The Asbury Theological Journal 42.2 (1987) 89-113.
Copyright © 1987 by Asbury Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
A Case Study of the Call of Moses
G. HERBERT LIVINGSTON
METHOD IN THIS CASE STUDY
A method of Bible study at Asbury Theological Seminary is the
inductive or discovery method. This method has been used primarily to
lead students into the structure and content of the Scripture as translated
into the English language. It is equally useful for studying the Scriptures
written in Hebrew or Greek.
A primary emphasis of this method is that a student should read and
grapple with the biblical text as objectively as possible. The biblical text
is those books which make up the canon of the Old and New Testaments.
When trying to understand the text, meanings of words, phrases, sen-
tences, paragraphs and literary units should not be assigned to them, but
discovered in them.
The biblical text should be read as whole units, whole books, and
groups of books as a whole. Their inner composition may be grasped by
outlines of their contents, or by visualizing overall structure through the
construction of charts or diagrams.
About fourteen years ago, I was on a committee assigned the task of
forging a new curricular module called Supervised Ministry. There was
much interest at the time in an educational tool called the case study
which had been used effectively in several disciplines, especially busi-
ness, personnel and counseling fields. The committee hoped it could be
adapted for this new program.
Several guidelines served to adapt the case study for evaluating minis-
terial activity. The case study format adopted must help the student (a)
deal with actual, recent incidents in the ministerial assignments of the
student, (b) describe briefly and accurately what took place, (c) develop
skills to observe and analyze personal, intrapersonal and interpersonal
relationships on both the behavioral and spiritual levels, (d) isolate and
state the key issue embedded in this event of ministry, (e) research the
several bodies of knowledge and information in disciplines related to
ministry relevant to this event, (f) integrate ministerial practice with
G. Herbert Livingston, Ph.D., is professor of Old Testament emeritus at Asbury
Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Pentateuch in Its Cultural
Environment, by Baker Book House. The second edition of the book is now
available. In this article, Dr. Livingston adapts the case study method used at
Asbury Seminary to the study of an important passage in the a Testament
which deals with the call of Moses.
THE ASBURY THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL VOL. 42 No. 2 1987
theory and theology, (g) make judgments as to the validity of insights of
other disciplines, especially in the light of biblical and theological issues,
(h) assist the student in seeing personal strengths and weaknesses as a
minister of the gospel, and finally, (i) confront the need to make neces-
sary, though perhaps painful, decisions which would lead to positive
change and improvement.
A case study format was developed and placed in the seminary curricu-
lum in 1975 and has proved to be valuable as an effective means of
preparing the student for ministry. Throughout the construction of this
format, the inductive procedure used in the division of biblical studies
(described above) was drawn upon heavily for ideas and skills.
This case study format is composed of several levels of reflection called
Reflection I, Reflection II and Reflection III. Each level has several
The Reflection I level takes its clue from the definition "to bend back";
hence, information about the ministerial event under discussion is repre-
sented somewhat like a story. The first component, Focus, is a statement
of the who, where and when information. It also includes a carefully
crafted statement or question which brings to the fore the perceived issue
embedded in the ministerial act. The second component, Background, is
the placement of that act in the stream of life, with pertinent data about
each participant, a resume of events that preceded the event and a time-
line which connects all the episodes, and a brief description of significant
cultural factors. The third component, Description, is a careful and
accurate reconstruction of what took place in the event being discussed,
sort of an instant replay. The description may either be a narrative, a
verbatim of what was said, or a combination of the two. Actual words
exchanged, emotions expressed and body signals are noted.
Reflection II is governed by the definition "to consider subject matter,
ideas or purposes." This level is composed of Analysis and Integration-
Interaction. This section challenges the student to engage in careful
Analysis is the process of identifying the several elements of the case
and carefully scrutinizing each one in terms of personal, intrapersonal and
interpersonal dynamics. Behavioral, psychological and spiritual factors
are probed and examined. The basic interests are to find out what was
going on in this event, why it happened and how it happened.
The information provided in Reflection II is divided into small blocks
of observational data and questions are asked regarding the meanings of
key words, phrases and body signals. The next questions start with
"Why" and "How." Motivations and implications are probed and specula-
tion seeks to determine what was going on beneath the surface.
The second component, Integration-Interaction, is the research section.
after listing several significant issues embodied in the ministerial event,
the student chooses the most important one and makes it the focus of the
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 91
research. Various theories in other academic disciplines which may bear
upon this ministerial act and its focal issue are examined. These disci-
plines may be biblical, theological, psychological, sociological, behav-
ioral, historical, ethical, etc. The student seeks to build a bridge from his
practical ministerial activity to broader knowledge and theory. This reflec-
tion interacts with the concepts and proposed solutions (theories) that
relate to the case. The goal is to gain some objectivity; and perhaps, a
new perspective from which insight could result.
The third level, Reflection III, accentuates the definition "an image
given back," and has three components: Judgments, Evaluations and
Decisions. The mental activity of this level flows out of the other two
levels of reflection, but here the student is a critic and decision maker.
The content of the Judgment component is made up of conclusions
about the validity of the theories and insights of the several disciplines
explored. From the vantage point of study and of matching theory with
practice, choices are made in regard to which theory or parts of theories
are valid. Value statements are accepted and fashioned into an improved
understanding of ministerial action.
In the Evaluation component, the student engages in self-examination
and lays out what are perceived as the strengths and weaknesses of his or
her performance as a minister of Jesus Christ in the event discussed in the
The Decision component is often a difficult section to write. The
student must declare in written statements what changes in attitudes,
manner of approach, ways of relating to people, method of presenting the
Gospel, will be made. The student must be honest at this point; the
statements must be honest, forthright and firm in commitment.
For over a decade I have participated as a faculty leader in reflection
seminars in the Supervised Ministry program. I began to wonder whether
a case study format heavily influenced by a Bible study method might be
brought full circle and adapted for an expositional method of understand-
ing certain portions of the Scriptures. Since my teaching field has cen-
tered in the Old Testament, with special interest in the Hebrew prophets, I
began to explore this possibility during several Sabbaticals. I determined
that in the Old Testament there were at least fifty incidents, involving
various Hebrew prophets, that would be suitable for case studies. I
decided to select four "call" experiences, those of Moses, Isaiah, Jere-
miah and Ezekiel, and develop six case studies based on them. My treat-
ment of Moses's call experience is presented here.
In applying the case study format to the above mentioned prophetic
experiences, I had to make some adjustments. My presentation shows my
adaptation of the case study method. Obviously, the experiences of the
prophets were not mine, hence, the study could not be a "slice" of my
experience. I must approach the incidents from the perspective of a
critiquer who was not a participant. I was not personally acquainted with
the time and culture of the prophets. Furthermore, the accounts of the
prophetic experiences are very old and are not the original documents.
