How God Called Moses
Tony Renshaw, Heald Green, Cheshire
Exodus 3 describes Moses' crucial encounter with the living God. The day began like any other. He had no reason to expect it to be different. Forty years earlier he had fled from Egypt as a rebel prince. But on reaching Midian he had settled down and had adapted to rural life, free from the intrigues and luxury of the Egyptian court, and remote from his fellow-Hebrews who were still bowed down in cruel slavery. He had married and had two sons. Forty years earlier he had seen himself as the deliverer of the Hebrews, groomed and prepared by God for that task. But not now. He had long since abandoned such thoughts. Doubtless he thought of and prayed much for his fellow-Hebrews, and asked God to raise up a leader and liberator for them. But that was not for him.
An Unusual Sight
Then came his meeting with God at the bush, and his world was turned upside down. Have you had such an encounter lately? It's so easy to settle down to life's routine, and to a quiet assembly life. We go to the meetings of course. We observe the Lord's supper, and we would not miss the prayer meeting and the Bible reading. We seek to serve the Lord in Sunday School, and tracting and door-to-door work and supporting the gospel meetings and so on. We are 'good assembly Christians', regarded as faithful and dependable. And none of that is to be despised. We should be grateful for a pattern of church life which is biblical and unfettered by ritual and ceremony. But it's dreadfully easy to coast along as the months and years slip by, without any vital and transforming encounters with God Himself. We may assume that we are meeting His requirements yet all the time be missing His call to the main task which He has for us.
In verse 2 the phrase, 'in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush' could be rendered 'as a flame' or 'in the mode of a flame' - hence the burning bush is a self-revelation of God rather than depicting Israel in the fires of affliction (J.A. Motyer). That the bush was not consumed means that the flame was self-sufficient and self-perpetuating, like the living God Himself. Moreover, the flame illustrates His unapproachable holiness, see Gen. 3. 24; Exod. 19. 17-18; Deut. 4. 24; Heb. 12. 28-29. Yet the fact that the flame dwelt in the bush without consuming it but rather co-existing with it and displaying itself in it, illustrates God as the great Indweller and anticipates the incarnate and Spirit-filled Son of God.
An Unusual Message
When Moses moved to approach and investigate the bush, the divine voice stopped him in his tracks and made him realize that he was in the immediate presence of God. There was urgency in the Lord's repetition of the name - 'Moses, Moses' - and the message which followed was in Moses' own interests, 'draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes', v. 5, for it is hazardous when an unholy man approaches the holiness of God, see Exod. 19. 11-12, 21-22; Lev. 10. 1-2. It is true that we who partake of the blessings flowing from the cross of Christ may respond gratefully to the words, 'Let us draw near ... let us therefore come boldly', Heb. 10. 22, 4. 16. But still we may not draw near brashly or carelessly but rather with 'reverence and a godly fear', Heb. 12. 28.
Verses 6-10 contain God's first message at the bush, and the closing words surely stunned and shocked Moses, 'Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharoah'.
An Unusual Commission
Surely God could not now be calling Moses to the task which had long since passed him by? 'Who am I, that I should go unto Pharoah?' Moses would not have asked that question forty years earlier. At that time he had been young and strong, fresh from a successful education, confident and ready for action, poised for leadership, tough and ruthless enough to kill and bury an Egyptian without a second thought, 2. 12. But now he was 80 years old, out-of-touch with Egyptian affairs, academically stale, enjoying his rural tranquillity, coasting along towards retirement; indeed he had retired so far as public life was concerned. Who was he to go storming back to Egypt, to rouse the slaves to action and to go striding into Pharoah's palace and start making demands of him? Why, they'd forgotten all about him in Egypt by now. The whole thing was ridiculous, preposterous, unthinkable.
If ever a man felt inadequate, incompetent, insufficient and hopelessly unqualified to respond to the call of God, that man was Moses. Exodus 3. 12 to 4. 17 describes his five complaints against that call, and God's five answers. They deserve detailed study, but let us conclude by noting Moses' fifth protest - it sounds utterly plaintive (and rather obscure in AV), 'O my Lord, send, 1 pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send'. What was Moses saying? RSV 'Oh my Lord, send, I pray thee, some other person.' 'Anyone but me, Lord. I can't handle it. I'll breakdown under it. I'll be a total failure'. By then the Lord was angry with Moses, but He didn't change His mind or withdraw His call. And just for the record, Moses did the job. Not in his own strength, of course. He had been right to complain of his inadequacy. He lacked the resources, the wisdom, the strength and the capacity to do it.
What of today? Who does God call today to undertake His work? Evidently He calls those who know how helpless and incompetent and futile they are; who think they're past it; who think all they're fit for is retirement; who would prefer someone else to do the work; who fear the lime-light and prefer privacy to prominence. Of course He calls the young as well, provided they are willing to acknowledge their insufficiency. For there is work for all, is there not?