Reluctant Moses

Scripture: Exodus 3:1-14 & 4:1-17

Title: Reluctant Moses


  • Introduction
  • Back-bone
  • The dialogue
  • Conclusion




True perfection is the ability to include imperfection [1]


The teacher who perseveres with a difficult student

  • The wife who goes on loving her husband even though he doesn’t trim his nose hairs and keeps leaving the toilet seat up
  • The father who welcomes home the prodigal son or daughter
  • The mother who patiently stays up all night nursing her sick child
  • The humble who can laugh at their own mistakes
  • The leader who allows criticism even when it is unfair
  • Anyone really who is able to forgive others and most especially able to forgive themselves


Please turn with me to Exodus 3, verse 10, page 61 in your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series on Moses
  • Last week we heard how God spoke to Moses as a flame in a bush, calling him to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery
  • This week we hear how a very reluctant Moses tries to evade God’s call
  • Moses is all too aware of his own inadequacy
  • But God, who is true perfection, wants to include Moses in all his glorious imperfection


Our reading is in two parts this morning – the first part from the middle of chapter 3 and the second part from the first half of chapter 4

  • From verse 10 of chapter 3, God says to Moses…


[Read Exodus 3:10-14]


Now we will skip to the beginning of chapter 4 on page 62 of your pew Bibles

  • From verse 1 we read…


[Read Exodus 4:1-17]


May the Spirit of Jesus help us to accept the imperfection in ourselves



Most of you would have heard of the three classic parenting styles…

  • Brick wall
  • Jellyfish, and
  • Back-bone


The brick wall parent doesn’t give an inch

  • It’s my way or the highway
  • There is no flexibility, no grace, no understanding with the brick wall parent – they come off as hard and unloving
  • The demanding (sometimes brutal) discipline of the brick wall style often leaves the child angry, resentful and alienated
  • Brick wall relationships are brittle – they don’t cope well with earthquakes or other crises because they have no give


Jellyfish parents are the opposite to this

  • They don’t know how to say ‘No’ to their kids – they are too soft and give in all the time
  • Jellyfish relationships tend to lack integrity or substance
  • You can’t really trust a jellyfish – they won’t support you when the chips are down and they may even sting you


Then we have the back-bone parenting style

  • As the name suggests, backbone parents combine strength & support with flexibility
  • A back-bone relationship is one you can rely on – it has integrity and substance, but it also has grace & understanding
  • Therefore you can trust the other person


Now when I first heard this brick wall, jellyfish, backbone thing, like most parents, I felt guilty for not always being a backbone parent

  • In reality though there are no perfect parents – we are all a bit of a mixture of the three
  • And that’s okay – the world is not a perfect place and so children need imperfect parents in order to prepare them for an imperfect world
  • True perfection is the ability to include imperfection



If you turn to the back page of your newsletter you will see a table there

  • This table basically summarises God’s dialogue with Moses
  • On one side of the table we have Moses’ objections to God’s call
  • And on the other side we have God’s response


Verses Moses’ objections God’s response Verses
3:11 Who am I? (I am nobody)  I will be with you 3:12
3:13 Who are you?(What’s your name) “I am who I am” Or,“I will be who I will be” 3:14
4:1 What if Israel doesn’t believe me? Here are 3 signs to help them believe you 4:2-9
4:10 I’m not a good speaker  I will help you to speak 4:11-12
4:13 Send someone else(or – send whoever you want) I will give you Aaron as your spokesman 4:14-17


When God calls Moses to confront Pharaoh and lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses tries to talk God out of it

  • Five times he resists God’s call on his life


Moses comes across as a bit insecure

  • He appears full of self-doubt and lacking confidence
  • But in a paradoxical kind of way Moses’ questions and objections are actually a good thing
  • It is helpful and necessary to deal with our doubts in God’s presence before going out to face the enemy


Not only that but Moses’ questioning of God allows a meaningful dialogue to take place

  • If Moses had simply said ‘yes’ to God without offering any resistance then the conversation would have ended
  • Moses might not have heard God’s name nor been properly equipped to face Israel and Pharaoh – he would have no answer for his doubts


The other good thing here, about Moses’ resistance, is that it reveals back-bone

  • The fact that Moses is able to stand up to God bodes well for when he will have to stand up to Pharaoh
  • Leaders need a certain amount of stubbornness
  • Pharaoh was a brick wall, against which a jellyfish would make no impression
  • If you want to shift a brick wall you need backbone – strength combined with flexibility


