How did God change Moses from a reluctant, selfish runaway into one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen? Exodus 3:4-17 tells us.
“Availability . . . and a Game of Chess”
We last left Moses in the desert of Midian. Would you turn to Exodus, please with me, and we’ll pick it up where we left off, as we continue studying his life. He has spent forty years alone, virtually. He has abandoned Egypt, a fugitive from justice. And here he is, tending his father-in-law’s sheep. Once a very wealthy man with the court of Egypt at his fingertips, now a very poor individual living in a place, perhaps, attached to his father-in-law’s tent. His father-in-law, an unknown, unloved priest, who did not command respect among the people of Midian. And there, for forty years, Moses has endured. He’s lived, tending sheep in the dusty, dry region of Midian, where no one of importance would live and, certainly, no one of importance would come from. And yet, God, as we discovered last session, had sent Moses there because Moses had too much of Egypt in him. He had announced, in effect, that he would now lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. It was on HIS timing. It was according to HIS plan. “Now was time,” he said, “to announce myself as the leader of the Israelites and lead them out to the promised land.” And he, instead of seeking the counsel of God, in the energy of his flesh, pursued what he felt would be best. And, as a result, killed an Egyptian, using methods that God did not ordain and thus, finding himself alone; obscure Moses.
Forty years have transpired. And what will happen takes place after forty years. It’s interesting, I believe it was D. L. Moody who originated the thought that, “For forty years, Moses thought that he was somebody. For the next forty years, in the desert of Midian, he would discover that he was nobody. And then, in the next forty years, the final forty years of his life, he would learn that God could make somebody out of nobody.” Well, he is about to receive a call. Let’s pick it up at chapter 3, verse 1. “Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said,”- I, kind of, chuckle when I hear his response because it leaves out, perhaps, how he was feeling, his eyes popping wide, his mouth dropping open - “‘I must turn aside now, and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush, and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said also, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. And the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings.’” The Israelites didn’t know that. They thought God had abandoned them but He said, “I was watching all the while.” “So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. And now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.”
And, let me stop right here before we get any further. If you have notes, I suggest you pull them out because we are about to enter the call of Moses and the excuses that he will give to God in telling God that he isn’t the one for the job. They are the same excuses, ladies and gentlemen, that you and I use, as well. I believe the church is filled with people who have heard the call of God, that imperceptible, that inaudible voice ministering to their spirit and saying, “I want you to do this. I want you to minister here. I want you to serve there. I want you to speak My name there in that corporation or there in the neighborhood. I want you to become My representative.” And we all give one of five, perhaps several, reasons why we say, “No,” to God. And Moses becomes a classic illustration of an individual who has received a call from God but yet, refused, or tried.
I want to give you the first excuse, before we even read any further. It is the excuse, or the attitude, of insignificance. Look at verse 10, “Therefore,”- God says to Moses - “come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” And here’s the point that we would think that Moses would jump, as if he had been waiting for forty years. “I knew, forty years ago, that I was the man for the job and, finally, You come to me. I’m ready.” What does he say? “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’” You ought to mark, in the margin of your mind, whenever you read this passage, I believe that God probably spoke under His breath, “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. That’s wonderful!” I think, if Moses had responded, “Well, Lord, it’s about time that You called me. I am the man for this job.” God would have probably said, “Forty more years in the desert.” No. Because Moses responded with this thought, I think God was pleased. But yet, God would not let him be excused. He said, “Who am I,” - “now, after forty years, I realize my insignificance, I realize the fact that I am, perhaps, not to appoint myself but I am to be appointed by God for this task” - “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh”. Have you ever had the opportunity of having someone come to you and ask you, perhaps, to serve in some way? And the first thought that goes through your mind is, “I wonder why they asked me?” Perhaps you have been in that corporation and God has placed you in the hallway of a man who needs Christ. And you sense God’s Spirit saying, “I want you to be the one to witness for me on the job.” Have you ever thought, “Me? Who am I?”
