But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”
When God appears to Moses in the burning bush, God outlines for Moses the miraculous things that await the Israelites: that they will be freed from their enslavement to the Egyptians and that they will be brought by God to the land of Canaan, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” But what is Moses’ response? He says to God that the people won’t believe him, that they won’t even listen to what he has to say. If you know the rest of the story, you know that Moses was actually right about this, at least to an extent. The people continually complain and doubt the ability of God to provide for them once they are out wandering in the desert.
The Israelites refusal to listen to God’s promises is not surprising. How often do we, ourselves, fall short in this regard? As individuals? As communities of faith? We know that God promises us many things because we read about them in Scripture, but God also never says that it’s going to be easy. I think that’s where we tend to get caught up.
Our society is built on convenience. We expect things to come easily and quickly. But as the Israelites learn, or at least should have learned, God’s best promises don’t come easy. In the immortal word of Willy Wonka: “Nihil desperandum, across the desert lies the promised land,” which he says to Mrs. Gloop as her gluttonous son, Augustus, gets sucked up a tube, presumably to be turned into chocolate. (If you’ve seen the movie, you know that all the kids are fine, Willy Wonka says so, and we can trust him…right?)
And isn’t that the ultimate truth of Christianity? That in the end, all God’s children are going to be fine, but it might be uncomfortable in the meantime. When God asked Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, Moses probably knew that it would be hard. He definitely knew that the people would be particularly difficult and whiny, but God doesn’t let him off the hook. Instead, God tells Moses that his brother Aaron will help him speak to the people:
“You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do…and take in your hands this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”
Notice that God gives Moses the ability to get the job done, but not by himself. God gives him Aaron as an assistant and also promises to provide them with the words and acts they will need to lead the people. The journey is still far from perfect, and the final lesson of the story is that those who left Egypt never actually make into the Promised Land themselves. Because of their lack of faith in the God who had freed them from slavery, the generation that left with Moses is barred from entering Canaan.
Sometimes, we, like the Israelites, won’t see the success of our efforts. When we follow the path that God has for us, we may doubt that we can reach the people God wants us to reach, but God will give us the ability. We may doubt that efforts will be worth it, because we may never see the results. But if God asks you to do something, you can bet there’s a reason.