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Feb 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 4, 2017 – Exodus 4:1-17

The Preacher In Me

(My intention with this message was to continue teaching through the Book of Exodus. However, three verses we will come to are so tantalizing that I could not resist the preacher’s urge to elaborate and load more meaning into them than they were originally meant to communicate. Here in my notes, I will give you fair warning when I go off on my cherished tangents.)

But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The LORD never appeared to you’?”
Then the LORD asked him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied.
“Throw it down on the ground,” the LORD told him. So Moses threw down the staff, and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back.
Then the LORD told him, “Reach out, and grab its tail.” So Moses reached out, and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand.
“Perform this sign,” the LORD told him. “Then they will believe that the LORD, the God of their ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—really has appeared to you.”
 Exodus 4:1-5

Intro: We pick up where we left off last week

God is recruiting Moses for his life’s mission and Moses is trying to dodge it
– the two most serious issues have been settled already:
• who is Moses?
◦ God’s answer was (basically), That is irrelevant for now
◦ Moses will discover his true self by doing God’s will
• who is (this) God? the answer is, Yahweh, the eternal “I AM”
◦ the One who is everywhere and always present to his people
– but Moses isn’t ready to move out just yet
• he is still raising objections

1-5 Moses is doubtful everything will go as God has said

This is, in fact, the theme of this chapter
– it begins with, What if they don’t believe?
– it ends with, Then the people of Israel believed

God had just told Moses, the elders would listen to his voice (3:18, literal)
– but Moses questions that assertion and asks, Well perhaps, but what if they don’t?
• I hope this sounds familiar – we are all pretty good at doing this
◦ for instance, if I do not want to face a particular challenge, I play the “what if” game
◦ what if it doesn’t work? what if something breaks? what if no one shows up?
• our brains can crank out failure scenarios all day
– literally, Moses asks, What if they will not listen to my voice?
• “voice” is a key word

God will repeat this word three times in his response to Moses:
If they do not believe you and pay attention to your voice . . .
they will believe in your voice . . .
And if they don’t believe you or listen to your voice . . . (vv. 8-9)

◦ the voice is what carries communication
◦ a message, information, a question, a command, etc.
• in his next objection, Moses will make speech deficiencies an issue
◦ for a voice to be heard and followed, it must carry weight

In answer to Moses’ question, God asks him, What is that in your hand?
– it was his shepherd’s staff; an object so common no one would need ask
• but God intends to do something with it that Moses would’ve never guessed
• Moses did not need new and spectacular resources
◦ all that he needed was already in his hand
Throw it down
• Moses did not have to understand why God told him to do that
◦ we have introduced a complication into obeying Jesus
• we feel we must understand what God is doing before we comply
◦ “How is that going to work?”
◦ waiting to act until God forces an explanation through our brains limits what he can do with us (Mk. 6:5)
(By the way, if you ever have to pick up a snake, don’t grab its tail!)
– God assures Moses that the people would then believe the voice of the sign

The preacher in me cannot help but hear a whole sermon in the question, “What’s in your hand?” Almost everyone in scripture that God called into his service felt that they were inadequate to the task. They were unknown, came from a humble background, were not good (holy) enough, or old enough, lacked the experience, and on and on. It did not occur to them that God, who created something out of nothing, was able to amplify anything they had on hand. When Jesus told his disciples he wanted to feed a large crowd, they asked How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness? Jesus then asked them, How much bread do you have? He then took the seven loaves and did the impossible (Mk. 8:1-9). Do you see what I am getting at? A whole sermon that keeps repeating the theme, “What’s in your hand?” Because God is able to use whatever is in your hand.
“BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE.” No sooner does Moses hold his staff up and say, “What? Do You mean this old thing? It’s just a shepherd’s staff,” God tells him, “Throw it down.” Anyone can tell you, that is not what a person does with a staff. The staff may not be worth anything to anyone else, but the shepherd cannot work without it. It makes no sense to throw it down–until Moses threw it down and then learned what God was able to do with it. And once again I hear the voice of Jesus. This time he is telling a few of his disciples, Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat and you’ll get some [fish]! (Jn. 21:6) Do you think anyone in the boat said, “Oh, that was our mistake! We’ve been fishing all night on the wrong side of the boat.” So Jesus asks us what we have on hand and then he tells us to do something unexpected with it. And when we do, something even more unexpected happens.

