Group Study: Responding to God
Scripture: Exodus 4:10-16, 27-31
Background Scripture: Exodus 4:10-16, 27-31
Aaron told them everything that the LORD had told to Moses, and he performed the signs in front of the people. (Exodus 4:30 CEB)
Because some people believe they are not adequate to a task, they are fearful of and resistant to accepting it. How can people who are afraid be encouraged to do the work assigned them? Moses resisted God’s call, but then he accepted aid from his brother Aaron, according to God’s command.
- to delve into the account of Moses’ resistance to God’s commands and Aaron’s acceptance of his role in leading the people.
- to explore personal feelings of inadequacy.
- to take responsibility for the tasks to which God has called them.
Abihu (uh bi’ hyoo) Ithamar (ith’ uh mahr)
Amram (am’ram) Jochebed (jok’ uh bed)
Eleazar (el ee ay’ zuhr) Levite (lee’ vite)
Elisheba (i lish’ uh buh) Nadab (nay’ dab)
Understanding the Scripture
The conversation between God and Moses at the burning bush, which we looked at last week, is continued here in this lesson. As you recall, Moses’ first response to God was on the order of a simple “Why me?” He has raised several other objections in the intervening verses and comes now to what he must suppose will clinch his argument and compel God to choose someone else for this great task instead of him. What he says, in essence in verse 10, is actually humorous: “I have not ever been a good speaker, and I certainly have not gotten any better since I have been talking with you.” Of course we are not privy to Moses’ inner thoughts and feelings, so we do not know if this was just one more excuse or if he actually believed himself to be a poor speaker. Perhaps he really did want this mission to succeed and was afraid that if he were the leader it would have very little chance of working out right. God reminds Moses that all our senses are part of the divine creation and reassures him that he will not be alone when he goes before Pharaoh. But the reassurance is for naught. “Please, please, please just send someone else,” begs Moses.
A portion of verse 11 may be troublesome to some. Is it saying that God causes people to be blind or mute? (A very similar question is asked of Jesus by the disciples in John 9.) This is an important question and the answer is not a simple yes or no. If there is only one God—as Israel maintains throughout the Old Testament—then ultimately nothing can be done outside the divine providence. But if one carries this manner of thinking too far in a straight line, it could come out saying that we human beings finally bear no responsibility for our own actions, or even that since Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites, it must all have been part of God’s will. No, many things remain mysteries to us and probably beyond our complete understanding in this life. In this verse God is reassuring Moses that his inability to speak well is not an insurmountable obstacle to God.
Since Moses has been raising objection after objection for a chapter and a half, it does not seem surprising that God’s patience seems to be wearing thin. “All right,” says God, “Aaron can be the speaker.” This pronouncement raises questions: Who is Aaron? Where has he come from? We know that Aaron was the brother of Moses and of Miriam. Exodus 6:20 records genealogical information about his family: “Amram married Jochebed his father’s sister and she bore him Aaron and Moses.” Numbers 26:59 records that Jochebed was the daughter of Levi, and that she and Amram had three children: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. Moses’ birth story tells us that Miriam watched to see what would happen to baby Moses, and even offered to get a Hebrew woman (their mother) to nurse him (Exodus 2:4-8), so we can conclude that she was significantly older than Moses. Exodus 7:7 states that when God called, Moses was eighty and Aaron was eighty-three, so Aaron must have been the middle child, only three years older than Moses. Exodus 6:23 records that Aaron was married to Elisheba and that together they had four children: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. From this genealogy we also learn that this family is descended from Levi (6:16), just as recorded in Exodus 2:1.
Exodus 4:14 raises another question: Why is Aaron “coming out to meet” Moses now? How does he even know where Moses is after all this time? These questions are perfectly legitimate, but the narrator has no interest in them. God needs to provide someone to be Moses’ spokesman, and Aaron is chosen. It would be fascinating if we also had an account of Aaron’s call in Egypt, wouldn’t it? Bringing in another person at this point can teach us several important lessons. God is not saying, in introducing Aaron, that there is no further use for Moses. Rather, God is going to “Plan B” to take into account Moses’ objections and fears. The strengths of one of them can fill in for the weaknesses of the other. In addition, neither of them needs to be fearful of what to say, because God will provide the words necessary at the appropriate time. (See also Jesus’ several assurances to the disciples, as at Matthew 10:19-20, Mark 13:11, and Luke 12:11-12.)
The actual meeting of Aaron and Moses is recounted after Moses has gone home to tell his father-in-law that he wants to return to Egypt to see his own family. Moses, his wife Zipporah, and their two sons set out from Midian with Jethro’s blessing (4:18-20). The narrator, with great economy of words, tells us that Moses recounts everything he has heard and seen from the Lord to his brother and shows him the signs God taught him. Did Aaron already know what God had promised? Was he excited? Was he reluctant? Was he Was he excited? Was he reluctant? Was he just glad to have his brother back, even with this amazing commission from God? Again the narrator is silent about all these human details. Instead, the narrator focuses on the plot of the story, telling what is necessary to let the reader know what is happening.
