Much of our character study thus far as involved a deep dig into Scripture and at least some speculation as to who the real man was, now that we’ve stripped away the Xerox-theology copies that our culture has presented. Although we certainly could continue to unveil Moses at that level through the next several phases of his life, we will refrain for one important reason: Those next phases are not central to his misfit image and qualities, and, therefore, will not be relevant to this book. Let’s watch this next part on fast-forward…: Moses fled to the land of Midian, married, had a son, and become the shepherd of his father-in-law’s flock (Exodus 2:15–25). (Oh yeah, also, the pharaoh died, but the new guy who replaced him didn’t care any more than the last [2:23], so it hardly seems worth addressing at any further length, except to point out that the pharaoh Moses would someday challenge face-to-face would be someone other than his adopted grandfather-king.)
Okay, let’s slow back down now for our climactic ending…
We join him again in Exodus 3:1, another forty years later (Acts 7:30), when Moses is eighty years old. (Times were different then, and human bodies withstood much less havoc wreaked upon them from pollution, radiation, abysmal “food” ingredients, sedentary lifestyles, and everything else that would typically make us imagine a man of eighty with a certain physical frailty. Despite the warm feelings that we get when we hear sermons about God using “an old, ooooold man” to do the things Moses did, two things are crucial to take into consideration right now: 1) Moses wasn’t that old for that time in history; 2) he was operating under the power and authority of God. There is no need to imagine a frail hunchback or any other such assumptions. He was probably getting around about like our current men at the age of fifty.)
After taking the flock far into the wilderness and to the foot of Mt. Sinai, Moses sees something extraordinary: a bush, burning with fire, yet not burning up. Exodus 3:2 states that this was an appearance of “the Angel of the Lord,” but this should be understood as the presence of God, Himself. Though it’s almost entirely unanimous that this is a theophany (when God appears as Angel), Jamieson-Fausset-Brown summarizes better than most that “it is clear that under this symbol, the Divine Being was present, whose name is given (Ex 3:4, 6), and elsewhere called the angel of the covenant.”[i]
Right away, we have to pull the cartoon bush concept out of the picture and replace it with something more realistic so we can appreciate the astonishing sight before Moses. This was not some plant with great amounts of greenery and moisture that could “hang in there” throughout the speech and then extinguish itself internally. (Seriously, some of the theories people come up with to “explain away” Scripture’s supernaturalism is harder to believe than the miracle, you know? Geez…) The bush or seneh (Hebrew) that was scattered all over the place in that area was a specific thorny species of acacia shrub, and it was extremely dry and vulnerable to fire. In fact, it’s known that it doesn’t even need exposure to a flame to ignite; even a nearby spark will set it ablaze. It has been reported that an acacia thorn bush fire can spread far and wide throughout a region as well.[ii] So, seeing this particular species of plant on fire, and then watching it long enough to make the statement in this verse that the bush was on fire but not consumed, would have indeed been quite a sight, as Scripture acknowledges.
Moses stops what he is doing and wanders over to the bush, just as the voice of God rings out from it, calling his name, and instructing him to remove his sandals as he approaches the holy ground. (By the way, super quick: The Eastern origins of the footwear removal—as it is specific to worship [not as it relates to royalty, as there were similar customs in that regard, although for unrelated reasons]—identified the worshiper as a servant to his god, as well as a “confession of personal defilement and conscious unworthiness to stand in the presence of unspotted holiness.”[iii]) God identifies Himself as “the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6), establishing for certain that this voice Moses was now hearing was not a desert hallucination or some other entity. Meanwhile, Moses, afraid to look upon God, hides his face. We will, as we did before, take the following words verse by verse and with clarity brackets:
And the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters [note that, interestingly, even God, Himself, acknowledges the central reason for the “cry” of the Israelites is due to the beatings given by the slave-drivers; it is surprising that the one Hebrew accused Moses of murder for his act of avengement, but perhaps this is why Moses didn’t think the people understood his motive (Acts 7:25)]; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians [crucially important note: God, Himself, has come down to deliver them…not Moses; we will come back to this in a moment], and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk [typical to this area and historical period, the milk heretofore referred would have been goat’s milk, suggesting the land was suitable for many goats to feed, unlike the wilderness deserts around Sinai] and honey [by this, He is likely referring to the honey that would have been made from dates, which suggests the land of Canaan would have been ripe with date trees]; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. (Exodus 3:7–10)
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO:
DO YOU FEEL LIKE A MISFIT? PERFECT! GOD HAS BIG PLANS FOR YOU!
