There are very many today who are engaged in service for the Lord, yet their number is small compared with those who profess salvation but do not attempt to serve in any way. Many reasons are given by such folk why they are unable to engage in service, and these reasons, or excuses, are familiar to those who do serve, in that they themselves have had occasion to use them in earlier days – only to have them overruled by the Lord Himself. The challenge of this article is initially to encourage some to overcome their fears and excuses in the power of the Lord and, subsequently, to remind the many already so engaged that they depend entirely on the Lord’s help. The definition of an excuse is that it is “an attempt to achieve exemption for oneself”, and many of us desire to achieve exemption from the less pleasant tasks of service.
A man of similar passions was Moses and we see in Exodus chapters 3 and 4 the excuses he made before God as he was being called into a position of pre-eminence in leading the exodus from Egypt. It may be that as we examine his five excuses we shall see our own thoughts mirrored there, and that we may also be encouraged to learn afresh God’s answers to, and provisions for, human weakness then and now.
For some time, Moses’ responsibilities had been with the flocks of Jethro and we see in chapter 3 that while engaged in this work God speaks to him in the burning bush. When Moses noticed this phenomenon, he turned aside to “see this great sight”, and had the remarkable experience of hearing God’s voice. It should go without saying that it is only as we turn aside from the daily task that we are likely to have communion with God. God reveals Himself to Moses as One who sees, hears, and is coming to effect deliverance from Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. Having indicated the general plan to Moses God now says, “Come … I will send thee unto Pharaoh”. Doubtless Moses approved the plan but apparently did not relish the thought of being personally involved in the action, so he began to make excuses.
Excuse 1: "Who am I?”, 3. n. The enormity of the task quite overwhelmed Moses. Since he had fled Egypt many years before, he had remained in Midian, caring for the flock and living a quiet, secluded life. Now he could see that he was about to be pushed into the limelight and feared that he might fail under the responsibility. To come out of hiding to lead a nation in an open escape from an oppressor was a tremendous undertaking, and Moses’ first excuse shows that he was conscious of his present isolation and unimportance. It also indicated that he felt inadequate for such an undertaking and that the task could only be achieved by a stronger personality and presence than he possessed. God’s answer to this excuse is “Certainly I will be with thee”. It would not merely be the personality and presence of a man, but the presence of God that would effect deliverance. A simple lesson that we must learn and constantly revise is that nothing can be achieved in our own strength. We however do have God’s presence, and for what greater blessing could we ask? He will, in grace through us, perform the task, and though we may stand before kings we have the assurance “Certainly I will be with thee”. To postpone or abandon a work for God because of a feeling of inadequacy, a feeling that someone else could do it better, is nothing less than an excuse. God will not ask you to do it alone – He will certainly be with you!
Excuse 2: “What shall I say unto them?”, 3. 13. Moses was well aware that the Israelites would soon want to know the motive behind his undertaking this work. Sometimes when one volunteers to lead in a certain new task or effort, the proposal is viewed with scepticism and people question why, after doing nothing for so long, one is becoming involved -what has happened to get one moving?, they ask quite legitim-ately. The Israelites would want to know what new revelation of God Moses had enjoyed, and what could be said to that? The longer we stay inactive, the longer it takes to get moving and the more people will question our motives when eventually we do begin to serve. God’s answer to this excuse is that He is the I AM, implying that while Moses had been inactive He had been, is and would be totally committed to the work of delivering His people. Although there may be a change in our attitude to His service, there is no change as far as He is concerned.
Therefore Moses was to explain to the people that the instigator was not himself but the unchanging God of their fathers who had simply chosen a new servant. Say, urged God, “I AM hath sent me unto you”. If you feel that the saints will question your motives when so many years have been lost, simply put the motivation down to the directing of the un-changing God, the I AM of eternity.
Excuse 3: “They will not believe me”, 4. 1. The first two excuses having been dealt with, God proceeds to fill in some details of the exodus only to be greeted with Moses’ third excuse, “they will not believe me”. This showed that Moses was conscious of the critical appraisal to which he would be subjected. He still bore the mental scars of “Who made thee… a judge?”, 2. 14, and anticipated a similar critical reception. How often has this excuse been heard: I am prepared to do the work but the others will not co-operate; therefore, the reasoning seems to go, I am unable to do the work! What a far cry from the attitude of Paul who pressed on with the work even though “no man stood with me … notwithstanding the Lord …'*! To this excuse God had answers enough. He demonstrated divine activity in turning Moses’ rod into a serpent and back again: divine power in turning Moses’ hand leprous and making it whole again: divine judgment in His instructions about turning the water into blood. While the activity and authority of men might well be doubted, none can gainsay the activity and power of God, at least not without risking the wrath and judgment of God. If they fail to believe Moses, this was a failure to believe God. It is not your reputa-tion at stake, God seemed to be saying to Moses, but Mine. In response to this excuse, therefore, God instructed his reluctant servant in how best to show divine activity and power and to warn of divine judgment should God not be believed. Often we are too concerned with ourselves and our reputation when the real question is whether the people will believe God. If this is your excuse, forget it! God is not interested in the people believing you; He wants them to believe Him!
Excuse 4: “I am not eloquent”, 4. 10. Of all the excuses produced by Moses, this is probably one which is most common today: I am not a speaker; I can’t preach. Apart from an apparent lack of eloquence, it had been about forty years since Moses last spoke the Egyptian language, and so quite reasonably he had doubts about interceding in the royal palace. A lack of eloquence, rather than being a hindrance in God’s service, is perhaps an asset: simply because a man has communion with God, that does not make him into an eloquent man or a preacher overnight. Moses’ words in verse 10 would seem to imply that while God had said a lot, He had not actually achieved much so far! The perfect answer to this excuse is simply “I will … teach thee what thou shalt say”. You will not need to think up the message nor to phrase the words because God is able to give you exact and detailed instructions as to what to say and when to say it. Your lack of eloquence will in reality enable His voice to be heard. It is probably true today that the eloquence of men has replaced the voice of God among us; therefore to plead “I am not eloquent" is a good reason for serving rather than an excuse for not taking part.
Excuse 5: “Send some other person”, 4. 13. At last the most feeble excuse is suggested by Moses, in fact not an excuse at all; “Send by the hand of him whom thou wilt send”, or as others translate it, “Send some other person’. Moses, presumably at this stage, was prepared to acknowledge that the plan was feasible, that it needed to be done, that God would give His presence, help and guidance down to the last word, and yet he endeavours to opt out. Send anyone at all, Lord, but don’t send me! So is it any wonder that the anger of the Lord was kindled against him? We do well to remember those things which make God angry, and one of them most certainly is slipping out from under responsibility and passing the work or service to someone, indeed anyone, else, whether they are suited or not. God in His sovereignty had decided Moses was the only man for the job, and yet Moses pits his puny mind against God by virtually saying that God is wrong and in fact it should be anyone except him! May the Lord preserve us from leaving all the work for others, particularly if He has already indicated that He has chosen us for the task. In order to put an end to Moses’ excuses God introduces Aaron who would share in all aspects of the work.
Moses quickly learned that it does not pay to excuse oneself in the service of God in that, if constant delay is encountered, God will be angry and may replace us by someone else!
Let us therefore take heed that, while we admit there is truth in the issues raised by Moses, we do not put up excuse after excuse and so encounter the displeasure of a patient and longsuffering God, who is through grace prepared to use us in the furtherance of His work.