The conversation between God and Moses in the Third and Fourth chapters of Exodus is a very interesting one. This dialogue serves as God’s initial calling and official “commission” of Moses into ministry. After Moses’ rash actions back before he fled into Midian (Ex. 2:12), we might think that he would welcome this commission by God to be the instrument by which the Lord would deliver the Israelites from their bondage. But he appears hesitant and is reluctant to accept the responsibility at this point in his life. It seems that Moses has learned a few things during the forty years he has spent in the desert of Midian and is no longer the headstrong and zealous “Righter-of-wrongs” he was in his youth. In fact, when God now calls him into action, he protests and disputes whether or not the Lord has even picked the right man for the job at all. Moses had gone from the royal household of Egypt to the desert plains of Midian. The scepter of Egypt which he had stood to inherit was replaced with the staff of a simple shepherd. The self-appointed vigilante who had slain an Egyptian taskmaster had, over the space of four decades, become the meekest man on the face of the Earth (Num. 12:3). Moses raised several objections and questions when the Lord appointed him to deliver the Israelites. Let us consider them:
Who Am I?
“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)
The first indicator that Moses had undergone a serious change-of-heart during his sojourn in the backside of the desert is his very first protest to God’s calling: Who am I? For forty years, Moses had been haunted by the words of disdain uttered by one of his own countrymen: “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?” (Ex. 2:14). Who indeed. Moses had acted with presumption when he killed the Egyptian, no doubt about it, and he was not apt to make the same mistake again. He was not about to elevate himself to any position of authority a second time and, even when God Almighty was commissioning him to act on His behalf, he was still reluctant to exercise any authority over his people. Moses had gained a more accurate perspective of who he really was when he lived as a common shepherd in the land of Midian. The gilded palace walls and shaded oases by the Nile River of his childhood had faded away; replaced by the hot desert sun and animal-hide tents which marked the life of a nomad. Surely few things serve to better put things into proper perspective than the exchange of a life of privilege for one of labor. Moses had learned humility through his ordeal.
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (Rom. 12:3)
We do well to keep these words in mind and to ask as Moses did, “Who am I?” when we consider our own callings. For God does not call any of us into service to Him because of our own indispensability or unmatched talents. God never calls anyone because of that person’s abilities or prominence (though He will use such talents as He has gifted when we yield them to Him). In fact, God chose not to use Moses’ position in Pharaoh’s household, nor his great learning in the wisdom of Egypt (Acts 7:22), nor even his great zeal and passion to save the people of God from slavery. It was not until Moses could say with unfeigned lips: “Who am I?” that God chose to use him at all. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5), and this is true even in the callings of God into Christian ministry and service.
Who Are You?
“And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” (Exodus 3:13)
Moses anticipates that one of the first objections his people would raise when he arrived back in Egypt to deliver them would be: Who exactly had appeared to you in the Burning Bush? You say that the God of our fathers appeared to you? Very well, what is His name? Egypt was a polytheistic society with a whole pantheon of pagan gods, it would make sense that the elders of the Israelites would want to verify exactly Who it was that had appeared to Moses. If God had truly revealed Himself to Moses, it would make sense that He had told Him Who He was; He would have told Him what His name was. God’s answer to Moses is startling: I AM THAT I AM. The Lord identifies Himself as the “Self-Existent” One, without beginning and without end; the Ever-Present God. YHWH (Yahweh or Jehovah) is the proper name given to God in the Hebrew and it is a derivative form of the verb “to be.” God is. This is the name by which Moses knew God and it is the name by which we, too, know Him. The Lord Jesus identified Himself repeatedly (e.g., His 7 “I Am” statements in John 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, and 15:1-5) with this name during His time on Earth as well, for He, too, is YHWH. In fact, when we consider the identification of God at this appearance as the Angel of the Lord (Ex. 3:2), it appears that the One appearing to Moses from the Burning Bush is none other than the pre-incarnate second Person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ (see also, “Who Is The Angel Of The Lord?”). God is, and as He tells Moses in Exodus 3:15, “This is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” He is the never-changing God Who is never relegated to only the past or future, but is always in the present.
