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





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.




90 Livingston

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

92 Livingston


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?



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

Focus: At a burning bush on Mount Horeb, the Lord met Moses and

commanded him to return to Egypt in order to bring the children of Israel

out of Egypt. This event happened long ago. The issue: How did the

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

from the alleged nature gods and goddesses of Egypt. Unlike the nature

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 Israel are concisely summed up in the Ten Commandments

(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

Israel because they were the descendents of Abraham. The Lord had made

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 Egypt, due to a famine in the land of

Canaan, with the help of his son, Joseph, a powerful man in Egypt. As the

years passed, the political situation changed in Egypt. The new rulers

were unfriendly toward the Israelites who had become numerous in the

land of Goshen, an area in the delta of the Nile River. Out of one of the

tribes of Jacob (Levi) came Moses and Aaron. Both were born in Egypt 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-

mified bodies preserved in the Cairo Museum do not look impressive, but

the cultural artifacts and extensive inscriptions that remain certainly are


At first glance, the Israelites appear unlikely candidates for being a

94 Livingston


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-

dents would be brought back to the land of Canaan. It was time for God to

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 Egypt

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.

The Lord told Moses of his decision to deliver Israel from their slavery in

Egypt. The Lord commissioned Moses to be his messenger to the Pharaoh

of Egypt. Moses, feeling inadequate for the task, complained that he was

not qualified. Moses and the Lord talked about his problem on two

different occasions.

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

printed below.

And it came to pass, on the day when the Lord spoke to

Moses in the land of Egypt, that the Lord spoke to Moses,


Lord 3 "I am the Lord. Speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt an

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 Israel out of his land.

And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and

My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh would not heed

you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies

and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt

by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the

Lord when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the

children of Israel from among them." Then Moses and Aaron

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).

96 Livingston

The Lord continued to explain how he would deal with the negative

response of the Pharaoh; namely, by hardening his heart. He would

deliver Israel from Egypt and cause Pharaoh to realize that He was truly

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

and Moses.

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

Egypt? Both passages are narratives made up of conversations between

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

burning bush on Mt. Sinai [Horeb] (3:1). The second took place in Egypt

(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

are all descendents of Jacob. They had been in Egypt long enough to have

become a populous community. Joseph is mentioned because he was

instrumental in the move from Canaan to Egypt (1:1-7). The other units

are narratives. The second unit (1:8-22) reveals that a new king in Egypt

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 Nile River and reared him in her

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

Israel he wanted to convey to the reader. Between the two printed pas-

sages are several literary units that tell us of Moses's return to Egypt

(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

98 Livingston

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

so (6:10-13).

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-

phetic task.

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

Miriam (15:21).

Why does this series of narratives concentrate on the Ten Plagues and

the Crossing of the Sea and ignore a description of the polytheistic

religion of Egypt? This may imply that the main concern of the author was

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

Egypt so long, was he worried about his ability to speak Egyptian

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:

15:8; Phil 3:3: Col 2:11). What does this phrase mean here? Can it be

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

powerful position of Pharaoh in Egypt? In what way may this statement

grant Moses great authority in transmitting the divine message to Aaron?

100 Livingston

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

judgment on Pharaoh's refusal to permit the Israelites to leave Egypt. The

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

your mind.

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-

phetic task?

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.

Jacob had returned to the highlands east of the Jordan River with a large

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

102 Livingston

Laban's to escape Esau's wrath. He knew that Esau lived to the south in

Edom, but did not want to meet him face to face. He selected messengers

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 land of Goshen. Joseph used a phrase similar to Jacob's, "Thus