No adaptations are made in the Focus paragraph, but the information in
the Background component often is limited by the scant data about the
participants in the biblical text. The Description is basically the biblical
text, with preference given to passages largely made up of conversation.
Some narrative summary is also provided.
In Reflection II, the Analysis begins with blocks of observational data,
a group of questions and some speculation about the literary structure of
the selected passages and their context. This probing is not exhaustive.
Those with literary interests can pursue this "digging" more extensively.
The same limitation and exhortation applies to the remainder of the
Analysis as well. Hopefully, enough has been said to alert the reader to
the value of this procedure.
In the Integration-Interaction component, a basic issue has been se-
lected for limited research. This issue is also stated in the Focus
component. I searched for information that relates to the basic issue as
stated, and a limited number of scholars, who have published their
research in areas related to the basic issue, are named and their theories
summarized. My own research is in this section.
For the student writing a case study in Supervised Ministry, the content
of the components in Reflection III is intensely personal. In this adapta-
tion of the case study format, this personal element still holds, for I, the
critiquer, must wrestle with the impact of the analysis and research on my
thinking. I must make value judgments about the insights provided by
various theories and decide how previous views must be changed and
unification of new concepts forged. The Evaluation component tends to be
more objective for the prophet involved in the study that is under scrutiny.
For the ministerial student this component is very personal. The same is
largely true of the Decision component. One may perceive what decisions
each participant in the call experience made, particularly the prophet.
But, if application, the involvement of later generations, and especially
the present-day reader, is to be taken seriously, something more must be
said. A brief paragraph is included in the decision component to provide
that contemporary thrust.
Some questions you might ask, are: Does this adapted case study
format open new doors to a more complete understanding of the prophet's
call? Does it add a helpful vantage point so that a somewhat different
perspective can be gained? How may the procedure be modified so that it
is more effective?
THE CASE STUDY: A MESSENGER COMMISSIONED
Scripture: Context: Exodus 2:1-5:21
Printed: Exodus 4:10-17; 6:28-7:7
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 93
At a burning bush on
him to return to
messenger system provide a framework for the prophetic task?
Background: Lord is the name for the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and
their descendents, the Israelites. The Lord had spoken to three men by
various means on various occasions. The Lord is present in the Old
Testament as the only true God and distinctly different from any of the
deities of the polytheistic peoples of the ancient Near East.
The Lord God of the Hebrews presented himself as radically different
alleged nature gods and goddesses of
deities, the Lord was not visible to the human eye, nor located in a thing,
or a place, nor was he fettered by time. He was and is distinctly other than
nature; he is its Creator. He uses nature, any aspect of it, to display his
power and to help him carry out his purposes. These characteristics of the
Lord God of
(Exod 20:1-17; Deut 5:1-21) and in Deut 6:4.
The Lord was especially concerned about the welfare of the children of
a covenant with Abraham and had given him definite promises (Gen
12:1-3, 7; 13:14-18; 15:13-17; 17:1-22; 22:15-18; 26:2-5, 24; 28:13-15;
31:11-13; 35:9-12; 46:2-4).
Jacob and his family had moved to
the help of his son, Joseph, a powerful man in
passed, the political situation changed in
were unfriendly toward the Israelites who had become numerous in the
Jacob (Levi) came Moses and Aaron. Both were born in
a time of severe persecution of the Israelites. Moses had been hidden from
the Egyptians, but a princess had found him and claimed him for her own.
Moses was trained by Egyptian teachers; but, one day he saw an Egyptian
beating an Israelite slave and killed the Egyptian. Moses had to flee to the
Sinaitic desert to escape punishment. Nothing is known of Aaron's life
prior to his meeting Moses after Moses's experience at the burning bush.
The Pharaohs of the New Kingdom of Egypt (1550-1200 B.C.) were
powerful persons at that time in the ancient Near East. The exact identity
of the Pharaoh in the Exodus event is the subject of sharp debate. The text
does not identify him. Whoever he was, he was an awe-inspiring indi-
vidual. The monuments and buildings built by the Egyptian people still
excite wonder and appreciation in those who view them. Their mum-
bodies preserved in the
the cultural artifacts and extensive inscriptions that remain certainly are
At first glance, the Israelites appear unlikely candidates for being a
God-chosen people, who were to serve as a beachhead in a polytheistic
world. They were to be the ones through whom faith in one true God was
to permeate the world. They were the ones who were to worship that God
in spirit and in truth; they were to follow a way of life that embodied the
holiness of God.
The Israelites had been slaves to the Egyptians, who treated them
brutally. The Lord had promised Abraham and Jacob that their descen-
be brought back to the
fulfill his promise.
The following time line shows the sequence of action in these two
passages and their literary context:
2:1-4 Moses born and hidden
2:5-10 Moses found and claimed by Pharaoh's daughter
2:11-15a Moses kills an Egyptian and flees
2:15b-22 Moses had arrived forty years earlier
3:1-3 Moses sees a bush that does not stop burning
3:4-4:17 The Lord speaks to Moses
4:18-20 Moses goes to
4:21-23 The Lord speaks to Moses again
4:24-26 Moses circumcises his son
4:27-28 Aaron meets Moses
4:29-31 Both speak to the Israelites
5:1-9 Both speak to Pharaoh
5:10-21 The slavery worsens
5:22-6:13 Moses and the Lord talk together
6:14-27 Moses's family tree
6:28-7:7 Moses's commission renewed
7:8-12:30 The Ten Plagues described
12:31-15:20 The Exodus Event
Description: The Lord used a burning bush to attract Moses's attention.
When Moses turned aside to inspect the bush, the Lord identified himself.
told Moses of his decision to deliver
not qualified. Moses and the Lord talked about his problem on two
The biblical record of these two conversations, as found in the New
King James Version, follows:
Then Moses said to the Lord,
Moses 1 "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor
since You have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech
and slow of tongue" (4:10). So the Lord said to him,
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 95
Lord 1 "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the
mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord.
"Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach
you what you shall say." But he said,
Moses 2 "O my Lord, please send by the hand of whom
ever else You may send." So the anger of the Lord was kindled
against Moses, and He said:
Lord 2 "Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that
he can speak well. And look, he is also coming out to meet you.
When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. Now you shall
speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I will be with
your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you
shall do. So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he
himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as
God. And you shall take this rod in your hand, with which you
shall do the signs" (4:10-17).
