So Moses is pretty self-deprecating. I mean, I get that he’s literally looking God in the face (in the branches?) here in Exodus 4, but he sure comes up with a lot of reasons for why he’d make a lousy spokesman. He’s too slow, he wouldn’t know what to say, he’s not worthy, and so on. Eventually, after several lame excuses including “I’m a bad public speaker”, God finally lets Moses have it, Job-style:
“Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and teach you what to say.” (4:11-12)
Sounds pretty final, doesn’t it? I’m sure it’d knock my socks off. God gives Moses a little smack-down to remind him of God’s sovereignty and ends the matter with “now go” — but he also throws in a little reassurance at the end, promising to help Moses and teach him what to say. How nice! Let’s see how Moses responds:
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (4:13)
WHAAAT??? Props for manners, but didn’t God say “now go”? Isn’t this over with? Did you really just get called on running out of excuses and then point-blank REFUSE God’s command with a petulant “I just don’t wanna”? I’ve never seen anyone be so brash on behalf of their own incompetence!
Moses’ statement here reveals what’s really behind his excuses: defiance. It’s not about being a bad public speaker — he simply doesn’t want to follow God’s commands. He just wants to sit around with his isolated little desert tribe and take care of sheep. Much simpler that way.
It’s funny how we humans can even use humility to defy God.
Of course, we’re all aware of the prideful side of defiance; Satan is an oft-cited reminder of the dangers of self-elevation. But there can be a sort of defiance in excessive self-deprecation as well. When we refuse to acknowledge the gifts God has given us — when we bury our “talents” in the ground — that is defiance. When we insist that we can never do it and deny God’s ability to help us overcome the challenges he’s given us — that is defiance. And as we see with Moses, defiance looks just as prideful, stupid, and shocking when it grows out of self-deprecation as when it grows from self-inflation.
But before we rag on Moses too much, let’s remember that we’re not exactly lily-white angels here.
It’s never easy to admit, but we, too, defy God, and like Moses we try to hide our defiance behind excuses. “They’d never want me on the worship team — I’m just not good enough.” “I can’t bring that up at a board meeting — I’d only mess it up anyway.” “God can’t really be calling me to do that — I must be hearing things.” We gasp at Moses’ impertinence to suppose that he can say “no” to God — and then we do the exact same thing.
Yes, we should make sure that what we hear is really God’s call, but once we’re reasonably certain the call is from God, it is our job to follow, not avoid.
Do we really think that God doesn’t know about our failings as well as our talents? Do we really think that God doesn’t already know how busy our schedules are, or how much we hate public speaking? Do we really expect God to say, “Oh! Well, I thought you would be just the right person to love this neighbor — but now that I know you couldn’t possibly drop anything from your busy, busy schedule — what was I thinking?”
We are not called to be perfect at the cost of never taking risks. We are not called to tell God what we can and cannot do. We are not called to sit on our arses and tend our little sheep in comfort and isolation.
We are called to be faithful. To God.
That’s not always easy. The experience of most people today is that God’s communications with us are vastly more ambiguous and subtle than burning bushes that say “now go”. But it would be foolish to assume that ambiguity equals no communication at all. God’s call and voice can come through observation of the world (Rom 1:20), through quiet whispers (1 Kings 19:11-13), or even through “just knowing” that something is the right thing to do. These may seem like fuzzy and unclear half-calls to us, and following them could possibly even be a mistake if we’re wrong. But even in the midst of that uncertainty, sometimes we must lay aside our fears, our self-deprecation and our hidden pride and simply “now go”.