I want you to notice what God says in response. His response is, basically, “I am with you.” His response is, “Certainly” - verse 12 - “I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you; when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” God didn’t say, “Shame on you, Moses. What a poor self-image. Why, I don’t want you to ever say anything like that again. Pull yourself up. You’re somebody.” Well, we are significant in Jesus Christ and who He is but, in terms of ministry, our efforts, in our flesh, are totally insignificant unless God is with us. God says, “I know who you are and I’m not necessarily looking for a dynamo to go to Egypt. I’m looking for a dependent disciple to approach Pharaoh.”
So Moses, knowing that he can’t get around that one, comes back with a second one. We’ll call this the excuse of ignorance. Perhaps you’ve used this one, as well. Verse 13, “Then Moses said to God,” - “Look” - “I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” In other words, Moses is saying, “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what to say. And what, Lord, should I say if they come back and ask me this or that? I haven’t been schooled. I don’t know all that I’m supposed to say. I don’t have all the answers.” Have you ever thought, when God impressed you to get involved in something or speak something, the first thing that runs through your mind, “Uh-oh, I could get boxed in not knowing what to say so I’d better just keep quiet.” I think Moses thought this one would make sense and, perhaps, get God off his back, in effect.
But, I want you to notice what God said. Verse 14, “And God said to Moses,” - let me summarize it, “I’ll give you the answers, as you learn to know me.” “And God said to Moses,” - verse 14 - “I AM WHO I AM . . . Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent . . . you.’” “I AM,” the name “Yahweh” comes from the verb “hayah,” which means “to be.” He is saying, “I am simply the existent God.” That is a characteristic or an attribute of Himself that He is revealing, in a sense, for the very first time to anyone on planet earth. He is, in effect, telling Moses, “I don’t want you to necessarily know all the answers. I want you to know ME.” You see, the basis for Moses’ ministry is, not knowing all the answers but, knowing God. The basis for any ministry that you or I may have is not based on the fact that we’ve got it all mapped out, we’ve got all the answers. No. It is that you and I know God.
And how do I get to know God? It’s interesting that Jesus Christ, in fact, turn to John, chapter 8, verse 24, refers to Himself with exactly the same Greek word that’s translated in the Old Testament Septuagint. John, chapter 8, verse 24. Let’s start with verse 22, “Therefore the Jews were saying, ‘Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come?’’ And He” - Jesus - “was saying to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I AM’” - the word HE, it should be italicized in your translation, it’s implied. He says, “unless you believe that I AM” - that I AM the existent One, it’s the same word that God used, it could be translated back into the Old Testament “I AM Yahweh.” You want to know how you get to know God? By spending time studying and getting to know the life of Jesus Christ. You know, wouldn’t it be interesting if we had candidates for ministry and, instead of giving them all of the answers and all of the methods and all of the programs, we gave them a plan that would enable them, on a deeper level, to get to know Jesus Christ. You know why I believe there is so much failure in ministry? I believe it’s because you and I know very little about Him. And we know so much about what we are about. God told Moses out there, when Moses said, “God, I don’t know all the answers,” God said, “I want to reveal Myself to you because I want you to get to know that I am the existent God, I am eternal. And, as you get to know Me, I will give you the answers, I will direct your path in ministry.”
Note what He says, “furthermore,” verse 15, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘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, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them,” - “exactly what I’ve told you.” Verse 17, “So I said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite and” - all of the other “ites” - “to a land flowing with milk and honey. And they will pay heed to what you say”. Why? Because you come in with all authority? No. Because you come in with the authority of My name. Then they will heed. “You will say to” - them - “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So now, please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.” Verse 19, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. So I will stretch out My hand, and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.”
