God uses unlikely people. This we know, this we’ve heard. Reading through Exodus, I’m reminded that Moses, a murderer on the run who ends up tending sheep in the desert, is another one of these. Yet, he is not only unlikely, but he really, really resists being sent. Multiple times. He looks at his inabilities, his shortcomings, and his fear, and repeatedly tells God about them (as if God hadn’t noticed, or didn’t realize, or didn’t hear him the first time). Seven times he does this (3:11, 3:13, 4:1, 4:10, 4:13, 6:12, 6:30). In Exodus 4:10 he blatantly requests: “Please send someone else”.
What are his hesitations?
- He looks at himself, and says, “who am I? that I should go to Pharaoh?”
God looks at him, and says, “I will be with you”. (Ex 3:11-12)
- He looks at his lack of training or knowledge, and says, “Suppose I go.. and they ask me… What shall I tell them?”
God looks at him and says, “I AM who I AM.” (Ex 3:13-14)
- Moses looks at his fear of rejection, and says, “What if they don’t believe me?”
God looks at him and walks him through three impossibilities, three miracles to act as proof for Moses to take with him to speak to the Israelites.
- Moses looks at his weakness, and says, “I am slow of speech and tongue.”
God looks at him and says, “Who gave man his mouth? …I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex 4:10-11) The one who created speech assures Moses that He is more powerful than trembling tongues.
- Moses, unconvinced and unassured by God’s blatant promises of His presence, His strength and His plan to do the work Himself, still sees his inability: “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”
Moses is not comforted by the Almighty God accompanying him in this task, but is finally comforted by God giving him Aaron, his brother, to go with him.
Moses protests because he knows he cannot accomplish the task God speaks of, but God never expected Moses to be the one to accomplish anything. In 3:19 he says, “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand…” He didn’t say “unless Moses’ hand compels him”, because God didn’t need Moses’ hand. He knew it had to be His own hand.
His plan had a role laid aside for Moses, but it wasn’t about Moses. In 6:6-8, God again asserts what the plan is. The gist of it is: “I will do this”. He says “I will” seven times, bracketed by reminders of who He is.
Basically, it’s: “I am the Lord, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will, I am the Lord.”
A reminder of who He is, seven promises that he will accomplish His plan, and then another reminder of who He is. And who He is makes the promises possible and precious. Possible, because He is able to follow through on every one. Precious, because we find heaps of joy and peace and freedom in each one.
I imagine God might have been saddened by seeing this frightened man continue in his fear despite being given the greatest assurances. Moses was putting all the pressure on himself, and knew he wouldn’t hold the weight. He was fixated on himself – but God was saying, “Look at me instead; I have all the power, and I’m going to do this. You don’t have to be able to hold this weight, because I am.” But Moses was not grasping it. He was thoroughly convinced of his inability, but not convinced of God’s power or trustworthiness. And we must be convinced of both.
Skipping ahead to Numbers 12:3, Moses is called “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth”. Is this because he was so self-deprecating in early Exodus? If we desire humility, should we also hem and haw and resist the Lord, citing our long records of our insufficiency? Should we walk around telling everybody how awful we are, and dwelling in that fact all the day long?
Not at all. I think Moses was given this description because he finally understood both sides of this statement: “I cannot, but God can“. He knew just how weak, how helpless he was, and he didn’t try to pretend otherwise. But then he became as convinced of his weakness as he was of God’s strength, and the two pieces molded him into a man of true humility. A lot happens between Exodus 4 and Numbers 12: Moses and the Israelites see God perform a divine and supernatural rescue on behalf of His people. They see the mighty hand that was needed to save them; undeniably in control, unequivocally powerful. Again and again, Moses saw that God was the one to do the work. Again and again, Moses watched as his inability was swallowed up in His perfect ability.
Insecurity is not humility. Insecurity, as we see in early-Exodus Moses, springs from unbelief in the Lord’s strength and power in our life. It is focused on ourselves, on what we have to offer. Insecurity dies when we learn to lean fully on the fact that we cannot, but God can.
If we are convinced of who God is, His strength and love and ability and grace to us, then our weaknesses no longer hold us back. Rather, owning our weaknesses frees us to fully depend on Him, and THAT is where we are transformed, where we begin to live our lives in His power. We read about the power available in Him, we cognitively know it and long for it, but find that we are not experiencing it. Why is this? Why is the first part, the “I cannot” part, the one that overwhelms and defines our experience on earth?
“The greatest hindrance to trust is self effort… as long as we are something, God cannot be all.”
“The cause of the weakness of the Christian life is that you want to work it out partly, and to let God help you. And that cannot be.”
“True humility comes when, in the light of God, we have seen ourselves to be nothing, have consented to part with and cast away self, to let God be all”
– A. Murray
I’m just finishing this book by Murray, Humility and Absolute Surrender, for the second time, and yet it feels new all over again. It is too easy, far too easy, to forget these things.
Moses was putting all the pressure on himself, and it was crushing. It crushes us too. But the Lord has seen us, and knows that we cannot do it. That is the whole point behind Jesus entering the scene on Christmas; it’s the whole reason Easter was necessary. We see our captivity to sin, as the Israelites were captives in Egypt, and we know we cannot rescue ourselves. If you have tried at all to beat the pride, the jealousy, the anger, the fear, the selfishness out of your life, you know that it is a failed mission. We do not have the mighty hand necessary to win the fight. We cannot.
But He can, and He desires to. Even while we are still hung up on our inability, He has made a way for us.
Praise Him, for Easter, and the rescue provided for us in the Lamb.
We are unable to save ourselves, and unable to follow Him the way we long to do. I’m learning that the quicker I admit that I cannot do it and the quicker I cling to His ability instead, the sooner I get to run in the spacious places that He has prepared for me. It is freedom, to rest on Him! It is grace, to be invited to in the first place.
In chapter 7, God again lays out the plan: “I will do this”. And this time, there is no recorded response from Moses. In fact, the rest of the time the Israelites are in Egypt, when the Lord tells Moses to go, there is no recorded hesitation or attempts to get out of it. He just goes. Maybe that’s the moment it clicked for Moses – that the One who called him was the One with all the power that was needed. And we see the transformation that occurs as a result: the Moses who begs God to send someone else in chapter 4 is a drastically different Moses than the one in chapter 14. In 14, Moses stands and tells the Israelites, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still”. He becomes the one to remind the Israelites that the battle’s outcome does not depend on their strength, but on the Lord. It’s the truth that he learned, the lesson that he himself had been convinced of: I cannot, but He can.
It’s the lesson I want to be convinced of daily: I cannot, but He can. The sweetness of surrender, the fullness of freedom, the preciousness of being in His presence as His child… it’s all too good not to.