought them out of their house of bondage, protected by fiery chariots.
But this is generally not God’s way. Human instrumentality is the means He most commonly employs to accomplish His purposes. It is almost always the means He uses to bring sinners from bondage to liberty, from death to life. Fifteen hundred years after Moses, the Lord Jesus stood upon another mountain and commissioned a small band of devoted followers to go into all the world and lead men and women out from under their bondage to sin, Satan, and death through the proclamation of the Gospel. That commission has been handed down, generation to generation, and it is still valid today. Not only is there this general commission to all believers; there is also a particular calling of God for every individual believer—a specific area of ministry or service. God almost always uses people to accomplish His purposes in the world.
How will Moses respond to such a commission as he has received? Do we expect him to respond, “Wow, it’s about time! I’m so glad to get out of this desert and back to business I can taste it!”? Do we expect him to speak in humility and devotion as Isaiah did, “Here am I, send me.”? If so, we will be disappointed, for Moses seems to have learned the lessons of the desert too well. He has lost not only his self-confidence but also his confidence in God. His pride has been broken, but so has his spirit. This one who was once so impetuous as to attempt the emancipation of his people by his own hand, now recoils from the opportunity to be God’s instrument. But how true to human nature! First, we run before God with feverish impatience; then, we tend to lag behind Him faint-hearted.
Moses’ excuses to God (3:11-4:17)
I believe there are five discernible objections that come from Moses’ lips regarding the assignment God has given him, each followed by God’s response. The first may be expressed this way:
Excuse #1: Here am I, but who am I? (3:11) Look at verse 11: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Who am I? I’m a nobody! This calls for someone big, someone important. I’m just a shepherd. Maybe there’s even a hint of anger here: you haven’t seemed to miss me, God, for forty years; why are you calling on me now?
I have addressed the fact several times recently that many Christians suffer from a severe identity crisis. Many are saying to themselves (if not out loud), “Who do you think I am? I can’t do that. I feel so inadequate.” Let me tell you something very important. Self-distrust is good only if it leads to trust in God. Otherwise, it ends in spiritual paralysis, inability, and unwillingness to take any course of action. Moses doesn’t seem to see the foolishness of questioning his adequacy for a task that God Himself, who created him, has called him to do. But God is nothing if not gracious. He doesn’t rebuke Moses; rather He answers with a promise of His presence.
God’s answer: I will be with you. (3:12) Look at verse 12: “I will be with you.” What difference does it make who you are, Moses? It is the One who is with you that counts. It is the presence of God, not your presence that assures the victory. By the way, the same guarantee comes with our commission: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, and lo, I am with you always.” (Matt. 28:19-20). With any and every call to service comes the promise of His abiding presence.
Excuse #2: Here am I, but who are You? (3:13) 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?” In order to understand this excuse fully, we must recognize that names meant far more in biblical times than they generally do today. The name of something almost always described some aspect of its nature or character, and any new revelation about a person resulted in a new name being given. If the Israelites ask Moses, “What is God’s name?”, what they are really asking is, “What new revelation have you received from God that gives you the authority to be our leader?”
God’s answer: “I am who I am.” (3:14) Moses is instructed, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM’ has sent me to you.” Now if that seems a bit strange to us, I suggest it probably also seemed strange to Moses. This new name for God in Hebrew is YHWH, and that is the name by which God wanted to be remembered from generation to generation, according to verse 15. Further, God says, when you appeal to the fact that YHWH has sent you “the elders of Israel will listen to you” (verse 18).
Let me stop for a moment and note that this name for God became so holy to the Jewish people that they refused to speak it, though they could write it. They would always read “Adonai,” another name for God when they came to the word “YHWH.” In fact, when you put the vowels of Adonai together with the consonants of YHWH, you come up with the English hybrid, “Jehovah.” And you can always tell in your English Bible when the name Yahweh is being translated because it will be spelled “LORD,” all in capitals. When “Lord” is spelled with only a capital L, the Hebrew is using some other name for God. The exact meaning of YHWH is debated. Most likely it refers to God’s self-existence or His covenant-keeping nature. To put it in very simple terms it means, “I will be all that is necessary as needs arise.”