By this time, I think, Moses was getting rather nervous. I think, perhaps to him, sheep had never looked better. He’s probably dancing about on his bare feet, the sand is getting hot, and he’s thinking, “Now, wait a second, I can’t get out of this. I told Him I’m ignorant. I told Him I’m insignificant. And yet, He has come back with exactly the solution so that I will still be the individual to minister for Him. What can I say next.” I have mentioned to you, on past occasions, one of the most delightful ladies in my life, my grandmother, and I am hoping she is planning to be with us on our anniversary Sunday. Perhaps I have mentioned, in the past, one of the things that she taught my three brothers and I, as we were growing up in the serviceman center where my parents ministered, she taught us all how to play the game of chess. We had a name for her, it was called “Granny.” I don’t know if you have ever called your grandmother “Granny.” It’s kind of a term of affection. But, don’t let her name fool you, she was really vicious when it came to the game of chess. It wouldn’t be long before the game turned into a chase. I was running with my king and she was chasing me with all of her pieces still in tact. And, sooner or later, I would hear her little voice, as she looked over at me through her glasses, as she would say, “Check.” And you know how you can take your king and exchange it for the castle? You know that little move? Are there any chess players here? Am I out to lunch on this one? Okay. You know how you can change them when the heat is on? You’re only supposed to do that once. We’d bargain for six or seven times, you know, keep switching that thing back and forth. After awhile, we’d hear her say again, “Check.” And I hated to hear that word and yet, she was the greatest challenger at the serviceman’s center so, if we wanted to learn how to play, we had to play her. Finally, after all of the finagling, and all of the moving, and doing all those little moves we thought we could get out of checkmate, sooner or later we’d see her grin and she’d say, “Checkmate.” I learned to love and hate that woman all at the same time. You know, as I read this story, and re-read it, I could see Moses playing the part of me. He’s dancing about, trying to avoid God saying, “Checkmate.” And, as God says, “Check,” Moses says, “Well, I’ve got another move up my sleeve. Perhaps, He’ll accept this one.” And God says, “Check,” again.
So, Moses comes up with a third. Let’s call this one, the excuse or the attitude of inability. Let’s just tell Him downright, “I’m unable. I’m not only unqualified, I’m not only ignorant, I’m unable.” Look at chapter 4, verse 1, “Then Moses answered and said, ‘What if they will not believe me, or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’’” In other words, what Moses is saying, “They may deny my leadership. I may go in there, I may tell them that I have met with God and His name for us is Yahweh, the existent One. And what if they look at me and say, ‘Well, so what? We’re still not going to follow you.’ And let’s face it, for forty years I’ve been tending sheep. I haven’t been around people. I’m totally unable for this job.”
But I love God’s response. In fact, His response is lengthy, at this point. Because, I really believe, ladies and gentlemen, like Moses, you and I come back with this, “We are unable. I can’t do that. Me? There’s no chance, no possibility. It’s not in me.” God will come back and instruct Moses in a very profound way. Look at verse 2, “And the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ And” - Moses looks at it and - “he said, ‘A staff.’ Then He” - God - “said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’ So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.” Now, implied in this, this was, evidently, a poisonous viper, otherwise Moses, who knew animals well, would not flee. So here his staff, perhaps six feet in length or in height, he throws it down and it becomes a poisonous viper. And you see Moses, barefoot, taking off across the desert, running. And God says, in effect, “Stop. Come back.” Verse 4, “Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail”. I think Moses is probably wondering if God knows much about animals. Because, I would imagine, if you grab a snake, you grab it by the head so it can’t bite, not the tail so that it can turn around and strike. You see, that was part of the act of faith. That was part of God revealing to Moses His power over nature. “Moses, I want you to grab that snake by the tail.” Put yourself there. Some of you don’t even like to go to the zoo. That’s too close for you.
I think I shared with you, in the past, a book that kept me on the edge of my seat. It was the story of Gary Richmond. Do you remember that story where he went into the reptile cage with the other keepers at the Los Angeles zoo? They were going to catch this king cobra. You know, they have the cape that spreads out and this king cobra, perhaps, when it was standing, in effect, rearing up, could be six or seven feet in length. And this guy tells Gary Richmond, who doesn’t work with serpents but usually works with other animals, he says, “Now, when we go into that cage and that cobra senses we’re there, what we’re going to do is, a few of us will grab the head” - there were four men - “and two of us will grab the tail and then, you help the surgeon perform surgery on the snake.” And so Gary Richmond gets inside that cage, with these five other men, you ought to read it some time. They sell it at Adam’s Christian Bookstore. She paid me five dollars to say that! She’s here. That king cobra came around the corner and, Gary Richmond said, it kind of reared up immediately and it darted back and forth at these five men, as if choosing a prey. It spread it’s cape just a few feet away, hissing. “It had a growl,” Gary wrote. And finally, it selected it’s prey and it darted at one of the men and he darted out of the way. And two grabbed the head, two grabbed the tail, and Gary is standing there, you know, ready to help the surgeon. And the surgeon says, “I want you to take some towels, wad them up and put them in the snake’s mouth.” And he did that and the snake clamped down and venom dripped from the towels. The surgeon said that they have enough venom to kill an elephant and so we need to drain its sacks. Because the difficult thing is, not catching it, it’s letting it go without getting bit.
