The Art of Making Excuses - Exodus 3:11-4:18
It seems to me that American people are especially good at making excuses. Sometimes we make excuses to try to keep from hurting someone's feelings. For example, If you were asked out on a date but really didn't want to go, you might want to spare the feelings of the asker and come up with some excuse as to why you had to decline.
Sometimes we make excuses to avoid responsibility for our actions.. We make excuses for things we did wrong, times we failed, things we don't want to do, situations we don't want to be in. How many times have you told someone "I forgot" when in reality you just didn't want to do what was asked of you?
Making excuses isn't a good practice and it is especially dangerous when we start making excuses in our spiritual lives.
We make excuses when we don't want to obey (like commands to forgive, or to stop gossiping)
We make excuses when we don't want to go where God sends us (it may be a mission field, or it may be a visit to a friend, or it may be church)
We make excuses when we don't want to believe what God tells us (that all things work for the good)
This morning we should be able to identify with Moses as he makes excuses before the Lord. In our previous study we saw that the Lord has told Moses that he was the man God has chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses doesn't want the job and so he gives God his list of excuses. And in so doing hopefully we will learn something about the excuses in our own lives.
I'M NOT QUALIFIED
The first excuse that Moses gives is one that we should recognize. Moses suggests that God has the wrong guy for the job. He feels he's not qualified. Listen to what he says,
"Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.
Moses felt overwhelmed with the responsibility. He didn't feel that he was up to the challenge. That wasn't the case 40 years earlier, but now he feels that this job is just too much for us. Maybe Moses felt this way,
because of his past failure in jumping the gun and killing an Egyptian
because of his advanced age
because of the magnitude of the task
because of past rejections by the Hebrews
because of the time that had passed . . . Egypt had changed
It is not unusual for people to feel this way when they are asked to do great things. God answers Moses with some profound truth, "I will be with you." God doesn't tell Moses that he is wonderfully gifted. He doesn't tell him that he has more talent than he realizes. He doesn't tell him that his problem is low self-esteem. He tells Him that what Moses lacks, God will supply.
I can't imagine that any of the great servants of God ever felt qualified for what God called them to do. Paul told us in Philippians that he had learned that "he could do all things through Christ who gives him strength." The key was not Paul's ability, but God's. In fact, God speaks to Moses as if this whole project is a "done deal" He doesn't say, "Moses, if you bring the children of Israel out" . . . it's when you bring them out.
It doesn't matter what you are facing. It doesn't matter what God has called you to do or to endure . . . you can do it if you trust His strength!
it may be a new mountain like heading off to college or moving away from home
it may be a new job that provides great opportunities but also has incredible responsibilities
it may be the prospect of chemotherapy or radiation
it may be an opportunity to serve in a ministry
it may be the reality of standing before death's door
it may be the opportunity to share your faith with a Professor, a neighbor or a good friend
Whatever the challenge, God will be with you. You may not be strong enough by yourself but you are not by yourself. He is with you.
One caution. Before claiming this promise and running headlong into some massive undertaking, be sure that what you are doing is God's will. We've already noticed that timing is everything. Make sure you are operating in God's timing. Make sure that you are not violating God's Word. Make sure you have bathed the matter in prayer. Make sure that you have counseled with some wise Christian friends. And after you have done so, go with confidence knowing that God will go with you and will supply what you lack.
I DON'T HAVE ENOUGH EDUCATION
But Moses doesn't want to do what God has called him to do. (Sound familiar?) Listen to this next excuse. It has a familiar ring to it.
Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’" God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
Moses is concerned that he will be asked a theological question that he doesn't have an answer for. What if they ask God's name? Because Moses doesn't have an answer he doesn't want to go.
Moses' question was not that unusual. Have you ever not talked to someone about Christ because you were afraid they would ask you a question that you couldn't answer? Have you ever told someone you couldn't teach or lead a class because you "didn't know enough"? If so, then you understand where Moses is coming from.
