Then Moses said to Yahweh, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue”. So Yahweh said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, Yahweh? Now, therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”
Exodus 4:10-12 (NKJV)
During my early teenage years I was a student at a Catholic boys high school on the lower north shore of Sydney where every student was required to attend Religious Education classes. Although few were truly interested in paying attention to the Bible stories that were taught—unless they included sexual innuendo and blood-thirsty war—I was always confused about whether or not the characters of the Biblical accounts of the Old Testament were meant to be models of fine, godly virtue or pilloried examples of human fallenness. Solomon was meant to be the great Hebrew king, the fulfilment of divine prophecy, and yet he was sexually immoral, a factor that lead to the kingdom of Israel being split in two (1 Kings 11:9-11). Samson was meant to be a great example of superhuman strength and of having God’s favour and yet he allowed himself to be lead astray by a Philistine woman who was only interested in his destruction (Judges 16). Eleven of the holy nation's forefathers were envious (Genesis 37:3-4,11), full of hatred towards their brother (Genesis 37:8), and attempted murderers (Genesis 37:18-24). King David, the mighty warrior who captured the promised land of Canaan for Israel, murdered another man for the purpose of committing adultery with the deceased's wife (Psalm 51).
Exactly what these forefathers were meant to be, heroes or villains, I could never tell at the time but I found it difficult to fulfil the request of my teachers that I seek to be like them.
Although being one of the Old Testament's most promising and spectacular figures, Moses wasn't too different to the other characters in that he too erred and sinned. During the Egyptian Oppression Moses committed murder by slaying an Egyptian, an act that prompted him to flee to the land of Midian where he married his wife and began a family (Exodus 2:14-15). After settling down for a while Moses encountered the burning bush where Yahweh, the God of Israel, spoke to him and requested that he be the deliverer of Israel from their bondage to gentile slavery. Moses, however, seemed to be doubtful of whether or not God would be able to use him for the almighty task of overcoming 430 years of bondage and answered God back with comments like, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11) and “... suppose [the Israelites] will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘Yahweh has not appeared to you’” (Ex. 4:1). In verse 10 Moses went another step in his dialogue with God in saying “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” God reinforced the point that since He made the disabled and the abled alike that all His purposes would be achieved and yet, discontent with that response, Moses laboured the point a little further in verse 13, “O my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.” Regardless of what God—the divine, sovereign deity who would have His will completed irrespective of sinful men—wanted, Moses just didn't want to be the deliverer of the Israelites. He clearly wanted God to use someone else for the job and tried to use his poor public speaking abilities as a ‘get out of gaol free’ card, an attempt that aroused the righteous anger of God (Exodus 4:14).
As much as Moses' prayers reveal the extent to which he was trying to get out of the task assigned him, the prayers he had with God offer amazing insight into the closeness and personal intimacy that existed between the two parties. In other parts of the Exodus account Moses cried out to God in moments of great need and anguish, such as when the Israelites were ready to kill him when their was no food in the wilderness (Exodus 17:3-4, cf. Psalm 90). Even when he tested God's patience (e.g. Exodus 19:21-24) Moses was still willing and daring to come before God and speak to Him in prayer. Arguably the most astounding intercession between God and man in the Old Testament was the one which Moses gave on behalf of Israel in Exodus 32:7-14. When the Israelites performed their greatest act of spiritual prostitution by worshipping the Golden Calf, God vowed solemnly to destroy them because of their unfaithfulness (32:7-10), and yet He relented because Moses was brave enough to ask for mercy on account of God's promises to the patriarchs as well as the desire to avoid international political embarrassment (32:11-13).
In my time as a Christian I've heard many different things about prayer; one view is that when people talk to God they ought to use a ‘spiritual’ tongue in order to more effectively communicate with God when ordinary words just don't suffice. Another perspective is that prayer is a means of God talking to us, rather than the other way around. Yet as one surveys the words of Moses as he spoke to God all those millennia ago—the same God that now listens and speaks to us through His Son Jesus Christ and who answers our prayers today irrespective of our lingual backgrounds—one can see that God cares about what we have to say to Him and that He is keenly interested in our affairs. When we pray to Him in trusting dependence we may not be theologically correct all the time; we may even be testing God in certain ways, as Moses did.
Being the relational Father that He is though, God wants eagerly to interact with us and is gracious enough to not only expose our sinfulness where necessary and to save us from judgement but actually takes on board what we have say to Him. He is affected by our prayers and answers us according to His sovereign will. (Jesus Himself was no stranger to bold prayer as He laboured in the Garden of Gethsemane, begging God that the cup of wrath be taken away [Mark 14:35-36].)
Moses may not have been the sharpest hacksaw in the spiritual toolkit of the Bible but his prayers are an apt reminder of what an amazing, loving, and almighty God there is, who loved the world so much that He sent His own son to die for sin. May the prayers of Israel's patriarch serve as an encouragement.