Don’t miss this beautiful, astounding moment in the Word. Here’s God, admitting with His own voice that He, Himself, will be the Deliverer (verse 8). Initially, this sounds like a great plan to our stuttering friend who may have believed in this moment he was personally off the hook. Recall that we addressed at length already the likelihood that Moses knew he was both Hebrew and deliverer since he “supposed his brethren [at the time of the murder accusation] would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them” (Acts 7:25). Now God is saying He’s going to take care of it. Wow, no offense to Moses (and he would certainly agree), but this seems like a much, much, much better plan! It’s not that Moses was an incompetent man—goodness knows, forty years of studies at the palace to be trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22–23) is excellent preparation for anyone who would challenge the pharaoh to let God’s people go. No argument here… But God? That’s such a great idea! Who needs Moses when there’s God to—
Oh, hang on a sec. See verse 10?: “Come now therefore, and I will send thee [Moses] unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.”
Yup. That would be God, by His own admission, stating that Moses will be the human conduit through whom God operates in Divine wisdom, power, and authority, ultimately obliterating the shackles of Israel and leading them out of Egypt.
Don’t you get it? When God says something is going to happen through one of His misfits, it doesn’t happen because the misfit is qualified! It happens because God is the Almighty Crusher of anything He wants crushed, and nobody can stand against Him! Defeating the greatest powers in the history of all regions of hell are less an effort for our Powerful Creator than toppling a tower of onion rings.
Moses didn’t get it…: “And Moses said unto God, ‘Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?’” (Exodus 3: 11). He’s believed his entire life (or at least that’s what the majority of evidence suggests) that he would be the deliverer, and now, he’s balking. Why? Doesn’t he believe that God is capable of doing all that He said He would? Isn’t it obvious, by the flaming acacia thorn bush in front of his nose if not by any other sign, that God is more dependably commanding over all forces upon the earth than any other being and can therefore be trusted to follow through on His claims? Does Moses doubt for some reason that God’s nature is immutable and, as such, He would be incapable of promising something with no intent to follow through?
But alas, no. The misfit is so unwilling to believe in his human qualifications, that he argues again: “And Moses answered and said, ‘But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee’” (Exodus 4:1).
God—whose voice is still coming from a burning bush that isn’t burning, by the way—tells Moses to throw down his staff. By the power of our Lord, the staff becomes a snake, a miraculous display for Moses, right there on the spot, to prove that He Who Calls is qualified enough for the both of them to carry out the promised calling. Moses jumps away from the snake, but the Bush directs him to lift it by the tail, and, upon doing so, he is left once again with staff in hand. Another miracle. God, taking it a step further, informs Moses that he will be able to perform this snake wonder in the sight of any and all Israelites, to establish that he has truly been sent by God.
We beg you: Do not do as many Christians do and skim over the implications of this. This is the moment that God illustrates, as a fact, that a miracle can be done “by Him, but through man.” Back in Exodus 3:7, God told Moses that He had come down to do all the delivering…and in verse 10 Moses learns that it will be done through him as God’s servant. Then Moses doubts and argues, as is his repeat nature around this time in his life, and God in a sense “loans him” a miracle that he can now perform by God’s power. It’s hard to understand why Moses is still insisting that he isn’t worthy…
Come on, readers. Accept the conviction. Know that we’re making a point to you through all of this. Some of you, even right now at this moment, are reading this and thinking, This works for other, more important people, but who am I? God can’t possibly expect me of all people to perform these things He’s told me to do.
See, that’s the beauty of it all. He’s not expecting “you” to. He’s going to do it. He is. Not you. He’s just asking you to be useable in the execution of what He is doing. Don’t be a Moses. Don’t waste that kind of time while there is a calling on your life and lost souls waiting for you to answer it.
Need more convincing? Mkay…
God then performs a third miracle, instructing Moses to reach inside his cloak, and when he pulls it out again, it’s white as snow from leprosy. And yes, we said “third miracle” here… People frequently and erroneously refer to Moses’ white hand as the “second” miracle, but if we’re going to be technical, it’s the second sign. If God’s power hadn’t turned the snake back into a staff, the story of Moses might have gotten to this point and ended with a venom-induced poisoning. This is the third time God has proven Himself to Moses, though He should never have had to. Miracle number four comes immediately in the form of a healing when Moses, by the Lord’s instruction, reaches in and out of his cloak again and his hand is restored. In modernized language, what God says to Moses next is, “If they don’t believe you by the first sign, they will by the time you’ve shown them the second” (Exodus 4:8). However, and this is mind-boggling, God goes on to say in verse 9 that if they still didn’t believe, Moses had the authority by the power of God to take some water from the Nile and pour it on the ground, whereupon it will turn to blood.
Even with all of this in his arsenal, Mr. Misfit continues to argue with God: “And Moses said unto the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue’” (Exodus 4:11).
