Moses’ Sinful Doubts (v. 1)
If we trusted God as we should, his promises would completely settle our hearts. He had already promised he would be with Moses and that the leaders of Israel would listen to him. Moses, however, was not persuaded. He contradicted God and said that they would not believe him. Before Moses could be the meekest man who ever lived (Num. 12:3), the most tamed and teachable before the Lord, he would need to learn much about the certainty of God’s word and his mighty power. He would learn it in time, and this should greatly encourage us that our sins are no impediment to God doing great things in our lives or even using us to glorify his name in notable ways. Nor is the Lord finished shaping us on the first day we believe in him or after ten thousand in his service. His grace will not stop laboring in us mightily, provided that we do not receive it in vain. Even if we are stubborn and slow to believe, as Moses was, or later the two on the Emmaus Road, the Lord will not abandon us but continually reform us.
We should therefore work hard at being settled by his promises. Much more than Moses, we have the promise of our Lord that he will be with us. He is with us by his Holy Spirit, who makes us God’s temple and dwelling place. When we believe upon the name of Jesus Christ, the Spirit takes up such a quickening residence in us that we may expect to bear much fruit for the glory of God and the peace of our own souls (John 15:8; 2 Pet. 1:6-8). Now, this does not prevent the Lord from asking hard things of us. As long as we are in the “body of this death,” we shall find even basic obedience to God’s holy word a hard fight. He may also commission us to challenging tasks in our homes, churches, and communities. Not that he today appears in burning bushes or speaks audibly from the heavens, but we are guided by his Spirit so that as we walk in fellowship with him, we shall be led by him and be shown what we are to do to please him in our particular times, callings, and circumstances (Isa. 30:21). Therefore, we must believe that he will be with us, and let his promise drive away our doubts and fears. Moses did not, but we now have our Savior who has bled and died for us, rose again and given us his Spirit. We should have no doubt of any kind that God always keeps his promises, will guide us with his counsel, and then receive us to glory, to be with him forever.
God’s Three Confirming Signs (vv. 2-9)
Stick to Snake: I Use the Weakest Instruments
Never must we think that our Savior is a hard master. He might have dealt with Moses’ audacity and doubt much more harshly, but he is so full of pity toward us. The Lord patiently answered Moses’ objections and removed each obstacle that Moses raised against himself and against the prospects for success. The Lord also gave Moses three confirming signs. They seem to have been more to encourage Moses’ than to convince his countrymen! God had already said that they would believe him, but he often confirms his words with signs, not to detract from the authority of his bare word but to condescend to our weakness. Moses was weak in faith at this point. He needed to see God’s power. This is one lesson of his staff being turned into a serpent. Certainly this would have scared Moses. He must have often seen serpents in the wilderness, but most men instinctively draw back from a snake. But then the Lord told him to pick it up by the tail; “careful grasp” is implied in Hebrew. It then returned to being Moses’ rod.
This was a remarkable and jarring display of God’s power, which certainly called Moses to put away his doubts and to trust God. At the same time, it must have led Moses to reflect upon the weakness of the means God would use to deliver his people. Why not raise up an army from the dust to defeat Egypt? A stick? There are no useless or weak instruments once God takes them up and uses them. In fact, the weakest instruments, like Moses’ walking stick, can become a mighty weapon if it is consecrated to God. So, Moses is led to trust God’s power to do the difficult and inconceivable. His old question to Abraham surges to the forefront: “Is anything too hard for the Lord” (Gen. 18:14)? We often think so, but God does not. The same is true for us. It seems impossible that the preaching of the gospel is going to overturn Satan’s kingdom and make the mountain of the Lord’s house the highest. Especially when one considers the weakness of preachers and the extreme rarity of what we would call a great preacher, we must conclude that the kingdom dynamic God always uses is to accomplish his purposes with the weakest of means so that all praise will go to his power (2 Cor. 4:7). When we learn to trust God’s power and to consecrate ourselves and all that we have to his service, then we truly honor him. Like Moses’ rod, our means to do his bidding are often weak, but the mighty Spirit who indwells us is able to do wonders with the weakest of instruments. Let us walk in faith and depend upon his power, for he works through man’s weakness to reveal his power (1 Cor. 1:28-32; 2 Cor. 12:9-10; 13:4).
