By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from Exodus 3:16-4:12
16 Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery 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.’ 18 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; let us now go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 I know, however, 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 my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go. 21 I will bring this people into such favor with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed; 22 each woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman living in the neighbor’s house for jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; and so you shall plunder the Egyptians.”
1 Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” 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 the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”—so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5 “so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”
6 Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. 7 Then God said, “Put your hand back into your cloak” — so he put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored like the rest of his body — 8 “If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign. 9 If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, 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.”
10 But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.”
One of Michelangelo’s greatest works is his sculpture of Moses. His penetrating gaze, muscular right arm firmly pressing the tablets of the Law against his body, and the “horns” — rays of light with which Moses’ face shone — projecting from his head, combine to depict someone who exudes confidence and authority.
That Moses is several chapters away from the man in today’s verses. Here, he is the self-doubting Midianite shepherd, questioning God’s command to confront Pharaoh to secure the freedom of his — and God’s — people, and making excuses for why he is inadequate: his lack of eloquence and the right leadership skills. For every reason Moses gives for being the wrong man for the job, God has a stronger counter-argument, revealing not only that he is the same God as he was for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also revealing his divine name, I AM (which renders YHWH, derived from the Hebrew verb “to be”), when Moses asks who, when the children of Israel ask, he should tell them sent him.
Moses can’t see beyond his past and present inadequacies. But God can see and also reveals what Moses will become and what will result: the elders will listen to him, the Egyptians will yield, and he will plunder the Egyptians. God will also give Moses the words to say. This is God’s way of saying, “I have your back.”
If any of us have felt unworthy to say “Yes” to an invitation to serve, we would do well to think of Moses, who had God’s promise to help him. As a wise person once said, “God doesn’t always call the qualified; God qualifies the called.”
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for 30 years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Church of the Transfiguration, Vail, Co.
The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)