Q: We will focus on Moses’ call from God, especially in chapters 3 and 4. Why did God call him? Did Moses’ upbringing and past play any role with his calling? What is the nature of Moses’ calling? What is the relationship between Moses’ call and God’s self-revelation to him at the burning bush? What does the author/narrator want to reveal about what a prophet’s role is? What parallels, if any, can you draw between Moses’ call and Jesus’ call in the New Testament?
In these chapters we see God’s saving presence and plan to save his people in the early life of Moses as God’s agent in his deliverance. Moses’ Levite parents saved him from a cruel death (2: 1 – 10), was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, and then reared by his mother. Though Moses would enjoy the privileges of the Egyptian royal court – as a prince of Egypt nonetheless- he never forgot his Israelite heritage. Furthermore, Moses grew up learning the Egyptian language, writing, administration, and customs which would prove important later on in his future meetings with the king as well as his later role as administrator and lawgiver of the freed Hebrew people. One can argue that it would have been doubtful that Moses could’ve gotten an audience with the king without his royal Egyptian background, so the audience of the book of Exodus would’ve known that God was behind the scenes all the while. Moses is situated in a very unique situation where he is able to carry out his specific role in God’s unfolding plan in the narrative, as he will basically be the primary eligible person to be able to even approach the Pharaoh as a prince of Egypt.
It is interesting to note that there are two mentions of Moses’ upbringing in Egypt in the New Testament: “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” (Acts 7:22) and “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin…” (Hebrews 11: 23 – 28) These last verses reflect Moses’ strong identification with his suffering fellow Hebrews shown in his reaction toward the Egyptian taskmaster when the beat a Hebrew slave.
In all of these events, it’s always important to bear in mind constantly throughout the narrative God’s initial reason and purpose for calling Moses in the first place: God had heard the cries of his people in Egypt and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In Moses’ encounter with God (or more specifically with the angel of God) in the burning bush, God was transforming Moses from being an exiled shepherd with a murderous past into being a deliverer and prophet of God. So radical was the call that Moses raised a series of objections, to which God patiently responded (3:11 – 4:17). Though Moses tested God’s patience with further objections, God kept after Moses, forcing him to decide. In one instance, it is interesting to note that God was willing to make a concession by making Aaron, his brother, into his personal spokesman. Moses would play the role of God, and Aaron would be his prophet (Ex. 4:14-16), or literally the mouthpiece of God. God knows that Moses is unqualified, but He sends him anyway. However, He’ll use someone else if He’s pushed to the limit. God doesn’t endow Moses with special, magical powers or suddenly blesses him with eloquent speech. Instead, God promises that “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex. 4:12) Throughout the Bible, God will seemingly choose the most unqualified to do his work to make the point that God doesn’t choose the most qualified, he qualifies the chosen. And when you reflect upon our lives as well, how often have we felt unqualified in doing’s God’s work or calling? God’s calling is often more of a call to put our trust in Him rather than doing something super-special or big for God. Similarly, our calling in our lives in various ministries God places us will be unique to us, so we should therefore be very sensitive when this moment comes to us.
Moses would eventually concede to God’s call (4:8), and we will start to see a “messenger formula” by which the prophetic word was authorized as the word of God by the use of the words, “Thus says the Lord…” Although prophecy did not reach its fullest development until the period of Israel’s monarchy, its form emerged full-blown in the call, commission, and task of Moses, the prophet of God par excellence (Deut. 18: 15 – 20).
Some interesting parallels between Jesus and Moses. Like Moses, Christ began his earthly ministry in the wilderness, and the gospels clearly show that his life was a fulfillment of the exodus. Just as God’s presence in the burning bush initiated Moses’ call, so does God’s presence in Jesus’ baptism initiate Jesus’ call into ministry in delivering people from the slavery, not of Egypt of course, but of sin. Moses confronts Pharaoh, while Jesus confronts Satan in the wilderness. In the gospel of Matthew during the episode of the Sermon on the Mount, the author deliberately draws the reader to make the connection between Moses and Jesus, as he presents Jesus as the true Moses or one greater than Moses: repeatedly, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, [Mosaic law…]. But I tell you…” In essence, Jesus’ words now supersede Moses’ laws; furthermore, you can state the case that Jesus is not just God’s greatest prophet (i.e. “mouthpiece”) here and throughout the gospels, but that Jesus was actually God’s voice or God himself speaking directly, face-to-face with people – something quite shocking and radical when you think about it.