Now, let’s go back to where Moses is, all alone. “Moses, you take that poisonous viper and grab it by the tail.” I have tried to picture this in my mind and I think Moses spent an hour trying to work his way around that snake. Until finally, he lunges for the tail and he grabs it and he closes his eyes, perhaps, shrieking with fear. And, all of the sudden, it feels hard. The text tells us that it had turned back into a staff. Verse 5, “You see, Moses, this has been done” - “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” This is undeniable! “You throw your rod down, if any of them get wise. I’ll let it turn into a viper and you just casually walk over and bend down and pick it up by the tail. That’ll impress them.”
Moses still isn’t convinced. So, God says, in verse 6, “put your hand into” - your - “bosom.” - right inside your cloak - “So he put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow.” Now this was an incurable thing. This was death itself. A slow, in a sense, painless death, as the nerve endings died and bodily parts were damaged, would fall off until death came. Moses, perhaps, was horrified. And God, not taking too much time, lest he have a heart attack, said, “‘Put your hand into your bosom again.’ . . . and when he took it out . . . behold,” - verse 7 - “it was restored like the rest of his flesh. ‘And it shall come about’” - verse 8 - “that if they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign.”
Well, Moses was thinking, “This is wonderful. I’ve got authority and I have power but is it really enough.” And I want you to note the third sign, this is significant. Verse 9, “But it shall be that if they will not believe even these two signs or heed what you say, then you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water which you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” Now, this really isn’t any more amazing than the first two. When you think about it, it takes about the same amount of power, I imagine, if we could calibrate the amount of power to turn a serpent into a rod and a rod into a serpent, as it would to turn water into blood. What’s the point? The point is that the chief god of the Egyptians was what? The Nile god. This was the most powerful god in Egypt’s Pantheon. And God was, in effect, showing Moses that, “I have authority over the most powerful god in Egypt. You take water from the Nile god and I’ll turn it into blood.” But, I think, there is something else here. Perhaps, it’s because the children of Israel had been in Egypt for over 400 years and had been impressed by the magnificence of Egypt. Perhaps they were beginning to wonder, “Is this god more powerful than the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Can He really pull this Exodus off?” I think this sign was, not for Moses, I think this sign was for the people of Israel to recognize that Yahweh was the most powerful God in all the land. Moses said, “Lord, I’m unable to pull this off.” And God says, in effect, “I will empower you.”
Let’s take a look at the fourth. We’ll call this the excuse of inadequacy. Chapter 4, verse 10, we need to hurry. “Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord,” - he knows he’s hearing “checkmate” rumble in the distance - “I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow” - or, literally, heavy - “of speech and” - heavy - “of tongue.” It’s a possibility, and some commentators think, that Moses stuttered, that Moses had difficulty getting his words out. And so, Moses pulls this one out, this is the big one. You know, God wants me to go and speak to Pharaoh, “Lord, do you remember that I stutter? Do you recognize the fact that I am slow of speech. I have never been eloquent. Now you’ll HAVE to find somebody else.” He thought it would work.