The preacher in me cannot help stretching the significance of Moses’ staff even a little bit more. Think of the staff as an emblem. It is not a scepter in the hand of a king or a sword in the hand of a soldier. The staff is not for ruling or for killing, but for leading. It would seem that experience as a shepherd made the best training for leading his people (cf. Pss. 77:20 & 78:70-72). Nevertheless, Moses would lift his staff as both a scepter and a sword (cf. Ex. 17:10-13). But before Moses was ready to use his staff to lead Israel, he had to learn there was a snake in it. Authority can be a dangerous power, a deadly venom, in the hand of someone who does not know how to use it to lead. Kings and soldiers can be brutal, and even shepherds and parents, can carry authority too far if they are not aware of the snake.

6-9 God provided Moses two additional signs to inspire belief

We do not see it in The New Living Translation, but “hand” appears not one, but three times in verse 4
(Reach out your hand . . . and So Moses reached out his hand . . .)
– Moses’ hand is the focal point of these first two signs
• this cannot be a coincidence given what God had just said

But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand forces him. So i will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians . . . . (Ex. 3:19-20)

◦ by his own hand, God was going to deliver Israel, from the hand of Pharaoh, using the hand of Moses
• the number of repetition of “hand” in verse 7 is unnecessary
– through the rest of story both hand and staff will be key words
• in fact, the staff in Moses’ hand will become the staff of God in verse 20
◦  and also the staff of Aaron later on

When it comes to resources, God did not need the staff
– he could work miracles using only Moses’ hand
– in fact, there was nothing God could not use
• even the Nile River, Egypt’s life and the source of its greatness,
• belonged to God – his resources are plentiful

The preacher in me cannot resist pointing out that one of the “signs” given to Moses in order to encourage the people of Israel to believe him was turning water into blood. In the New Testament, one of Jesus’ first signs was turning water into wine. John explains that as result of witnessing this miracle, Jesus’ disciples “believed in him” (Jn. 2:1-11). John places special emphasis on specific signs that Jesus performed and all of them were to serve this same purpose, “so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn. 20:30-31). Moses played a necessary role in preparing the way for Jesus, and in turn, Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses (e.g., Lk. 24:44). Blood is associated with pain and death, wine is associated with life and joy. It was necessary for the blood to first flow for the wine to be poured out. For the law was given through Moses, but [grace and truth] came through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17).

10-12 Moses still did not give up trying to worm his way out

I agree with Robert Alter regarding Moses’ difficulty with his speech

Robert Alter, “It seems futile to speculate, as so many commentators have, whether [or not] Moses suffered from an actual speech impediment . . . . The point is that he invokes these Hebrew idioms for impeded speech . . . to express his feeling of incapacity for the mission.” He also asserts that “whether as hyperbole or as physiological fact scarcely matters.”

Who cannot sympathize with Moses when it comes to giving speeches?
– think back on high school or college and those dreaded “oral reports”
• our emotions and bodies conspired against us
◦ fear sends the body into emergency mode (fight or flight)
◦ the body responds in ways that generate more fear
• not only does this activated state interfere with clear and rational thinking,
◦ but our mouths go dry, our throats contract, and our stomachs knot
◦ remember losing your place in your notes? being unable to find the right words?
your mind going blank? your tongue feeling thick and uncooperative?
– Moses to God: “Speech is not really my gift. No one listens to me”
• that kind of thinking can be dangerous
◦ a person’s entire life can be determined by what he or she does not have
◦ “I don’t have the talent,” the time, the money, the energy, the patience, the stomach for it
• the people who are the most fun and inspiring to work with,
◦ are those who say, “Well, I’ve never done that before, but I’m willing to give it a try”
◦ and I believe that’s kind of person God enjoys working with

The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him (2 Chr. 16:9)

