Moses has fled Egypt and settled in a strange land. He’s busy working here, tending his father-in-law’s sheep. Life’s good. He’s happy, or at least content. And then one day, after he takes the flocks to Horeb (which the notes I made in the margins of my Bible tell me means “Desolation”) God speaks to him from within a bush that appears to burn — and yet doesn’t.
God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and tell the King of Egypt that the God of Abraham has sent him (Moses) to take his people back to the land of Canaan. From our perspective, this doesn’t seem like such a big thing. After all, we know the end of the story. But Moses doesn’t know what’s going to happen. And, contrary to what Hollywood’s version of The Ten Commandments would have us believe, Moses isn’t at all convinced that he’s the right guy for the job.
11 ¶And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?
Who am I? Moses asks. Who am I? Why me? I’m a wanted man in Egypt. I’m of Hebrew blood. Surely you could send someone better than me.
What does God say to Moses? Exactly what He always says:
12 And he said, Certainly I will be with thee;
Now, this is Moses we’re talking about. Only, you know, this was before he was the Moses we know. Before he was Moses! This happened when he was just an ordinary guy being asked to do something that seemed impossible. So he argues a bit more, asking what he’s supposed to tell the Hebrews when he gets there. How will they know that he’s actually an emissary from God? And what about Pharaoh? What’s he supposed to tell him?
This dialogue goes on for quite a while, with Moses pointing out all the flaws in God’s plan and God quietly but firmly countering. What about this? Moses asks. That, God says. Well, then, what about this? Tell them that. Do this. Turn the river into blood. Simple. Easy. I’m with you. Here’s a stick. With My help you can make it do amazing things.
But Moses still isn’t convinced.
10 ¶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.
11 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
12 Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.
And Moses still isn’t convinced. He keeps arguing with God, who is right there in front of him inside a bush that won’t burn. And still Moses digs in his heels and refuses to budge. Obviously, God was asking Moses to step way outside his comfort zone. I can relate.
Moses argues for so long, God’s anger is kindled against him. He finally tells Moses to take Aaron with him and let Aaron do the talking. And finally Moses agrees to go, especially after God assures him that all of those who sought to take his life back in Egypt are dead.
Okay. No longer a fugitive. That’s a step in the right direction.
21 And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
Okay, wait. What?!? Go. Do everything I’ve told you to do. Show Pharaoh all of these wonders that I’ve taught you — but don’t expect results. I’m going to harden his heart so he won’t let your people go.
Moses and Aaron go to Egypt and the Hebrews believe they’re from God, and that’s where Chapter 4 ends. But I’m still stuck on the fact that God told Moses in advance that his efforts weren’t going to work. That God was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart so “that he shall not let the people go.”
Does this mean that this whole experience wasn’t about Pharaoh at all? That must be the case since Moses knew before he left home that it wasn’t going to happen.
So then why were all the locusts and frogs and other assorted plagues necessary? God didn’t just send all that stuff for fun. There must have been a purpose. A purpose that could only be accomplished if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he wouldn’t let the Hebrews go. Was it so the Hebrews would learn to rely on God? So Moses would learn to trust in God and stop arguing with Him? Seriously, this isn’t Hollywood’s version of the story at all.
Reading these two chapters has left me feeling a little uncomfortable. How often do I argue with God like Moses did? How often do I throw up roadblocks, trying to prove that God couldn’t possibly want me to do this or that? How would I react if He asked me to do something big, but told me in advance that He was going to prevent me from succeeding–at least for a while.
Frankly, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question.