Read the section above describing the sequence of action for events
spanning the end of this conversation and the beginning of the encounter
And it came to pass, on the day when the Lord spoke to
Moses in the
"I am the Lord. Speak to Pharaoh king of
that I say unto you." But Moses said before the Lord,
Moses 3 "Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how
shall Pharaoh heed me?" So the Lord said to Moses:
Lord 4 "See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and
Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all
that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall speak to
Pharaoh, that he must send the children of
And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and
My wonders in the
you, so that I may lay My hand on
and My people, the children of
by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the
Lord when I stretch out My hand on
did so; just as the Lord commanded them, so they did. And
Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three years old
when they spoke to Pharaoh (6:28-7:7).
The Lord continued to explain how he would deal with the negative
response of the Pharaoh; namely, by hardening his heart. He would
God. After receiving this message from the Lord, both Moses and Aaron
obeyed the divine command.
Analysis: The purpose of this component is to: (a) analyze the structure of
the passage, (b) probe the significance of its literary placement, (c)
evaluate the meanings of words and phrases that occur, and (d) delineate
the dynamics of the dialogue. The first printed passage (4:10-17) is the
final paragraph of a larger literary unit which begins at 3:1. The second
passage (6:28-7:2) is the first part of a unit that extends to 7:7 and is much
like the first passage in that the Lord gives Moses a task but Moses
complains that he is not competent because he cannot speak well. The
Lord then describes how Aaron would function as the speaker for God
Why are two accounts of the Lord's call of Moses to this task present in
book of Exodus? Did they come from two different Israelite communities
centuries after the time of Moses; or is the second account in the text to
tell us that Moses had severe inner struggles as he met opposition in
the Lord and Moses. In the first, Moses speaks twice (10, 13), offering
reasons why he cannot be the Lord's spokesman. The Lord responds each
time (11-12; 14-17), addressing Moses's reasons. In the second, the Lord
speaks first (6:29) and then responds (7:1-7). Moses gives his reason for
not being fit for the task in 6:30. Why are the narratives composed mostly
of verbal interaction between the Lord and Moses? Does the presence of
exchanges of words indicate that Moses actually could hear words being
spoken by the Lord? Why preserve conversations that show Moses, the
hero of the Exodus, as stubborn and intractable? Perhaps the presence of
these conversations in the narrative implies that revelation is more than a
thinking process, that it also includes the dynamics of an interpersonal
The first incident is said to have taken place in the presence of the
(6:28). A short but unspecified span of time separated the two incidents.
What is the meaning of this change of place and this span of time?
Possibly the writer consciously provided this data in order to make it clear
that these incidents took place within the flow of a series of events. If so,
how may this fact imply that the writer believed these conversations took
place at two different times?
Let us now look at the placement of these passages in relation to the
units of which they are a part and the placement of the units in relation to
surrounding literary units.
As stated above, the first printed text is the last part of a story which
A Case Study of the Ca of Moses 97
begins at 3:1. This story tells us that the Lord caught Moses's attention and
then accosted him by means of a bush that burned but was not consumed.
What follows is an interaction between the Lord and Moses cast in the
literary form of a lively conversation. And, direct speech in the Old
Testament often carries the essential content of a passage. The Lord spoke
to Moses six times (3:4a, 5-10, 12, 14-22; 4:2a, 3-9) and Moses responded
to the Lord five times (3:4b, 11, 13; 4:1, 2b) up to the printed portion.
Within the printed portion, the Lord spoke four times and Moses spoke
three times. Most of the statements of the Lord are much longer than
Moses's responses. In the second printed portion, the Lord spoke twice
and Moses only once. What does this distribution of words imply?
Perhaps this phenomenon indicates the dominance of the Lord in the
encounter, and the sense of inferiority Moses felt.
Chapter three is preceded by a series of literary units which prepare the
reader for the location of the big event but not for the nature of the event
itself. The book of Exodus begins with a short genealogy that ties it to the
conclusion of the book of Genesis. The same people are involved, they
descendents of Jacob. They had been in
become a populous community. Joseph is mentioned because he was
in the move from Canaan to
narratives. The second unit (1:8-22)
reveals that a new king in
feared this foreign community and enslaved them as laborers. The king's
concern became so great that he ordered the women who delivered
Hebrew babies to kill all males. The third unit (2:1-10) tells the story of
Moses's birth and remarkable deliverance from death, because a princess
found him in
a basket floating on the
home. The fourth unit (2:11-25) is an account of Moses's crime, flight to
Midian and marriage of a daughter of Jethro. Thus the human deliverer is
introduced to the reader.
Why are these units so brief? Surely, the time span covered by these
narratives contained many important events. Is it possible the writer's
purpose was not to provide a full history; but rather, to present limited
indicators of what the situation was prior to Moses's call? Conceivably
this could imply that the author had a message about God's concern for
several literary units that tell us of Moses's return to
(4:18-31), involving a request for permission from Jethro, the circumci-
sion of Moses's son, the reunion with Aaron, and the wholehearted
reception of Moses by the Israelites. Why are only these incidents, and
not others, recorded about this journey? What was the principle of selec-
tion which omitted description of the landscape, and the customs of the
people observed along the way? How may each incident in the narrative
have a theological purpose for being there?
The next narrative records the first audience of Moses and Aaron with
Pharaoh and his angry refusal to grant their request (5:1-21). The chapter
ends with Moses agonizing before the Lord in prayer, to which the Lord
(answered with a command to deliver a message to the Israelites. This time
they rebuff Moses (5:22-6:9). The Lord next told Moses to deliver a
message to Pharaoh, though Moses protested he lacked the ability to do
Why is the throne name of Pharaoh omitted from the text? Surely, the
presence of that name would greatly aid later scholars to date this event.
Why is the Egyptian belief that Pharaoh was the sun god in flesh not
mentioned? How might the author intentionally omit this kind of data in
order to emphasize the humanity of this ruler? Perhaps this implies that
the awesome power of Pharaoh was being exposed as a "paper tiger," in
order for the power of the true God to be understood more easily.
Another genealogy (6:14-27; cf. 1:1-7) of Jacob's sons--Reuben, Sim-
eon and especially Levi--has an emphasis on the family tree of Moses
and Aaron. Why does this genealogy appear here? Why not somewhere
else in the sequence of narratives, perhaps between 5:21 and 22? Probably
this genealogy serves with the initial genealogy as literary brackets of a
block of narratives that are centered on the beginnings of Moses's pro-
The second printed passage serves as an introduction to the plague/
Exodus sequence and is tied to the first section by the complaint of Moses
that he had "uncircumcised lips" (6:12, 30). This second passage also
immediately precedes the first of a series of miracles that culminate in the
successful crossing of the sea. The two printed passages present key
events in the Lord's dealings with a reluctant Moses. The entire context,
(1:1-15:21) is prose except for the Song of Moses (15:1-18) and the Song of
Why does this series of narratives concentrate on the Ten Plagues and
the Crossing of the Sea and ignore a description of the polytheistic
to exalt the wonder-working power of the one true God. What was the
essential difference between the Lord's miracles done through the agency
of Moses and Aaron, and the magical actions of the Egyptians? How was
the authenticity of the display of divine power established by the results?