Clean to Leprous: I Break Man’s Strength
The Spirit makes no attempt to explain the way that God performs these signs. It is one of the most striking features of God’s destruction of Egypt. There is no proof given that God was the one doing these things, no attempt to demonstrate that the mighty signs were but natural phenomena. That age with all its superstitions was far more pious in its heathenism – that things do not simply happen and that life is not to be explained simply by impersonal processes. This was the hand of God, and even the sorcerers of Egypt knew it, as their consciences were pricked by the signs that confirmed the word of God that Moses preached to them. These three signs all have the element of God making the object different, then returning it to its normal state. He is able to do beyond our ability to understand. Satan may imitate his outward signs, but with all of God’s signs, the purpose is not to mesmerize as much as it is to humble the heart to a listening state to receive his word and to obey it.
It seems that the sign of the leprous hand simply says that God is able to break the power of man. Egypt is unclean before him. His people were even in a sense unclean, for they were almost wholly in the grip of the idolatry of Egypt. Nevertheless, God is able to make the unclean clean. He is able to wither the strong. To Moses, Egypt seemed a mighty kingdom that could only be toppled through an equal, opposing force. God says, “Watch and trust me. Do what I say. I break man’s strength.” Again and again we see this. When Saul has the superior power to kill David, Saul stripped off all his clothes, sat down on the ground naked day and night, and prophesied. Nebuchadnezzar for seven years became a wild beast. God raises up the lowly; he humbles the proud.
For us, we learn from this sign, first, never to trust our own strength or to fear men who seem to have great strength. In an instant, God can humble them, take away all their power, and expose all their pretenses. Second, all man’s power is uncleanness to God – like leprosy, a scaly, unattractive skin disease. Therefore, we must fear the Lord, not man. And lastly, if we will yield ourselves and all that we have to the Lord, he will take away our uncleanness and make us strong in his service. As with Moses, it is normally the case that before God will much use us, we must be broken down by his majesty and brought to see our filth and weakness before him. Then, seeing Jesus, the HOLY ONE crucified for the unholy, the POWERFUL becoming sin and weakness itself, our hearts rejoice and are made alive and strong, ready to serve him, by the Spirit of might and holiness.
Nile to Blood: I Mock Man’s Fake Gods
The Egyptian named the Nile god Hapis. We need not at this point descend into their gutter of deities, their children and consorts, for they were as mad in their superstitions as the Greeks. The Nile was and is one of God’s great natural gifts to that corner of the world, but blind man will always deify and worship the gifts, rather than the Giver. At the outset – here and with the first plague – the Lord takes on the strength of Egypt – the abundant water and resulting fruitfulness of the Nile. Said simply, the Lord mocked their false god, their “God of life.” He turned him to blood. God killed him. This sign to Moses is a precursor to the total war the Lord will declare upon Egypt and its gods. He will not be mocked: “Let all the gods worship him” (Ps. 97:7) – not because such gods actually exist but because they are all dim shadows of the true and only God, created in the fearful, guilty imaginations of lost and dead men.
As jarring as it may be to reigning pluralism in our land, political and increasingly religious, the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY God is at war with the would-be gods that men imagine and serve. They may be gods of the minds, as with the philosophers and those who worship reason as their god. They may be gods of the laboratory, for when blind men think they have understood a process, they often deify it. Statism is central to today’s idolatry. Understand that Yahweh alone will be worshipped and served. He is the only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All the idols of man’s mind and hand will be smashed, exposed, brought to ruin. We fill museums with all the gods of antiquity, because these gods were not real, could not speak, had no power, could not help. All that make and worship them become like them (Ps. 115:8). If we have any zeal for or Savior’s kingdom and glory, are able to shed any tears of love and joy before his cross and to tremble before his throne, we must proclaim the truth against all the gods men imagine for themselves today, including the most basic of all, man himself – what he wants, that his feelings are petted, that he is entertained and his lusts gratified. We must tell the truth about these ugly realities and point men to the only God who is able to remove the blood sentence off our heads – the God of grace who crucified the Lord of glory, his beloved Son, for us.