Let’s move over to chapter 4 for Moses’ third excuse. Mind you, this one comes after a detailed prophetic rehearsal by God at the end of chapter 3 of what will happen when Moses approaches the king of Egypt with his demands. At first, God says, he will resist, but after pressure is applied, he will let the people go. Nor will they have to go empty-handed, for they will be allowed to “spoil the Egyptians.” So how does Moses respond when given this incredible preview? I have expressed it this way:
Excuse #3: Here am I, but what if I fail? (4:1). Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’?” This is one of the most common excuses Christians use to justify their failure to live up to the Great Commission. What if people won’t listen? We worry about how our peers will receive us, so we don’t speak. But the sower is to sow the seed on all kinds of ground—hard ground as well as fallow ground. Whether people will or will not believe us is irrelevant; our commission is not to save them but to tell them the truth.
At heart I see here in Moses a fear of failure. It’s a fear that paralyzes a great many people and prevents them from realizing their true potential in Christ. We need to realize something about failure—it’s not failing that is the problem; it’s what one does after he has failed. A young executive was about to succeed the president of the bank where he worked, so he asked, “To what do you attribute your success?” “Two words,” responded the president: “good decisions.” “But how did you learn to make good decisions?” the young man continued. “One word,” replied the president: “experience.” “But how did you get the experience?” asked the young executive. “Two words,” the president answered: “bad decisions.” Failure is the school of the Spirit to bring about growth. As James Boice puts it, “He allows our failures in order to teach us lessons we would never learn if we were constantly intoxicated with the heady wine of success.”
So, failure need not be feared, because it can be profitable. But there’s another reason why Moses didn’t have to fear failure—he wasn’t ultimately responsible for the project, God was. And that makes all the difference in the world. Success is never the criterion by which the believer’s work is to be judged; rather the criterion is faithfulness.
God’s answer: I will do miracles through you. (4:2-9) In verses 2-9 God shows Moses three spectacular signs as evidence that he didn’t need to fear failure. The staff in his hand became a snake when he threw it on the ground, and then it became a staff once again when he grabbed it by the tail. His hand contracted leprosy when he put it into his cloak and was restored to health when he put it in a second time. And the water from the Nile turned to blood when Moses poured it on the dry ground.
Amazingly, however, despite these miraculous signs to induce faith and validate his call, Moses continues to offer excuses.
Excuse #4: Here am I, but I am not gifted. (4:10). Look at verse 10, which comes immediately after the third miracle: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’” He may have been of slow speech, but he was pretty quick with excuses. Strange, isn’t it, that God should call a person not gifted in eloquence to represent Him in a ministry that would demand public speaking! Paul was the same sort. in 2 Cor. 10:10 he reports what others are saying about him: “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”
Do you ever feel like that, especially when you compare yourself to those who are truly eloquent teachers of the Scriptures? John Keller recently gave me a marvelous tape of Stuart Briscoe, pastor of Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee. The man overwhelms me with his ability to turn a phrase and get to the heart of the matter with just the right words. On top of all that he has a British accent, which makes any sermon sound twice as profound as it really is. He is a preacher’s preacher, and when I listen to him, I have the tendency to say to myself, “What am I doing in the pulpit? I can’t compete with that kind of ability!”
I know I’m not alone in those feelings. Occasionally I ask someone to lead in prayer for the congregation, only to hear the response, “Oh, I can’t pray like you and the other pastors.” Praise God! Since when has there been a human handbook about how prayers should sound? Some of the most meaningful praying I have ever heard has come from the heart of a new believer who didn’t know any of the Christian jargon, but he knew how to talk to a friend!