You have to admit, this is rather unbelievable. Moses has seen more supernatural activity in five minutes than most of us would ever see in seven lifetimes, but can’t get over his own feelings of inadequacy. He has believed since at least the time of the murder accusation that it would be through his own hand that God would deliver His people. But when the rubber met the road at Sinai, Moses uses everything he’s got, including his stutter, to show the Lord he’s not worthy.
It is at this point in the narrative that we can almost “hear” the irritation building in God’s voice: “And the Lord said unto him, ‘Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say’” (Exodus 4:11–12). We can imagine the tone here… “Who made your tongue, Moses!? Who gave you your stutter in the first place!? It was Me! Don’t question Me! Don’t lecture Me about your weaknesses, as I’m powerful enough to keep any of them from stopping me in this! Now go do what I’ve told you to do! I will make sure you articulate smoothly, and don’t worry about what to say, either. I’ll give you every word…”
Moses, Moses, Moses… For a guy who can’t hardly speak, he sure protests up a storm on this day. Believe it or not, in one final plea, Moses begs God: “O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send” (Exodus 4:13). Scholars are unanimous that this, in modern words, would read, “Lord, please! Just send anyone else!” Moses has completely abandoned giving any reasoning regarding his inadequacies and has resorted to simply pleading for the sake of pleading that God would find someone else…someone more qualified.
Tragically, Moses’ critical self-doubt wins. God agrees to send Moses’ Hebrew brother, Aaron, to go along with him to speak. This is carried out as the official plan…
…robbing Moses forever of the fullness of the honor God initially wanted to bestow upon him.
You’ve heard the rest of the story. Moses and Aaron repeatedly challenge the pharaoh to let the Hebrews go free, and as the pharaoh refuses, ten horrible, frightening demonstrations of God’s power are released upon Egypt—the Nile River turned to blood, followed by plagues of frogs, gnats, and flies, trailed by the death of every animal in the Egyptian livestock, then blistering boils sprouted up on the skin of both Egyptian animals and people, the worst hail in Egypt’s history fell and destroyed the entire land and killing anyone outside, locusts swarmed in giant clouds and ate everything in the fields that the hail hadn’t devastated, darkness fell across the land for three straight days…and then the angel of death claimed the lives of every firstborn son. (Not one Israelite was affected by any of this. God’s people, who were living in a small town called Goshen, were protected entirely from the damage of these plagues.)
All the while, despite his stutter, despite his murder charges, despite the fact that he ran away and earned the “coward” label amidst both cultures, Moses was at the center of every promise, every threat, and every action taken by God in wrath against the Egyptians.
The night that the angel of death took the life of the pharaoh’s son, the pharaoh finally relented and allowed the Israelites to leave. But when the full consequence of that decision dawned on him shortly thereafter, he took every chariot left in the kingdom and pursued the Israelites with maximum military power, cornering them at the Red Sea. God told Moses to raise his staff over the sea and part the waters, and when he obeyed, the Israelites walked between the giant walls of water on dry ground.
Once again, Mr. Coward was at the front and center of the movement of God, bravely carrying out the order of his Commander.
On the other side, Moses, following the prompting of God, raised his staff again, and the waters crashed back down upon the Egyptians who had continued to pursue them, and not one Egyptian survived…not even the pharaoh.
Once again, Mr. No Name led his people by the power of the God that had always known exactly who he was and what he had been called toward.
When the people arrived at Sinai, God gave Moses the Law…including the Ten Commandments that would convict every hearer from that day forward unto today, reform all of humanity forever, and establish the Sovereign Lord as the true Wise Ruler of all lands, peoples, and cultures for all time.
And once again, Mr. Stutter was the mouthpiece through whom God spoke.
Countless miracles have occurred since. Entire nations have risen and fallen from the time of Moses to now. Incalculable, world-changing events have taken place, and a limitless number of people have been born into a calling, carried it out well, and gone to be with the Lord.
But the world will never forget the man who would never be known by his covenant name; the man who wasn’t sensationally carried over the rushing rapids in a wicker basket; the man who wasn’t an Egyptian, but wasn’t a Hebrew; the man who couldn’t speak but whom God asked to be a prolific speaker; the man who was asked to tell others to never murder, though he was wanted for murder, because he killed a man he may not have murdered; the coward who fled but who wasn’t a coward; the man who couldn’t be used by God to deliver the Israelites but who fulfilled his calling as the deliverer of Israel; the man whose story repeatedly proved to not be worth telling but whose story has been used by God in bewilderingly miraculous ways an infinite number of times and will never stop being one of the most popular and inspiring account in human history:
UP NEXT: Meet the Misfit Toys
[i] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D., Commentary, 50.