What would our work loads look like if we put as much time actually doing the work as we do creating excuses for avoiding the work at hand? More importantly, what would our communities look like if we actually put as much time doing the Lord's work as we do creating excuses in sin?
The calling of Moses provides insight into this common human inclination to argue, make excuses, and wrangle out of responsibility to the work the Lord provides. When Moses provides a litany of excuses, the Lord provides the plan, the mouth, and the words, eliminating all excuses. As Fr. Timothy Lowe suggests, the question is whether to submit, and the rest is details, trusting in the Lord's provision.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. We're continuing the call of Moses, after last week's discussion with Father Timothy Lowe. Father Timothy is a former rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. Greetings, Father Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:33
Hello, Hollie, nice to be with you again.
Hollie Benton 0:36
And you as well, Father> Last week, we heard the exchange between Moses and the Lord God at the burning bush. We heard the question, Who are you? The Lord had to introduce himself to Moses as the God of your Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And we heard the question, Who am I? When the Lord told Moses to deliver the sons of Israel out of the hand of Pharaoh, Moses asked, Who am I that I should go? Moses was in exile because he was wanted for murder. So essentially, the answer to the question, Who am I is, you're right, you're nothing, but it's not about you. It's about the message, and the will of the one who sends you. So Father Timothy, we heard a lot about the context for the beginning of Exodus in last week's session. So could you provide some context for continuing the passage that we'll pick up in Exodus chapter four?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 1:33
Well, notice again, how God introduces himself as the God of the Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, understand how important that phrase will become. Obviously, as a reference point, not as the God as a theological idea, but as a God who has specific actions and covenants. At the beginning of the call, God is going to want to break that relationship at some point when he's so fed up with Israelites. And Moses calls him back and says, Wait a second, you made a covenant with these people, and you're stuck by your words. So it's interesting that later on this idea will go both ways, that Moses will call God to his commitment, and he can't opt out of it. And that's a later conversation. But it's an interesting thing, that God references this, which means whatever happened with those Fathers is in force, and is the basis for a continuing relationship. So it is the reference point. As we continue the dialogue, which we started last week, Who am I ,as you introduced, and this will continue to be a constant problem, typified in Moses's relationship with God. But of course, it's typical of everyone else. So I like it that we've said last week, Moses is at the bottom, he's reached rock bottom, he's asked to do something, which he would have boldly done earlier on. But now we're starting again. And we'll see as you read the next section, how the dialogue continues with Moses, how they both play with each other a little bit until God finally says, Enough.
Hollie Benton 3:08
So here are those first few verses of Exodus 4, "Then Moses answered, but behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, The Lord did not appear to you. The Lord said to him, What is that in your hand, he said, a rod. And he said, cast it on the ground. So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses fled from it. But the Lord said to Moses, Put out your hand and take it by the tail. So he put out his hand and he caught it, and it became a rod in his hand, that they may believe that the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you. Again, the Lord said to him, put your hand into your bosom, and he put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, His hand was leprous, as white as snow. Then God said, Put your hand back into your bosom. So he put his hand back into his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. If they will not believe you, God said, or heed the first sign, they may believe the latter sign, if they will not believe even these two signs or heed your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it upon the dry ground, and the water which you shall take from the Nile, will become blood upon the dry ground." So Father, Timothy, two things I'm noticing here: one is that Moses continues to express doubt. He continues to argue with the Lord. Yikes. In many ways, Moses is still making this task about him. How are they going to believe me? And then also the other thing I'm noticing is that, fast forward to the Gospels in the use of Jesus's miracles, He criticizes the people, Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe. So what does that say about us? Do we expect signs and wonders, miraculous working icons, to believe the words we hear Sunday after Sunday at liturgy, words that are so easy for us to access by picking up scripture and reading it? Do our priests and leaders have to be superhuman, courageous enough to grab a snake by the tail, so to speak, in order for us to follow them and follow the Lord's word and the Lord's commandment?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 5:40