Frankly I’m not sure Moses is really being honest in his self-disparaging comments or if, instead, he just doesn’t want to do what God has called him to do. In the book of Acts, chapter 7, we find the profound speech of Stephen just before he was executed. I want to read just 3 verses beginning in verse 20: “At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” It’s one thing to really lack confidence; it’s more serious when we just offer empty excuses. Does God have an answer for us? Well, He had one for Moses.
God’s answer: I am the source of gifts and of the power to use them. (4:11-12) The Lord said to Moses, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” That’s quite a promise. It’s a promise that guarantees He will provide the resources to accomplish whatever He calls a person to do. Our lack of ability or lack of confidence is quite irrelevant.
God has answered every one of Moses’ objections, and now his true motive is revealed in Excuse #5. This is not so much an excuse as a copout.
Excuse #5: Here am I, but please let someone else do it. (4:13). That’s exactly what Moses says in verse 13. It would have been better had he said that right up front, instead of arguing for a chapter and a half over issues that were nothing but smoke screens. The Lord’s anger now burns against Moses, according to verse 14, but true to His gracious character, He doesn’t cast him aside.
God’s answer: You are my choice, but because of your hesitance, I will send Aaron too. (14-17) Look at verse 14: “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you (I assume Aaron was coming to bring the good news that the Pharaoh of the oppression was dead and that it was safe for Moses to return), and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.”
While using Aaron is God’s decision, it is not what we might humanly call His “first choice.” Moses missed God’s best because of his lack of obedience, and there must have been many times when Moses regretted his failure to accept the promise of God, for Aaron was often more of a hindrance than a help.
This whole dialogue reveals a less than auspicious start for Moses’ commission to bring his people out of Egypt. But thankfully he changes his tune.
Moses’ final response to God (4:18-20)
His final response is different. It consists of a request, a release, and a return. In verse 18 Moses makes a request of his father-in-law Jethro to go back to his own people in Egypt.
The request. Perhaps the point here is that is it wise to seek confirmation of God’s call from significant spiritual people in your life. Jethro’s response is to release him from any and all obligations.
The release. In verse 20 we read, “So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.”
The return (20). Argue he did. Throw up smoke screens he did. Offer excuses he did. But the most important thing is that he finally obeyed. The tragedy is that so many offer excuses and never obey.
Quickly I want to close with three principles:
Principles to Ponder
Be certain it’s God’s VOICE. You are unlikely to have a literal burning bush experience. But God has other ways of speaking. When you sense that He may be calling you to do a certain task, it’s not wrong to seek confirmation—through the Scriptures, through godly counsel, through prayer. Be certain that the voice you are listening to is God’s and that the open door before you has His hand on the doorknob.
Be content with God’s PLAN. If God has called you to do a task, He knows how to get it done. The timing may not be exactly what you prefer. The obstacles you face may be frustrating. The people you must work with may not always be cooperative. But as long as you are being faithful to pursue the objective to the best of your ability, be content with God’s PLAN. An application that comes to my mind is our building program. When I came to this church as the first pastor six and a half years ago, I was sure that within two or three years we would have a home. We started looking at available buildings and vacant land that first year, and we were frustrated in several efforts that at first seemed to show much promise. But now six years later, as we approach groundbreaking, I look back and thank God that those deals fell through. It’s obvious that they would have hindered us rather than helped us.
Be confident in God’s POWER. What God’s voice calls us to do, and what His wisdom plans to be accomplished, His power is able to bring to fulfillment. As I have observed the spiritual lives of hundreds of Christian people over the last two decades I have come to one firm conclusion: the difference between those who have accomplished great things for God and those who have not, has relatively little to do with education, ability, wealth, good looks, popularity, or any of the other traits that our society deems so important to success. It has everything to do with availability and obedience, “all excuses set apart.” It comes down to whether we are willing to say, “Have thine own way, Lord.”
DATE: May 19, 1991