Perhaps the alleged power of the magicians was thus exposed as a lie?
There are several words and phrases in the two passages which are the
core of this study and these need to be explained.
Moses's description of his speech impediment contains an interesting
twist of meaning on an important Hebrew word (kabod) usually translated
as "glory." The literal meaning of the word is "heavy," but it is used in
this literal sense only in 1 Sam 4:18 and 2 Sam 14:26. Often the word is
used of parts of the body that are, handicapped, or parts of the body that
connote spiritual impairment. For examples of this use of the term, read
Gen 48:10, Isa 6:10, 59:1, Zech 7:11. In sequence, the NJKV translates
the word as "dim," "heavy," "heavy," (in the sense of deafness) and
A Case Study of the Call Moses 99
"stopped." The word may serve as a figure of speech for severity of life
experiences such as labor, slavery, warfare, etc. (Read Exod 5:9, Judg
20:34, 1 Kgs 12:10. Read also an article in The Theological Wordbook of
the Old Testament, vol. I, pp. 426-428 for an excellent discussion of the
In Moses's case, was the handicap lisping, stammering, or difficulty
speaking readily and at a normal speed? Since Moses had been away from
fluently, especially the kind used in a royal court? If so, probably Moses
had legitimate grounds for bringing up the problem.
A striking idiom appears in verse 15: Moses was to "put words in his
[Aaron's] mouth." What does this phrase mean? Since words are not
physical objects, may this phrase refer to some sort of transfer of a
message? Could this phrase be influenced by the then-current practice of
the Pharaoh to designate one of his important officials as his mouth, with
the task of relaying to others Pharaoh's wishes? If so, would not the idiom
indicate a very high status of Moses before the Lord--and, of Aaron
before Moses--in communicating to others? Does not the word "spokes-
man" in verse 16, support this probability?
In the second passage, Moses says he has "uncircumcized lips" (see
also 6:12). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the adjective "uncircumcised"
designates ears that do not listen and understand (Jer 6:10). When the
word modifies heart, the inner being, it indicates defilement and disobe-
dience (Isa 52:1, Jer 9:26). Other passages contain commands and exhor-
tations that such a heart be circumcised, so undesirable traits are removed
and desirable traits are added (Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; Rom 2:28-29:
something like his tongue being slow (heavy, 4:10)? Could it be that since
circumcision was a religious ritual that served as a symbol of obedient
servanthood to the Lord, that uncircumcision represented lips that refused
to obey Moses's wishes? Very likely, this fact made Moses believe his lips
were unfit for the Lord's service. Why may Moses have hinted that he was
defiled because of his speech handicap and that the Lord ought to correct
it by an act comparable to the rite of circumcision?
The Lord told Moses he was to have the status of "God to Pharaoh." It
is known from Egyptian literature that all Egyptians regarded the Pharaoh
as a deity, a descendent of the sun which was the most important god
above many gods and goddesses. The Old Testament nowhere speaks of
Pharaoh as a god. What does this placement of Moses as God over
Pharaoh mean? How might God thus negate the claim that Pharaoh was a
powerful god by elevating Moses above him? How could this kind of
statement also establish in Moses's mind that the Lord is the supreme God
and that Moses had a high position before the Lord, higher than even the
position of Pharaoh in
grant Moses great authority in transmitting the divine message to Aaron?
To extend the point further, how might this statement elevate even
Aaron above the Pharaoh? Aaron was positioned as a "prophet" who
received the divine message from Moses and delivered it orally to Pha-
raoh. Only Abraham is referred to as a prophet prior to Aaron in the
Scriptures (Gen 20:7) and his task was to pray for Abimelech. Moses is
called a prophet in Deut 34:10, and the word is used elsewhere in the Old
Testament over 160 times of other people. What does it mean that Aaron
was to serve Moses as his prophet? How may the word serve as a
synonym of "spokesman" in 4:16? In what way may the reference to
Aaron speaking to Pharaoh (7:2) serve as a support for that connection?
The Lord told Moses that he would "harden" Pharaoh's heart. This
word does not seem to mean that the physical organ had changed from
being a soft muscle to some kind of hard substance. It is more likely that
this verb represents a proud, stubborn attitude toward Moses's request.
Thus "heart" here seems to denote, not the physical organ, but a figure of
speech for the inner being. Thus this hardening seems to represent a
Pharaoh's refusal to permit the Israelites to leave
Lord promised Moses that he would do many "signs" and "wonders" to
demonstrate his mighty power (7:3) to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. What
were these signs and wonders? How might the ten plagues and the
protection of the Israelites during the plagues, and the dividing of the
waters qualify as signs and wonders? Since the Lord does not have a
physical hand like humans, how might the word "hand" (7:4, 5) function
as a figure of speech for the acts of God in performing these signs and
The relationships apparent in these two passages center about: the
Lord, Moses, Aaron, the Israelites and Pharaoh. What aspects of these
relationships point to a network of communication which makes it possi-
ble for messages to flow from the source to addressee and back to the
source? What implications can be drawn from the fact that these texts
present the Lord as the invisible but authoritative source of the messages?
Why did the Lord initiate the situation? What motivation did the Lord
have in making contact with Pharaoh? Why did the Lord select Moses as
his personal representative, and work with him until he obeyed? How was
mercy expressed when he selected Aaron as Moses's substitute voice?
Why did the Israelites find it difficult to keep on believing, after Pharaoh
intensified their suffering?
In regard to the humanness of Moses displayed in prayers of complaint,
what implications can you draw about the Lord's wisdom in selecting
Moses for this task? What conclusions are justified in regard to Pharaoh
sensing a challenge to his pride and power, when he heard the request? On
what basis could Pharaoh have surmised that Moses acted like a greater
god than he; and thus, should be taught a lesson of humility? How was
Pharaoh, in fact, humiliated, when Moses approached him as a represen-
tative of a more powerful God, and treated him as not more than a human
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 101
king? How might Pharaoh feel justified for reacting harshly in putting
down a potential rebellion?
This analysis is a selection from a number of blocks of observational
data, questions and speculation that can be directed toward the passages
quoted and their context. You may want to add questions that come to
Integration and Interaction: Among many issues that one may discover in
this passage, some are listed below, with one selected for examination.
1. Why did the Lord not immediately punish Moses for his resistance
to the Lord's commands?
