Moses

Any Old Bush Will Do

For what are they all in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?

Ralph Waldo Emerson

    When I was a student at the University of California in Berkeley I took a course in Ugaritic, one of the languages of the ancient Canaanites.

    One day we translated a small tablet from a Canaanite temple. It was a prayer, written and left at the feet of an idol. It read as follows: "O El, cut through my stammering; remove the impediment." Here was a pitiable Canaanite, humiliated by his affliction, imploring the god El to heal him. That's what you would expect a pagan god to do.

    But our God has other ideas. He does not necessarily cure us of our handicaps. He rather puts them to his intended use. Look at Moses' case.

    One popular Jewish legend explains that Moses burned his tongue on a hot coal in infancy and was left with a speech

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impediment for the rest of his life. The legend reflects an ancient and widely held belief, based on Moses' prayer in Exodus 4:10: "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" and his complaint on two other occasions: "I speak with faltering lips" (Exodus 6:12, 30).

    Recent studies suggest that the ancient authorities were right in believing that Moses had a speech defect. They put the expression "slow of speech and tongue" squarely in the realm of ancient medical terminology describing a speech impediment. We have no way of knowing what Moses' defect was, but it must have been severe: perhaps he stammered.

    How humiliating to appear before the Pharaoh of Egypt in his great palace at Karnak, surrounded by the pomp of that place and stutter out his demand: "L-l-let my p-p-p-people g-g-go!"

    Yet this was the man God used to do something for which there is no analogy in history before his time or after.

Mission impossible

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1).

    The story begins in the back side of the deep desert where Moses was working for his father-in-law, Jethro. For forty years, Moses had herded Jethro's flock — forty long years of relentless, dreary duty.

    Once Moses had been part of Egypt's aristocracy, educated and finished in the best Egyptian schools ready for anything. Now he was nothing but a ragged sheepherder. Now he had no confidence in himself. Now God could get to work.

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    God began on a day like any other day. The sun rose in a cloudless sky, throwing its searing heat on the broken wasteland below. Moses' sheep grazed as usual on the sparse vegetation or lay panting under some scant patch of shade. The looming mountains, the withering sun, the terrible silence — everything continued as it had since the beginning of time.

    Then suddenly, an ordinary desert bush burst into flame. Moses saw the bush ablaze and went off to investigate. Clearly this was no ordinary plant, for though it burned it was not consumed!

"I will go over and see this strange sight — why the bush does not burn up."

    When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!"

    And Moses said, "Here I am."

    "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

    The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of the slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt" (3:3-10).

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    The great pharaohs of the eighteenth or nineteenth dynasty were ruling in Egypt at this time. They were the most powerful and prestigious rulers in the ancient world. Their empire stretched from Egypt to the Euphrates and into the Mediterranean, including the islands of Cyprus and Crete. They had enslaved and ruled Israel for four hundred years. How could Moses save them? His hands and tongue were tied.

    That's the way it is with God: he chooses the most inapt and inept men to do the most impossible things. "So now, go," he says, "I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

Who am I?

    Moses had a problem with that mandate:

    But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

    And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain: (3:11-12).

    Had God called Moses forty years earlier he would have been much too eager to comply. With his background, training, and connections in the court he was the perfect solution. He was God's man for the job! But now Moses was full of disclaimer and doubt. Disappointment and failure, the loneliness of the desert and the silence of God had shattered his sense of worth: "Who am I," he asked, "that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt" (3:11).

    God's way of establishing Moses' self-worth was not to enumerate the man's assets and abilities, which is what we normally do to prop up someone's sagging ego. Rather, God assured Moses that he was present. "I will be with you!" he

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promised (3:12). It didn't matter at all who Moses was. What mattered was that God was with him.

    He is with you today. God says insistently and firmly, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). That's not a figure of speech; it's a fact. He is present in a literal, spatial, local sense, more real than any other reality.

    When Jesus met with his disciples in the Upper Room he left them with this consolation: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14: 16-18). This is not our Lord's Second Coming but his coming at Pentecost to be with his own.

    Jesus came and went several times before he ascended to get that lesson into his disciples' minds: even though they could not see him, he was as close to them as he had been in the days of his flesh.

    According to the gospel narratives, when Jesus ascended he rose vertically for a short distance and then disappeared into thin air. He did not pass into outer space like an ascending rocket. Rather, he stepped out of the realm of the seen into that unseen dimension around us which the Scriptures invite us to "see" through the eyes of faith (2 Corinthians 4:18; Hebrews 11:27).

    This means that Jesus is as close to us as he was in the days of his flesh though invisible to our natural eyes. "Where'er we tread 'tis holy ground," Byron said. Every inch of space is crammed with his presence.

    He is with us every moment of our lives. There is not one hour without his presence, not one mile without his companionship. He will never leave us nor will he ever forsake us. "So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid'" (Hebrews 13:6).

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Who are you?

    Moses [then] 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?"

    God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

    God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation (Exodus 3:13-15).

    Moses said, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they will say to me, 'What is his name?' then what shall I tell them?" Note the progression: "If it makes no difference who I am — then who are you?" "What is your name?"

    Yahweh's name was not unknown to Moses. His mother's name, Jachebed means "Yahweh is my glory." No, Moses knew the name. His question was, "What is the meaning of your name? (The particular Hebrew interrogative he uses makes that clear.) God patiently explained: his name means, "I AM."

    God's name, usually translated Yahweh, is related to the Hebrew verb, "to be." (It's the verb used in verse 12: "I will be with you.") Thus God declares, "I AM [is] WHO I AM." "This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you'" (3:14).

    What does he mean by naming himself, "I AM?" Simply this: "I am whatever you need."

    Are you weary? He is rest. Are you unloved? He is love. Are you inadequate? He is sufficient. Are you perplexed? He

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is wisdom. Are you pressured and out of sorts? He is peace. Are you guilty? He is your place of forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

Wisdom, righteousness and power
Holiness for every hour
My redemption full and free
He is all I need.

     - Author unknown

    I AM is God's name forever — the name by which he was to be remembered from generation to generation. Moses' whole life was inspired by that name. Slowly it made its way into the fabric of his mind. In time he learned that God was all he needed. That was the thought that sustained him.

    And so it is for you this day. Do you feel set aside, displaced, without a place to serve? Do you believe your limitations and impediments have made you helpless? Think again. He is all you need.

What is in your hand?

    Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?"

    Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?"

    "A staff," he replied.

    The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground."

    Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. "This," said the

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LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has appeared to you."

    Then the LORD said, "Put your hand inside your cloak." So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow.

    "Now put it back into your cloak," he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.

    Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground" (Exodus 4:1-9).

    Moses was still wary: "What if they [the elders of Israel do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The Lord did not appear to you'?" (He had not appeared for 400 years.) Moses' question had to do with his authority: He had no power base, no political clout. He was a backward, bashful man. Who would listen to the likes of him?

    God's answer came in the form of three signs, all of which attested to Moses' ability to do what no human being could do (4:2-8). These were the guarantees that God was with him.

    God asked, "What is that in your hand?" And Moses replied, "A staff." It was only his shepherd's crook, but what a history could be written of it: cast to the ground to become a serpent, then taken up again as a mere staff; stretched out over the Red Sea to point out a pathway through its depths; struck against the flinty rock from which water gushed for the thirsty crowd; raised in intercession over Israel as they defeated Amalek in bloody conflict. It was only a stick, but in Moses'

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hand it became a mighty symbol of the power and presence of God.

    "Put your hand inside your cloak," God said. "So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow." Then he was told to put his hand again inside his cloak and his leprosy was healed. Never in history had anyone been healed of leprosy

    The third sign, the power to turn the Nile River into blood, was a vivid touch, a terrible omen to the people of that land who depended entirely on the river and worshiped it as a god.

    We do well to ponder these symbols. They tell us that our influence on others is based not on wholeness of body and mind. Nor is it dependent on our training, background, experience, intelligence, or appearance, but on miracles wrought by God.

    The greatest miracle is the work that God is doing in our souls to conform our character to his. He creates the good works in which we walk; he changes us and that change is efficacious: it attracts the attention of others and makes them attentive to what we have to say. There is nothing quite so powerful as a truly godly man.

    In 1966, during the closing service of the World Congress on Evangelism in the Kongresshalle in Berlin, Germany, Billy Graham spoke of the need for "a gentleness and a kindness and a love and a forgiveness and a compassion" that will mark us as different from the world. He concluded, "We must be a holy people."

