Last week, I had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes, Don Carson, at a Bible conference. I have spent so much time learning and benefitting from his ministry over the past 3 years - I know his unique speech quirks and his idiosyncratic expressions so well - and it was rather surreal for me to see him live in action. So for almost three days, I sat in a hall with him, watching and learning. But there’s something rather artificial about this encounter with my hero. I was only observing him on the outside. In my mind, he remained the great Bible teacher and man of God. Although He professed to be a humble tool in the hands of God - a sinner saved by grace, I have to admit that he still loomed larger than life in many ways for me.
The Bible does not allow for interactions of this sort. Every hero of the faith is carefully scrutinised, and the careful reader of the Bible is left with no qualms about the insufficiency of their heroes. We get this experience in today’s passage, and the questions we have to ask ourselves are “What is God doing with people like that?”, and “Why is He acting in this way?”.
(A) God gives signs of His sovereignty - grace to the distrustful (Exo 4:1-9)
In Exo 3, God told Moses how He was going to rescue them and provide for them. This passage in Exo 4 picks up from here, and the first verse shows us Moses' reply to these words from God. Moses replies with "But, behold" (Exo 4:1), essentially saying "what if". Moses was trying to point out something to God as if God missed it out in His plan. Moses seems to be telling God that His plan in Exo 3:15-18 is not going to work, even though God said definitively that the people of Israel will listen to what Moses has to say (c.f. Exo 3:18). Thus, Exo 4:1 read in context makes us see that Moses’ objection is not innocent and carries with it some rebellion and fear. Effectively, he is more confident about what he thinks he knows about the Israelites and elders than what God said. Basically, Moses was telling God that He is wrong. What would we expect to follow? We’d expect some form of judgment. But God responds in an interesting way.
God gives a series of signs in the next few verses. These are interesting, but more importantly, what do they tell us about God? Firstly, he turns Moses’ staff into a
snake and back into a staff (Exo 4:2-5). This first sign was through an item that Moses had. We see here how God uses common things, a stick that Moses is familiar with, to demonstrate his power. The ordinary stick became a fearsome creature, and reverted to its ordinary state because God’s power was at work in. This was God saying that if He can work His power even through the most common and insignificant thing, why not through Moses? The God over all creation is the God who has called a people to Himself (Exo 4:5).
Next, He turns Moses’ hand leprous and restores it again (Exo 4:6-7). This next sign was through Moses himself. The stick was not an enchanted item! The power did not lie in the object and did not even lie in Moses. God shows this clearly by using the hand that wielded the stick to demonstrate His power, where the hand that wielded the stick was turned leprous (incurable and condemned) before being restored like the rest of its flesh - a clear miracle. This showed how God is sovereign not only over common objects, but also over humans.
The final sign is that Moses would be able to turn the water of the Nile into blood (Exo 4:8-9). This final sign was to demonstrate that God is not only sovereign over the small things. The river Nile that gave wealth, security, and power to Egypt - Israel’s oppressor - was also under God’s dominion.
In Exo 4:1, Moses comes to God in rebellion but God did not even smite Him or berate Him. In fact, God didn't even give just one sign, but three, to show how Moses will succeed and God is so sovereign. In seeing God this way and of this nature, how can we respond to Him? We can respond in worship and trust. Worship isn’t that uncommon or hard to understand. We look at Greek myths and see how people worship them for their power. In a similar way, God’s power is demonstrated here. But this passage shows us more. God isn’t just sovereign and powerful. He is also incredibly tender and gracious to a distrustful people. How can we not worship and trust Him?
How else is this passage relevant to us? After all, we may think that we have not seen signs like Moses did. The Bible shows us many people who also demanded signs. Sometimes God gave, sometimes He didn’t. In Matthew, the religious people also demanded signs. But in Matt 12:38-40, the only sign He will give is His death and resurrection. God condescended in human form, and He came to show us how He is sovereign over all of life. He is so gracious, because He Himself came to give us Himself as the sign to help us trust Him. But, how do you worship and trust when you’re all alone? It’s easy to do so on Weds in a Bible study or on Sunday, but in the week, when you're caught up with life? Do you really worship and trust?
(B) God gives us His prophets - grace to the rebellious (Exo 4:10-16)
But after all these signs, Moses offers a new reason not to obey. Moses claims that he is not that good at speaking, which is ironic because Moses has done nothing but talk back to God (Exo 4:10). Moses also claimed that he was born this way, and that God gave him this mission but nothing has changed — Moses is still not good at speaking. The problem here is that Moses is still fixated on himself. Nothing has really changed since Exo 3:11-12.