Moses’ Unwillingness to Obey (vv. 10-13)
Moses: I Am Not Eloquent
The Lord patiently answered Moses’ fears that the Jewish leaders would not believe the Lord had appeared to him. Moses had the temerity to raise a further objection – “My tongue is heavy in my mouth” – I am not eloquent. Whether Moses had a speech impediment or lost his oratory in the desert sand, had he not just seen the power of God? Although the Lord told him that his people would believe him and that he would lead them back to that very mountain to worship him, Moses looked for reasons not to go. He was filled with excuses. Did he honestly feel that his lack of eloquence or fear of speaking to Pharaoh would be a hindrance to God? Perhaps; it is certain that he did not want to be God’s instrument of deliverance, and that Moses’ meekness was a grace he received and learned progressively. Moses had to become a broken man so that he could be an obedient and faithful one.
Moses was a work in progress, and this should remind us to treat ourselves with a degree of patience and others with tremendous patience! Forty years had passed, but Moses was far from being tamed before the Lord. He doubted and questioned God’s word. He would learn obedience through seeing God’s glory and being deconstructed by it so that he became a different man. He could not lead Israel unless he was led by God so that he trusted him without wavering. God will teach us these and similar lessons. He does not teach us all at once, so we must never think that school is out and that we are graduates. Rather, as the Lord reveals one truth or shows us our heart sins more deeply, we must take in his light and grace, live by it carefully, and then expect that we shall go from “grace to grace” under our Savior’s tutelage. Too many of us learn a lesson or two and think that we have reached graduation day. We learn from Moses that he was God’s chosen instrument, but that he much to learn. The Lord taught him patiently. He is so gentle with us – “Thy gentleness has made me great” (Ps. 18:35). Let us seek to be yielded to him, wait upon him to work, and never doubt that he is dealing wisely with us.
God: I Made Your Mouth
The Lord was insulted by this objection ~ “Who made man’s mouth?” He adds: dumb, deaf, blind, sighted. I made all these. Your complaint of personal inability or disability is against me. He says the same to us, and this little line rebukes the audacity of men, who claim the right to determine which life is worth preserving or keeping, or which people are valuable and which are not. Man – all men – strong and weak men – blind and seeing men – are God’s handiwork. We are too weak to value all as God does – not that all are morally the same or share the same destiny, for God’s grace makes men to differ (1 Cor. 4:7). Yet, human life is such that all lives are created by God and serve his purpose. Therefore, none of us has the right to look down upon others for some weakness or deformity. Nor can we bring forward our own to justify not doing what God says or refusing to undertake some work to which he calls us.
The Lord’s gentleness with Moses is breathtaking, for he rudely insulted and called into question his wisdom. Rather than strike him down for his audacity, the Lord says, “Go, and I will be with your mouth.” This is thrilling! “You think you have this weakness, Moses. Be careful not to throw it up in my face, for if you do have a speech issue, remember that I made you. I will use your weakness. I will be with your mouth.” We cannot be sufficiently reminded that the weakness we would use as an excuse not to serve the Lord is often the very thing he will use most. He brings strength out of weakness. He does not need the swift horse, the king with mighty forces. He uses the weak and lowly, the despised and the foolish means in the eyes of the world. He does this so that no one will glory in his presence, that all will be brought to tremble before his power (1 Cor. 1:32). And now that the mighty Spirit of God is poured out upon us, he will have us learn the greatness of his power in us who believe (Eph. 1:17-18). We say or think, “I cannot do this, Lord.” The Lord says, “You cannot, but I can. You are weak, but I am strong in you” (Phil. 4:13). Never should we weigh what the Lord can do with us, as weak as we are, how he might use our words and witness, our constancy and kindness, to glorify his name and build the church and kingdom of his Son. When we say, “I CANNOT,” he says, “GO, AND I WILL BE WITH YOU.”
Moses: Send Someone Else
We had better never say, “I WILL NOT.” Sadly, shockingly, this was Moses’ response to all this kindness and power and condescension. He said, “Send whomever you wish.” The implication is – but do not send me. Moses was polite about it, but he clearly indicated that he had no desire and perhaps no intention of returning to Egypt and making such a request. You and I can never plumb the depths of our unbelief or understand our stubbornness. Lest we fault Moses too much – and God was angry with him this time! – let us remember that we have more and greater promises than Moses did. We have the HOLY ONE incarnate, who gave his back to the smiters for us; we have the HOLY SPIRIT indwelling, who makes us God’s living temple. We have completed Scriptures, precious promises, and history’s witness to the glory and power of God in the church of our Savior. Even with the blessings of righteousness, peace, joy, liberty and sonship, joy and love, we make all kinds of excuses for not obeying God. Half of the time, we do not even debate the matter; we have simply decided that such and such is impossible to accomplish, or that God is unfair to ask us to give up this or that, and that we shall not move from our position. What? Are we out of our minds? Would we provoke God to jealousy? Are we stronger than he is, as Paul with grave fear asked the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:22)? We ought to fall all over ourselves to follow God wherever he leads us. Like Isaiah, as cast down as he was by God’s holiness, and feeling himself to be under sentence of woe for his uncleanness – seeing God’s beautiful holiness, he could only say, “Lord, here am I: send me.” May we be emptied of ourselves and filled with zeal for our Father!
