Reluctant Hero

According to the third and fourth chapters of Exodus, Moses was a very reluctant hero. The impetuous man who wanted justice for the Israelites, who was quick to murder an oppressor, no longer existed forty years later when God appeared in a burning bush out in the Midian wilderness. Moses was not interested in rescuing slaves and no longer bothered himself with justice for God’s people. He was beyond old, he was tired, and he had a good life right where he was, and it was too late for him.

But the man who doesn’t want to do the job is often the best one for it, especially if the job is high profile and powerful. There is a difference between those who have greatness thrust upon them, versus those who seek it out–or worse, simply inherit it.

One day Moses was out taking care of sheep, the same as what he’d done most days for the last forty years. But then he noticed something out of the ordinary: a bush in flames. As he watched it burning, he eventually realized that although there was fire, the bush seemed not to be getting consumed by the flame. Puzzled, he finally decided to walk over and check it out.

He was startled when a voice came from the bush, first calling to him by name, and then demanding that he come no closer and that he should take his shoes off. Shortly after that, the voice then identified itself as belonging to God: “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10)

Moses responded by asking, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

God reassured him that he would go with him.

Moses asked for God’s name. God gave him one.

Moses asked, “what if they don’t believe me?” God gave him some miracles to perform: turning his staff into a snake, turning his hand leprous and not, and turning water into blood.

Moses then told God that he was a lousy public speaker. God reassured him that, given that he had made Moses’ mouth, he really had nothing to worry about: God would give him the words he needed to say.

Finally, out of excuses, Moses simply told God, “Please send someone else to do it.” (Exodus 3:13)

Exasperated, God told him that Aaron, his brother, could act as his spokesperson: but in any case, Moses would have to go and do the job. Reluctantly, seeing no way out, Moses obeyed at last and went to prepare for the journey back to Egypt.

Accomplishing mighty things for God has little to do with our own desires or effort (see the story of Jonah for another reluctant hero). Instead, it all has to do with God’s choice:

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. (Romans 9:16)

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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