The issue of doubt. It's interesting that it forms at the very core of the issue here with Moses, as you say, Moses is already doubting, how is he going to convince the people that this God, who has introduced himself as the God of their fathers is now the one who actually can overcome Pharaoh himself, who is viewed as a bit of a God in the flesh. You know, we're on shaky ground, if at the beginning, the one who is called to do it also is uncertain, and doubtful, and whatnot, and as you said, I liked the point you said, he makes it about himself, they won't believe me. It's interesting that we're dealing with the question of doubt, we know in the story that signs and wonders are not going to convince anybody. For five minutes, they will stand in awe. And then they'll forget, you see, Moses will drift away on the mountain, and they'll start dancing with the golden calf. Constantly, God will perform something and sustain them, like the manna and the water. And we know it never works. It never produces faith. It impresses. And the Gospel, of course, is the final revelation of that. People want signs and wonders, but they do not work. And so for those of us who believe and claim to have some faith, need to realize that faith is not built up on signs and wonders, miracles, icons, because in fact, I'm convinced they function as distractions, as addictions. Because ultimately, Hollie, we have to trust either we're going to hear, we're going to hear and do, because that's ultimately what it's about. It's not about anything else. It's not about proving the resurrection, proving this or that. But it's interesting that it becomes a crisis at the beginning of the call of Moses. And so we know that it is a central issue. And it's a central issue, whether it's in the Gospel narrative story, or here with Moses, it is a central issue of the human being, or if you will, the crisis. They will not believe me. And ultimately, as you know, we cannot convince someone, we cannot talk someone into belief. It's a relationship of trust, you are in a specific relationship of following and doing and that's it, the rest of it is up to God. And we're gonna see how God wants to make this point as you continue.
Hollie Benton 7:52
I guess the signs and wonders don't even work for Moses, because he's not convinced by grabbing the snake by the tail and having it become a rod once again, he continues to argue with the Lord right? Here are the next few verses. "But Moses said to the Lord, oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore, or since thou has spoken to thy servant, but I am slow speech and of tongue. Then the Lord said to him, who has made man's mouth? Who makes him dumb 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. But he said, Oh, my Lord, send I pray some other person. Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses. And he said, Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite, I know that he can speak well, and behold, he is coming out to meet you. And when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart, and 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 shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be a mouth for you, and you shall be to Him as God. And you shall take in your hand this rod with which you shall do the signs." So I find it intriguing here, that the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses. Yet, in a way though, the Lord acquiesces by using his brother Aaron. We know that the Levites are the priestly line of Israel. And it also seems like there's some sort of technical partnership that the Lord is ordaining when he says that Aaron shall speak for you to the people, he shall be your mouth for you, and you shall be to Him as God. So what exactly is going on with this arrangement, Father Timothy?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 9:44
Well, just as a side note, and it's a common element, Moses is the younger brother, and constantly in the Bible, the younger brother is usurping the rights and position of the older brother and flipping it around. We see it, and certainly with Jacob and Esau and others. So this will be a constant theme of undermining the structure. First let's look at Moses making excuses and trying to find a way out. And God is constantly cornering him. This repost back and forth. You see, one is saying something and, and the other one is responding and so on and who's going to win the battle of words. So for example, a while back, we did the story of the Canaanite woman, it's the same thing. She gets into an apologetic back and forth, back and forth, and finally wins the verbal battle. And Christ says, O woman great is your faith! Well, in this sense, Moses is finding a way out. Again, he doesn't see the way it can work and function. But that's not the point in our life. Ultimately, if we are being asked, or we are told or commanded to do something, it is simply a question of doing it, and not getting into dialogue. But notice, we as human beings want to get into dialogues, especially when there's something we're being asked to do that we don't want to do, we want to find a way out. Yes, technically, the Levite tribe will be responsible for the tabernacle and the things of the temple. And then they'll be set aside for that specific function role. And we see that being introduced here at the beginning, and the function of the brother Aaron. But notice, Moses is not referenced as a Levite, even though he's from the same tribe, but a priestly line is retrojecting it back into the text, because right now there is no functioning priestly line. This is