God responds to Moses’ reluctance with some backbone of his own

  • He doesn’t give Moses what he wants or let him off the hook
  • God could have done the job himself but he doesn’t
  • God is resolute in his plan to work with the imperfect Moses
  • By the same token he doesn’t bulldoze Moses either
  • God gives Moses support with flexibility
  • He dialogues with Moses


The Dialogue:

A dialogue is a two way conversation, sort of like tennis – one player hits the ball over the net and the other player responds by hitting it back


God serves a rip snorter to Moses saying, ‘I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his country

  • And Moses sends God’s serve right back over the net with, ‘I am nobody’
  • Or more literally, ‘Who am I to go the king of Egypt?’


Interestingly, God takes Moses’ concerns seriously

  • God doesn’t deny what Moses is feeling
  • And he doesn’t disagree with Moses’ assessment of himself
  • God simply says, ‘I will be with you’
  • Which is sort of like saying, ‘Yea, I agree with you Moses. You’re not adequate by yourself. But I’m more than adequate, so don’t worry’
  • God is inviting Moses to trust him


Moses isn’t entirely sure if he is ready to trust the Lord just yet, so he fires the ball back over the net to God with another question

  • ‘In case someone asks me, what’s your name?’
  • First Moses had asked, ‘Who am I?’
  • Now he asks, ‘Who are you?’


Names in Biblical times were significant

  • The Lord’s name is his story
  • It sums up who he is and what he wants to make known about himself [2]


In verse 14 of Exodus 3, God famously replies, “I am who I am” which can also be translated, “I will be who I will be”


God’s name doesn’t reveal everything about him but it does show us some things

  • Firstly, that we don’t define God – he defines himself
  • There is a certain divine freedom in this


‘I am who I am’ is quite open ended

  • It means, if we are going to be in relationship with God, then we must be prepared to cope with mystery
  • with not knowing
  • with loose ends and unresolved questions,
  • For God won’t be tied down or dissected


‘I will be who I will be’ indicates that God’s story is being told in human history and so it is unfolding even as history continues to unfold


In Tolkien’s book, The Lord of the Rings, the character Treebeard speaks of his name in this way…

  • “My name is growing all the time and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to” [3]


The people of Israel would come to know the meaning of God’s name through the history of his presence with them and salvation of them

  • We come to know the meaning of God’s name through Christ


Reluctant Moses tries to get the ball out of his court a third time by saying, in verse 1 of Exodus 4, ‘But suppose the Israelites do not believe me and will not listen to what I say…?

  • At which point God gives Moses power to perform three signs
  • Turning a stick into a snake and back into a stick again
  • Turning a hand leprous and back into a healthy hand again
  • And turning water into blood


These might seem like pretty random things but I suspect they were freighted with meaning


The Pharaohs wore a crown on their head and on the front of that crown was a cobra snake, raised and ready to strike as a threat to Egypt’s enemies

  • By giving Moses the power to change his stick into a snake and back again I reckon God was saying, ‘Egypt is no threat to me, so you don’t need to feel threatened by them either’
  • Interestingly God told Moses to pick up the snake by the tail
  • This is the most dangerous way to pick up a snake for it can whip it’s head around and bite you
  • Just as God protected Moses from the snake, so too he would protect Moses (and Israel) from Pharaoh


With the second sign God tells Moses to put his hand inside his robe and when Moses does it turns leprous

  • Then when Moses repeats the movement his hand is made healthy again
  • This sign is different from the other two in that it was a sign which was done to Moses’ person – his own body


Lepers were considered unclean and were excluded from society

  • Moses had lived like a leper for a long time, in the sense that he had been excluded from Hebrew & Egyptian society
  • Moses also felt unfit or unworthy for the task God was calling him to
  • But God has the power to declare things clean
  • He has the power to open doors so those standing on the outside looking in may be included
  • God, who is true perfection, is able to include Moses’ imperfection – to declare Moses clean


The third sign, turning the water of the river Nile into blood, shows us that God has power over life and death and he is putting that power into Moses’ hands

  • Water & blood are both symbols of life and potentially death
  • Egypt relied on the Nile for its livelihood
  • Turning the river into blood would destroy the economy


These three signs prefigure the 10 plagues that will come on Egypt


Moses is becoming a bit desperate now – God just doesn’t seem to be getting the hint, so he says…

  • Lord… I have never been a good speaker and I haven’t become one since you began speaking to me. I am a poor speaker, slow and hesitant.