2. When the Lord said he makes some people mute, deaf or blind, did
he mean he commits unjust acts against innocent people?
3. Why should a God of love become angry at anyone?
4. Did the Lord reveal a mean streak in his character when he stated he
would harden Pharaoh's heart?
5. How did the messenger system provide a framework for the pro-
The last issue has been selected because the Lord wanted Moses to
deliver messages for Him and He indicated that Aaron could perform the
same messenger function for Moses. This suggests that the characteristics
of the messenger mode of communication between humans may be much
like the way the Lord chose to reveal his will to his people.
The basic words and idioms of the call of Moses are that of transferring
a message from one person to another by using a messenger. This was an
age-old mode of communication among many of the peoples of the world
and at every level of society.
Several stories that appear earlier in the book of Genesis suggest a
messenger mode of transferring a message which involved a spiritual
being. When Hagar and her son Ishmael were ejected from Abraham's
encampment, an angel of the Lord appeared to her and gave a promise of
a fruitful future (Gen 16:7-12). Verse 13 suggests Hagar understood the
angel to be the Lord himself, or at least the representative of the Lord.
Note that at the end of verse 11, the Lord is referred to as another person.
Note another appearance of an angel to Hagar (Gen 21:17-20). There are
other instances where an angel of the Lord conveyed a message to people:
Gen 22:11-12; 31:11-13; Num 22:31-35; Judges 2:1-4; 6:11-23; 13:3-22;
1 Kgs 19:5-8; 2 Kgs 1:3; 1 Chron 21:18; Zech 1:9-19; 2:3-5; 3:6-10; 4:1-7;
5:5-11; 6:4-8. In the instances involving Elijah and Zechariah, the mes-
senger statement, "Thus says. . ." indicates the message was to be relayed
to an audience.
An example of a person using a messenger is found in Genesis 32:3-6.
returned to the highlands east of the
family, many servants and a multitude of sheep and cattle. Many years
before he had wronged his brother Esau and fled north to his Uncle
Laban's to escape Esau's wrath. He knew that Esau lived to the south in
from among his servants and sent them with a verbal message to deliver to
Esau. An important phrase in the message is, "Thus your servant Jacob
says," for it denotes the source and authenticity of the message the
messengers delivered to Esau. The messengers reported back that Esau
was on his way with 400 men to meet Jacob.
The second recorded instance is in Gen 45:9-13, 25-28. Joseph had just
revealed his true identity to his astounded brothers when he ordered them
to deliver a message to their aged father, Jacob. He was now the chief
officer of the Pharaoh, and wanted his father and all the family to come
live in the
says your son, Joseph." However, there was a problem in delivering the
message. The brothers, years before, had told Jacob his son Joseph had
been killed by wild beasts; now they had to tell Jacob his son was alive
and a very
powerful leader in
the message, but the presents Joseph had sent and a word from the Lord
persuaded him the message was authentic.
Later events in
verified the truth of the message.
Compare these incidents with Num 20:14-20; 21:21-23; 22:5-19; 1 Kgs
22:26-27; 2 Kgs 18:17-35; 19:2-4; 9-14a. Note also that this same mes-
senger method and messenger statement, with God as the sender, begins
with Moses (Exod 3:14) and is used many times in their interpersonal
relationships as recorded in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. They also
appear in the Lord's messages to his prophets throughout the Old Testa-
An incident in the life of Abraham is also of interest. Abraham sent his
representative, his oldest servant, to Laban to obtain a wife for Isaac
(Genesis 24). This servant, when he met Laban, simply identified himself
as Abraham's servant and did not use the phrase, "Thus says Abraham."
The servant did not have a specific message to deliver, but had freedom to
negotiate within guidelines. The story does, however, illustrate an ancient
practice of using others to convey information and desires to selected
people: Compare with Gen 37:13-17; 42:16; 46:28; Josh 2:1-23; 7:22-23;
Judg 6:35, 7:24, 9:31-33, 11:12-28, and many others.
In recent years, an abundance of evidence for the practice--especially
among government leaders--of choosing messengers to relay messages
to others has come to light. Predominantly, the evidence has been letters,
decrees and commercial invoices written in several kinds of scripts on
clay or stone. These materials have survived the ravages of time, but
Sea indicate the widespread use of a paper-like papyrus which was easily
destroyed by moisture. Rulers sent messages on clay or papyrus with the
messengers. These were written duplicates of messages delivered orally.
A normal feature of these messages was some variation of the statement,
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 103
"Thus says (personal name)." This statement designated the sender,
whose authority extended to the person who delivered the message.
Such written messages have been found on clay tablets by the thousands
Valley; at Mari (1800-1700 B.C.) on the south bank of the
Nuzi (1500-1200 B.C.) in the highlands east of the
(1500-1200 B.C.) in the central part of modern
B.C.) near the site of
papyrus, have been unearthed by archaeologists or found scattered on the
ground. These documents span many centuries of time.
Pertinent to this study is a cache of about thirty clay tablets found at
Mari. Various individuals from various places near Mari reported to
representatives of the king that in a trance or a dream they received
messages from idols of the storm god Baal or the mother goddess Ishtar.
The representative wrote the message on a clay tablet which was delivered
to the king. Typical of these messages is the statement. "Thus says Baal
(or Ishtar) to. . . " These are the only records of prophetic messages found
before 1000 B.C. apart from the Old Testament, and associated with a
nature deity of a polytheistic religion.
In governments of the ancient Near East, a high official of the govern-
ing body was the herald who received messages from the ruler or council
and delivered them to whomever designated. The herald could in turn
delegate his task to subordinates. The messages were delivered orally,
combined with a written message, or consisted simply of the delivery of
an inscribed piece of clay or sheet of papyrus. This was common during
the time span of the Old and New Testaments.
The establishment of a messenger system between God, his prophets
and those addressed was thus not an introduction of a new mode of
communication, but an adaptation of a well-known and widely employed
method. The mode was an "earthen vessel" by which the "treasure" of
divine reality and power was made known to human beings. It was a
communication system and vocabulary they understood. There search of
several scholars is summarized below to indicate how significant this
mode was for the biblical prophets.
Since the biblical record places Moses in a close relationship with the
Egyptian culture, one may wonder whether the herald was important in
the government of that land. One reference (Gen 41:43) obliquely refers to
messengers who proclaimed to the people the importance of Joseph. But
A.S. Yahuda provides more precise information from Egyptian inscrip-
tions. Drawing from inscriptions of the
"with Moses, Yahuda shows that the word "mouth" is a literal equivalent to
the title of a high official of Pharaoh's court. Usually this person was heir
to the throne and ranked immediately after the king. The task of the
Egyptian "mouth," or "chief mouth," was to see that the messages of
Pharaoh, who the Egyptians regarded as the sun-god in human flesh, were
it properly delivered to the intended audience. (See bibliography.)