At any rate, we cannot use our deficiencies to weasel our way out with God
Who makes a person’s mouth?
• you’re talking to the Manufacturer of the technology
• the one who gifts the gift, who produces the talent, the aptitude
◦ who provides the time and energy of our lives
Now go! I will be with you
• only now it is not simply with you, but literally, with your mouth
• “Just go, Moses. I’ll make it work”

13-17 At last, Moses has run out of disqualifications

In a way, he’s returned to his first question, Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?
– only now it is more like, “I am not that person”
– Moses to God: “Send whoever You choose to send, as long as it isn’t me”
Then Yahweh’s anger burned toward Moses
◦ I imagine the flame in the bush suddenly flaring up
• now all this phrase tells us is what God wants us to see
◦ it doesn’t reveal what he actually felt in that moment
◦ it looks like anger, but human language is inadequate to encompass God

God to Moses: “Okay, you won’t be the spokesperson, but you’re going anyway”
– Aaron would be as if he were Moses’ prophet, and Moses be as if he were God speaking to Aaron
• that simply describes how the communication would flow
• God tells him (again literally) I will be with your mouth and with Aaron’s mouth
◦ the mission’s success depends entirely on God
– the conversation ends with God’s final words of instruction in v. 17

Conclusion: Remember that from the start, Moses was terrified (Ex. 3:6)

This is another type of experience that throws the body into fight or flight mode
– Moses’ nervous system would be gearing up to race down the mountain
• but one does not say No to God
◦ Moses tried to talk his way out, but found that he could not
(maybe that is what he meant, by I’m not very good with words . . . and not now)
• he could change God’s mind about using him for this work
◦ and this I find fascinating
◦ the reason being, later on Moses does change God’s mind

So the LORD changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people (Ex. 32:4)

– God’s challenge was to help Moses calm down – to trust him
• he began by answering Moses’ objections
◦ giving Moses the greatest assurance possible, I will be with you
◦ but with each turn of the conversation, Moses had just grown more desperate
• the conversation concludes with two emotions and one other factor:
◦ the first emotion: anger (this would make Moses more afraid of not going back to Egypt than of going)
◦ the other factor was that Aaron, Moses’ brother, was coming to meet him
◦ second emotion: delighted (Aaron’s reaction when he caught up to his little brother)

Stephen Porges, has identified an “Emotional Engagement System” that involves the vagus nerve and how it connects to both facial muscles (that give expression to our emotions) and the striated muscle of the heart. He explains that the Social Engagement System “emerges from a heart-face connection that coordinates the heart with the muscles of the face and head.” One of the functions of this system is that in a healthy relationship, one person can help the other regulate his or her emotions. Strong and supportive relational bonds serve to calm and soothe heightened emotions and bring the body back into a normal, restful state.

• the point is that Aaron’s presence and joy probably helped to “co-regulate” Moses’ fear
◦ compassion, empathy, joy, hope among members of a community,
◦ help to maintain each of them in physiological and psychological states that promote growth and creativity (Ro. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:25-27)

Now, do you find it amazing that God would have a dialogue like this with Moses?
That he would patiently walk him through his doubts and fears?
This is not some special situation just for Moses
This is the way God works with all of us

I know people,
that when they come to something in scripture that bothers them,
confuses, frustrates, irritates or defies belief,
they give up in despair and set the Bible aside.
This has been my experience–many times.
But I stopped saying, “This makes no sense,”
and began asking myself, “What am I missing here?”
I won’t say that all of the answers that eventually come to me
are one hundred percent satisfactory.
But somehow I muddle through,
and God and I emerge happier on the other side

Conversation is the process God uses to work his will into us.
So my counsel to you is,
stay in the conversation all the way to the end.
Do this, and God will eventually”
resolve all your doubts and fears.

One Comment

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  1. Bill Livingston / Feb 5 2018

    In silent prayer I had an imagined conversation with God in which he said, I created all the universes and galaxies just for your enjoyment, Bill. And then he said, Before you say, “Oh, sure, me and 100 billion other people!”…….know that I am big enough to do it! Individually for each and every one of you “100 billion”. I can handle it. Just because you can’t fathom it doesn’t limit me nor my love for each of you, my children.

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