When you fear the call

Have you ever wondered why there had to be ten plagues? Why not just one or two and then finish off the Egyptians and get on with setting the Israelites free?

Yes, each plague pitted God against one of the Egyptians’ gods, showing that God alone was God. And perhaps God wanted to reveal his patience in giving Pharaoh many chances to repent. And, yes, maybe He also wanted to start building the faith of His own people before He took them on the long trip into the promised land. But I wonder if the long drawn out process of the ten plagues wasn’t as much about shaping Moses into the leader he needed to be as about grace for the enemies and faith for the people.

It’s striking to watch the conversion of Moses.

There’s the infamous dialogue with God in Exodus 3 and 4.

Moses: Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? (3:11)

God: I will be with you (3:12)

Moses: What if I go, and the people ask about my credentials? What if they want to know who sent me? (3:13)

God: Tell them, “I AM has sent you” (3:14)

Moses: “What if they don’t believe me. . .?” (4:1)

God: Do these miracles.

Moses: I have never been eloquent. . .  (4:10)

God: “Who gave man his mouth? . . . I will help you speak. . .” (4:11-12)

Moses: O Lord, please send someone else to do it! (4:13) (Does he hear the irony in his words: “O Lord. . . Master. . . the one before whom I bow. . . (groveling) may I speak? . . . I’m too afraid to bow to you on this one. Send someone else!”

God (angry): Fine, take Aaron. (4:14-16)

But that is only the start. As the drama unfolds, Moses’ insecurity and self-doubt remains in the foreground.

 “Have you sent me just to bring trouble on your people?  All that I say in your name is only making things worse, and you’re doing nothing about it!” (5:22-23 paraphrased)

“If the Israelites won’t listen to me, why would Pharaoh, since I speak with faltering lips?” (6:12)

And yet again, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” (6:30)

Into the midst of this parade of self-focused doubt, God speaks: “Now you. . .” (masculine singular – yes, you, Moses) “Now you will see what I will do. . .” (6:1)

Watch the miracle happen as Moses sees. At first, there’s a three-fold repetition: ‘Tell Aaron. . .” (7:19, 8:5, 8:16) God speaks to Moses, but he’s allowed to pass the words on to someone else to actually speak them.

After the third plague, the refrain changes. Aaron is still there, side-by-side with Moses, still summoned with him into Pharaoh’s presence, still sometimes used to bring about the plagues (9:8,10). But now God speaks directly and Moses doesn’t fuss as he receives and (himself!) obeys the command, “Confront Pharaoh and say to him. . .” (8:20, 9:1, 9:13, 10:1) By the last two plagues, as the situation continues to escalate, Moses alone is called into Pharaoh’s presence. Moses alone confronts the wrath of the ruler and becomes God’s willing instrument in word and deed. (10:21-11:8)

There hasn’t been a mention of insecurity since Moses began to obey and watch God act. Perhaps he got caught up in the bigger drama of what God was doing and forgot about himself. Perhaps he began to realize that, after all, it’s not what we can or can’t do, but what God does that matters.

Watch the man when the situation is dire, the people caught (literally!) between the desert and the deep blue sea. Faced with a huge crowd of panicking people, the lips that used to falter with fear now speak truth he has lived. “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (14:13-14)  Moses had entered, reluctantly obedient, unable even to stand still before God. But grace had held him there, and he had seen! Ten times over he had seen miracles of water becoming blood, of frogs and locusts and gnats both coming and going in response to God’s words proceeding out of his own mouth. He had learned to trust the word of God given to him as he had been intimate witness not merely to the outward miracles, but to the bigger wonder taking place within him.

Sometimes there’s no better cure for fear than getting on and doing what we’ve been given and watching what God does with it.