J. S. Holladay notes that the Assyrian Empire of the eighth and seventh
centuries B.C. had a high official, with heraldic duties of receiving
messages from the emperor and seeing that they were delivered. He saw
this practice as a communication model for Old Testament prophecy. (See
Ann M. Vater provides an exhaustive description of eight patterns of
stories in two hundred and thirty texts in the Old Testament. Overall these
follow the messenger-communication model common in ancient times.
T. Y. Mullins shows that comparable narrative forms are found in the
New Testament, especially in Luke and Acts. (See bibliography.)
B. S. Childs observes that limiting one's interest just to the system as a
model for the call of Moses and all future prophets can be artificial. He
stresses the need to see the theological dimensions of this event in the life
of Moses. Primarily this involves the dominance in this call of the reality
of the one
true God intervening in the affairs of an enslaved
land of promise. Also to be considered must be the reality of Moses as a
real human being, gripped with doubts and fears. (See bibliography.)
The observations made by these scholars are helpful, but there are
several factors which seem to be overlooked. I would like to offer
additional information that has arisen from my personal study of these
narratives depicting Moses's call. (See bibliography.)
In terms of narrative structure, the account in 3:1-4:18, and other
discussions of the call (5:22-6:13; 6:28-7:7) are made up of similar
components. In the first instance the components are (a) the theophany in
the burning bush (3:1-5), (b) God's identity and purpose (3:6-9), (c)
commissioning (3:10), (d) objections and assurances (3:11-4:12), (e)
request (4:13), (f) help provided (4:15-17), and (g) obedience (4:18). The
second section (5:22-6:13) has these components: (a) objection (5:22-23),
(b) God's identity (6:1-5), (c) commissioning (6:6-8), (d) obedience (6:9),
(e) commissioning (6:10-11), (f) objection (6:12), and (g) command (6:13).
The third section (6:28-7:7) has the following components: (a) God's
identity (6:28-29a), (b) commissioning (6:29a), (c) objection (6:30), (d)
help provided (7:1-2), (e) assurance (7:3-5), and (f) obedience (7:6-7).
Not all components appear in these three sections, nor are they com-
pletely in the same sequence. They do, however, provide a vivid series of
encounters between the Lord and Moses which offer some basic insights
about what the Lord wanted to accomplish, and the means he had decided
to use to attain his goals.
The messenger system has several phases in its mechanism for commu-
nicating information. These phases are, (a) the decision of the sender to
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 105
select a messenger, (b) the awareness of the messenger of being selected,
(c) the sender giving a message, and the messenger receiving it, (d) the
messenger carrying the message, (e) the messenger delivering the mes-
sage, (f) the audience, hearing or seeing the message, (g) the auditor, or
audience, responding to the message, (h) the messenger hearing or seeing
the response, (i) the messenger returning and delivering the response to
the sender, and (j) the sender reacting to the response. From this point, the
sequence may be repeated many times.
Taking the phases in the order listed, one may illustrate each by the
(a) Exod 2:24-25, "So God heard their groaning, and God
remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac,
and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of
Exod 3:7-9, "And the Lord said: 'I have surely seen the
oppression of My people who are in
heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know
their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out
of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from
that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with
milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the
Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the
Hivites and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry
of the children of
seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress
(b) Exod 3:10-11, "'Come now, therefore, and I will send you
to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of
that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the
(c) Exod 3:15-17, "Moreover God said to Moses, 'Thus you
shall say to the children of
Exod 6:6-8, "Therefore say to the children of
Exod 6:13, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron,
and gave them a command for the children of
for Pharaoh king of
out of the
The chief indicators of this phase of the messenger sys-
tem are terms such as "send," "go," "speak," and the
statements "Thus you shall say to... ," or "Thus says the
(d) Exod 4:29, "Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered
together all the elders of the children of
Exod 7:10a, "So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh,
and they did so, just as the Lord commanded."
(e) Exod 4:30, "And Aaron spoke all the words which the
Lord had spoken to Moses. Then he did the signs in the
sight of the people."
Exod 5:1, "Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told
Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord God of
people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the
Exod 6:9a, "So Moses spoke thus to the children of
Exod 7:10b, "And Aaron cast down his rod before Pha-
raoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent."
(f) Exod 4:30, [implies hearing plus seeing] ". . .in the sight
of the people."
Exod 5:1, [hearing evident in this verse].
Exod 7:9-10, [hearing and seeing evident in these
(g) Exod 4:31, "So the people believed: . . . then they bowed
their heads and worshiped.
Exod 5:4, "Then the king of
and Aaron, why do you take the people from their work?
Get back to your labor.'" [See also 5:5-19.]
Exod 5:20-21, "Then, as they came out from Pharaoh,
they met Moses and Aaron who stood there to meet
them. And they said to them, 'Let the Lord look on you
and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the
sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a
sword in their hand to kill us.' "
Exod 6:9, ". . . but they would not heed Moses, because of
anguish of spirit and cruel bondage."
Exod 7:11-13, "But Pharaoh also called the wise men and
the sorcerers; so the magicians of
like manner with their enchantments. For every man
threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But
Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods. And Pharaoh's
heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord
(h) [The passages given above all assume that Moses and
Aaron heard and/or saw the responses of their several
(i) Exod 5:22-23, "So Moses returned to the Lord and said,
'Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people?
to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people;
neither have You delivered Your people at all.' "
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 107
(j) Exod 6:1-8, "Then the Lord said to Moses, . . . "
These phases are reflected in the composition of many literary units in
Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Other passages that are similar in
emphasis are, Exod 7:14-18, 25-8:4; 9:13-21; 14:1-8; and 25:1-30:10.
There are nine such units in Numbers 5:5-10, 11-31; 6:1-21, 22-27;
15:1-16, 36-40; 18:25-32; 35:1-8, 9-34. All of these have in them mostly
short, sometimes long, portions of the message content. They are con-
cerned primarily with phases (a), (b) and (c).
Other narratives cover all phases from (a) through (g). Consider the
organization of the following: Exod 9:1-7; 10:1-6; 12:1-42; 19:1-8a;
20:18-24:3; Num17:1-19; 34:1-15.
Another set concentrates on phases (d) through (g). They are Exod
11:4-10; 32:25-29; 35:1-3, 4-29, 35:30-39:43.
The accounts that center on phases (h) through (j) are set up as prayer
situations in which Moses discussed with the Lord problems that arose
from negative reactions of the addressees. The first such situation arose
from the twin negative reactions of Pharaoh and the Israelites (5:19-6:1).