God Knows Our Weakness (vv. 14-17)
Anger and Longsuffering
You can likely remember many times that you provoked the Lord. The Holy Spirit uses this word to indicate that we have incited the Lord’s anger or jealousy. One warning is found in Ephesians 4:30, where we are warned not to “grieve the Holy Spirit,” which means to sadden or offend him by our actions. These words and warnings are not given to undermine our assurance of his love but to heighten our sense of his holiness. He is the HOLY ONE who dwells within us, walks and talks with us (2 Cor. 6:16). Therefore, we must walk most humbly before him, asking him to enlarge our steps under us so that our steps do not slip (Mic. 6:8; Ps. 18:36). This means that we dread offending him as worse than anything else in our lives, seek to ascertain his will by constant study and meditation upon his Scriptures with prayer, and commit our ways to him with childlike trust. Moses was undoubtedly reeling with all he had seen and heard, but he was not yielded to the Lord. He resisted his word, and he provoked his anger, or kindled it. The Lord was furious with Moses, to be more precise.
Aaron Mercifully Provided
The Lord’s fury is not like ours, as it usually burns out of control and makes us lose control of ourselves. God’s anger has a just source, is righteously expressed, and is in perfect harmony with his other perfections. It has little in common with human anger, other than the name. When God is said to be “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11), it means that he opposes them at every hand, overturns their counsels against him and his people, and does not express any saving grace or mercy toward the “vessels of his wrath.” Toward his people, his anger looks different and is tempered by his compassion. After indicating his displeasure, he immediately offers to send Aaron with Moses, to be Moses’ mouthpiece. He will not take the place of Moses, for Moses is God’s mouthpiece. It is a strange picture: God will be with Moses’ mouth, and Moses will be with Aaron’s mouth. Why not simply skip the middleman? The Lord is sovereign and wise. His word is mediated to us, and in this Moses was a picture of the prophetic office and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the eternal and living Word, into whose mouth the Father put his word by the Spirit without measure; Jesus then sends his ambassadors into the world and puts his words into their mouths. The arrangement between God, Moses, and Aaron was of the highest authority (v. 16).
Go and Obey
No more excuses, Moses. Go. Take your rod; perform the signs; speak my word. Moses was clearly not chosen to be God’s deliverer because he was full of vim and vigor in the Lord’s service. He was a weak man who had a long list of reservations, objections, and finally gave an outright refusal. The Lord bore with him. God’s people were sunk into a very low ebb, and it is not surprising that Moses had somewhat sunk with them. None of us can fully avoid contamination with the sins of our age, and all of us are plagued by the same doubt and hesitation to give ourselves wholly to God’s service. This is especially true when the Lord does not show us worldly strength to fight his battles but in fact tells us to walk in the old paths and to use the old weapons. What! Something else is needed. He says, “No. You need me. Go and use what I have given to you.” These are also our marching orders. Hold fast to my word; trust my promises; move forward in obedience. All the grace you require I will supply as you walk humbly before me.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. Why should God’s promise to be with us settle our hearts more than it settled Moses’ heart?
2. How did the rod being turned into a snake teach Moses to trust God’s power? What does it teach us about “weak instruments?”
3. What did the leprous hand teach Moses about Egypt? About Israel? About the way he delivers his people? What does it teach us about being used of God?
4. How did the “bloody Nile” indicate God’s war against the false gods of Egypt? Against our idols?
5. How should it encourage us that Moses was a work in progress?
6. Why does God often use our weakness to serve him? Where are you saying “No” to the Lord? Why?
7. How did Moses provoke the Lord? Are you provoking him? How do we provoke him?
8. And yet, how he was he merciful and gentle with Moses?