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< 020401 > EXODUS Our present lesson deals with the concluding stage of the Lord’s interview with Moses, and of the deliverer starting forth on his mighty errand. It is important to note that Moses was the first man that was ever formally called of God to engage in His service, and like the first notice of anything in Scripture this hints at all that is fundamental in connection with the subject. First, we are shown that no training of the natural man is of any avail in the work of God. Neither the wisdom of Egypt, in which Moses was thoroughly skilled, nor the solitude of the desert, had fitted Moses for spiritual activities. Forty years had been spent in Egypt’s court, and another forty years in Midian’s sheepfolds; yet, when the Lord appeared to him, Moses was full of unbelief and self-will. How this shows that the quietude of monastic life is as impotent to destroy the enmity of the carnal mind as is the culture of high society or the instruction of the schools. It is true that Moses had been much sobered by his lengthy sojourn at “the backside of the desert”, but in faith, in courage, in the spirit of obedience, he was greatly deficient — grace, not nature, must supply these.
In the second place, we are shown how the Lord prepared His servant.
God dealt personally and directly with the one He was going to honor as His ambassador: there was a manifestation of His holiness, the avowal of His covenant-relationship, an assurance of His compassion for the suffering Hebrews, and the declaration of His self-sufficiency as the great “I am”; in short, there was a full revelation of His person and character. In addition, Moses received a definite call from Jehovah, the guarantee that God would be with him, an intimation of the difficulties that lay before him, and the promise that, in the end, God’s purpose should be realized. These have ever been, and still are, the vital prerequisites for effectiveness in God’s service. There must be a personal knowledge of God for ourselves: a knowledge obtained by direct revelation of God to the soul. There must be a definite call from God to warrant us engaging in His service. There must be a recognition of the difficulties confronting us and a confident resting on God’s promise for ultimate success.
This endowment was the bestowal upon him of power to work three miracles. The first two of these were designed to teach important lessons to God’s servant: he was shown the secret of overcoming Satan, and he was reminded of the corruption of his own heart — things of vital moment for every servant to understand. Moreover, these miracles or signs bad a voice for the Hebrews: they showed them their need of being delivered from the dominion of the Devil and the pollution of sin — things which every servant must continue pressing on those to whom he ministers. The third miracle or sign spoke of the judgment awaiting those who received not God’s testimonies — another thing which the faithful servant must not shun to declare.
In the fourth place, we are made acquainted with the response which Moses made to God’s call. Here again we have something more than what is local and transient. The difficulties felt by Moses and the objections which he raised are those which have, in principle and essence, been felt and raised by all of God’s servants at some time or other — the perfect Servant alone excepted. If they have not been expressed by lip, they have had a place in the heart. The first three objections of Moses we have noticed in previous papers: they may be summed up as: self-occupation ( 3:11), fear ( 3:13), unbelief ( <020401> 4:1). The fourth, which savored of pride, will now engage our attention. “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” ( 4:10).
How many of the Lord’s servants (and others who ought to be engaged in His service) regard this as a fatal defect. They suppose that the gift of oratory is a prime pre-requisite for effective ministry. Those who are being “trained for the ministry” must, forsooth, have a course in rhetoric and elocution: as though men dead in sins can be quickened by the enticing words of men’s wisdom; as though carnal weapons could have a place in spiritual warfare. Sad it is that such elementary matters are so little understood in this twentieth century. Have we forgotten those words of the apostle Paul, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God” ( 1 Corinthians 2:1)! “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?” (v. 11).
This was manifestly a rebuke. Even though he was not “eloquent”, did Moses suppose that the Lord knew not what He was about in selecting him to act as His mouthpiece in Pharaoh’s court? God was only demonstrating once more how radically different are His ways from man’s. The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God ( 1 Corinthians 3:19), and that which is highly esteemed among men, is abomination in His sight ( Luke 16:15). The instrument through whom God did the most for Israel, and the one He used in bringing the greatest blessing to the Gentiles, was each unqualified when judged by the standards of human scholarship! — see 2 Corinthians 10:1 and 11:6 for the apostle Paul as a speaker. “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?”. It seems evident from this that, in the previous verse, Moses was referring to some impediment in his speech. In reply, the Lord tells him that He was responsible for that. The force of what Jehovah said here seems to be this: As all the physical senses, and the perfection of them, are from the Creator, so are the imperfections of them according to His sovereign pleasure. Behind the law of heredity is the Law-giver, regulating it as He deems best. “Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (v. 12).
