Cowardice, Courage, and the Calling of God
But he said, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.”
So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and He said: “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.”
Are you a coward?
That might sound like an inflammatory question, like I’m trying to shame you or at least trying to challenge you in such a way as to get you step it up and really give it your all. But I don’t mean either of those things. Instead, ask yourself calmly and truthfully whether you possess the virtue of courage. Have you ever been in a position to have that tested? If you really get scared, can you stand fast, or do you hit the eject button?
Cowardice is not a sin that only afflicts wimpy people. In fact, Moses struggled with it, as we see in our text today. We know that Moses could be brave when he needed to—just look at how he fought against the Egyptian and then the shepherds in Midian. But he also had his moments of self-doubt, and when God calls him to be the deliver of Israel, Moses tries to get out of it. He second guesses God a few times, and when he can’t think of any more objections, he simply says, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send” (Ex. 4:13). Anybody but me, O Lord!
Moses was scared. He didn’t want the calling God was placing on Him. And so God had to teach him to be brave. This happened through some harsh discipline, through some special gifting, through instruction about divine sovereignty, and, ultimately, through a lifetime of practice learning as God lead the way. And that’s how God teaches us today. We need to find our courage so that we can answer God’s call, and we will only do that if we know that it will actually be God Who does it in us. Let us turn to the example of Moses to see what this looks like.
At the Burning Bush, God tells Moses that He has heard Israel’s groanings in Egypt and is going to deliver them with a mighty hand. This is very good news. But then he adds something else. God says, “Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Gen. 3:10). Moses’ reply is a pretty audible “Gulp!”
After hearing this, Moses asks God a series of questions about how this is going to work. They start off legitimate enough. “Who am I?” That’s understandable, humble even. “What name should I tell the people?” That makes sense too. Moses is going to need to prove that His calling is legitimate. “But what if they don’t believe me?” Ok, Moses is starting push things now. God has already promised success. But graciously, God puts up with Moses and grants him three miraculous signs. First, Moses rod turns into a serpent. Next, Moses gets leprosy, but only temporarily, And then third, Moses is given power to turn water to blood. These signs will prove that God is working in and through Moses. If you look down at verses 30-31, you can see that Moses actually performed all these signs in the sight of Israel, and having seen the signs, they believed.
But these miracles are actually not enough for Moses, are they? After God sends these miracles, Moses keeps protesting. His next question isn’t really a question. He says, “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” (Ex. 4:10). This doesn’t mean that Moses was actually handicapped. It just means that he doesn’t think he’s a great orator. It’s a pretty weak excuse. But still, God is patient with Moses. He explains that Moses shouldn’t be worried about his own abilities. After all, this is God talking to him—the God Who made him, Who made his mouth, and Who made the ears of his audience. I think God can figure out how to make this all work, don’t you? But again, God goes even further. He promises Moses, “I will be your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Ex. 4:12). God will work in and through Moses.
Now, is this enough? Does Moses say, “Ok, God, I trust you.”? No! Amazingly, Moses still protests, and this last time he just says, please send somebody else! “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send” (Ex. 4:13).
At this point, God has had it. “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” (Ex. 4:14). Does this mean that fire shot out from the bush? We don’t know. I think that it probably is connected to what happens a little later where it says that God tried to kill Moses (Ex. 4:24-26). Some sort of judgment was attached to this.
Yet, even here, the Lord is patient with Moses. He agrees to send Aaron to be Moses’ spokesman.
Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. …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. (Ex. 4:14, 16)
That bit about Moses being like a God to Aaron is a reference to the common way that ancient deities had official spokesman or messenger gods. Typically the most high god was mostly silent, and there were lesser gods or priests who spoke for him. That’s the idea here. Moses would be the authoritative power, and Aaron would be the priestly spokesman who actually proclaims Moses’ will.
Cowardice Makes Sense
Now, why is Moses afraid in this section? Is he an especially weak man? Not exactly. The Bible does elsewhere say that Moses was meek, and there is probably a connection between His meekness and His reluctance to accept this call. But we know that Moses could be brave as well. So we shouldn’t portray Moses as a wimp.