After they arrive back in Egypt, Moses and Aaron gather the leaders of the Israelites. They tell the people the momentous news that the Lord has heard their cries for help and has promised to deliver them from their bondage. The two of them even show the leaders all the signs God had taught Moses back at the burning bush (see Exodus 4:2-7). Who would not believe such wondrous news, especially when it is accompanied by strange supernatural signs? And so we are told that the people did believe what Moses and Aaron told them. In response to the news, they worshiped the Lord. Yes, we know the rest of the story, and we know they will raise objections of their own soon enough. But for now their response is exactly right: They hear and see, they believe, and they worship.
Interpreting the Scripture
One More Excuse
When Moses tells God that he has never been a good speaker and has not gotten better since conversing with God, how does he mean it? That verse could be read in several tones of voice with many different meanings. Perhaps Moses believes that his halting speech will be a serious barrier to the task of freeing the slaves. Or maybe he is just making excuses. We really do not know. And what of the responses we make when we are asked to take on a task with great responsibility? We too may answer with mixed motives. “I am not good enough, not skilled enough, not energetic enough,” are some common options. And we may be exactly right when we give those reasons for trying to turn down the job. We do need to ask ourselves, usually, whether we are trying to get out of doing something we don’t want to do mostly because we just don’t want to do it. All our objections cannot ever be answered totally, especially if the issues we are raising are not really honest questions but rather excuses to avoid responsibility. If we want to have all the facts before making a decision we will remain perpetual fence-straddlers. But, look at the way God responded to Moses by solving the particular problem. If we respond to the invitation with honest concerns, if we take those concerns to God and to other members of the body of Christ, it is possible a solution will be forthcoming that we had not thought of ourselves.
Anger With a Solution
Yes, the text says clearly that God became angry. But God’s anger does not lash out at others the way human anger often does. Nor is God an emotionless machine. For whatever fathomless reason, God wants to be in relationship with us. God loves us and wants us—all of us—to have good and fulfilling lives on this earth. So when we wiggle and squirm and keep throwing objections back at God’s requests, it is not surprising that God’s response may at some points seem a little out of sorts. God cares passionately about this creation and therefore cares passionately about what we are doing to it and to one another. God did not want the Israelites to remain slaves in Egypt and, for whatever reason, needed Moses to help free them. We all want God to be patient with us, but maybe for the sake of other people God will let some of this sort of anger show once in a while. Maybe the anger was to get Moses’ attention. Maybe it was a way of reminding Moses that what his kinfolk were experiencing back in Egypt was not a “Sunday school picnic.” Maybe God was, in effect, saying that Moses had a pretty soft life, even out in the wilderness with a flock of sheep, compared to what the slaves were living through. The anger is short-lived, and God comes up with the solution to Moses’ final objection to his call.
Others Are Called Too
The introduction of Aaron into the story raises several more questions. It is likely that many parallels to our own stories are raised as well. What if Aaron had not agreed to his own call? What if he did not have a good relationship (or any relationship) with his brother? What if he resented Moses’ upbringing in Pharaoh’s palace while he, Aaron, had to live and work as a slave? What if he did not want to be just the mouthpiece? What if he had had a relationship with God for many years and resented being only second in command instead of the leader? Anyone who has read the book of Genesis knows that biblical brothers do not always get along well with each other! And I can imagine many questions from Moses’ side as well when God offers Aaron as the solution to Moses’ difficulty with speech. Most of the preceding questions about Aaron could just as well be posed from the point of view of Moses.
It is probably especially difficult in our society, with the numerous culture heroes of lone cowboys, maverick crime fighters, and self-made men and women of every stripe, to put in a good word for cooperation at the highest levels. The image of “the individual” seems so strong at times that cooperation is almost a taboo, and compromise is seen as a bad thing. Yet this biblical passage shows another way: No one can have all the qualifications required for a large undertaking. Yet the culture proclaims that winning is everything, that no one remembers number two, and so forth. My biweekly newspaper seldom has an issue without pictures of winners: endless beauty pageants with a winner in each of several age categories, the real estate agent with the highest sales for the month, the boy with the most rebounds on the high school basketball team, the cutest baby at the fall festival. Rarely is a cooperative venture celebrated. I certainly do not mean to denigrate individual achievements; my point is that we need to pay attention to more than individual winners while dismissing everyone else as losers. Could the real estate agent, to take one example, have made all those sales without the support of an office staff? Or could the basketball player have rebounded so many times without four teammates on the court with him—to say nothing of an opposing five-person team? Although celebrating the team with the best winning record, or the real estate office with the most sales could be a step in a better direction, what about all the other basketball players and house sellers? Why do we not celebrate a game well played and work done well? Must everything be divided into winners and losers or leaders and followers?