Wrapped into these first two questions that Moses raises is perhaps the most crucial secret to success in any ministry or service to God. A proper understanding of who we are and Who God is foundational to successful ministry. When we begin to think too much of ourselves or too little of God, we cut off the source of power in our service to Him. Too much confidence in our own selves results in pride and a lack of dependence on God; too little confidence in Him makes us reluctant to step out in faith and do the things He has called us to do. God tells Moses in Verse 12, “Certainly I will be with thee.” When He goes with us, it does not matter how little we are because it is by His power that we move. And the Great I Am is powerful enough to accomplish His own purposes through us. Almighty God moves through weak and earthen vessels.
They Will Not Believe Me
“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)
Is this not an honest concern to every Christian who witnesses for the Lord? Will anyone believe? Moses was concerned that his report would not be believed by his people, so how would he demonstrate that he was telling the truth? God answers him: “What is that in thine hand?” (v. 2) The Lord does not tell him to go and acquire something else to use to verify his calling; God does not tell Moses to go and learn some new skill or develop some new talent. What is that in your hand? What is it that you already have that you can use for Me? So many people feel that they must go and learn to become preachers, or study to become missionaries, or learn how to sing in the choir, or play an instrument in the church. But God wants to use the rod in their hand; He wants to use the talents and abilities they already possess to serve Him. The Church needs plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics, cake bakers, and childcare providers. People from every vocation already have skills that they can use to serve God by serving the people in their own church. Sometimes God does call people to change professions or enter professional ministry from some other vocation, but very often He wants them to use the skills and abilities they already have. Moses had a simple shepherd’s rod in his hand when God came to Him, but when he yielded it to the Lord’s use, it became the rod of God (Ex. 4:20).
I Am Not A Very Good Speaker
“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 4:10)
This recognition on the part of Moses goes along with his question, “Who am I?” Moses had no confidence in his abilities for the great task that lay before him, and rightly so. He had at one time acted rashly and sought to deliver the Israelites from bondage by overthrowing their overseers, even if it meant killing them single-handedly one-by-one. Obviously, this was not a very practical plan and God was definitely not in it. Now, Moses is honestly assessing the “battle plan” and taking inventory of what he has at his disposal. And he honestly realizes that it isn’t very much! But what God tells him is a very wonderful truth for anyone involved in any type of service to the Lord, and especially for those involved in professional ministry. God does not tell Moses to go and study in order that he might become eloquent and well-spoken. Moses is not sent to receive a Doctorate of Divinity from the most prestigious Seminary in Egypt before he is prepared to go and speak on behalf of the Lord. No, God tells him again what He told him before: I am with thee. I will teach you what to say and I will be with thy mouth (Ex. 4:12). While an eloquent presentation of the Gospel might be aesthetically pleasing and more poetic and beautiful than a plainer one, and there is certainly nothing wrong with developing our skills in such areas, it is the Spirit of God Who gives the Message and He is the One Who persuades hearts to believe. If He is not with us, then no amount of eloquence can serve as a substitute.
The Rod, The Hand, The Heart, And The Blood
Finally, in the signs that God gives to Moses to verify his calling we have the elements that are required for successful service and ministry. First is the rod in his hand, as we mentioned above. The servant of the Lord must yield what is in his hand (his skills, his abilities, his talents, his possessions) to God and be willing to both lay them down and take them up again for the use of the Lord. We must be willing for the rod in our hand to become the rod of God, yielded for His use. Second is the hand which holds the rod. Leprosy is used throughout the Bible as a symbol of the stain and disease of sin upon our flesh. God demonstrates to Moses that He alone has the power to cleanse it (Ex. 4:6-7). God can take our sin-stained hands and cleanse them and this must be done before we can truly serve Him. Third is the heart of Moses. Our heart must be right before God before we can serve Him and it must be cleansed just as our hand is. God tells Moses to put his hand next to his bosom; his hand and heart must be in one accord in service to God. They both must be cleansed by God. This is what the blood speaks of in Verse 9. It is the Blood of Christ which cleanses both hand and heart, flesh and soul, actions and thoughts before God. When we serve God today, we do not prove that He has spoken to us by the throwing down of staffs which become snakes or the changing of water into blood, but we do demonstrate the truth of our calling and the power of God by His cleansing of us from our sins, our yielding to Him, and the holy life we live in accordance thereof. These are the signs by which we show that God has spoken to us and has called us to serve Him.