Others are Exod 8:8-15; 10:16-20; 14:9-25; 15:22-27:17:1-7; 31:18-32:16;
32:30-35; 33:7-23; Num 9:6-23; 11:1-3; 11:4-25; 12:10b-16; 21:4-9.
S. The Book of Exodus.
63 (1970): 29-51.
Livingston, G. H. The Pentateuch in its Cultural Environment. Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974.
Mullins, T. Y. "New Testament Commission Forms, JBL 95(1976):
Vater, A. M. "Narrative Patterns for the Story of Commissioned Commu-
nication in the Old Testament," JBL 99(1980): 365-382.
Yahuda, A. S. The Language of the Old Testament in its Relation to
Judgments: As they presently stand in the biblical text, the passages
selected for this case study have geographical and chronological con-
tinuity with the episodes which precede, come between and follow them.
These passages are important because the call of Moses is the first such
incident recorded in the Scriptures. Remarkably, the experience of Moses
at the burning bush served as a model for all future prophetic calls.
The main character, Moses, is placed in this continuity by a series of
short narratives in one brief chapter. These stories recount his birth,
manhood, his crime, his flight to the vast deserts east of
and his new life in the family of Reuel, also known as Jethro.
The several authors mentioned in the Integration and Interaction sec-
about various aspects of the messenger system in the ancient Near East.
Ann Vater especially deals with the composition of the narratives related
to prophets in the Old Testament, and many of her observations are
helpful. However, there are some features of Moses's call narratives that
seem to be overlooked. These features are briefly described here.
The call account in 3:1-4:18, and the other discussions of the call
(5:22-6:13; 6:28-7:7) are made up of similar components. In the first
instance, the components are: (a) the theophany in the burning bush
(3:1-5), (b) God's identity and purpose (3:6-9), (c) commissioning (3:10),
(d) objections and assurances (3:11-4:12), (e) request (4:13), (f) help
provided (4:15-17), and (g) obedience (4:18). The second section
(5:22-6:13) has these components: (a) objection (5:22-23), (b) God's
identity (6:1-5), (c) commissioning (6:6-8), (d) obedience (6:9), (e) com-
missioning (6:10-11), (f) objection (6:12), and (g) command (6:13).
We have here an example of adaptation of human structures of person-
to-person communication, the messenger system, which was well known
throughout the ancient Near East and thus familiar to Moses, his people
and to the Egyptians.
In Moses's service for the Lord, there was more than a messenger
responsibility. A goal of the Lord was to forge a national covenant with
the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which would fulfill prom-
ises made to those patriarchs. The event which accomplished this goal
age of the life and work of Moses must include the significance of this
national covenant and the legal, military and religious laws and rites that
combined to make the freed slaves into one people under one God. Such
coverage will not be attempted in this case study, but it should be noted
that the tasks of messenger, covenant mediator, lawgiver and military
leader intertwined with common concepts about God, nature, nation and
B. S. Childs is right in his caution that over-attention on the mechanics
of the messenger system and the forms of oral and literary composition
can be artificial. There must be a grasp of the theological tenets that
infused mode and form.
A basic feature of the two passages before us, in fact in all of the
Scriptures, is the dominance of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He
had remembered his covenant with them and decided the time had come
to redeem their descendents from slavery. The implementation of the
divine decision was the sudden impact of his presence by means of the
bush that would not burn up. The mode of contact was person-to-person
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 109
conversation, a form of communication well known to Moses.
Though a bush was used in catching Moses's attention, the Lord did not
identify himself as this natural object or as any natural force. He identi-
fled himself as the God of ancestors who had lived elsewhere and at a
different time. When pressed for a name, the Lord gave the enigmatic, “I
am who I am," which suggests he is the Creator, the one who is dynamic
being. With the command that Moses go to
promise, will certainly be with you" (3:12). He further promised that he
the Israelites out of
a snake and back to a rod, nor the leprosy that afflicted Moses's hand and
then was healed. These items were not the Lord; rather, they were signs
that indicated the Lord was present in an awesome way.
The sovereignty of the Lord was apparent in the mystery of the bush
that was not consumed, in the signs and in the commands, promises,
anger and provisions evident in the Lord's dealings with Moses. His
sovereignty came into the foreground vividly in the series of encounters
The narratives associated with the Exodus do not give the slightest hint
that the royal court, the religious establishment and the common people
believed fervently that Pharaoh was the great sun-god in human flesh. The
Pharaohs did not disagree; rather, no effort or expense was spared to keep
this belief strong in the hearts and minds of all Egyptians. Pharaoh was
not only regarded as a god, he was the State, the absolute ruler of his
people. (Although this situation varied during
The Egyptians were polytheists, believing in many nature gods of
lesser powers than the sun and Pharaoh. This much is acknowledged in
were also recognized as having a measure of power (Exod 7:11, 22; in
8:7, 18, 19; 9:11).
In the Exodus narratives, the God of the enslaved Israelites fearlessly
and powerfully challenged Pharaoh (he is depicted as merely a human
ruler), the might of the State, and the faith of every Egyptian. Auda-
ciously, he chose an old shepherd, a murderer who had a combined
Hebrew and Egyptian heritage, as his human agent. By instructing Moses
and his brother Aaron, and displaying his power, ". . . by trials, by signs,
by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by
terrors.. ." (Deut 4:34), the Lord invaded
his knees and delivered the Israelites from slavery.
To emphasize Pharaoh's inferiority, the Lord appointed Moses "as God
to Pharaoh" (7:1), an ironic twist in that Pharaoh regarded himself as
deity. Moses was to have a position of power and authority over this king,
and even Aaron was to have a superior position. As Moses's "mouth,"
Aaron was his brother's deputy spokesman and thus at a level higher than
Pharaoh. The Lord was dramatizing his own sovereignty by elevating his
servants to these high levels and thus demoting Pharaoh.
The other participants in the call experience and the events that fol-
lowed were the Israelite people. The burning bush experience did not
happen in order to give Moses a spiritual high or a good feeling. The
significance of the experience was that the Lord commissioned Moses to
Israelites out of
them in the
Moses's first contact with his fellow Israelites would have encouraged
him to believe they would respond positively, but the aftermath of the first
encounter with Pharaoh was suffering. Their attitudes radically changed
toward their would-be leader and Moses fled to the Lord to pour out in
prayer his deep disappointment. The fluctuations of the Israelites between
exemplary faith, with accompanying obedience, and apostasy (in calf
worship) or just nasty complaining, were hallmarks of the Exodus and the
wanderings in the wilderness. They knew the exhilaration of salvation
from bondage and flood and could sing with enthusiasm the Song of
Moses, part of which reads:
Who is like You, 0 Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
You stretched out Your right hand;
The earth swallowed them.
You in Your mercy have led forth
The people whom you have redeemed;
You have guided them in Your strength
To Your holy habitation.--Exod 15:11-13
In contrast, when the people suffered hunger and thirst in the desert,
they were quick to blame the Lord and Moses and considered returning to
An evaluation of Moses's call is not complete without taking the
participation of the people seriously. They were the objects of the Lord's
redemptive mercy and experienced the trials and triumphs of interacting
with divine guidance and grace under the leadership of Moses.
What the Lord did in and through Moses became the model for
prophets and their activities in
a summary of this modeling role. Not only would all true prophets be
marked by being commissioned to speak words commanded by the Lord,
but they were also to separate themselves from idolatry and what they may
predict would come to pass.
The role modeling of Moses would extend even further. God would
raise up a Prophet and place "words in His mouth." The message spoken
by this Prophet would call people to decision; if they rejected the mes-
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 111
sage, the result would be death.
Jesus commissioned all his disciples to be witnesses (messengers)
throughout the world (Acts 1:8); who, after Pentecost, "went everywhere
preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). It has been typical of fervent Christians to
be messengers of the word of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Paul had this sense of being sent with a message to the Gentiles (Acts
22:21; 26:17; 1 Cor 1:17); and, as he testified before King Agrippa, "I was
not disobedient to the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19).
Through the centuries, many Christians of all ages, of every status of
life, of every nation, have experienced the command of the Lord to
witness and preach the gospel.
Evaluation: One should not be surprised that Moses had difficulty accept-
ing his appointment to the prophet/messenger status. The surprise should
arise from the moderations of Moses's response. Moses could have re-
jected what he heard as utterly ridiculous and stubbornly refused to
consider the matter further.
A justification for such action could have been thought out easily.
When one looks at Moses's objections, each seems convincing and his
final obedience to the Lord's call quite foolhardy.
Moses comes through as strikingly human. He is not enshrouded with a
hero legend or a divinity halo; he is only a shepherd in the wilderness.
Nevertheless, memories of earlier years caused him to realize immedi-
ately how dangerous this divinely appointed task really was. He also was
deeply religious and feared whatever suggested the presence of the God of
Moses harbored a pain-filled fear of Pharaoh; the murder he had
royal court should he appear there in person.
Moses had doubts about his own people, the Hebrews, by whom he
would most likely be regarded as an apostate from the traditional faith and
thus ignorant of the name of the true God.
To each of these concerns, the Lord had an answer, mixed with
explanations and promises.
Moses knew that a key factor in a successful project of the sort the Lord
proposed could be convincing evidence of authority and power. A dusty
shepherd coming directly from the desert would not impress either Isra-
elite or Pharaoh as being a powerful person. Nor would an invisible God
identified with neither nature objects (sun, moon, etc.) or an idol, be
regarded as believable. Nevertheless, Moses courageously traveled to
Pharaoh to let the Israelites go into the desert.
The Lord gave three signs to Moses to convince him, and then to
convince the Israelites and Pharaoh. First, Moses's shepherd rod changed
to a snake and back to a rod. Second, Moses's hand became diseased and
then healed; and, third, Moses was authorized to change water to blood, if
be. Of these measures, the first was to
be used frequently m
the second was purely personal and the third was a measure of last resort
(cf. Exod 7:19-21). Answers to Moses's objections seem to have been
provided convincingly. Yet, doubts about his capability to carry out his
task gripped him and caused profound fear.
When Moses began to base his objections on his internal problems, he
soon got into trouble with his Lord. Moses's speech handicap did not
match the normal qualification of a messenger, the ability to speak clearly
and effectively. This mismatch deeply troubled Moses and created a sense
of helplessness in the face of the messenger task. Moses's assessment may
be classed as realistic, but it was self-demeaning and evidenced a low
He refused, at the moment, to be impressed by the creative power of
God to provide him with words. Moses took the first step of rejection
requested that someone else be sent to
the speech handicap was this display of stubbornness and unbelief that the
Lord could really help him.
The sting of experiencing divine anger, and then the wonder of divine
grace in designating Aaron as his "mouth," changed Moses's attitude
quickly. To Moses's credit, he saw the error of hiding behind personal
shortcomings and yielded to the divine call.
Moses exhibited considerable courage when
he returned to
knowing he could be in danger of losing his life. Reunited with Aaron,
who readily accepted his new role as Moses's assistant, Moses was
successful in gaining the support of his fellow Israelites for the proposed
trip to the desert. He was able to gain an audience with Pharaoh, who
know nothing of Moses's earlier crime in
presented his request.
The result was angry rejection by Pharaoh and immediate hardship for
the Israelites. Their anger and accusations shocked Moses and the immi-
nent failure of his mission sent him, filled with self-pity and despair, to
the Lord with a bitter complaint. Moses not only was humiliated by his
failure, he was blaming the sad turn of events on his speech defect; and,
by implication, accusing the Lord of lack of wisdom regarding the project
of convincing Pharaoh to release the Israelites. One must give Moses
credit for his quick recovery from despondency, as he listened to the
Lord's instructions and promises.
With the help of his Lord, Moses had passed through the first major
crisis of his prophetic ministry.
Decisions: In spite of Moses's several arguments against the Lord's call to
and receiving permission to go to
with his wife and family (4:20). He obeyed the Lord: (a) by circumsizing
A Case Study of the Call of Moses 113
his son (4:24-26), (b) by enlisting Aaron as his spokesman (4:28-29), (c)
by speaking to and receiving the support of the enslaved Israelites for the
raoh (5:1-5), (e) by encouraging the frightened Israelites to continue to
believe and obey (6:9), and (f) by continuing to convey the Lord's
messages to Pharaoh (7:6). All of these actions imply that Moses, and
Aaron as well, consciously made decisions to respond positively to the
Lord's command and conform their lives to those decisions.
Making decisions and putting them into action, even at great risk, was
typical of the remainder of Moses's life, with the exception of the second
miracle of bringing water from the rock (Num 20).
Indeed, deciding to conform life to the Lord's commands was typical of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, after the Lord appeared to each of them. Both
the Old and New Testaments provide numerous examples of individuals
and groups making decisions to yield themselves completely to the Lord's
commands and live accordingly. Throughout history since the biblical
times, such obedience has occurred again and again.
What of the present? Are individuals and groups still called to listen to
the Lord's will and then make a decision to obey him by conforming all
activities to the Lord's command to tell others of salvation and judgment?
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Asbury Theological Journal
Michele Gaither Sparks (Asc. Editor)
Asbury Theological Seminary
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