A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on January 7, 2018.
Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, 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.”
But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs” (Exodus 4:1–17).
The fourth chapter of Exodus begins in mid-conversation. God miraculously confronted Moses atop Mount Horeb from a burning bush. He called and commissioned Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egyptian captivity, witnessing the power of God’s wrath, and carrying with them the wealth of Egypt. Despite a direct commission from the One true God, Moses is skeptical, responding to God, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’” (Ex. 4:1). As if to say that direct revelation from God on a mountaintop from a flaming bush is unbelievable, really unbelievable.
Moses needs to provide evidence that the message He carries is authentic. What will be the authentication that Moses carries God’s Word? God authenticates His Word through signs and wonders. Signs and wonders in the Bible are never arbitrary, because our God is not capricious. There is always purpose.
Walk through the Old Testament, and you will find signs and wonders authenticating the prophetic Word of God. Begin the New Testament, and you will immediately encounter the signs and wonders of the living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. Follow the ministry of the apostles and the growth of the New Testament Church, and you will witness signs and wonders authenticating the message and ministry of the Word of Christ. And, we witness the cessation of signs and wonders at the conclusion of the apostolic era with the completed canon of the written Word of God.
Signs and wonders do not occur today because we have an authoritative and sufficient canon of Scripture, authenticated in itself to be the very Word of God. So, while we do not experience signs and wonders today, as we read of signs and wonders in the pages of Scripture, it should immediately alert us to an authenticating witness to the Word of God. Moses says, “they will not believe me,” but God says, “Throw [your staff] on the ground.” Moses says, “they will not…listen to my voice,” but God says, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” What God demonstrates to Moses and eventually to Israel and Egypt, through signs and wonders, and to us through His written Word is: His power is predominant; His provision is perfect; and His purpose prevails.
His Power is Predominant
God instructs Moses to throw down his staff, and it becomes a serpent. We don’t know what kind, but it sends Moses running. While simply conjecture, it may have been a cobra. The cobra held great significance in Egypt. We need look no further than pictures of Pharaoh’s crown. Turning Moses’ staff into a serpent conveys the message that One is sovereign over Egypt, and it is not Pharaoh.
God instructs Moses to put his hand in his cloak, and it becomes leprous. Historians tell us that a form of leprosy, a contagious skin disease, was active in Egypt. We see the example of leprosy as a consistent disease and theme throughout Scripture. Who is Sovereign over disease? There is One, and it is not Pharoah.
Finally, God says, “If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, 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.” The Nile River was the lifeblood on Egyptian life (no pun intended!). Remove the Nile, and Egypt would not survive. At least three of the Egyptian gods were associated with the Nile. Destroying the Nile would reveal the impotence of these false gods. Who is sovereign over every living thing? In Him we live and move and have our being, and He is not Pharaoh.
Through these signs and wonders God would say to His people through Moses: My power is predominant. The symbol of Egyptian strength is but a stick of wood in My prophets’ hand. The disease of Egyptian uncleanness is given and taken away by the Great Physician. The basis of Egyptian life, economy, and culture exists only because of the moment-by-moment sustaining power of God. The prophet Isaiah declared, “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isa. 40:17), a message to our national arrogance today and a message to Moses and Israel then. His power is predominant.
His Provision is Perfect
As convincing as the signs and wonders are, Moses does not feel qualified for the mission. “But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue’” (Ex. 4:10). Whether it was a speech impediment or simply a lack of verbal eloquence, Moses still saw himself as a quiet shepherd, not a prophet of the Lord.
Listen closely to God’s response to Moses: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?’” (Ex. 4:11). Who created the mouth? Who created the ears and eyes? “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
God does not simply ask rhetorical questions; He makes a promise: “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Ex. 4:12). He will be Moses’ mouth and even give him the words to say. We hear this echoed in the words of Christ to His disciples: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:25–27).
Those whom God calls He equips and empowers. Christian, you have been called by God, equipped with gifts, and empowered by the Spirit of the living God. Are you using what God has given you to serve Him? Perhaps you feel inadequate, like Moses, unwilling to serve because of what you perceive as a weakness. Because of a “thorn in the flesh,” the Apostle Paul felt similarly. What God said to Paul so also He says to you: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). God has called you. Serve His church to the glory of God!
Moses responds to God the way most of us would: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Is this your sentiment? It has certainly been mine before. But, let it not be said of us as it was of Moses; “Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses.” Let us not anger God in our unwillingness to serve Him. Let us not miss the blessing of faithfully obeying and serving Him.
But understand this: God’s will is not conditioned upon our fickleness. What He purposes will prevail.
His Purpose Prevails
God has chosen Moses as His prophet, and so He provides not only the words to say but also the mouth, in this case Moses’ brother, Aaron. How Aaron knows where Moses is, or why he is coming, we do not know. What we do know is that God has purposed to use him. God chose to free His people from captivity, and He chose to do so through His chosen mediator. That Moses felt inadequate, concerned about being believed, and capable of carrying out his calling is completely understandable. Yet, God will not be thwarted by Moses’ real or perceived problems. In fact, Moses is inadequate, hardly believable, and apparently not qualified. In other words, in Moses’ insufficiency, we are to see God’s powerful provision.
It is here that we see the redemptive theme of God’s purpose. God “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14). He knows that “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). It is not because of what we can do for Him that He saves us, “but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— “(Eph. 2:4–5). It is not in our righteous merit that we are saved, but “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Therefore, Let us not doubt but celebrate the perfect provision of our God. His power was predominant in the delivery of ancient Israel from slavery, and His power is predominant in delivering us from the slavery of sin. His provision was perfect in saving His people from Pharaoh, and His provision is perfect in saving us from the evil one. His purpose prevailed in delivering Jacob’s children to the Promised Land, and His purpose prevails in delivering us from death to eternal life. Through His powerful provision, He “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
How do we respond to the powerful provision of God? “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! . . . For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33, 36).