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 Egypt. It was difficult for Jacob to believe

the message, but the presents Joseph had sent and a word from the Lord

(46:1-4) persuaded him the message was authentic. Later events in Egypt

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

evidence from Egypt and the eastern coastal regions of the Mediterranean

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

at such places as Ebla (2400-2250 B.C.) in the northwestern corner of mo-

dern Syria; at Nippur (1800-1700 B.C.) in the southern part of the Mesopo-

tamian Valley; at Mari (1800-1700 B.C.) on the south bank of the Euphrates

River; at Nuzi (1500-1200 B.C.) in the highlands east of the Tigrus River; at

Hattusas (1500-1200 B.C.) in the central part of modern Turkey; at Ugarit

(1500-1200 B.C.) near the site of Ebla; and, at Nineveh (670-650 B.C.) by

the Tigrus River. Many more such messages, mostly on clay but some on

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 New Kingdom, contemporary

"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

104 Livingston

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.

(See bibiography.)

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 Israel and

their oppressor, mighty Egypt, to redeem his people and bring them to the

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

following passages:

(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

Israel, and God acknowledged them."

Exod 3:7-9, "And the Lord said: 'I have surely seen the

oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have

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 Israel has come to Me, and I have also

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

Israel, out of Egypt.' But Moses said to God, 'Who am I

that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the

children of Israel out of Egypt?' "

(c) Exod 3:15-17, "Moreover God said to Moses, 'Thus you

shall say to the children of Israel:. . . .'"

Exod 6:6-8, "Therefore say to the children of Israel:... ."

Exod 6:13, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron,

and gave them a command for the children of Israel and

for Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel

out of the land of Egypt."

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 Israel."

Exod 7:10a, "So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh,

106 Livingston


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 Israel: "Let My

people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the


Exod 6:9a, "So Moses spoke thus to the children of

Israel; . . . "

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 Egypt said to them, 'Moses

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 Egypt, they also did in

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

had said."

(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.



Childs, B. S. The Book of Exodus. Philadelphia: Westminster Press,


Holladay, J. S. "Assyrian State craft and the Prophets of Israel." HTR

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

Egyptian. London: Oxford University Press, vol I, 1933.


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

108 Livingston

short narratives in one brief chapter. These stories recount his birth,

growth to manhood, his crime, his flight to the vast deserts east of Egypt,

and his new life in the family of Reuel, also known as Jethro.

The several authors mentioned in the Integration and Interaction sec-

tion--Yahuda, Holladay and Vater--provide important information

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

took place at Mt. Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt. A complete cover-

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 Egypt, the Lord gave the

promise, will certainly be with you" (3:12). He further promised that he

would bring the Israelites out of Egypt and lead them into the land of

Canaan, the promised land. He was not the shepherd's rod that changed to

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

with the Pharaoh of Egypt.

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 Egypt's history.)

The Egyptians were polytheists, believing in many nature gods of

lesser powers than the sun and Pharaoh. This much is acknowledged in

the phrase, "gods of Egypt" (Exod 12:12). Magicians at the royal court

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

great terrors.. ." (Deut 4:34), the Lord invaded Egypt, brought Pharaoh to

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

110 Livingston


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

lead the Israelites out of Egypt, to form them into a nation, and to settle

them in the land of Canaan.

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

Egypt. Numbers chapters 11 and 14 are examples of their rebellion in the


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

measuring prophets and their activities in Israel. Deuteronomy 18:15-22 is

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

his fathers.

Moses harbored a pain-filled fear of Pharaoh; the murder he had

committed in Egypt forty years before surely would be remembered at the

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

Egypt to galvanize his people into action and gain permission from

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

112 Livingston

then healed; and, third, Moses was authorized to change water to blood, if

need be. Of these measures, the first was to be used frequently m Egypt,

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

when he requested that someone else be sent to Egypt. More serious than

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 Egypt,

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

seemed to know nothing of Moses's earlier crime in Egypt, and boldly

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

return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of slavery, he did obey (4:18) by

requesting and receiving permission to go to Egypt. Moses then set out

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

exit from Egypt (4:30-31), (d) by presenting the Lord's message to Pha-

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

Wilmore, Kentucky 40390

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: