Since running for his life after killing an Egyptian taskmaster, Moses has spent the last forty years tending the flocks and herds of his father-in-law in Midian.
God appears to Moses at a burning bush and commands him to return to Egypt as the Lord’s chosen deliverer and lead the enslaved Israelites to freedom. But Moses begins giving excuses. As we’ve seen, he claims he’s too insignificant for God to use him and he’s ignorant. In response, the Lord promises to be with him and to teach him.
Moses offers another excuse, essentially saying, “I’m not credible.” Here in Exodus 4:1 Moses says, “They will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” I can imagine Moses reminding the Lord that he’s spent the past forty years leading sheep and avoiding people: “Lord, I don’t have the credentials to lead people – especially the difficult ones!”
Basically, God’s response is, “Well then, I will equip you.” He tells Moses in verse 3 to throw his shepherd’s staff to the ground. “So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it,” which is exactly what I would have done.
But it gets worse: “The Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail” (verse 4). Now, here’s God telling Moses, who has just run to safety, to come back and pick the serpent up by its tail—which is the wrong end to pick up if you’re trying not to get bit. Now what?
This reminds me of Gary Richmond, who worked for several years at the Los Angeles Zoo before entering the ministry. He writes about the day when the curator of the reptile section of the zoo informed him that they needed to perform surgery on their king cobra and they wanted Gary to help out.
A king cobra will grow to around twelve feet long. It’s extremely dangerous, and when it bites, it tends to hold on. Before striking, it can rear up as high as four feet. And it doesn’t hiss, like other snakes; it growls.
As he walked toward the reptile enclosure, Gary was informed that he would help the surgeon as he performed a rather quick operation. Gary writes that they walked into the cobra’s large, elaborately designed enclosure, which mimicked a rainforest. It wasn’t long before this king cobra slithered around the corner to face them.
It immediately reared up, spread its cape, and then looked back and forth at each of the men, standing some ten feet away, as if deciding which one to bite. Sure enough, it lunged at one of the men.
Anticipating the attack, the man leapt out of the way, and soon the men had the snake pinned to the ground. The surgeon told Gary to get some paper towels and wad them up and stick them in the snake’s mouth for it to bite down on.
All the while the king cobra was growling, its mouth wide open, long needle-sharp fangs exposed. Gary had been warned that it had enough venom to kill an elephant, and this one had not been milked of its venom. So, Gary stuck the paper towels into its mouth. It bit down, and the venom literally dripped from those paper towels to the ground. The curator said, “A man could never survive a bite with a full load of venom. That’s why I’m having you drain his venom sacs.”
As the surgeon performed the minor operation, he warned Gary that the greatest danger isn’t in catching the snake. “More people are bitten trying to let go of snakes than when they grab them,” he said. They finished their task, released the snake, and all of them safely got out of the cobra’s cage.
We kind of gloss over this little incident here with Moses. In essence, God is telling Moses to catch a king cobra by the tail, literally risking his life. And did you notice that God doesn’t tell Moses what to do with it once he’s caught it?
The amazing thing to me is that Moses actually obeys the Lord. And when he does—and to his relief—the snake turns back into a wooden rod.
Next, God has Moses put his hand inside his cloak, and when he removes it, it’s white with leprosy. When he repeats the act, he’s healed.
What is God doing? He’s giving Moses all the credentials he will need. And all Moses has to do—which will require great courage at times—is obey God.
As Moses obeys God, God equips him with power over creation—the serpent, leprosy. And in verse 9 He even promises to give Moses control over the water of the Nile River, considered a god by the Egyptian people.
Let me say here that to this day, the greatest credential for serving God in the role He’s assigned you—whether as a mother or father, missionary, pastor, businessperson, or something else—isn’t knowledge, education, strength, or experience; it’s obedience to God.
Now you would think that after catching a serpent by the tail and being healed of leprosy, Moses would be more than ready to obey. Instead, he comes up with a fifth excuse: “Lord, I’m still not capable.”
Verse 10 reads:
“But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since
you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”
The Lord responds in verse 11:
“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
God’s saying, “I know your handicaps; I know your disabilities; I know all about your weaknesses; I know you’re missing some tools for the job. Just follow Me, and I’ll equip you; I will empower you; I will be with you.”
And with that, Moses realizes there’s no excuse the Lord can’t overcome. So, he basically just says to God, “Lord, I’m not available.” His actual words are recorded in verse 13: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”
God’s response instantly alerts Moses that he has stepped over the line. Verse 14 says, “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.”
But beloved, I want you to see that while the Lord is furious with Moses, He isn’t finished with Moses—and I’m so glad that was true for Moses and it’s true for you and me. The Lord responds:
“Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well . . .I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people.” (verses 14-16)
So, instead of tossing Moses aside and starting over, the Lord graciously gives Moses a partner in this terrifying endeavor. Don’t overlook that. He provides Aaron to stand with Moses against the empire of Egypt as he challenges that empire to release millions of slaves; He gives Moses someone to accompany him as he leads that nation of slaves—the people Israel—to the promised land.
With that, Moses finally agrees. And by the way, it isn’t because Moses suddenly feels capable but because he understands that God is capable—and all Moses needs is to be available. And that’s how it works even to this day—for you and for me.