Jesse Tree 9. “Moses: Servant Leader”

Scripture: Exod 3:1–4:17

Moses in Egypt

Moses wasn’t from the elect line of Judah, but from the tribe of Levi—which wasn’t necessarily so blessed (Gen 49:5–7). But God commissioned him to liberate his people and guide them into nationhood. At his birth, Moses’s mother took extra care to protect him from the Egyptians, who were busy killing baby boys to hold down the Hebrews’ exploding population growth.

In fact, Moses ended up growing up in royal circumstances as adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter (Exod 2:1–10). You might think this would have alienated him from his own people. After all, they were not only serving as slaves, but were increasingly being degraded by their Egyptian slave drivers. But Moses kept a heart for his people. So when he grew up, he wanted to help deliver his people from the cruelty of their overlords.

Moses in the Desert

Moses kills Egyptian
Moses kills the Egyptian

Unfortunately, his own early initiatives misfired, and he had to flee for his life. Now, instead of having the run of the Pharaoh’s palace, he was on the lam out in the wilderness. But there he spent forty years learning to shepherd the flock of God by “tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro” (Exod 2:11–3:1). His forty years training in the royal circles of Egypt were to be matched by forty years training in the wilderness. Only then would he be truly ready to lead his people in the freedom march granted by God’s redemption.

Moses Called Back to Egypt

One day God met Moses at a burning bus and told him, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod 3:6). God was remembering his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen 12:1–3, etc.). The Lord had seen his people’s misery and heard their cry for deliverance, and he was going to use Moses to bring them out of Egypt (Exod 3:7–10).

Moses’s Objections

They won’t remember you Lord

But Moses knew God’s people weren’t exactly meditating daily on the covenant with their fathers. In fact, Moses objected that the people probably didn’t even remember the name of their God (Exod 3:13). God basically told Moses, then it’s time I reintroduce myself to them: “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exod 3:14). It’s interesting to note that God’s name Yahweh sounds like he verb “he is” (the LORD in English Bibles). God’s reintroduction would remind them of his eternal unchanging nature.

They won’t believe you sent me

Moses’s next objection to this commission was, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The LORD never appeared to you’?” (Exod 4:1). So God promised to perform mighty signs through Moses, which would indicate his divine commission. Once Moses finally obeyed, things worked out just like God promised (Exod 4:2–9; 7:8–11:10).

I’m not a good speaker

Then Moses objected, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled” (Exod 4:10). Some commentators doubt the truth of Moses’s objections in this case, since the New Testament tells us that Moses had been well educated and was “powerful in both speech and action” (Acts 7:22). But remember, Moses had not exactly kept his public speaking skills honed to their finest by whistling and yelling at sheep for forty years.

God’s Response to Moses’s Objections

Well, God’s response to this objection should have settled it for Moses: “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say” (Exod 4:11–12).

Send someone else 

Burning Bush
Eugène Pluchart (Евгений Александрович Плюшар), “Moses at the Burning Bush,” a painting from Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Saint Petersburg

“But Moses again pleaded, ‘LORD, please! Send anyone else’” (4:13). Well, “Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth” (Num 12:3), but this kind of so-called humility in the face of God’s call is not something God accepts quietly.

God’s Final Offer

Moses’s continued sense of being insufficient for the task got God riled up. Even so, God provided Aaron as Moses’s spokesman, even calling him Moses’s prophet (Exod 4:14–17; 7:1). But then I guess you might say that brotherly assistance proved to be a mixed blessing (Exod 32; Num 12). Finally, Moses went. God did all that he promised, and he used Moses to liberate his people from brutal enslavement in Egypt.

Israel’s Growth in Egypt

Israel’s Population Growth

Pietro della Vecchia (1602/3–1678), “Moses and Aaron with the Pharaoh”

During their “exile” in Egypt the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had grown into a people so numerous that their powerful Egyptian overlords felt threatened by their presence among them (Exod 1:1–10). This marked a real surge in fulfillment of the promise to make a great nation of Israel, by making them numerous as sand on the seashore and stars in the sky.1

The New Testament describes it this way: “A whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them” (Heb 11:12).

Israel’s Need for a Land

But a nation needs not only a population but also a land. Now after centuries of exile in Egypt, the people were on their way back to the land that God had promised to their fathers.2

God keeps his promises, in spite of his people’s all too frequent disregard of his covenant and in spite of his messengers’ all too frequent reluctance to acquiesce to his assignments.

Questions, Meditations, and Commitments

  • When does reluctance born of modesty turn into the reluctance born of inability to trust God?
  • If you have been guilty of shying away from some work for God because you think yourself ill-equipped, consider the possibility that God might just help you do it, and that he would bless that work with success.

Ornament for the day

  • Click here to download cross-stitch patterns for all the daily ornaments.
  • Click here to download a simple coloring book for all the daily ornaments.


  1. Deut 1:10; see Gen 13:16; 15:5; 17:6; 22:17; 26:4.
  2. Gen 12:1, 5–7; 13:15; 17:8; 26:3; 28:13; Exod 33:1.

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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