FROM BONDAGE TO FREEDOM: A Study of the Book of Exodus

Don’t let Your Inadequacy Get in the Way

Exodus 4:1-17 SCC 7/1/12


         On the one hand we are supposed to feel inadequate. Our sense of inadequacy can increase our dependence upon God. On the other hand, feeling inadequate can also make us hesitant and unbelieving.

In response to Moses’ hesitancy to obey the call of God, the Lord overcame his contention (1) about the unbelief of the people by the demonstration of signs, (2) about his inability to speak well by the reminder that God gave him his ability to speak, and (3) about his pretentious humility by providing Aaron to assist him. With chapter four of Exodus the tone of the discussion changes rather distinctly. True, the discourse continues, but the inquisitive response of Moses over the nature of God changes to the protesting of his inadequacies in view of the nature of the task. “Who is sufficient for these things?” The passage provides a good message on the idea of God’s solutions for our inadequacies.


God’s power is sufficient for our inadequacies (1-9)

         In order for people to believe the messenger, they have to be convinced that the power of God is there. This will be demonstrated in a number of ways from time to time; in Exodus it was miraculous signs because it was in a foreign country and God wanted to show he was going to undermine their whole belief system. But Deuteronomy 13 makes it clear that signs and wonders by themselves cannot be taken to authenticate a person as a prophet–the message must be recognizably God’s. Moses knows that he is going to tell these people some striking things about himself and about what they are to do. What if they do not believe him?


         He has a feeling of inadequacy that people won't believe he has any authority, or that what he says should be followed. So God gives him signs to perform v 2. God's servants must display his miraculous power. When Paul wished to prove he was authentic (i.e., called of God and doing the work of God), he had no letters of commendation other than the believers he led to the Lord (2 Cor. 3:2). The power of God seen in answers to prayer, spiritual growth, and conversions, is miraculous evidences of God's power.

         The signs that God gives to Moses are pointed. Why these signs--snakes, disease, water to blood? First, to the people living in Egypt this reveals that control over the serpent by the hand of Moses signified that the servant of God had the spiritual power of Egypt in his control; that the disease signified God's ability to bring all kinds of hated diseases in the plagues as well as his power over human life; and that the blood signified a destruction of the life of Egypt, water.

         Second each sign revealed something about the nature of God. They show power over the forces of Egypt, power over the physical body, and power over nature. In fact, power over several gods of Egypt that these things represented. There was no area of existence that the Lord did not have under his sovereign control. These signs would then authenticate the ministry of Moses to the people. But in doing so they would also reveal the nature of the Lord. If the people did not believe the evidences of their powerful creator and sovereign Lord, there was nothing Moses could do in his own power to convince them. Jesus himself did several signs but not everyone he went to believed him. In fact, when they clamored for a sign, he gave none but what was in the Scripture. If they do not believe Moses and the Prophets, he said on another occasion, they will not believe if one comes back from the dead. So the only recourse for the servant of God is to demonstrate clear proof of the power of God as he delivers the message of God. The rest is up to God--it is his work anyway.


God’s servants are inadequate so they would depend upon the Lord (10-12)

         Moses line of protestation being shut down, he takes another. Here records the debate over the ability to speak effectively (4:10-12). God's servant must present himself as an instrument of the creator. It makes absolutely no difference what character traits and physical abilities the servant has--if God is sovereign. If God is sovereign, then the man or woman he chooses to serve him has everything that he intended them to have. In fact, one gets the impression that God would rather have a frail and seemingly ineffective person through whom he could display his sovereign power.

         These ideas are developed through Moses' claims of inadequacy v 10. He claims his problem is speech (he now knows that he can do the signs, but he also knows he has to explain things to the people). The uses, “heavy of mouth” and “heavy of tongue,” heavy meaning slow and ineffective, provide a repetitious emphasis that he is making. He is not an eloquent man. Perhaps Moses has been too long at the back of the desert, or perhaps he is being slightly dishonest here though subsequent passages show that he rose admirably to the occasion, and indeed, the text of the Pentateuch shows tremendous facility with language. At any rate, he still has not captured the point of the presence of the Lord, the “I AM.”

         Moses’ feeble argumentation is met with rhetorical questioning: “Who made man’s mouth?” v 11. The implication is twofold. First, the Lord is able to overcome all Moses' deficiencies. Second, Moses is exactly the way the sovereign Lord intended him to be. So the rhetorical question is a call for faith from Moses. God is the one who made the deaf, the dumb.

         The final rhetorical question is designed to return to the theme of “I AM.  So Moses protests, “I am not an effective speaker.” But the LORD answers, “I AM” (not only “I am the LORD,” but “I am a powerful speaker”). Again the promise of presence is seen as the divine enablement, but here it is centered on the organ of speech. It explains what the effect of this will be, “I will instruct you with that which you must say” is used here for the idea of showing or instructing. God is therefore promising that he will not only enable Moses to speak, but will give him the message as well.

         True eloquence in speaking is a combination of divine empowerment and divine inspiration (as the content). David also knew that the Spirit of God spoke by his voice. And Paul notes that he did not come with eloquent speech such as the Greek orators had, but with the divine message and the power of God. God expects his servants to try to be effective, we would all admit, but not to assume that the success is based on their effectiveness in speech.


When our inadequacy gets in the way God may use others to do what He wanted us to do 13-17

         Here records how the Lord, frustrated with Moses' attitude (anthropomorphically speaking again), adds Aaron to the work. On the one hand it appears that because Moses would not trust the Lord totally for the success of the mission, he is forced to share the mission with another. On the other hand, it may be observed that Moses still will do what God told him to do: you (and he) will do the signs (v. 17) and you (and he) will speak these words because I will be with your mouth and his mouth (v. 15). It could be said, then, that the servant of God who lacks confidence may be provided support through others; but of course it is not quite the same as it might have been if God had displayed his power through Moses alone. Nevertheless, the inadequacies of Moses do not in any way hinder the work of the Lord from progressing as planned.

         The Lord became angry with Moses v 14. This is obviously not the wrath of God being poured out on Moses. Rather, Moses is reporting for his readers the (human) kind of response the Lord had for his silly arguments. Unbelief is the one sin characteristic of Israel--and Moses--with which the Lord was “angry. Here it is followed up with the selection of Aaron, the Levite. It is worth noting too that the Lord said, "I know that he speaks eloquently” v 14. ‘Now the Lord selects something that he did not really need for the work as condescension to Moses. It is as if he is saying, "If Moses feels speaking ability is so necessary (rather than divine presence), then that is what he shall have." Of course, the golden-tongued Aaron had some smooth words about the golden calf! But Aaron will be "for a mouth" for Moses, but Moses will be for God for him v 17. Here, what has happened is that the whole work of God has been removed one step. Instead of God himself being with Moses' mouth, now Moses will be for God to Aaron who will be for the mouth. Moses will be the intermediate agent of the message rather than the spokesman.



         Here are God’s solutions for the inadequate feelings of his servants. The servant of God who recognizes his inadequacy must demonstrate the power of God as his sufficiency.

Moses is a negative example of faith response to what God is saying should be done. The idea of the power of God is derived from the signs as well as the presence with the mouth, both of which are repeated in the last section when Aaron is provided. Aaron's “help” in no way changes what demonstrations of power God planned to convince the people--it simply diluted the privilege of Moses.          God seeks instruments through whom he can display his power. All they need supply is faith in him and a willingness to serve as he directs. Paul’s discussions of sufficiency for ministry should be at the center of the application.

         God’s servants, who rightly recognize their insufficiency for ministry, must appropriate the power and provision of God as their sufficiency. By faith they must rely on his power, his strength, his enablement, his gifts, so that they can do his work. They must recognize that God made them the way they are and they must dedicate themselves to using what he gave them to do his work. If they will not do it, if they will not have God’s best for them they may find God using others to do what he wanted them to do.