What lessons can we learn from Moses’ fears and failures? - opinion

Joel Rosenberg explains why God chose Moses to take the Jews out of Egypt.

Marc Chagall’s ‘Moses Beholds All the Work,’ from The Story of Exodus (1966) (photo credit: Courtesy)
Marc Chagall’s ‘Moses Beholds All the Work,’ from The Story of Exodus (1966)
(photo credit: Courtesy)

As the Passover holiday has begun this year, I find myself thinking a great deal about Moses.

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About the tremendous miracles the Lord accomplished through him, to be sure.

About his great courage before Pharoah, the evil tyrant of the Middle East at that time.

And about the powerful prophecies that Moses both proclaimed as God directed him, and those that he fulfilled, as well.

I also find myself reflecting on the sadness that Moses must have felt at not being allowed by God to enter the Promised Land with his people, the nation of Israel.

This was Moses’ own fault. He had been unable to control his anger, and there were consequences, even for such a great biblical leader.

Fortunately, of course, Moses eventually made it to Israel.

Author Joel Rosenberg (Credit: Courtesy of Joel Rosenberg)Author Joel Rosenberg (Credit: Courtesy of Joel Rosenberg)

In Matthew 17, we read the remarkable account of Moses standing on the Mount of Transfiguration, talking with the Lord and the prophet Elijah.

Amazing – talk about an exciting first visit to the Holy Land!

That said, I also find myself meditating a great deal on the man Moses was when the Lord first called him to this important mission to set His people free.

As such, I’m spending time studying the biblical book of Exodus, chapters 3 and 4, trying to understand God’s call on Moses’ life, and why Moses resisted it so intensely.

Last night, my wife Lynn and I gathered with dear family and friends in Jerusalem and celebrated our seventh Passover since moving to Israel and becoming Israeli citizens in 2014. Like every year, we spent the evening thinking about what God did to rescue and save His people. 

A few years ago, I preached on Exodus chapter 3 and 4 at a congregation not far from Tel Aviv.

This week, I took a fresh look at my notes and decided to publish them. 

When God Called Moses: Lessons on Leadership from Exodus 3:1-22 and 4:1-17

Today, we think of Moses as a great hero of the faith, and the Passover story as his most dramatic accomplishment.

That’s true. 

But let’s step back and see the man God called into His service.

To begin, let’s read Exodus 3:1-22 and 4:1-17 in full. Then, let’s look at a series of excuses Moses made, telling the Lord why he couldn’t possibly respond to God’s divine call.

1 - Moses asked God, “Who Am I?”

Exodus 3:11: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?”

Translation:

  • I am nothing.
  • I am no one special.
  • I have failed many times.
  • I’m not the right one to do this.

So, how did God answer Moses? Read the Biblical passage here.

2 - Then Moses asked God, “What Shall I Say?”

Exodus 3:13: “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?”

Translation:

  • I don’t know what to say.
  • I don’t know God well enough to speak for Him.
  • I’m not the right one to do this.

So, how did God answer Moses? Read the biblical passage here.

3 - Then Moses asked God, “What if they won’t believe me?”

Exodus 4:1: “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say?”

Translation:

  • No one is going to listen to me.
  • No one is going to believe me.
  • I’m not the right one to do this.

So, how did God answer Moses? Read the biblical passage here.

4 - Then Moses told God, “I’m not eloquent.”

Exodus 4:10: “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

Translation:

  • I’m not a good public speaker.
  • I’m slow to form my words. (Note: it is widely believed that Moses stuttered.)
  • I get “tongue-tied.”
  • I’m not the right one to do this.

So, how did God answer Moses? Read the biblical passage here.

5 - Finally, Moses essentially told God, “No.”

Exodus 4:13: “Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will.”

Translation:

  • God, I’ve heard everything you’ve told me, but it doesn’t persuade me.
  • I don’t know what to say.
  • I don’t know how to say it.
  • I can’t do this.
  • I won’t do this.
  • I’m not the right person.
  • Find someone else.

How did God respond? Read the biblical passage here.

In Exodus 4:14, we read: “Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses.”

Still, the Lord showed tremendous grace and mercy to Moses.

He provided Aaron, Moses' older brother,  to assist Moses in this vital mission.

And despite Moses’ lack of faith — his sinful obsession with his own flaws and faults rather than trusting in the Lord’s love and power and greatness — the Lord redeemed him and used him, in spite of himself, to save the nation of Israel and bring them out of terror and tyranny and into freedom.

God’s Grace

Have you ever stopped to consider that all of Moses’ excuses were essentially true?

Moses didn’t really know the Lord well. He didn’t know what to say. Pharoah didn’t listen to him or believe him. And after 40 years on the backside of the desert, tending sheep, thinking about his worst failure — murdering an Egyptian and having to flee for his life — perhaps it’s no wonder Moses was not eloquent, and perhaps even someone who stuttered.

But have you also ever stopped to consider that maybe all of Moses’ weaknesses and failures were precisely why the Lord chose him to be His servant and His spokesman? 

By choosing a weak and desperately self-conscious person, the Lord showed Himself great and powerful, loving and wise.

This way the Lord — not Moses — could receive all the praise and glory and honor, because it wasn’t possible for Moses to lead the nation of Israel out of Egypt on his own. He wasn’t capable. And he knew it.

What does the Bible say about the man that Moses eventually became? 

“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

“Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

Moses was included in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews chapter 11.

Questions For Us Today

I was deeply moved by these passages. They contain some tremendous lessons on leadership for all of us. So, here are some questions you and I ought to seriously consider. 

  1. What is God calling you to say?
  2. Where is God calling you to go?
  3. What excuses are you giving to the Lord?
  4. What promises has the Lord made in His Word to those who love Him and want to obey Him?

The Bible is clear: the Lord is calling you to serve Him and take His word — the special message of the Scriptures. 

Will we be faithful to this high calling? Or will we give God a list of excuses why we’re the wrong people for the job?

May we all study Moses carefully, and learn from the lessons that this man of God ultimately learned the hard way.

Happy Passover from Israel.

Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the president and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.