God tells Moses that he should tell the Israelites that God's name is: "I am who I am". In other words, tell them that the God who always has been, is, and always will be has sent you. Sure, it would have been easier if God had just said, "Tell them my name is Clarence." But God is not like that. He is not human. He cannot be confined by a name. He transcends any description of Him that we can muster.
It would be helpful for you to know that the name "I am that I am" in Hebrew is four letters YHWH. In theological circles this is known as the "Tetragrammaton". In an effort to transliterate (write in an english form) YHWH vowels were added. And from that we get the name Yahweh or Jehovah. Every time we read about Yahweh or Jehovah in the Bible it reflects back on this particular passage. Every time the word LORD is in your Bible in all capital letters it is referring to this name.
Let me state it again. It is important for us to understand that God was not trying to give us a name so much as reveal a portion of His character. He is the God who is, was, and always shall be.
God answered Moses' question. The problem with the excuse "I don't know enough" is that there will always be something that you don't know or understand. Moses could have continued his protests. What if the people of Israel ask me where you live? What if they ask me about the Trinity? What if they want an answer to the question, 'Where have you been for the past 400 years?' If you wait until you have all the answers .. . you will never serve the Lord.
I've learned a few things over the years,
The best way to grow in knowledge is to step out in faith. The best way to learn about God is to obey God.
God makes a habit of taking simple things and simple people and using them in profound ways. Paul said God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the world. Throughout history God has taken Shepherds, fisherman, tax-collectors, children and a whole host of rag-tag individuals and have used them to change the world.
That the world will usually respect someone who has the honesty to say, "I don't know" when they are confronted with a question they cannot answer. The world respects someone humble enough to admit that they are still "in process" much more than someone who tries to "bluff" their way through the tough questions.
Moses isn't finished with his excuses.
I DON'T THINK IT WILL WORK
God has just finished telling Moses that the Israelites will listen to Him. He told him that Pharaoh would resist but would eventually be brought to his knees. And . . .the Egyptians would end up giving the Israelites treasures before they leave. After God says all this Moses says, "I don't think it is going to work."
"What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?"
Moses isn't listening. Perhaps Moses has a different scenario in his head. Maybe he is imagining standing before Pharaoh's receptionist telling her that he was sent there by a voice coming out of a bush that was on fire but not being consumed. He knows that everyone will think he is crazy!
Do you remember the movie "Oh, God!" It starred John Denver and George Burns. It's a story similar to Moses. God tells his Moses (a supermarket manager) to tell the world about him. And guess what? No one believes that this supermarket manager has actually talked with God. We probably wouldn't believe it either. Moses can imagine what is going to happen.
The problem was that Moses was trusting his imagination rather than God's promise. He was seeing obstacles while God pointed to opportunities. He saw problems and God saw potential. That's the way it is most of the time, you know. We see the mine field ahead of us when we should be watching the one who knows His way through the minefield.
God had already told Moses that His plan IS GOING TO WORK. Moses wasn't paying attention. Sometimes we don't either. God tells us,
I will supply all your need
I will never leave you or forsake you
You can do everything through Christ who gives you strength
Ask and it will be given to you
The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth
He tells us these things and we aren't listening. It's kind of like those neat toys your kids would get for Christmas. They come with simple instructions but we put them aside believing that we know better. We struggle, we get angry at the "stupid manufacturer" while all the time the instructions are right before us.
God in His wonderful patience gives Moses three "signs". First, he gives him the ability to turn his walking stick into a snake. This is one of the greatest pictures in all of scripture. God tells Moses to throw down his walking stick. Moses throws it down and it becomes a snake. Moses starts running! God tells Moses to pick up the snake . . . by it's tail. Moses responds, "Uhmm . . .Lord, my father taught me to NEVER pick up a snake by it's tail. Always pick it up (if you have to) right behind it's head so it can't turn and bite you."
God says, "Pick up the snake by the tail." For that moment Moses is in a crisis. Does he do what God tells him to do . . . which is against everything he had always been taught; or does he refuse the Almighty. To his credit, he acts in faith and picks up the snake. And the snake turns back into the walking stick! What a boost to the faith of Moses this must have been! It is obedience in the little things that leads to the ability to serve God in the big ways.