Of course this is not a new problem, nor one found only in the United States. Jesus’ disciples did a fair amount of jockeying for position also. (See, among other passages, Matthew 18:1-5; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48.) This issue can raise questions for our life together within the body of Christ. How well do we cooperate in the church? How much do we realize our need for one another and our dependence on one another?
When Moses and Aaron return to Egypt everything looks good for a while. That simple statement “the people believed” (4:31) must have been heartening to them. This is often the case. In the first wave of enthusiasm for a new project, a new political candidate, or a new emphasis in the church, much may be accomplished. We need not be cynical and always looking for the downside, the slipup, the mistakes. That first enthusiasm was real and is to be celebrated. In the strength of such moments we can go far in the work God has given us to do.
Sharing the Scripture
Preparing Our Hearts
Meditate on this week’s devotional reading, found in Proverbs 1:20-33. Wisdom, personified in this passage as a woman, is eager to share her knowledge but also ready to rain down disaster on those who refuse to listen to her. Think carefully about these questions: In what ways do you seek and heed God’s wisdom? How can God’s wisdom embolden you to accept confidently tasks God calls you to do? Pray that you and the group will be open to responding to the knowledge that God wants to give you to benefit yourself and others.
Preparing Our Minds
Study the background and lesson Scripture, both of which are found in Exodus 4:10-16, 27-31. Familiarize yourself with Understanding the Scripture so as to be able to help answer students’ questions.
Leading the Group
- Pray that today’s participants will be ready and willing to respond to God’s call on their lives.
- Read this brief excerpt from the book This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman. Introduce Jody Williams as the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, an organization that was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. “I believe it is possible for ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. For me, the difference between an ‘ordinary’ and an ‘extraordinary’ person is not the title that person might have, but what they do to make the world a better place for us all. . . My older brother was born deaf. Growing up, I ended up defending him, and I often think that is what started me on my path to whatever it is I am today. When I was approached with the idea of trying to create a landmine campaign, we were just three people in a small office in Washington, D.C., in late 1991. I certainly had more than a few ideas about how to begin a campaign, but what if nobody cared? What if nobody responded? But I knew the only way to answer those questions was to accept the challenge.”
- Discuss these questions with the group:
- What do you suppose motivated Jody Williams and her colleagues to work so diligently on behalf of a cause?
- Jody obviously took a risk to support something she believed in, even though she said she really did not know how to begin. What lessons can you learn from her?
- Read aloud today’s focus statement: Because some people believe they are not adequate to a task, they are fearful of and resistant to accepting it. How can people who are afraid be encouraged to do the work assigned them? Moses resisted God’s call, but then he accepted aid from his brother Aaron, according to God’s command.
- Choose three volunteers to read the parts of Moses, God, and a narrator in Exodus 4:10-16, 27-31.
- Invite the group to raise questions about this passage. What seems unclear or puzzling to them?
- Look at the situation from Aaron’s point of view. Read aloud the first paragraph of “Others Are Called Too.”
- Choose at least one team of two roleplayers to take the parts of Aaron and Moses. Ask these volunteers to have a conversation as if they are meeting for the first time in years. Have Moses tell Aaron what God expects them to do. Either or both may ask questions and raise objections.
- End this portion by inviting the group members who observed this exchange to make comments about how they might have responded had they been Moses or Aaron.
- Read aloud these quotations:
Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile . . . initially scared me to death. (Betty Bender)
Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. (John Wooden)
Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance. (Bruce Barton)
- Invite the group members to discuss these ideas by commenting on how they respond to challenges that appear to be beyond their ability to fulfill.
- Point out that God answered Moses’ concerns by having Aaron join him. Challenge the group to make a list of tasks in your congregation where more people are needed to assist. Maybe you need more choir members, more Sunday school teachers, more missions team members, or more hospital visitors.
- Provide quiet time for the group to reflect on the list. Encourage them to listen. Is God calling them to take responsibility for any of these tasks? Suggest that they write down any actions they feel called to take. Suggest that they list all of the reasons they can think of as to why they should not accept these responsibilities. Recommend that they pray silently about these objections.
- Ask everyone to choose a prayer partner in the group. Make sure that everyone has a partner. Be sure that the partners have a phone number or email address so that they can check in during the week.
- Conclude by encouraging group members to continue to pray about God’s call and their own response, as well as the call and response of their prayer partner.
- Pray that everyone will go forth today ready to hear God’s call and respond with confidence, knowing that God will provide all they need to accomplish the task.
- Sing or read aloud “Take My Life, and Let It Be.”
- Conclude the session by leading the group in this benediction: We hear your call, O God, and ask that you send us forth empowered by your Spirit to live and serve as your covenant people.
Adapted from The New International Lesson Annual © 2008 Abingdon Press