Exodus 4:1-9 ~ 20100711 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
7/11 Exodus 4:1-9 The Unbelief of Moses and the Superabundant Patience of God
The unbelief of Moses and the superabundant patience of God
This passage is about belief in God's word. The word 'believe' or 'trust' occurs 5 times in these 9 verses. The word 'listen' or 'obey' occurs 3 times. God has spoken. God has interrupted history and introduced himself to his servant and called him to a specific task. He has promised the outcome in detail in advance. Moses is a skeptic. Moses is struggling to believe. Already in the process of God's revelation of himself to Moses, Moses had questioned the wisdom and the word of God. We will see in this passage the unbelief of Moses and the superabundant patience of God toward a questioning skeptic.
YHWH had said in 3:8 'I have come down to deliver'; in 3:10 'come, I will send you to Pharaoh'; in 3:11 Moses said to God 'who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?' God answered 'but I will be with you'. In 3:13 Moses says 'what if they ask about you? What if they ask 'who sent you?' What is your name?' God answers 'I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM has sent you; the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Go to the elders of Israel and tell them 'I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt.' In 3:18 God says 'And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt' Then he says ' I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it' He says 'I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty ... you shall plunder the Egyptians'.
But Moses is tripped up all the way back in verse 18. God tells Moses to go to the elders of Israel and he says 'they will listen to you.'
This is a direct contradiction to the words of God. God says 'they will listen'. Moses says 'but look, God, they will not believe me or listen to my voice.' Moses is projecting his own doubt onto the Israelites. He is struggling to believe God, who is appearing to him, so he assumes that the Israelites, who have not seen what he has seen will certainly not believe a mere verbal report of what he claims to have seen and heard in the desert.
A definition of belief:
The belief he is talking about is more than a recognition that certain facts are true. That is part of the question - Moses, what you say happened in the desert - did it really happen or did you just make this up? You had a real experience. Was it God or is there some other explanation? 'Moses, we believe you. We believe you really had this experience and that it was really God. Now everybody, back to making bricks!' That's not the kind of belief we are talking about. This belief demands a response. This is what James is talking about when he says 'faith without works is dead' (James 2:14-26) That's why Moses says they will not believe or listen. He doesn't think they'll have any reason to buy his story, and he doesn't think that they will respond to his message. The word 'listen' could be translated 'obey', because when I tell my children to go and do something, the evidence that they heard me is the going and the doing. If they aren't gone and it isn't done, they I might ask 'didn't you hear me?' And they might look up from their toys and say 'yes, we heard you quite clearly. You asked us to go and do such and such.' and they might look back down and continue to play with their toys. I am not an auditory specialist performing a hearing test. I wasn't checking if your ears worked. In that setting listening and obeying are one and the same. If there is no action, they did not listen.
The cost of belief:
What does this mean for Moses and for the elders of Israel? God is sending Moses to Egypt to talk to the elders of Israel, to tell them that he is coming down to deliver them. The elders of Israel who are slaves in Egypt are to go with Moses to Pharaoh to ask for the religious freedom to travel into the desert to make offerings to their God. This would be a great risk for the leaders of Israel. God had already told Moses that the Pharaoh wouldn't listen and that things would get worse before they got better. This could cost them their popularity, their positions, their families, even their lives! These leaders would have to trust Moses. Out of their confidence in him they would have to step out to do what he asks that they do. They would have to take Moses' word for it that YHWH had met with him and sent him to deliver. What is the credibility of Moses? This would be the first time in over 400 years that anyone had claimed that YHWH had appeared to them. And Moses was raised by the Pharaoh's own daughter. He was rejected once before by his people. Now he's been exiled in the desert for the last 40 years doing who knows what. Why would anyone believe him? What reason would they have to trust him? They had hoped the new Pharaoh would bring some relief, but their hopes were soon crushed. What would cause them to hope in the words of Moses?
All this and more may have been rushing through the mind and emotions of Moses, but Moses had God's word on the issue. Moses, they will listen to you. So Moses has his experience and his reasoning and his past failures and his fears over against God's word to him. And Moses, the one who is to lead Israel in this pivotal event of history is swayed by his fears to disbelieve God's word. God said 'they will listen to you.' Moses says 'but look, they will not believe me or listen to my voice.' One older author put it this way 
The Patience and Perseverance of God:
God is so patient! God is so merciful. God is so kind. He is so long-suffering. He bears with the shortcomings of his servant. Remember, God is all-knowing. He knows the weaknesses of his chosen instrument. He knows exactly what he is getting himself into. He knows he is purchasing damaged goods - used, as is. And he plans to get glory for himself by accomplishing stunning things with broken people. God is so persevering! He doesn't give up on Moses and walk away and say 'Fine, if you don't want to cooperate, I'll find someone else!' God takes Moses as he is and does everything necessary to overcome his unbelief and create in him the required faith.