I'll never forget a song we sang in college on this particular story. It was called "Moses" and written by Ken Medema. The song tells this great story and ends with these wonderful words,
What do you hold in your hand today? To who or to what are you bound? Are you willing to give it to God, right now? Give it up, Let it go, throw it down.
God doesn't stop here. He gives Moses two additional miracles: he gives him the ability to produce and remove leprosy from his hand and the ability to turn water into blood. These were simple signs that were designed to strengthen Moses more than to impress the people. There is no evidence that the people would not have believed without the signs.
You and I don't need these kinds of things. We have history. We have the resurrection of Christ. We have the Bible. We have the evidence of changed lives all around us. Moses had none of these things. God gives him these signs and I think Moses now believes God. But he still doesn't want to go.
IT'S NOT MY GIFT
Let's remember, the Lord is not requesting the help of Moses . . . He is sending Moses. This is an assignment, not extra credit. Moses now resorts to an excuse which is very popular in Christian circles. In today's vernacular He would be saying, "Lord, you know, speaking in public is not my gift."
Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." (4:10-12)
It is possible that Moses did have a problem
He may have had a speech impediment
He may have been "rusty" with his Hebrew or Egyptian
It is possible that he didn't like speaking in public
There is certainly much to be gained by trying to discern what God has equipped you to do. It is good to try to identify your spiritual gifts but we should do so in an effort to find direction for our lives . . . not in order to limit what we do for God. If the prophets handled spiritual gifts like we often do, most of the prophets would have never left home! They would have concluded that it was not "their gift". Moses is trying to hide behind His inability but God is telling Him that He will not call Him to something that He doesn't equip him for.
God says the same thing to you. If you will follow Him, He will give you what you need. If you are willing to serve Him, He will equip you to serve Him well. You may not have a natural talent in a particular area but if God has called you to a particular work, He will give you what you need. There have been many times in my life where I was called into situations I felt completely unqualified for . . . and yet when I took a step of faith and agreed to what God called me to do . . . He gave me the ability, strength, wisdom, the words, the patience . . . whatever was necessary.
I DON'T WANT TO DO IT . . . SEND SOMEONE ELSE
Finally, Moses has run out of excuses. He can't stall any longer.
But Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it." Then the LORD’S anger burned against Moses and he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. (4:13-16)
As I read the text Moses seems to be saying, "I don't want the job". God's anger burns against Moses. He is stalling. He's digging in his heels and bordering on throwing a tantrum. He says, "I don't want to!" and God says, "Tough! If you're scared I'll give you Aaron to work with you."
I wonder how many people are living miserable lives right now because they refuse to do what God has told them to do. Rather then moving forward, they continue to make excuses. Instead of obeying God they try to come up with reasons why they shouldn't have to obey. Instead of trusting God's promise they trust their fears. Are you one of those people?
Moses is out of excuses. He has a job to do. He and Aaron are going to walk into an impossible situation with a God who shines brightest in impossible situations. And as a result, Moses became the leader of Israel. As a result of Moses moving forward he came to talk with God as a friend. In the end, Moses came to know an intimacy with God unlike any other individual other than the Lord Himself.
But what if Moses hadn't gone? What if he had flat out refused? I think Moses would have faced the discipline of the Lord. He would have forfeited the joy that came from living God's way. But Moses didn't refuse. Instead he was used by God in astounding ways.
Do realize that the same choice is before you? Are you making excuses so you don't have obey? Are you making excuses so you don't have to do what you know God wants you to do or to go where He wants you to go? Are you making excuses for why you will not trust Him? Is there some excuse for why you have not made the decision to trust His grace for your eternal life?
If you want to be greatly used of God you must be willing to follow wherever He leads you. It's time to stop hiding behind the excuses we are so good at making. It's time to stop resisting and start following. It's time to stop saying, "I can't" and start saying, "He can". It's time to stop debating faith and start practicing it.