Perhaps Moses thinks he’s got God here, because a leader needs to be able to communicate effectively


There was a king who lived during the Second World War who struggled with a speech impediment – can anyone tell me his name? [Wait]

  • Yes, that’s right, King George the sixth, also known as Bertie
  • He was the father of our current Monarch, Queen Elizabeth the second


A movie came out recently called the King’s Speech, which tells King George’s story

  • After his brother abdicated, Bertie reluctantly assumes the throne
  • He doesn’t want to be king because that requires public speaking – the one thing he can’t do well
  • Every time he opens his mouth in public he is vulnerable – for his greatest weakness is exposed for the whole world to see
  • Bertie engages the help of an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue who helps him find his voice and lead the country through the war


Hitler was articulate and charismatic, some might say a gifted speaker – kind of the opposite of King George and yet, who won the war?

  • God does not call perfect individuals to leadership – he chooses what is weak in the eyes of the world to shame the strong
  • God did not miraculously heal Moses’ slowness of speech and he didn’t heal King George’s stammer either
  • But he does help Moses, as he helped King George
  • God works in and through real human impediments to further his purpose
  • True perfection is the ability to include imperfection



In verse 13 of Exodus 4, Moses says, No Lord, send someone else

  • This translation is something of a paraphrase
  • The original Hebrew is far more vague – it literally reads…
  • Send by whose hand you will send– which could mean…
  • Have it your own way [God] – do what you want – send whoever [4]


Either way it is clear that Moses is not happy to be chosen for the task


Verse 14 tells us God became angry with Moses at this


I don’t think God’s anger here is the anger of impatience

  • God is eternal – he literally has all the time in the world – he is the very definition of patience and long suffering
  • So why is God angry?


Well, it seems to me that often when God gets angry in the Bible it is because someone has mistreated what God values

  • For example, God values the poor & the oppressed – so if we mistreat them God will be angry with us
  • Likewise if God gives us something sacred or holy and we treat his gift cheaply or in an unholy way, then he is not happy


God has just given Moses a sacred call – a special job to do – and that job involves helping the poor & oppressed

  • But Moses has turned his back on the poor by rejecting God’s call – he has treated them cheaply as though they were nothing
  • So we can understand why God is angry – Moses has been careless with people God cares about


And yet God still has the strength and the flexibility to accommodate Moses

  • He says, ‘Okay then, I’ll send Aaron with you as your spokesman’
  • As it turns out Moses ends up doing most of the talking anyway



True perfection is the ability to include imperfection


When we look at the ministry of Jesus we see quite clearly that he included imperfection

  • Jesus called very ordinary people to be his witnesses and disciples
  • Not only that but he had a reputation for hanging out with imperfect people – lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes and so on


In Matthew 5 Jesus says to his disciples…

  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…
  • You must be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect
  • And what does it mean to love your enemy?
  • It means to include them – include them in your prayers, include them in sharing good things – even though they are not perfect


The ones Jesus had the biggest problem with were the Pharisees. Why?

  • Because they had no tolerance for imperfection
  • They wouldn’t admit the imperfection in themselves and consequently they gave everybody else a hard time for being imperfect


It is one thing to include other people’s imperfection but it is another thing entirely to accept our own imperfection

  • Somehow imperfection is more tolerable in other people
  • In fact someone else’s imperfection can make us feel positively wonderful about ourselves – unless of course their failings remind us of our own, and then we are likely to give them a hard time


We do such violence to our own soul when we judge and condemn those parts of ourselves that we find unacceptable

  • We can be that brick wall parent to the child in us


  • We can be so hard on ourselves – so unforgiving of our own weaknesses and mistakes
  • We do well to remember that we are sacred to God
  • You are sacred to God – so be careful with yourself
  • The things you detest may be the very things God values the most


True perfection is the ability to include imperfection


[1] From Richard Rohr’s daily meditation for Tuesday 16 June 2015

[2] Motyer, BST Exodus, page 68

[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, page 454.

[4] Alec Motyer, BST Exodus, page 81