a God who appears in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere, with no references of place in space, just to be references of people with whom there's an established relationship that forms the basis for what God is trying to introduce. And we must remember that it is a reference for the nations even though it's narrowing down to what we will now call the Israelites, it ultimately has in view the nations, so everyone. Ultimately, the task is for this God of the burning bush is going to take on the power and the wealth and the presence of Pharaoh. And we've already seen though, in the story of the Exodus, that we read last week, that Pharaoh is being undermined by two midwives, who are faithful, saving Moses and other children, but also his own daughter is undermining him. That's a nuance that people don't realize, because she's responsible for taking Moses in and raising him as her own. And what I'm saying is, is that the contest has already begun. And it is a contest of power and strength. And that's why it's not a contest between Moses. Moses is just the instrument. And now Aaron is the mouthpiece of the instrument, see, who is it that made the mouth? I made the mouth, I will put the words. So I like it when we are prone to making excuses in our life, Hollie, all kinds of excuses why we can't do something or why we shouldn't do something, or who am I? And again, those are egocentric reasons. It simply is do what you're asked and the rest is detail. It's up to God to provide for everything else. And that, again, is a teaching of Matthew, is it not? We've mentioned it, and we'll mention it until the end of time. Don't worry about what you should eat, no no, just seek the kingdom of God, these things will be given to you. So whether you're a priest, whatever your capacity and role is, in whatever kind of service you're doing, for the sake of the Gospel, let's just put that context in there, God will provide. God will provide. So this is a lesson that Moses must learn that God will provide. And if he has to do it, miraculously, if he has to tap the stone, and out comes the water, if he has to provide the manna, if he has to divide the Red Sea and whatnot, God will provide. The problem with that it's idealistic. There's no argument. It's just a statement of faith. Faith.
Hollie Benton 13:48
Fr. Timothy Lowe 13:49
So Moses is putting God to the test. God will put Moses to the test and the Israelites to test and we know it will go so bad, that that whole generation will not make it through the wilderness, including Moses himself. That is the gift of Moses to us, is that the great Moses, the great buffet who functioned as God, but He will not enter and that's just a teaching point for us to learn. Let us not be cocky, let us not be arrogant, let us not be self righteous. It's back to Matthew saying, well, there was no one greater born of John but he who is least in the kingdom is greater than John. You see that? So this is the point of reference. And that's just to safeguard our potential arrogance and self assuredness. No, don't speak like that. Just teach yourself not to speak like that. Even if you feel it pretend that you don't, right. Let us at least pretend to say the right things. Why? Because ultimately we will be judged by we do. And so the Moses relationship with the God of the burning bush is a fascinating relationship, I encourage our people to read the rest of Exodus. It is a tumultuous marriage. It is a tumultuous marriage that goes back and forth. And there are a few times where even Moses gets the final word because even God appears to be tired, sick and tired and wants to check out and most of us know, you made a covenant. It's just the beginning. This is Moses's baptism. For those of us who are Christians, it's just the beginning, a starting point, there is a life that has to be lived and choices that have to be made. And so deal with the issues of your ego. Deal with the issues with your doubt, your lack of trust, your lack of actual belief, we're not talking about intellectual belief, we're not talking about creeds and confessions, no no none of that, we're talking about what's in our guts, and how we trust in the providence of God, to sustain the work. And I daresay, not that we think we're called to do but that God has actually done. For us Christians, it's a common same vocation, the way of the cross. And whatever form that takes. It's not about that I'm extra smart, or I went to seminary, I have all this education, no no no, it's the daily life of living, okay. And this is why I think there's more hope for women than men.
Hollie Benton 16:20
It's funny, for some reason, I was reminded of conversations with my children, who will stand there and argue with me about why they can't clean their bedrooms right now. And I say, if you took as much time actually cleaning the bedroom, as you would take arguing about why you can't clean the bedroom, your bedroom would be cleaned!
Fr. Timothy Lowe 16:44
This is true. The actual job takes not a lot of time, but we have to finally just submit, just submit. The Lord provides. The Lord provides.
Hollie Benton 16:55
So there's no excuses. So better get on with it, just getting the work done. Right.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:01
I think that's the teaching both Old and New Testament. And now that provision is what God provides.
Hollie Benton 17:08
Thank God. The Lord provides. Thank you, Fr. Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:13
You're most welcome.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai