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An Unbelieving Servant and His Ever Gracious God
“And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart. And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.” (Exodus 4:10-17)
When Moses was a young man, he chomped at the bit to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage. (In those days, a forty-year-old man was a young man.) When he was a young man, Moses presumed that God had sent him, presumed that he was ready, and presumed he was able to do the work. He was zealous and bold; but he wound up fleeing from the face of Pharaoh like a whipped pup with his tail between his legs (Exodus 2:12-15).
Forty years later, the Lord God appeared to him in the burning bush and said, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). When that happened, Moses was 80 years old; and he had learned a few things. He was not so anxious to go. He was not so confident in his abilities. He had spent forty years learning that he was weaker than water, and as useless as a bucket without a bottom. “And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, Certainly I will be with thee” (Exodus 3:11-12).
Any man who thinks he is able to speak for God, able to preach the gospel, and able to minister to the needs of God’s people is altogether unfit for the work of the ministry. Any man who is chomping at the bit to be a preacher has not been called, gifted, and sent of God to preach the gospel. Any man who is sent of God knows something of the magnitude of the work of the ministry, and knows that the business of speaking for God to eternity bound sinners is a work for which he is totally insufficient. He cries with the apostle, “Who is sufficient for these things?”
Does a sinful man dare to imagine that he can interpret the Word of God by his own brilliance? Dares a mere mortal think that he can speak as God’s ambassador, fetching a message from God himself to deliver to the hearts of men? Dares a man presume that he can speak to the hearts of men? Dares any man presume that God the Holy Spirit will speak through his lips? “Who is sufficient for these things?” Yet, these are the very things that every man sent of God to preach the gospel does and must do.
Moses had to learn, he had to be convinced, as every prophet, apostle, and preacher must be convinced, by God himself, that “our sufficiency is of God.” And the people to whom he was sent had to learn and be convinced that the work of deliverance is altogether God’s. So the Lord performed three great wonders, signs by which he assured him that his work would be efficacious (Exodus 4:1-9).
The Lord told Moses to throw his rod on the ground. When he did, it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. Then God commanded him take the serpent by the tail. When he did, it became a rod in his hand again. Thus, the Lord assured Moses that Satan’s power would be turned against Satan himself. Rejoice, child of God. — The serpent of hell is entirely under the control of our Redeemer’s hand. When Satan has reached the highest point in his mad career, he shall be hurled into the lake of fire, there to reap the fruits of his work throughout eternity’s countless ages. He shall be eternally crushed beneath the rod of God’s Anointed. And the God of peace shall crush him beneath your heels!
“Then the end — beneath His rod,
Man’s last enemy shall fall;
Hallelujah! Christ in God,
God in Christ, is all in all.”
Then the Lord commanded Moses to put his hand into thy bosom. When he took it out again, his hand was leprous as snow. God told him to put his hand into his bosom again. When he took it out, his hand was made perfectly whole. His clean hand, placed in his bosom, was made leprous; and his leprous hand placed there was made clean.
What an instructive picture that is! “By man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15: 21). The first man, Adam, brought in ruin. The last man, Christ the last Adam, brought in redemption. Man brought in guilt; and Man brought in pardon. Man brought in sin; and Man brought in righteousness. Man brought death; and Man abolished death.
Blessed assurance this is! Not only shall the serpent himself be forever defeated and confounded, every trace of his abominable slime shall be eradicated and wiped away by the atoning sacrifice of Christ, who “was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil.”
The third sign was a sign of judgment. Moses was commanded to take water out of the Nile River and pour it on the ground. When he did, the water became blood. All who refuse to bow to the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, trusting him alone for redemption, righteousness, and cleansing from sin, trusting him alone as their Savior, shall be forever damned.
Now, I want you to see Moses’ response to these three wonders. Up to this point, his reluctance seems to have been the commendable reluctance of sincere modesty. But Moses was still reluctant to do what God commanded him to do. He said, “Lord, send anyone you want to, anyone but me. I cannot go back to Egypt. I cannot deliver Israel.” We see the reluctance of unbelief, by which he provoked God to anger inverses 10-17.
“And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (v. 10). — When the Lord God himself said, “I will be with thee,” that was the infallible assurance of Moses’ security and success in reference to everything for which he was sent. If an eloquent tongue had been necessary, Jehovah had declared, “I AM.” Life, eloquence, wisdom, might, energy, everything is contained in that inexhaustible treasury.
“And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord? Now, therefore, go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (vv. 11-12). — Profound, adorable, matchless grace! Grace worthy of our God! There is none like unto our God, whose patient grace surmounts all our difficulties, and proves itself sufficient for us in all our needs, even when the need arises from our unbelief and sin.
“I the Lord” ought to silence forever the reasonings of our carnal hearts; but the rebellion and unbelief of our hearts is not easily subdued. The monstrous unbelief and rebellion of our hearts rises again and again, like a thousand headed snake, to disrupt our peace and dishonor our Savior, who is ever Faithful and True, ever full of grace, and ever ready to help.
If the Lord is with us, our very deficiencies and infirmities are for him but an opportunity for the display of his all-sufficient grace. Moses’ lack of ability, his lack of eloquence should not have troubled him. But that is easy enough to say, when you are not the one being sent to confront the most powerful king in the world.
Like Moses, you and I need to know our weakness and, in our weakness, to rely upon our Savior’s all-sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Let us ever remember that God’s grace in Christ is sufficient for us for everything and at all times. God’s grace is sufficient, abundantly sufficient to accomplish all his saving purposes, sufficient to pardon, justify, regenerate, sanctify, and preserve us, sufficient in every time of need, sufficient in health and sufficient in sickness, sufficient in life and sufficient in death, sufficient in judgment, and sufficient to present us faultless before the presence of his glory forever!
“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). — It is only when we are brought to acknowledge our weakness, infirmity, frailty, nothingness, and insufficiency that the power of Christ and his all sufficient grace rests upon us. The moment we flex our muscles, straighten our backs, lift our chins and say, “I can do this,” we are in trouble.
The knowledge of all that the Lord had revealed to him, both by word and by the wonders he performed, and all that he had experienced of God’s free grace should have made Moses confident, and should have enabled him to overcome his unbelief. Still, rather than upbraiding him, the Lord said, “I will be your mouth” (vv. 11-12; Proverbs 16:1; Psalm 124:8; Isaiah 32:4; Jeremiah 1:6-9; Matthew 10:19; Luke 21:15).
He who made man’s mouth could fill it with the most commanding eloquence, if such were needed. But our poor, unbelieving hearts place far more confidence in an eloquent tongue than in the One who created it. We want learned, well-educated, highly respected preachers, men who are able to present the gospel with intellectual argument and irrefutable logic. The one man who had such abilities in the New Testament made it his determined business never to employ them, “lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5).
Next, we read that Moses provoked the Lord to anger, by his persistent unbelief. — “And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses” (vv. 13-14).
Moses became the meekest of men; but this was not an expression of meekness and humility. Let us ever seek grace to “be clothed with humility.” But that cannot be called humility which refuses to obey God’s will, walk in the path his hand marks out for us, and do what he has commanded us. Moses’ problem was fear; and fear is never identified with true humility, only with the pretense of humility. The fact that Moses provoked the Lord’s anger by this makes it clear that he was not speaking in humility.
Unbelief is not humility, but pride. It refuses to believe God, because it finds nothing in self to make faith reasonable. That is the utmost expression of pride. If, when God speaks, I refuse to believe, because of something in myself, or the lack of something in myself, I make him a liar (1 John 5:10) When God promises salvation to all who trust his Son, and I refuse to trust him because of anything in me, or the lack of anything in me, I make him a liar. When he declares his unconditional love for me in Christ, and I refuse to believe because I do not deem myself worthy of his love, I make him a liar and exhibit the utmost pride of my heart.
When he asserts his care for me, and bids me cast all my care on him, and I refuse, I make him a liar. Our acceptance with our God is altogether in Christ, because of Christ, and for Christ’s sake. It has nothing to do with anything in us, or the lack of anything in us. His mercy, his love, his tender care, his grace, and his protection are all unconditional.
Christ got what I deserved, that I might have what he deserves. It is only when self is set aside that humility begins. Finding redemption, life, righteousness, and salvation in Christ alone, finding grace, mercy, peace, and acceptance with God in him alone, we begin to learn something of humility before God, but not until then. Then, and not until then we begin to sing from our hearts, — “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake” (Psalm 115: 1).
Thank God, Moses’ story does not end with the words, “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.” Though provoked to anger, the Lord God was gracious still, “and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart” (v. 14) — “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).
Instead of being the singular voice of God to Israel and the sole instrument of their deliverance, Moses got the “privilege” of having Aaron’s help. — Aaron who mocked him because he had married an Ethiopian! — Aaron who led Israel to worship the golden calf!
Moses was a highly honored servant of God. He “was verily faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after” (Hebrews 3:5). And I dare not say more about his failure than God has said. Yet, I cannot say less. — Because he refused to believe God, because he provoked the Lord to anger, Moses forfeited the great dignity God had put upon him when he made himself known and made his good will known in the bush, because “the anger of the Lord was kindled against” him.
What a warning this passage ought to be to us! No doubt, the fellowship of a brother is most valuable. — “Two are better than one,” whether in labor, rest, and war. The Lord Jesus, in sending forth his disciples, “sent them two by two,” because unity is always better than isolation. Still nothing was gained; there was no greater virtue or efficacy in Aaron’s mouth than in his, no greater work was done because Aaron accompanied him, and much evil was the result. We are all more ready to trust anything than the Lord our God and his gracious Word! How much we lose by our unbelief! What dignity we forfeit! What evil we cause!
“Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea: Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me.” (Isaiah 48:17-19)
“The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.” — But when I read the rest of verse 14 and those following, I cannot help remembering, Paul’s words to the Romans. Up to this point, we have been reading about Moses, Moses who represents the law; and from the law we can expect nothing but frustration, failure, and sin. But where sin abounds under the law, grace much more abounds through Christ.
“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)
That is what I see set before us in the Lord God providing Aaron for Moses in verses 14-17.
“And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart. And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.” (Exodus 4:14-17)
Aaron was Moses’ near kinsman, his brother. Christ is our near Kinsman, our Brother. Aaron came to Moses gladly. Christ comes to us gladly. Aaron was Moses’ high priest. Christ is our High Priest. Aaron made atonement for Moses. Christ made atonement for us. Aaron was Moses’ mediator. Christ is our Mediator. Moses put words of law in Aaron’s mouth, and words of grace (Numbers 6:22-27). And the Lord God put both words of law and of grace in the mouth of our Savior, law to be honored by him, and grace to be bestowed by him (Psalm 45:1-2). Aaron could speak well, but not in comparison with our blessed Savior!