What a re-assuring word was this ! Better far, infinitely better, is the teaching of the Lord and His control of the tongue than any gift of “eloquence” or any of the artificialities of speech which human training can bestow. It is Just these substitutes of human art which has degraded too many of our pulpits from places where should be heard the simple exposition of God’s Word into stages on which men display their oratorical abilities. Little room for wonder that God’s blessing has long since departed from the vast majority of our pulpits when we stop to examine the “training” which the men who occupy them have received. All the schooling in the world is of no avail whatever unless the Lord is “with the mouth” of the preacher, teaching him what he shall say; and if the Lord is with him, then, “eloquence and rhetorical devices are needless and useless.
Note it is “what ” the preacher has to say, not how he says it, which matters most. God has used the simple language of unlettered Bunyan far more than He has the polished writings of thousands of University graduates! “And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray Thee, by the hand of him whom Thou wilt send” (v. 13).
That is, Send any one, but not me! Moses was still unwilling to act as the Lord’s ambassador, in fact he now asked God to select another in his place. How fearful are the lengths to which the desperately-wicked heart of man may go! Not only distrustful, but rebellious. The faithfulness of Moses in recording his own sins, and the “anger” of the Lord against him, is a striking proof of the Divine veracity of the Scriptures: an uninspired writer would have omitted such serious reflections upon himself as these. “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” (vv. 13-17). “Although there was nothing gained in the way of power, although there was no more virtue or efficacy in one mouth than in another, although it was Moses after all who was to speak unto Aaron, yet was Moses quite ready to go when assured of the presence and co-operation of a poor feeble mortal like himself; whereas he could not go when assured, again and again, that Jehovah would be with him. “Oh! my reader, does not all this hold up before us a faithful mirror in which you and I can see our hearts reflected? Truly it does. We are more ready to trust anything than the living God. We move along with bold decision when we possess the countenance and support of a poor frail mortal like ourselves; but we falter, hesitate, and demur when we have the light of the Master’s countenance to cheer us, and the strength of His omnipotent arm to support us.
This should humble us deeply before the Lord, and lead us to seek a fuller acquaintance with Him, so that we might trust Him with a more unmixed confidence, and walk on with a firmer step, as having Him alone for our resource and portion” (C.H.M.).
Though God’s anger was kindled against Moses, His wrath was tempered by mercy. To strengthen his weak faith, the Lord grants him still another sign that He would give him success. As Moses returned to Egypt he would find Aaron coming forth to meet him. What an illustration is this that when God works, He works at both ends of the line! The eunuch and Philip, Saul and Ananias, Cornelius and Peter supply us with further illustrations of the same principle. “And Moses went and returned to Jethro his father in law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive. And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace” (v. 18).
This act of Moses was very commendable. Jethro had taken him in while a fugitive from Egypt, had given him his daughter to wife, and had provided him with a home for forty years. Moreover, Moses had charge of his flock ( <020301> 3:1). It would, then, have been grossly discourteous and the height of ingratitude had Moses gone down to Egypt without first notifying his father-in-law. This request of Moses manifested his thoughtfulness of others, and his appreciation of favors received. Let writer and reader take this to heart. Spiritual activities never absolve us from the common amenities and responsibilities of life. No believer who is not a gentleman or a lady is a true Christian in the full sense of the word. To be a Christian is to practice Christliness, and Christ ever thought of others. “And Moses went and returned to Jethro his father in law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive”. We are sorry that we cannot speak so favorably of Moses’ words on this occasion. His utterance here was quite Jacob-like. Moses says nothing about the Lord’s appearing to him, of the communication he had received, nor of the positive assurance from God that He would bring His people out of Egypt into Canaan.
Evidently Moses was yet far from being convinced. This is clear from the next verse: “And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life”. The Lord repeated His command, and at the same time graciously removed the fears of His servant that he was venturing himself into that very peril from which he had fled forty years before. How long-suffering and compassionate is our God! “And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.... and it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him” (vv. 20, 24).
At last Moses starts out on his epoch-making mission. In obedience to God’s command he goes forth rod in hand, and accompanied by his wife and his sons, returns to the land of Egypt. But one other thing needed to be attended to, an important matter long neglected, before he is ready to act as God’s ambassador. Jehovah was about to fulfill His covenant engagement to Abraham, but the sign of that covenant was circumcision, and this the son of Moses had not received, apparently because of the objections of the mother. Such an ignoring of the Divine requirements could not be passed by, and Moses is forcibly reminded anew of the holiness of the One with whom he had to do. “And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So He let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision” (vv. 24-26).
Whether it was the Lord Himself in theophanic manifestation who now appeared to Moses, or whether it was an angel of the Lord with sword in hand, as he later stood before Balaam, we are not told. Nor do we know in what way the Lord sought to kill Moses. It seems clear that he was stricken down and rendered helpless, for his wife was the one who performed the act of circumcision on their son. This is all the more striking because the inference seems inescapable that Zipporah was the one who had resisted the ordinance of God — only thus can we explain her words to Moses, and only thus can we account for Moses here sending her back to her father (cf. 18: 2). Nevertheless, it was Moses, the head of the house (the one God ever holds primarily responsible for the training and conduct of the children), and not Zipporah, whom the Lord sought to kill.
This points a most solemn warning to Christian fathers today. A man may be united to a woman who opposes him at every step as he desires to maintain a scriptural discipline in his home, but this does not absolve him from doing his duty.
Let us also observe how the above incident teaches us another most important lesson in connection with service. Before God suffered Moses to go and minister to Israel, He first required him to set his own house in order. Not until this had been attended to was Moses qualified for his mission. There must be faithfulness in the sphere of his own responsibility before God would make him the channel of Divine power. As another has said, “Obedience at home must precede the display of power to the world”.
That this same principle obtains during the Christian dispensation is clear from Timothy 3, where we are told that among the various qualifications of a “bishop” (elder) is that he must be “one that ruleth his own house well, having his children in subjection with all gravity” (v. 14). As a general rule God refuses to use in public ministry one who is lax and lawless in his own home. “And the Lord said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him” (vv. 27, 28).
By comparing this verse with what is said in verse 14 it seems clear that the Lord had ordered Aaron to go into the wilderness before Moses actually started out for Egypt, for there we find Him saying to Moses, “Behold, he (Aaron) cometh forth to meet thee”. What an encouragement was this for Moses. Oft times the Lord in His tenderness gives such encouragements to His servants, especially in their earlier days; thus did He to Eliezer ( Genesis 24:14,18,19) to Joseph ( Genesis 37:7,8); to the disciples ( Mark 14:13); to Paul ( Acts 9:11, 12); to Peter ( Acts 10:17).
It is a point of interest and importance to note the meeting-place of these brothers: it was “in the mount of God”. There it was that Jehovah had first appeared to Moses ( <020301> 3:1), and from it Moses and Aaron now set forth on their momentous errand. The “mount” speaks, of course, of elevation, elevation of spirit through communion with the Most High. An essential prerequisite is this for all effective ministry. It is only as the servant has been in “the mount with God that he is ready to go forth and represent Him in the plains! Again and again was this illustrated in the life of the perfect Servant. Turn to the four Gospels, and note how frequently we are told there of Christ retiring to “the mount’, from which He came forth later to minister to the needy. This is indeed a lesson which every servant needs to learn. I must first commune with God, before I am fitted to work for Him.
Note this order in Mark 3:14 in connection with the apostles: He ordained twelve that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach”! “And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel: And Aaron spake all the words which the Lord had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that He had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (vv. 29-31).
The “elders” are always to be viewed as the representatives of the people: they were the heads of the tribes and of the leading families. Unto them Aaron recited all that Jehovah had said unto Moses, and Moses performed the two signs. The result was precisely as God had fore-announced ( 3:18). Moses had said, “They will not believe me” ( <020401> 4:1); the Lord had declared they would, and so it came to pass. They believed that Moses was sent of God, and that he would be their deliverer. Believing this, they bowed their heads and worshipped, adoring the goodness of God, and expressing their thankfulness for the notice which He took of them in their distress.
In the favorable response which Moses received from the elders of Israel we may discern once more the tender mercy and grace of the Lord. At a later stage, the leaders came before Moses and Aaron complaining they had made the lot of the people worse rather than better. But here, on their first entrance into Egypt, the Lord inclined the hearts of the people to believe.
Thus He did not put too great a strain upon their faith at first, nor lay upon them a burden greater than what they were able to bear. It is usually thus in the Lord’s dealings with His servants. The real trials are kept back until we have become accustomed to the yoke. We heartily commend this fourth chapter of Exodus to every minister of God, for it abounds in important lessons which each servant of His needs to take to heart.