Excuses

Last week we began to look at Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush.  We got only halfway through Exodus 3 because we got hung up on the idea of the Israelites not crying out to God out of fear.  While they wanted God’s help, they were afraid of what would happen if they got it.  Even though they suffered in slavery, they were fearful of what kind of changes would take place if God rescued them from their slavery.

Fear often keeps us from achieving what God wants us to accomplish.  It’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand or what we don’t know enough about.  But part of the Christian life requires faith and that means that we do what God asks even when we don’t completely understand the plan.  It’s impossible to know how many opportunities we have missed out on because we’ve been afraid and we’ve told God that we’re unwilling to do what He asks of us.

After fear comes excuses.  Now we can make excuses for a lot of different things but I’m referring specifically to excuses why we shouldn’t do whatever it is that we are afraid to do.  These excuses often revolve around our human limitations.  We’re too old, we’re not smart enough, we’re not strong enough, etc.

Of course these excuses don’t hold water.  If God asks something of us, He certainly isn’t going to make the mistake of asking us to do something that we’re too old to do or not smart enough to do, etc.  After all, He created us and He’s the One who gave us the abilities that we have to begin with.  To imply that God didn’t give us enough to accomplish the task that He is asking is an insult to God.

Furthermore, if we really are lacking in any sort of way, God is capable of giving us the ability to overcome our shortcomings.  Like many people, I used to be terrified of speaking in public but I was fortunate enough to be able to overcome this with God’s help.  It had nothing to do with my own ability, only God’s willingness to help me overcome this fear.

Despite all of Moses’ training, he too felt like he was not the best man for the job that God had in mind for him.  He came up with many excuses not to do what God wanted of him.  Fortunately for his sake God wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Exodus 3:11-12

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

12 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[b] will worship God on this mountain.”

I have to admit that God’s first reassuring of Moses doesn’t feel all that reassuring.  Ideally, when God says that he’ll be with us, this should be good enough to calm our fears.  However if Moses is looking for proof that he is the right man for the job, the proof doesn’t come until afterwards.

To me it feels like someone who is going to go bungee jumping or hang gliding.  As they stand on the edge of a cliff contemplating whether to jump, their friend reassures them by telling them that they’ll be fine.  And as proof that they’ll be fine, after they’re done, they’ll go out for dinner together.  It’s not all that surprising that Moses doesn’t accept this as very comforting.

Exodus 3:13-14

13 Moses 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?”

14 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.’”

I find it interesting that Moses’ first thought isn’t fear about going to Pharaoh and what the consequences may be.  His first concern is his own people not listening to him.  This actually makes sense though considering his history with the Israelites.  They didn’t want to accept his help when he defended an Israelite from an Egyptian.  Now 40 years have passed and he probably won’t even be recognized by his own people.  It would seem even less likely that they would listen to him now when he has been completely disconnected from his own people for 40 years.

This is also a legitimate question though.  Moses is looking for excuses not to be the one to go but the real question is “If I do go, who do I say has sent me?”  Phrased another way, the real question is, “Who are you Lord?”

God has identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  If Moses carries this message back to the Israelites they would understand and recognize the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But anybody could make this claim and Moses knows that the Israelites are going to ask for proof that he has been sent by God.

If I came in one Sunday morning with a story about how I had an alien encounter, regardless whether you believed it for a moment or not, everyone’s response would be pretty much the same.  “Oh really?  What did the spaceship look like?  Did you see any little green men?”  Before anyone believes the story, they want to know if the details at least sound credible.  This is the same thing that the Israelites will do when Moses comes to them and says that God has spoken to him.  They will want to verify that the story is true.

What is interesting is that Moses asks for God’s name.  God has many names throughout scripture but at this point none have been written down.  There is not going to be a name that Moses can say and the people will be like “Well, he knows God’s real name, God must have actually spoken to Him.”  So why does Moses ask for a name?

I can’t be 100% certain but I think there are a couple of reasons.  Names offer a description of a person.  By giving a name it would in some way describe God as Moses had encountered Him.  By asking for a name, Moses is asking “How should I describe you to them so that they’ll believe me?”

There is also power in a name and power in knowing a name.  If Moses can speak the name of God to the Israelites and they believe him, it would certify that God has really sent him.

The name that God gives is very revealing.  The Israelites would not recognize the name if they were just told it because God had never revealed it to them before.  However, the name I AM sets God apart from all other gods.  I AM means that God has always existed and is self sufficient.  He needs nothing from anyone.

This made God different from all of the other so called gods in Egypt and the rest of the world.  Most stories about gods tell of their birth and even their death and rebirth.  They are beings with immense power but subject to human like emotions and whims.  They have a beginning and they even have an end, or at least a limitation to their powers.  But not so with God.  He always has been and always will be.  There is no story of His birth or creation.  There is no limits to His power.

Although philosophers don’t necessarily believe in God and certainly not God as we know Him, they do believe in the I AM.  In philosophy terms God is “the unmoved mover.”  In essence, something has to have always existed without a creator or beginning.  We recognize this “something” as God, identified to Moses as I AM.  Others may see this unmoved mover as chemicals in the universe before there was a universe that mixed together in the right combination to create a Big Bang and thus form our universe.  The point is that either those chemicals had to have always existed with a creator or something else must have caused them to be there.  And if something else caused them, who, and were they always there or did something cause them to be?

By calling Himself I AM, God identifies that He is unlike any other god in Egypt or the rest of the world because He was never created nor will He ever end.  He will always be.  This is what Moses is to return to the Israelites with.

Exodus 3:15-21

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD,[d] 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 you shall call me
from generation to generation.

16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

18 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

21 “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. 22 Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”

I’m not going to comment on this other than to say that this is the message that Moses is to take to the Israelite leaders.  They should accept the message by virtue of the fact that it comes from God and Moses will speak the name of God to them.  We aren’t told whether the elders believed immediately or if they needed further proof from Moses but he will be successful in getting them to believe his message.

Exodus 4:1-5

1 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”

2 Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

3 The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.”

Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4 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. 5 “This,” said the 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.”

Despite the message and the fact that God has revealed His name to Moses, Moses still isn’t sure about the plan.  If you want to cut Moses some slack here, you may say that he is simply covering all of his bases in case the Israelites don’t believe him.  In reality though, he is probably looking for a way out, hoping that as long as he delivers the message, that he’ll be off the hook.  He’s probably expecting the Israelites to reject him.  Instead, God is going to give him signs to perform until the Israelites believe him.

Exodus 4:6-9

6 Then the LORD said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous[a]—it had become as white as snow.

7 “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.

8 Then the LORD said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. 9 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.”

The Lord gives Moses two more signs to perform so that there will be no question that he has been sent by God.  These signs are probably just as much for Moses as they will be for the Israelites.  After Moses has been given three signs, he really isn’t in a position to ask God for more.  Hopefully his faith has been strengthened enough that he believes that he’ll have success with the task that the Lord has given him.

Exodus 4:10-12

10 Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, 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.”

11 The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

Despite the signs, Moses is still fearful and continues to come up with excuses.  Moses’ excuse could have been legitimate or he could have been grasping at straws at this point.  Whichever was the case, God doesn’t accept Moses’ excuses.  He reminds him that He is the one who gave Moses his ability to speak.  If it is inadequate then the Lord will provide him with a greater ability to speak.

Exodus 4:13-17

13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

14 Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. 15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. 17 But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.”

Finally Moses comes right out and asks that the Lord send someone else.  But God won’t take no for an answer.  Moses has been brought to this point for the very purpose of doing what God has called him to do.

God offers Moses one final solution to his excuse but He wasn’t happy about Moses’ hesitancy.  In Moses’ case he wasn’t going to win the argument with God.  There are times that we tell God no, or “find someone else” and God accepts our answer and finds someone else.

It is not God’s loss however, it’s ours.  When we come up with excuses to ignore what God is telling us, we lose out.  If Moses has succeeded in rejecting God’s plan he may have died a shepherd in Midian.  Not that it was a dishonorable life, but he would have missed out on so much that God had in store for him.

When we make excuses, we too may miss out on great things that God has in store for us.  We might feel like we have legitimate reasons to be fearful but God will give us everything that we need to succeed just as He did with Moses.

If we tell God no, it doesn’t mean that we’re destined to live a miserable life but it does mean that we’ll miss out on something greater that God has in store for us.  God wants us to grow.  He wants us todo great things.  And He wants to do great things through us.  We just need to stop coming up with excuses.

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