    As an illustration of the power of personal holiness, he spoke of the conversion of Dr. H.C. Morrison, founder of Asbury Theological Seminary. He described a day many years ago when Morrison as a farm worker was plowing in a field. Looking down the road, he saw an old Methodist circuit rider coming by on his horse. Morrison had seen the elderly gentleman before and he knew him to be a gracious, godly

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person. As he watched the old saint go by, Morrison felt the power of God's presence, and a great sense of conviction of sin came over him and he dropped to his knees. There between the furrow in his field, alone, he gave his life to God. When Dr. Graham concluded the story he earnestly prayed, "Oh, God, make me a holy man — a holy man."

    May God create in us that holiness that will persuade others toward God and his righteousness.

Tongue tied

    Moses' fear lingered on: "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" (4:10).

    Ah, here we have it: the reason Moses demurred. He was ashamed of his affliction, unwilling to expose himself to humiliation by speaking in Pharaoh's court.

    But hear what God says to Moses: "The LORD said to him, 'Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and I will teach you what to say" (4:11-12).

    God was not at all concerned about Moses' impediment. He had, in fact, given it to him! His speech defect was a divinely created deficiency. Moses' impediment might frustrate him, but it could not frustrate God.

    Our impairments, disabilities, and handicaps are not accidents. They are God-designed. He creates every one of our flaws out of infinite wisdom. God's way of dealing with our afflictions is not to remove them but to endow them with strength and utilize them for good.

    Paul said of his handicap: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore," Paul concluded, "I will boast all the more gladly

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about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

    Matthew Henry wrote, "A great deal of wisdom and true worth may be with a slow tongue. God sometimes makes choice of those as his messengers, who have the least of the advantages of art or nature, that his grace in them may appear the more glorious."

    Ruth Bell Graham makes the same point in one of her poems:

He is not eloquent
as men count such;
for him
words trip and stumble
giving speech
an awkward touch,
and humble:
so, much
is left unsaid
that he would say
if he were eloquent.
Wisely discontent,
compassion driven
(as avarice drives some,
ambition others),
the old, the lonely,
and the outcast come;
all are welcome,
all find a home,
all — his brothers.

Behind him
deeds rise quietly
to stay;

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and those with eyes to see
can see
all he can say.

Perhaps he'd not have spent
his life this way
if he were eloquent.

    - Ruth Bell Graham

    Moses' inadequacy was God's opportunity. God's strength was made perfect through Moses' weakness. Words would be given to him  — as they will be given to you. You will be enriched in every way: "in all your speaking and in all knowledge" (1 Corinthians 1:5).

    He who made your mouth can put his words into it. Ask him to make himself visible in you. Ask him to speak to you that you may speak to others. "It will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Matthew 10:20).

    What we say matters far more to God than how we say it. Certainly, we can all learn to speak with greater clarity and simplicity; however, God is not looking for oratory and eloquence but substance and Spirit.

    We must get our message straight from God. What he has to say to us directly is what we have to say to others. Commentaries, books, notes from other teachers are valuable, but the most powerful truths are those that God has been teaching to you. Wait before him in silence until he gives you something to say. In that quiet place of revelation — reading and meditating on his words — he will enrich you in all your speaking and in all your knowledge.

    George MacDonald said, "There is a chamber — a chamber in God himself which none can enter but the one, the individual, the particular man. Out of which chamber that

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man has to bring revelation and strength for his brethren. This is that for which he was made — to reveal the secret things of the Father." This is the place of deep wisdom and profound simplicity from which we go to give utterance to what we have seen and heard.

    When you have heard what God has to say, rely on his Spirit in its proclamation. There is a force at work, more subtle, more powerful and penetrating, far greater than human perfection. When God's Spirit certifies our words, strange things begin to happen to those who hear them; strong influences begin to play upon their hearts — influences that touch the conscience at its deepest levels.

What ties God's hands?

    There's a final note. Moses, still unpersuaded, carries on: "'O Lord, please send someone else to do it.' then, the LORD's anger burned against Moses" (4:13-14).

    How odd of God to be outraged now, to tolerate Moses' deficiencies and doubts, but to fume when he passes the buck. But Moses is now guilty of serious sin. The only thing that frustrates God and ties his hands is when we declare ourselves unavailable.

    George MacDonald put it well: "God will carry us in his arms if we cannot walk; he will carry us in his arms until we can walk; but he will not carry us if we will not walk."

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