At the burning bush God and Moses are discussing Moses leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt. At this command Moses gives five excuses. The first is, Excuse #1 “Someone Else Would Be Better at This Than Me” Who Am I? Moses asks God who he was to do such a difficult thing. God’s response was that it did not matter who he was because God was with him.
Then Moses asks who God was, and Excuse #2 “I Don’t Know God Well Enough” Who Is God? Then God reveals Himself as being the Great I Am. Then God gives Moses detailed information about what he wanted Moses to do.
A Message for the Israelites (vv. 16-17)
16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’
A Message for the Egyptians (vv. 18-22)
18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”
God tells them exactly how the Exodus would go, “The people will believe, the king will be hardened, the Egyptians will be plagued, the deliverance will occur, and finally the Egyptians will be despoiled!”
In response to these messages Moses gives his third excuse:
Excuse #3 – 3 “No One Will Believe Me”
Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’”
Every prophet is to say exactly the words that were given to him from God – not his interpretation of the burning bush, or his opinion about the words, but the very words themselves and what happened. Then those hearing the words have to determine if these are the words and actions of God or is this man a false prophet. 2 Peter 1:20 “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
In verse 18 God said to Moses, “And they will listen to your voice,” but them Moses says to God, “yeah, but what if they won’t listen.” God has said something to be true, but then Moses says, yes but what if it isn’t true. In spite of this defiance, God gives Moses three signs that will show people that what Moses is saying is true. These are signs will comfort Moses, and give evidence to the elders and the Egyptians that Moses speaks for God.
Sign #1. Staff to Snake – Something ordinary can become something extraordinary.
2 The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 3 And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. 4 But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5 “that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”
As a shepherd Moses would have the staff with him. Every shepherd would use a staff to guide the sheep, fight off wild animals, etc. Later in 4:20 Moses’ staff is called “the staff of God.” When it is Moses’ staff it is just a stick, that can be easily thrown down and replaced with another stick. But once God uses it, it becomes the staff of God that does amazing signs. Moses is struggling with self-doubt and he is saying, “who am I to go to the pharaoh?” If God can do this with a stick, imagine what He can do with you.
You are not less than a stick. Jesus says something similar in Luke 12:24 “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!”
Also, the serpent was a symbol of Egyptian power, “for the Egyptians worshiped the serpent as a source of wisdom and healing.” God can pick up and drop down Egypt whenever he wants – God is more powerful than the gods of Egypt.
Also, the plagues are follow as Moses makes the request before pharaoh to let the people go free. Frogs, gnats, flies are all normal things that God uses in an extraordinary way. An ordinary man, an ordinary stick, an ordinary hand, and ordinary water – in the hands of God become something extraordinary.
Sign #2. Leprous Hand Restored
6 Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. 7 Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. 8 “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign.
Later when the law is given, leprous skin was considered unclean. In Luke 17 when Jesus comes across a group of lepers, “When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.” In order to be allowed back into society a priest had to look at confirm that the leprous skin was healed. These men cried out from a distance, they were outcasts and ceremonially unclean.
But this Exodus passage was before the law, the temple, priests, etc. But God was going to take an unclean people and restore them to health. They would be freed from slavery and oppression and given a special responsibility among the nations of the earth. God will restore them.
Moses had tried to be the leader on his own and had failed, he had run to the wilderness to live for forty years. He made a mistake, he was a murderer – now God will use him, he will be restored. The God of the Bible is the God of restoration.
Sign #3. Water to Blood – The Source of Life
9 If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”
The third sign for Moses was the first of the plagues to come (the Nile to blood). For the Egyptians the Nile was the source of life. God was showing He had power of life and death for the Egyptian people.
Also, it was the Nile that the blood of many Hebrew infants would have been shed and drowned on account of the Pharaoh’s command (Ex.1:11). This also would be a sign of judgement for the Egyptian people.
These three miracles or signs was to prove that Moses spoke for God. Later Jesus would also perform miracles in order to show that He was God.
Excuse #4 “I’m Not Good At What You Are Asking Me To Do”
10 But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
Moses in his fourth excuse is concerned that he lacks the ability to persuade people when he speaks, for “I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Moses is not saying that he has a speech impediment (such as stuttering), but that he is fearful that when the time comes he won’t be able to persuade with his ability to speak eloquently.
The words he will choose to say will be wrong in getting the pharaoh to do what God wants him to do. God has already told him exactly what to say earlier, (v. 16) “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them,” and then in (v. 18), “you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him . . .”
Moses’ focus is on himself, “I am not eloquent” and “I am slow of speech and of tongue,” God’s response to Moses is to try and get Moses to focus on Him instead. God responds by reminding Moses that it was God who made him the way he was, “Who has made man’s mouth?” and regardless of how God had made his mouth, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”
This is the second time where God has said, “I will be with you.” If God has called you to do something, he will be with you as you go to do it.
Matthew 25:14-15 is the parable of the talents. Jesus tells the story, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” Then later the man returns and asks his servants what they did with the money that he had given them, (v. 19) “Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.”
Two of the servants made even for money for the man, but one of the servants did nothing, His one coin was taken from him, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
This parable shows that it is not about how good you are at something, compared to someone else, but what you do with what you have been entrusted. God gave Moses a mouth, He gave him the words to say, and He promised to be with Him. God never tries to convince Moses that he is more talented than he thought he was, or that he was a better leader than he thought he was – those things don’t matter. God said I will be with you.
Excuse #5 “Just Send Someone Else.”
13 But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. 16 He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. 17 And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”
God has told Moses to go four times up to this point. “So now, go, I am sending you to Pharoah” (3:10); “Go and gather the elders of Israel” (3:16); “You and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt (3:18), and then again in 4:12 “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what to speak.” Go, go, go, go.
And to God’s repeated commands to go Moses offers excuse after excuse, and then finally the truth of Moses heart comes out, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” The real issue was that Moses just did not want to go. “Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses,”
There comes a moment in the dialogue between Moses and God, where the fifth question was too much. Moses was not trusting what God was saying. There is a moment where we can pray, and ask questions, and all the while God is saying, go, go, go, go – and we reply back, “yeah but what about this?” and “what about that?” There comes a time when we are not wanting answers, but we are giving excuses for disobedience, and this kindles God anger toward us.
In response to Moses’ feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, God says, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well.” – Why does God do this? Look at Moses’ excuses 1) “Someone else would be better at this than me” – God responds by saying, “I will be with you” and he gives Moses a sign of one worshiping on that same mountain. 2) “I don’t know God well enough” – God responds by telling Moses His name, I AM WHO I AM. 3) “No one will believe me” so God responds with three more signs, staff to snake, leprous hand, and water to blood 4) “I am not good at what you are asking me to do,” – God says, I will be with your mouth and teach you what to say.
All these things is God working through something, God’s power changing something. Then we move to Moses’ fifth excuse 5) “I don’t want to do this” – so God sends Aaron to stand beside Moses, but the relationship is described as “you will be as God to him.” This is about Moses’ giving God full control of his life and trusting God with everything.
When you limit what you allow God to fully control,
you lose the blessing that goes along with His control over that area of your life.
Moses is out in the desert, defeated, wounded, old and just wants to disappear. God says, no, you are going to speak for me. I will tell you what to say, I will be with you, but you will go and lead my people. Moses goes on to be one of the greatest leaders who has ever walked the planet. There is power in the word, yes, I will go. Moses goes, but not fully as God intended, it was an altered plan – changed by Moses’ untrusting heart. The plan goes forward but altered by man’s hardened heart.
God’s last words to Moses in this exchange “Moses don’t forget your staff.”
 Was God being dishonest? Only three days with the real intention of never returning. Ruse de guerre – a justifiable stratagem in time of war.
 Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word, Exodus (Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Publishing, 2015) 93.
 Ryken, 97.
 Peter Enns, The NIV Application Commentary, Exodus (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 2000) 110.