Stutterer. Fugitive. Murderer. Moses knew a thing or two about failure. Yet, he’s the one God wanted as the deliverer of His people. You know the story. Moses has run away from Egypt because his murder of an Egyptian was found out, and his own efforts to deliver the Israelites had failed (see Exod. 2:11-15; Acts 7:23-29). His flight has taken him to Midian where he has been hiding out for forty years. That is until he notices something strange one day. A bush has caught fire, but for some reason it’s not being consumed by the flames. Moses approaches to get a better look, and that’s when he hears the voice of God for the first time.
Moses, at this point, is living the dream. God is verbally telling him exactly what He wants him to do: “Come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exod. 3:10). How many times have you thought that you would gladly obey if God would just tell you what He wanted? Though we see this as a recipe for instant obedience, when Moses receives this direct message from the Lord, he responds in a familiar manner: “Not me, God. I can’t do that. Try somebody else.”
Moses fires excuse after excuse at Almighty God: “But, God, they won’t believe me! I tried once already, remember? They hate me!” God promises His presence with Moses, that it won’t be Moses’s power, but God’s. This should settle things, but Moses keeps going. “They’re going to ask me Your name. What then?” God reveals His name to Moses: I AM THAT I AM. Jehovah. The LORD. He continues by reassuring Moses that He will be with him and that the plan will work. Okay, Moses, now you’re good, right? Hardly. The excuse train keeps on chugging for the whole next chapter. God’s patience is astounding. How does He put up with any of us?
Once again, God bears with his reluctant servant and reiterates His promise to do exactly what He has said He will do. Believe it or not, Moses still isn’t done. He once again tries to play the “but I’m not an eloquent speaker” card (6:28-30). And, yet again, God reassures him (7:2-5).
Finally, Moses agrees to go. At this point we think the excuses are behind us. Now we can get down to some good old-fashioned Egyptian rump-kicking! Not so fast. Moses and Aaron gain an audience with Pharaoh and request that he let the Israelites go; and (just as God had said), Pharaoh abjectly refuses. Instead, he intensifies the labor on the Israelite slaves, and Moses and Aaron are ready to give up and go home. More excuses coming, Moses prays, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all” (Ex. 5:22-23).
Phew! I knew Moses made some excuses at the burning bush, but I didn’t realize that he kept whining for three more chapters! But let’s read one more verse: “So Moses and Aaron did it. As the LORD commanded them, thus they did” (7:6). From this point forward, Moses will obey the word of the LORD faithfully for forty years.
What changed about Moses and Aaron’s circumstances? Was Pharaoh suddenly compassionate toward them? No, we read no less than eighteen times about the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. Was Moses instantaneously a charismatic public speaker? Nope. He still used Aaron as his mouthpiece. Did the Israelites whom they were desperately trying to deliver take an automatic shine to them? Well, maybe. But as we read on in Exodus, we learn that the hearts of the Israelites are pretty fickle. They will turn on Moses in a heartbeat. In that moment, nothing at all had changed about Moses’s circumstances. He just finally decided to obey.
I love Moses. I admire his heroic faith, his passionate intercession for the people, and his intimate relationship with the LORD. But I identify with his weak, excuse-ridden beginning. He has a problem with fear of man. So do I. He tries to do the Lord’s work in his own way, plowing ahead and then having to bury an Egyptian in the sand and run away. I haven’t committed murder, but I’ve certainly got a few metaphorical Egyptians buried in my past. And excuses? You betcha. Those instances when I know I should overlook an offense of a loved one (“But they….!”) and the times when I know I should share the Gospel with a neighbor (“But what if….?” And “I’m not….!”): yes, I definitely identify with Moses’s excuse-making.
Let me wrap up with two thoughts. First, let’s not overlook the patience and grace extended to Moses and Aaron by God. For every lame excuse they cook up (or reheat), God gently reassures them. When you or I would have just zapped Moses with a heavenly lightning bolt and found someone else, God bears with him. He does no less for me. He is “faithful and just to forgive” every time I ask Him, even when it’s the same sin time after time after time (1 John 1:9). He has promised never to give up on my sanctification—even if it seems to the rest of the world like a lost cause (Phil. 1:6). Regardless of my copious failures, He will not subject me to condemnation or sever me from His love (Rom. 8:1, 38-39). Of course, I’m not saying that we should presume upon His patience; but how can we not delight in its abundance toward us!
On the other hand, I’m convicted by Moses’s slowness to obey. I know that I’m in that camp too often. If someone were reading the story of my life, they’d be screaming at the book, “Just obey already!” We have the privilege of knowing the end of Moses’s story and how well things will turn out when he finally does obey. We know that God will send ten plagues on Egypt, free the Israelites, split the Red Sea, provide manna from heaven and water from a rock, and ultimately deliver them to the Promised Land. Moses, of course, had no idea what was in store for him. Likewise, I don’t know what the result of the step of obedience God’s asking me to take will be. Of course not. I’m called to walk by faith and not by sight. What I need to learn from Moses’s dragging feet is to just obey anyway. The God who did all those marvelous things for Moses—and who redeemed me with the blood of His only Son, who obeyed perfectly every time—has only my best interests at heart. So, let’s hop off the excuse train and just obey already!