Once upon a time, a fearful slave placed her son in a basket. This basket floated down the river into the arms of a princess, who took the boy as her own. Within the walls of the palace, the young boy grew into a man. Though he lived in the palace—he was both a foreigner in his own home and a traitor to his people. Fast-forward several years and one burning bush later, this man returned to the palace of his upbringing—not as a foreigner or a son of the princess but as a leader. This leader demanded the king set his people free. After a fury of blood, frogs, locusts, sickness, famine, and finally death, the king reluctantly granted freedom to the slaves. If you have guessed the identity of this mysterious man, you might be a fan of the hit 1998 motion picture The Prince of Egypt.
The story of Moses is a familiar one. I’ve heard it told from the felt boards of my Sunday school to the pulpit in “big kid church.” God chooses Moses to save the Israelites. Big mean Pharaoh won’t let them go. God sends scary plagues. Pharaoh finally lets Israel go free. The people come to the Red Sea, Moses parts it, and the people walk through to freedom—blah, blah, blah, right? Well, not entirely. Exodus, the book in the Bible depicting the story of Moses and the Israelites, is far greater than a simple story we can check off our “been there, read that” list. This story is chock full of God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of man’s constant idolatry and doubt.1
You know what is missing from the plot of The Prince of Egypt? The fact that Moses was a massive doubter. Seriously, this man is notorious for quivering when faced with any form of opposition. God first speaks to Moses in the wilderness. The voice of the Lord comes through a burning bush:
“I am who I am.’ He said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations… I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt…” (Exodus 3:14 – 15, 16 – 17,)
Is Moses fired up by this encouraging speech, ready to free the Israelites? Not in the slightest. Moses replies by expressing his fear that Israel will not believe him (Exodus 4:1). So God equips Moses with three miraculous signs as proof to the people of Israel. With these signs, Moses is surely ready to take Egypt by storm, right? On the contrary, this guy is full of as many excuses as he is doubts, complaining: “I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)
At this point in the story, I am rolling my eyes at Moses. God not only saved his life as a baby, but brought him safely to refuge in the desert and is now literally speaking to Moses—giving him promises and signs. Despite all of this, Moses is freaking out cause he’s a little socially awkward and has poor communication skills. Seriously? Yet God is still faithful despite Moses’ repetitive fear and doubt:
“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.” (Exodus 4:11 – 12)
Finally, Moses shuts up and gets himself to Egypt. However, upon arriving, Moses continues to offer excuses: ‘Behold, the people Israel have not listened tome. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” (Exodus 6:12)
And in Exodus 6:28 – 30 it is again repeated:
“On the day when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am the lord; tell Pharaoh kind of Egypt all that I say to you. But Moses said to the Lord, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips. How will Pharaoh listen to me?”
Uncircumcised lips? Well that’s an unusual and slightly uncomfortable excuse. Circumcision was a practice first seen in Genesis 17. God commanded Abraham that all of the men in his household should be circumcised. This commandment was given as a means of physically establishing the covenant made with Abraham and his descendants. Circumcision set the Israelites apart as God’s chosen people.2 Moses isn’t playing dumb, nor is he simply oblivious to God’s promises. In contrast, Moses is very aware of God’s promises to the Israelites. He is essentially saying “I am not worthy or holy enough to live out this call.” Moses is blinded by fear—fear of rejection, fear of inadequacy, fear of his own sin and unrighteousness. This cycle of God’s blessing and promise in the midst of man’s doubt and fear is a theme not only in Exodus, but all throughout the Bible. As much as we roll our eyes or become frustrated with Moses, we too are full of this same fear and doubt.
Fast-forward thousands of years later to a new leader of Israel—a leader who is not full of doubt and fear but of love, compassion, humility, and holiness. This leader, unlike Moses, did not offer up excuses. Willingly this leader humbled himself for the sake of his people, enduring not only physical pain but also the immeasurable wrath of God. If you have guessed the identity of this mystery man, you may be fortunate enough to have experienced the saving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—the Son of God who left his heavenly throne to be born in a lowly manger and die on a cross in our place. Christ took the burden of our sin so that we might be given salvation—a salvation that is not available to be earned by our own sweat, ability, or works but by His grace and grace alone.
So maybe you too are like Moses, finding that no matter how many times you have witnessed the faithfulness of God, you still are blinded by fear and doubt. Perhaps you fear you are unworthy. You know the sin that grips your heart and the evil you are capable of. You know that no matter how hard you try, you always fall short. You know only your weakness and inadequacy, that you are not good enough. Perhaps you fear rejection, knowing full well the call that God has placed on your life but are terrified to leave your comfort zone. Or perhaps you have yet to believe the promises of God and doubt the existence of anything beyond the inevitability of death and despair.
We are all enslaved to sin, ridden with the same sickness. But even though we often find ourselves quivering with guilt and fear, there is Good News. There is a remedy. There is redemption. Jesus Christ, the true leader, has not only led us out of our slavery to sin but he has defeated it once and for all. The story did not end with a man hanging on the cross but with a Deliverer risen from the grave in victory over sin, death, and darkness. In Mark 2:17, Jesus spoke to the people saying: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Thankfully, we serve a God who does not roll his eyes in anger or frustration to our fear. We serve a Savior who is constant, patient, and faithful. When we find ourselves crippled by fear, may we not run in shame or guilt but may we find peace in the great leader and physician, Jesus Christ.
- See 1 Corinthians 10:6 and Romans 15:4 on how the Old Testament Scriptures, and especially the story of Moses, are to be used as instructive examples for believers today.
- If you’re intrigued/confused/still uncomfortable with the phrase “uncircumcised lips” check out R.C. Sproul’s short article on circumcision here.