It does seem as though God’s purpose in the ministry of preaching, just as in everything else, is to stain the pride of all human glory. That may explain why he often picks unlikely, unexceptional people for the most important tasks. This fact comes into sharp focus in the life of Moses. He is the man God used to speak the words that would result in the deliverance of His people from Pharaoh’s tyranny: “Let my people go!” (Exodus 5:1). But Moses was, quite frankly, a surprising choice for this role of mouth-piece: he was plagued with oratorical weakness.
God often picks unlikely, unexceptional people for the most important tasks.
The Unlikely Candidate
In an uplifting way, Moses’ call reminds those of us who preach that it is not splendid talents, or profound learning, or distinguished eloquence that succeeds in preaching.
Of course, while this reality is profoundly humbling, it can also be utterly discouraging.
How the Lord deals with his servant Moses during his call is helpful:
But… I am slow of speech and of tongue!
“But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:10-12).
This brief passage is a goldmine teeming with treasure! And by mining it I hope to encourage those who teach and preach in the church: God is working in your weakness.
Forceful Moses Felt Afraid
Moses was the Lord’s handpicked instrument. As a babe he was a “fine child,” and his mother could not suffer to lose him (Exodus 2:2). As God’s providence would have it, Moses benefited from an august upbringing in the Egyptian palace. Thus Luke writes, “he was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22). Moses was a man of privilege. But he had also wrestled and slain an enemy before the actual exodus. Clearly, he was no pushover.
Moses was pretty tough. By Exodus 4, he had tended sheep on the other side of Mount Horeb some forty years – and that was no picnic. It was a harsh and foreign land. He had also successfully braved the hardships of the Midian jungle. By these measures, Moses seemed braced for his assignment. Alas.
His strength had turned into shakiness and his forcefulness had spun into frailty.
The Mission Is Daunting
The magnitude of the forthcoming mission was daunting. For indeed, as Paul asks: “who is adequate for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). There was a power to defeat and a people to deliver. There was a message to relay and a mission to realise. (Exodus 3:7-10).
Yet this servant of the Lord felt inadequate and inept. Thus he rejoins: “I am not eloquent… I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10). He that was previously fearsome felt feeble. His strength had turned into shakiness and his forcefulness had spun into frailty. The trajectory was terrifying.
In passing, I would suggest that preaching too should be a daunting task. If we are not intimidated by it then perhaps we haven’t processed its gravity rightly.
God’s Response: I Know Your Weakness
In Moses’ case the Lord would not relent. He is no oblivious Master. Rather, he offered the contending servant a fitting response: “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11). Moses’ weaknesses were not lost on God. In fact he revealed that these infirmities proceeded from him. Moses wasn’t briefing God on anything he didn’t know. Has the creature anything to teach the Creator? Can ignorance enlighten omniscience? Can mortal lips silence omnipotence? What is a stutter to the Creator of speech, or a lisp to the one who made lips?
What is a stutter to the Creator of speech, or a lisp to the one who made lips?
Job got it right. “If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?” (Job 9:19). Moses did not prevail. He could not. His retort could not stop a God bent on saving his people, Israel. No disputation could divert his divine desire. This is not unlike God. Even in our day, the Lord has a people to save, so he calls the preacher, weak as he may be or feel.
Recommissioned & Reassured
Having answered his troubled servant, the Lord recommissions and reassures Moses. “Therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” What a sympathetic master the Lord is! The mission is not rescinded. Rather, a promise is appended. “I will be with your mouth.” God also provided for him Aaron, his brother, who could speak well. He that was faltering was promised fortification; the spineless was afforded strength. And through Aaron, Moses was told that he “shall speak” (Exodus 4:15).
The Lord has a people to save, so he calls the preacher, weak as he may be or feel.
Brothers, we may be slow of speech and inept at turning phrases. But herein lies an encouragement for the ministers of the gospel, teachers and preachers. As we speak the Word of God to those whom he sends us, we have in our company one greater than Aaron. For God’s Spirit empowers his words as we speak them. It is little wonder Paul enjoins the Ephesians to pray that, “words may be given to me in opening my mouth, boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).
Strength in Weakness
This, O weak servants, must always be our confidence: that when we weak, stammering servants speak the omnipotent word of a great and mighty God, we have the help of his Spirit. When this takes place the powers of hell give way and God’s people are liberated. For ‘when we are weak, then we are strong.’ And in all our labours, we ought to remember that it is not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
A Lesson For Preachers
There is much benefit from this passage for us whom Paul calls “ministers of the new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:6). In fact it is very practical and pastorally instructive. The truth is that all of us are beleaguered by countless weaknesses. Granted, we could have picked up some training along the way – we could have bagged some experience over the years. But it is inarguable that the vast majority of us are men of meagre gifts and modest aptitudes: we are weak men (1 Corinthians 1:27).
The messenger’s weakness is not fatal to the mission, it’s essential.
By using frail and expendable people God makes it clear that the messenger’s weakness is not fatal to the mission, it’s essential. Because God wants to get the praise that belongs to him alone. For just as a doctor uses a plastic, disposable syringe to administer life giving medicine, God uses weak, common men to carry and minister the lifesaving message to the world.
So, for the sake of God’s praise, let us speak! Dear weak ministers, let us preach! Our weaknesses will not undermine God’s mission.