And God says, in verse 11, in effect, “I will overshadow your efforts with my presence.” Look at what He says, “And the Lord said to him,” - in verse 11 - “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say?” In other words, “I’m not going to correct, perhaps, this speech problem. But I will overshadow your efforts. I will overshadow that bumbling, that thought of you standing before the Pharaoh and not being able to get those words out. I’ll overshadow that. You just go and I’ll be glorified in your availability, not your ability.” You see, ladies and gentlemen, we have the idea that God is looking for people with the impressive résumé spiritually, with all of the qualifications. A, B, C, D, we have that mentality because we’re so used to this in society. And we would think that, if God is seeking out people to serve Him, He wants a résumé, He wants it all listed out, the qualifications. I honestly believe that God does not need eloquence. God needs emptiness. You see, in Acts, chapter 6, that little church, that had just exploded into existence, had a problem. It had all kinds of money because they were selling land, as need be. And they were to give that money to widows and yet, some of the widows were being overlooked. And so, the Holy Spirit impressed the apostles, “Let’s choose men to make sure the widows get the money.” Who would you choose? Well, where are the accountants in the church? Where are the financiers? Where are people who work with money? No. Choose, from among you, men full of the Holy Spirit. The implication is, men who are empty of themselves and filled with the presence of the Spirit of God. Jesus Christ comes to planet earth and He is to choose twelve people to introduce His kingdom program to planet earth. Where would you go? Well, I’d go choose twelve of the most brilliant graduates of the rabbinical school. And yet, He overlooks it, He bypasses it and He goes and chooses twelve unlearned men. Why? He doesn’t need eloquence. He doesn’t need the impressive qualifications. He needs men and women who are dependent, who are available, who are filled with the Spirit of God’s control. So God says, “Moses,” in effect, “did you forget I made your mouth that way? Did you forget that I created that particular impediment? Did you forget that in My design, you were wired that way? So, what will you say now, Moses?” I hear “checkmate” coming.
One more thing, this is what I’ll call an attitude of irreverence. “But he said, ‘Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever Thou wilt.’” We could translate it, “Please, Lord, send it by somebody else.” In other words, Moses is saying, “I’m through playing. I don’t want to hear checkmate. I’m going to knock the pieces over and I’m going to get up and leave. And, God, I want you to choose somebody else because I’m simply saying to you, ‘No.’ I’m not going to play the game.”
God, in effect, responded, after encouraging him with the presence of Aaron, who would turn out to be a problem later. God basically said, “Moses, I didn’t call anybody else. I didn’t ask someone else. I asked you.” Ladies and gentlemen, the truth of the matter is, that when you hear the Spirit of God witnessing to your spirit that you are to be involved, you are to serve, you are to speak; you’re the one He’s calling, nobody else. In that particular courtroom, where you have been placed, that residence, that occupation, that ministry, you are His plan.
You say, “Have I really been issued a call?” Would you turn to Matthew, please, with me. Matthew, chapter 28. And I want to show you how this call fits perfectly with all of the excuses that Moses used in trying to deny the ministry God wanted for him. Matthew, chapter 28, verse 18. You say, “Well, I’m insignificant, Lord.” He says, “All authority has been given to Me”. And, in effect, in Acts, He will say, “I give you that authority. I transfer the authority of Myself to you. Insignificant? Of yourself, yes. But I have given you a dose, all you need of My authority for ministry.” You say, “I don’t have the credentials.” Right, you don’t. Verse 19, “Go . . . in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. You say, “I don’t know what to say.” All you need to do, verse 20, is to, “teach . . . them to observe all that I commanded you”. That’s it. “Lord, would you send somebody else?” “Lo, I am with you always”.
Let me apply this quickly, two ways. From the life of Moses, we can discern at least two wonderful things about the call of God. Number one, your past doesn’t handicap God’s power. Moses, perhaps, could have made reference to the fact that he was a fugitive. It didn’t handicap the power of God in his life. No matter what kind of past you have come from, in the body of Christ and by the cleansing of His blood, you can be an ambassador.
Number two, your inadequacy doesn’t hinder God’s performance. In fact, I really believe He wants people who are conscious of their inadequacy. We have far too much of the charisma today in the church. We have far too much personality. We have far too much energy in the flesh, impressive things, impressive people. I wonder if God is searching today, in our fellowship, for those who will understand, “Apart from Him, I am nothing. The abilities, well, they’re not all there but I will be available.”
I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that the church is filled with people who have heard the call to ministry, a call to purity, a call to a life of faith, a call to a life of distinction, but who, in effect, have said, “Not me.” I would suggest that, ladies and gentlemen, before you play any further that you simply, as we would do in the game of chess, take your king and just lay him over, as a symbol of surrender. It is by that surrender that you and I can hope and pray to impact our generation for Jesus Christ. People who are not being impacted because we are denying the call with one of these excuses. “I’m unable. I’m not qualified. I’m insignificant. I’m not eloquent. Use somebody else.” What a wonderful thing to know that God would use Moses, as Moses, finally, surrendered to the plan of God. Let’s pray.