I have a theory. It is that you only know as much of God as you are willing to put into practice.
That’s why the extended dialogue between God and Moses (in Exodus 3 and 4) is so interesting and important.It describes the transition between knowing and doing and -in the course of it- Moses offers five apparently valid reasons for disobeying God.
The story so far, as I’m sure you know, is an account of Moses as first, a Hebrew child raised by Pharoah’s daughter, a Prince in Egypt, and, latterly as a shepherd in Midian. And now the two roles are to be combined, as he is commissioned to be the shepherd-leader of the Hebrew people.
Exodus 3,4 is the vital connecting link between shepherd and leader, and so it’s a decisive moment. It is marked by mystery: a bush burns but is not consumed. God speaks out of the flames and reveals who He was and what He intended. There’s a sequence of verbs: “I am…I have seen… I have heard… I have come to rescue…”
And in a marvellously real human response, Moses suggests five reasons to say no.
He begins, first with a question about himself. Who am I to do such a big-deal of a thing (Exodus 3:11)? That is to say: I am not worthy of this honor, and I’m certainly not capable of this job, so how can you expect ME?
God’s answer is simple: “I will be with you!”
And, in point of fact, if you insist on questioning your own credentials, Moses, let me remind you of who you really are.You are a Hebrew with a heart for your people, who knows Pharoah’s court and yet who understands the desert. Not a bad choice really!
Secondly, (in Exodus 3:13), Moses asks a question about God. Who are you? Identify yourself fully, Lord. That is to say: Can you deliver on your promises? Are you up to it? I don’t trust myself, and I’m not sure about you.
Most Bibles will carry some kind of a footnote at this point, noting that the name of God is given as
which we transliterate as “Yahweh.” It’s part of the construction of the verb “to be,” so we translate it “I AM” though it could be read as “I WAS” or “I WILL BE.” Consequently, Moffatt translated it as “The Eternal One” and that’s a helpful insight. God always was; He always is, and He always will be. The idea opens out a broad picture of God’s eternity, HIs provision and care (in the past); His direction and decision (in the present) and His hopes and plans (for the future).
This is the One who will be with you, Moses!
But Moses is not easily silenced. He has a third reason to disobey God, namely, that “They won’t believe me” (Exodus 4:1). Who won’t? “My own people won’t, and Pharoah certainly won’t! I’m going out there on a wing and a prayer, and they won’t believe me because I don’t believe you and I have no confidence in me, either.”
So God validates the word that Moses speaks through miracles. It’s as if He’s saying, “I will prove it…. What is that in your hand?” and the shepherd’s staff becomes a snake and then becomes a staff once more. God takes the little that we have and endues it with superntural power.
Moses is flagging now, but he brings a fourth reason to disobey God (Exodus 4:10): “It is beyond the range of my ability…I lack credibility, I lack power and I lack the necessary gifting.”
God answers, somewhat peremptorily, “Who gave you your range of ability? I will do it THROUGH you.”
The fifth reason is not really a reason, but more like a plea, an excuse, a cop-out. It’s simply “No. Send someone else.”
And God’s answer is kind but inexorable: “OK: Aaron will help you.”
And suddenly, Moses has run out of excuses. He’s been cornered into obedience! I have many criticisms of the 2014 Exodus: Gods and Kings film, but I think that the portrayal of Moses arguing with God was at least true to this amazing dialogue in Exodus 3 and 4. It reminds me a little of Abraham negotiating over Sodom, of Job demanding an audience with God, of Jonah running in the opposite direction from God’s call. God is not worried when we want to talk. He welcomes conversation because it develops relationship.
And relationship is the key to obedience.
And I must know Him, in order to walk with Him. The points that Moses raised were recorded in the Bible because they are the way we live too. We need to know our own identity (question 1: who am I?). We need to know just who God is (question 2). We need to know the power of God in the face of difficulty (question 3), that He can take our commonalty and endue it with significance. We need to know His continuous infilling (question 4) and we need to know human fellowship (question 5).
“God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what he is up to… Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person’s seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.”“Choices will continually be necessary and — let us not forget — possible. Obedience to God is always possible. It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them.” (Elisabeth Elliot)
And what happens next? In a famous passage from Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis suggested that obedience is the “first faint gleam of Heaven [that is] already inside you.” Here’s the passage:
“[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”