Not “I can’t” but “I AM”

Exodus 4:10-17

A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill. “I can’t; that is too much a pull for me”, said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. In desperation, the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the grade and down on the other side. “I think I can”, puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

Too many of us, faced with challenge, iow faced with opportunity are quick to say “I can’t” and fill in the reason why that is true. Not so much different for Moses – told by God to go on mission, had series of excuses why he was wrong person for job.

“I have no standing with Pharaoh” (Ex. 3:11)

“I’m not equipped to be a leader”

“I don’t know how to answer their questions” (Ex. 3:13)

“They won’t believe me” (Ex. 4:1)

“They won’t listen to me”

now… “I get stage fright; I’m not a good public speaker” v.10

finally… “Please send whoever you like, as long as it isn’t me; I don’t want the job” v.13

Basically 6 “I can’ts” and an “I don’t want to” from Moses to God! Talk about risk, Moses trying to play with fire and he does get burned. Moral of children’s story that even if you think you can’t do something, at least try and give it your best effort. Moral of Moses’ story somewhat different – he focused on “I can’t”, should have focused on “I AM”.

In text today, Moses gives his last excuse during this conversation; God graciously responds to Moses; Moses then crosses the line and God asserts his authority.

A. Moses’ last excuse v.10

I’m not eloquent

Moses not alone in self-deprecating response – Jeremiah questioned God – “I cannot speak, for I am a youth” (Jer. 1:6)

and Paul claimed to be untrained in speech (2 Cor. 11:6), had reputation for poor speaking ability (2 Cor. 10:10); on purpose did not sign up for speech therapy – “my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Cor. 2:4)

it’s not my fault

not a new issue, not a simple case of stage fright in presence of Almighty God – lacked eloquence day before, probably would after conversation ended

so far, in spite of God’s gracious offers of reassurance to Moses, still a poor speaker – no evidence God intended to change him

almost accusation here against God – asking for speaker, picks someone ill-equipped… doesn’t fix their problem, maybe wrong choice of person

I really do have a problem

not only does Moses lack words, is some kind of hindrance to his speech Moses thinks makes him unsuitable spokesperson

God doesn’t disagree with Moses – likely accurate self-assessment… from Moses’ limited perspective – had no idea what God could do, didn’t consider what he might do

humility has taken wrong turn – Moses seeing himself only through own eyes, only from his own point of view

true humility before God must be accompanied by willing obedience – need right view of self and of God: self’s limitations, God’s unlimited ability, confidence in God working in and through self

important: God has his own reasons for his choice of person

may choose one who is perfectly qualified / experienced for particular assignment… if that suits God’s purpose – often see evidence of God’s involvement in their preparation

at other times, God according to his purpose chooses differently – boils down to how God determines he will be most glorified

B. God’s gracious response v.11-12

let’s go back to Creation

Moses talking here to one that designed and formed man’s mouth – if God had necessary understanding and power to make from scratch, surely Moses’ problem not an issue for God

if God could give Adam perfectly functioning mouth, could certainly have done the same for Moses if had chosen

and since the Fall

still true, sin coming into world didn’t mess up God’s plan – God just as powerful, as much in control after Fall as at Creation

reality is: God gifted Moses according to his perfect eternal plan without deviation – Moses’ strengths / weaknesses, abilities / shortcomings exactly what God intended

same continues true today: each of you came into this world precisely according to God’s plan, perfectly suited for God to use you how he chooses

here’s what really matters

not Moses’ message but God’s that he must deliver – God has already given Moses part of the script in answer to questions

Ex. 3:14-16, 18 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel…” “Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them…” “…you shall come …to the king of Egypt; and you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us;”

made clear to Moses who was writing the script: God, who was delivering lines: Moses – not an independent agent, instead an emissary under close supervision

God himself promised Moses directly to equip and enable him to perform his task

abundantly clear God is committing to do all necessary for Moses to be effective communicator and for God to get glory

God’s man being God’s means to deliver God’s message – Moses’ weaknesses fade right off into background; all Moses needed: willing heart, God would supply all the rest

C. Moses crosses the line v.13-14a

“I can’t do what you asked”

not a straight-out refusal but close – send anyone you like so long as it’s not me – definitely not answer God deserved

interesting that Moses did not lack for eloquence and diplomacy here – made clear without saying outright what he thought God ought to do… pick someone else

why Moses makes excuses

(false) humility? Num. 12:3 “(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.)”

yes, written by Moses, while under inspiration of God the Holy Spirit – assessment of Moses humility met w/God’s approval

was this humility in extreme – don’t think so; true godly humility at this point would have acquiesced to God’s “request”

fear? – in light of Ex. 4:19? And the LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.”

was Moses remembering how he left Egypt, in fear for safety if he returned, too ashamed to say anything to God about it?

Moses still looking at wrong thing

Moses displaying significant weakness bordering on cowardice – ran from Pharaoh, 40 years later runs from snake

also showing great unbelief – nowhere in conversation does Moses give any hint he had confidence in God or what God said

iow, Moses was looking at Moses, not God – had he been focused on “I AM”, would not have said “I can’t”

D. God asserts his authority v.14b-17

God displays anger toward Moses

not a fit of passion on God’s part – God’s anger continually burns against sin and disobedience, doesn’t always show to same degree

God cares more deeply than we can imagine about right and wrong, obedience and disobedience – sin always displeases God

God’s righteous anger has consequences

even though God was displeased, still treated Moses with mercy and grace – did not abandon Moses, destroy him, cause him immediate pain and suffering

God even continued conversation, making sure Moses knew who was really in charge – Aaron is coming, will be happy to see you – really is all-knowing God talking to Moses

and… Moses will still be God’s emissary, will still be called on to speak forth God’s words, but to Aaron instead

opportunity offered to Moses, then forfeited

Moses could have enjoyed all blessing God intended for his sole prophet… had he willingly obeyed God’s call to service

instead, because was unwilling servant, God required he share that blessing with Aaron – diminished but not fully forfeited

Moses not only had to share part of blessing with Aaron, brother and sister eventually caused trouble for Moses.

just as God expected Hebrew elders, children of Israel, Pharaoh to bend the knee to his word, so expected same from Moses

Same true for people of God in every generation. When God presents opportunities for service to us, how should we respond? When is clear it is God calling us to particular task or position or vocation, our answer should be two words:

Yes, Lord.

When God has spoken clearly from his word to our heart and mind, making plain we need to change way of thinking or acting, our answer should be two words: Yes, Lord.

Quickly followed by: I need you, let me walk with you. Show me the way, give me the strength, use your power through me to bring your love and grace and mercy to others.



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