No, Moses was affected by cowardice in this section because he was being realistic. He knew the odds, and he had a pretty good idea of what would happen if he tried to lead Israel out of Egypt. Israel wasn’t very easy to lead in the first place, something Moses already knew from experience, and Pharaoh was not very likely to cooperate either. This sort of mission sounded a lot like a call to martyrdom.
Would you have responded any differently?
It’s easy to be brave in theory. It’s an entirely different thing in real life. What if God called you to do something big, something dangerous? Would you be willing? What if God called you to take a risk?
What if God called on you to quit your job? Could you do something like that? What if God called on you to move to a dangerous location? It doesn’t even have to be a foreign country. What if He called you to move to a bad neighborhood? Could you do that?
I think at that point, you would start to sound a lot like Moses. You would come up with a list of excuses, some of which were even legitimate. You might even tell yourself you are just being smart. But is that true?
What about taking steps to avoid sin? Jesus says that we should be willing to cut off our hand or pluck out our eye if that’s what it takes (Matt. 5:28-29). And sure, he’s speaking metaphorically. But what’s the counterpoint? It might be something like getting rid of your smartphone, canceling your internet, getting new friends, quitting a job, or moving. Could you do that? Or would your fear of “things not working out” be too strong?
Worse yet, what if God asked you give up your worldly possessions, to adopt a set of moral and religious beliefs that would make you a social pariah (a weirdo), and to suffer a lifetime of hostility and adversity, even occasionally to the point of death?
I have some bad news for you. That is exactly what God calls us to do. We are all Moses in this way. We must all risk our life in order to be faithful. How can we do this?
Overcome Fear Through Faith
Now, remember what I said about Moses earlier. He wasn’t a wimp. He was thinking rationally. He was looking at the world in a pretty normal way and making a very reasonable estimation about how things were going to work. His fear made a ton of sense!
So we don’t overcome fear by just gritting our teeth and trying to overpower it. No, we need a different strategy. And ironically, the biblical strategy is to get a new fear. In order to not fear the wrong things, we need to learn the things we should really be afraid of.
Jesus addresses this point directly in the gospels. He says:
And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7)
In order to get over our fear of man, Jesus says we have to fear God. And yes, he brings up hell. That might sound a little too fundamentalist for you, but I just have to point out, that it is, in fact, Jesus Who is doing it.
If you think suffering in this world is scary, imagine suffering for eternity. Instead of saying, “there’s no way this plan is going to work,” you should say, “There’s no way my plan is going to work.” If you do the scary thing God calls you to do, then you don’t know what’s going to happen, but if you don’t do it, then you know exactly what’s going to happen. You’re going to be punished. If you live life on your terms, you will go to Hell! As an old friend of mine used to say, “Nothing clears the mind like a lack of options.” And so, let us fight fear with fear.
But God doesn’t leave us with only fear. No, He gives us gospel promises. He says He will be with us and take care of us, and He promises us how things are going to end. That’s what He did for Moses. He tells Him that He will make sure that it works out. He will lead Israel by a mighty hand. And we can trust this God because, as we heard last week, this God is absolute reality and He never changes. He is almighty!
The sovereignty of God is the perfect tool for building spiritual courage. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). And God doesn’t only tell us about His power in abstract, but He models it in and through Christ. Importantly, He models it through Christ’s own suffering! And so the Apostle Paul can say this:
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:32-38)
We can be spiritually courageous because we can trust God, and we can trust God because we have seen what He has already done in and through Jesus.
So, get the right perspective, we might say. Remember Who is in charge and what He has said. And then practically, pray. You should pray for courage. There will definitely be times when you become fearful and anxious in this life, and when that happens, you should tell God and ask Him to do something about it. Psalm 138:3 says “In the day when I cried out, You answered me, And made me bold with strength in my soul.” Philippians 4 puts it this way:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
You can over come your fear. You can have spiritual courage. You just have to remember who God is and then ask Him to do what He has promised.
To bring this all to conclusion, I want to give you this simple commission. Answer God’s call. Don’t let fear deceive you. Don’t let it cause you to believe that the reality you see with your eyes is all that there is.
Instead, beat fear back with a new fear, the fear of the Lord. Consider that God has promised to be with us, He has promised us the victory, and He has already shown us that through His son Jesus.