God answers Moses' unbelieving statement with a question. 'What is that in your hand?' God already knew what was in Moses hand. It was a shepherd's staff, a stick. God knew what kind of wood it was and where it grew and how old it was. He knew every knot and twist of the grain. He knew its weak points and exactly how much force it could withstand before it snapped. God's questions are not for his benefit to learn from our wisdom and experience. When God asks a question, it is for our benefit to cause us to reflect on what is true. God wanted Moses to verbalize exactly what it was that he was holding on to. Moses says 'Ahh, I'm glad you noticed. This is my supernatural wonder working miracle stick.' Far from it. Moses looks in his hand and sees an ordinary stick. A useful tool for a shepherd, but just a piece of wood. Maybe Moses even remembered where he picked it up. A staff in ancient culture was a form of personal identification - because no two sticks are alike. It was useful for personal protection, and it was a symbol of the person's power. Moses' staff would not be an ornate scepter like the Pharaoh of Egypt would possess. It was the ordinary staff of a shepherd. After Moses verbalizes that it is nothing special – a mere ordinary stick, God commands him to throw it on the ground. Put yourself in Moses' sandals. He doesn't know what's coming. This seems like a weird request. I told God that no one would believe that he sent me, and he's telling me to throw my stick on the ground. Not sure how that relates, but whatever. This would be like God asking you, 'What's that in your back pocket? A wallet? Take out your personal identification and throw it on the ground. Take your handgun or your pocket knife or whatever you might carry for self-defense and throw it on the ground.' Watch what happens:
That must have shocked Moses. We chuckle at Moses running from his staff become serpent. Remember, Moses has his sandals off. He's got bare feet. He's just thrown down his main form of self-protection. And let's picture if Moses is 5' 8” then his staff is maybe 6 foot tall and thick enough to support his weight and be a useful tool herding sheep in the desert. Now he's got a 6 foot long cobra rearing up and flaring out its neck and staring him in the face. I'm guessing it was a cobra because the cobra was the power symbol of the Pharaoh in Egypt, worn on his headdress and around his arm. Moses is barefoot and unarmed. No surprise that he ran. What is surprising is what God tells him to do:
If anyone knows anything about snakes the first rule is leave it alone! Stay far far away. But if anyone knows anything about catching snakes, rule number one is never try to catch it by the tail. Snakes are fast and flexible and strong and they can double back in an instant and strike. If you've got a snake by the tail, it can not only see and smell you, but now it can feel exactly where you are and it's not going to miss. Catching a snake by the tail leaves you completely vulnerable to the venom in its fangs. God commands Moses to stop running away and stretch out your hand grasp or take hold of the snake by the tail. God has told Moses 'I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt'. Now he is telling Moses to stretch out his hand and take a snake by the tail. The word that describes what Moses did is a different verb. He snatched at it or grabbed it cautiously. Moses' obedience is impressive. God didn't tell him what would happen. He didn't tell him it would be safe or that it would all turn out OK. Moses didn't know until it was in his hand that it was going to turn back into a stick.
By the way, I believe this was a real stick that really turned into a real snake. This was not some slight of hand trickery or illusion. The God who can speak everything into existence can surely turn a shepherd's stick into a snake and back again. Notice again the stated purpose of all of this:
The purpose is belief, trust, confidence. God's purpose in the sign of the snake is to stimulate belief in the elders of Israel. The snake is the power symbol of Egypt. Moses has met with the One who holds all power in his hand.
Sign # 2
Moses is probably still a bit shaken and stunned by what just happened. But God doesn't leave it at this:
Moses is told to put his hand against his skin by his chest. Again, Moses has no idea what to expect. This would be a terrifying turn of events. Leprosy was an incurable skin disease that banished the infected person from all society permanently. Moses, you thought you were lonely before! Now you've got leprosy. Even the Midianites won't accept you now. You've become a total outcast. What God told Moses to do next was probably even more loathsome than taking a serpent by the tail.
You never touch a leper. Leprosy is extremely contagious and God would give Israel clear laws about how to quarantine and control the spread of this debilitating disease. The main rule is that leprosy is spread by contact, so keep leprosy as far away from you as possible. Now God is telling Moses to take the diseased flesh of his hand and press it against the clean flesh of his chest. Again, identify with Moses. He didn't know what was coming. He only knew the natural consequences of putting a leprous hand against clean flesh. The leprosy would spread.
Moses had been an outcast from his people for 40 years. Moses is now face to face with the healer of all disease – One who can make the outcast clean
God alone has the authority over sickness and disease, over life and death. That is why the king of Israel was terrified when he received a letter from the king of Syria asking that he cure one of his generals of leprosy:
We can't help but see how this points to Jesus. In the law there was a detailed procedure for cleansing a leper who had been healed. But never in history had a leper been cleansed of leprosy. That is what makes Jesus action so staggering:
If you touch a leper you contract leprosy. Jesus is the only one who has the cleansing power and compassion to touch the unclean and make them clean!
Sign # 3
Again the object is belief. God intends to create belief in his people by any means necessary. This is not intended to cause the Pharaoh to believe. God has already said that he will not listen, but he has promised Moses that the elders of Israel would listen:
The Nile was the life of Egypt. Without the Nile river, Egypt would not exist. Here God is previewing the first of the ten plagues, and declaring his sovereignty over the Nile river and over the Egyptian god of the Nile, and over all of Egypt. Blood is a symbol of life and death, and YHWH is the true life giver. Egypt's rebellion against YHWH would cost them the lives of their firstborn sons. Ultimately God would triumph over sin and death an hell by the blood of his own dear Son, shed on a Roman cross
This is all about belief. But it is not about belief in Moses. It is about belief in God. God is the one who is the life giver. God is the one who is judge and can heal and make the outcast clean. God is the one who holds all power in his hand, even the power of that old serpent, the devil. God is the one who triumphed over him at the cross.
This should be so encouraging as we proclaim the good news of Jesus to unbelievers. It's not our eloquence or winsome personality or flawless logic that will persuade someone to believe in Jesus. Paul was sent with this same purpose:
We are sent, not in our own authority and with our own wisdom, but with the power of God to open blind eyes.
God has the power to create sight, and he promises to be with us!