God replies and is reminding Moses that He is not just sovereign, He is the sovereign Creator God. If He created, He can surely use His creation in anyway! God created Moses and if He says it’s possible, it will be. God also said specifically “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (c.f. Exo 4:12). Moses wasn't; supposed to come up with his own argument. God didn't just give a theme, but God gave the message. God’s spoken word will effect what He has intended. This is something we struggle with too. Perhaps we feel most confident explaining our faith when we’re in a comfortable environment, and we are fearful when we are surrounded by people we are not familiar with or are hostile. So often we think that the power of the gospel is in how we frame the message. What this passage shows us is that the power lies not in the messenger, but in the message.
However, this is not all. By Exo 4:13, we read of a Moses that ran out of reasons and flat out tells God to “please send someone else”. The Moses we saw at the beginning of this encounter in Exo 3:2-6 was amazed and in awe of the holy. But by here, he speaks out against God. For us, it may be comforting to think about God in a vague, abstract sense. God is a marvelous thing to think about in a distant way. But when the holy draws close, we who are unholy are uncomfortable. He makes certain demands and when those demands are surfaced, we often act in rebellion. Perhaps we are not that different from Moses.
Upon hearing his, God's anger is kindled against Moses (Exo 4:14). However, God also sends Moses his brother Aaron to go with Him! He points Moses to Aaron - a solution of sorts (Exo 4:14b). He promises His presence and guidance for Moses and Aaron by declaring, “I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do" (Exo 4:15b). To Moses He says, he is to speak to Aaron and “put (God’s) words in (Aaron’s) mouth (Exo 4:15a), for Moses is to be as God to Aaron (Exo 4:16b). All Aaron had to do is speak on Moses’ behalf as Moses’ “mouth” (Exo 4:16a).
God will address Moses’ fear, but Moses’ could not evade responsibility. Instead, the responsibility is shared. We also see here the work of a prophet — just to bring God’s Word to God’s people. But is this an angry response (Exo 4:14)? We expect judgment of some sort, but we don’t see it here yet, only in Exo 32. But judgment here is withheld and God shows grace. The consequences of judgment is not seen immediately. In fact, God supplies Moses with what he needs. We see God's commitment to bringing His word to His people, so much so that He puts off his anger and righteous judgment. In fact, He supplies them with a prophet and all the resources to allow the prophet to accomplish the task.
But why do the people need the word? We see some sense of it in Exo 20:18-21. The people are in fear of God but they also know that they need the word of God. Do we see that need this day? Do you see how His Word meets this need? In Deut 18:15-18, God promises to send a prophet like Moses. This is repeated again and again in the rest of the OT, with the major and minor prophets. But by the time we get to the NT and reach John, we read of something different in John 1. The word of God became flesh. The self-revelation of God came not through the mouth of a prophet, but took on flesh. He obeyed God fully, even to death on the cross. Even with the cross ahead, He uttered, “not my will but yours”. Do we see God’s gracious commitment to giving us His word, because He sees that this is what we truly need. We need to see God with us, and we need to see Christ. All that we need is in His word. God also wanted to show Moses that he is just a mouthpiece. Do you see yourself in this way if you’re a teacher or leader? Or really for all of us? Do we see that we are mouthpieces that God sovereignly and graciously uses for His glory?
(C) God gives common things a new identity - grace to the children of God (Exo 4:17)
God ends off by calling him to take the staff and Moses did take it in Exo 4:20. We started the passage with this staff, and we also saw that this was not a special staff. In Exo 4:20, it is referred to the “staff of God”, not because it is special, but because of what it stood for. Later in Moses’ ministry, when he raised that staff and called down gnats and flies, he must have thought back to this. Or also when he raised the staff and parted the sea. Or also when he struck the rock. God takes the common thing and makes them His own. He takes a broken, fearful,rebellious thing and makes him a man of God. God takes broken things and gives them a new identity.
How can we apply this? We need to ask ourselves this question, "Of whom are we?" In Ps 14:1-3, the children of man deny and do not seek after God. They glorify themselves, and are distrustful and rebellious. They do no good because they do not do anything in reference to God. This is a description of all of us before we are Christians. But what has changed? In John 1:9-13, we are told of who we are. The children of God are only children of God because God has worked in them through Christ. God shows His fierce commitment to bringing His word to His people, by sending Himself. This Christ lived the life that He lived, walked the road to the cross and took on the sins of the distrustful, rebellious, self-glorifying and died and rose. But because He was triumphant over sin and death, we who believe in Him now has the right to believe that we are children of God. Remember today that God takes the common things and makes them right again, and that there is no truer hero than Jesus Himself.