close-up of Michelangelo's statue of Moses

Unqualified?

When I was in my final year of high school (way back when we called it “form 7”), we were all encouraged to complete a career aptitude test. It was a computerised quiz that asked us a bunch of questions and then spat out some suggestions about what kind of careers might be a good fit for us pursue. It was good for a laugh.

20 years later, I thought I’d try it out again. Turns out I should reconsider retraining as a Forestry Scientist, Economist, Zoologist, Landscaper, or Obstetrician — no, no, nope, maybe, no way.

There is some merit in them I’m sure. It’s worth figuring out if you have an aptitude for a vocation before you pursue it… kind of.

If you think about the kind of person who was taking on the role of public speaker and leader of a nation, there are a few personal aptitudes that it would be helpful; not least the ability to speak fairly well. After all, it’s a public speaking role.

But then there’s Moses.

It’s an epic origin story: born into genocide and abandoned, then rescued and raised in privilege. One day, Moses makes a move to fulfil his destiny and rescue his people from their oppression… and he fails so badly he flees, fearing for his life and rejected by the very people he meant to save.

The next forty years humble him as he works in the wilderness, dejected and defeated. But the wilderness is the place of encounter, and there God meets him in the burning bush.

Moses, however, is unwilling, and he lays out a pretty strong case as to why God should choose someone else to free the Israelites. In the midst of all those objections, is this

“Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

Exodus 4:10

In the past I’ve read this, and preached this, as pure unwillingness with a bit of false humility. “Public speaking makes me nervous, don’t hand me the mic, it’s not my gifting”. But when you come to the text, putting aside an ableist and normate bias, the most plain reading is that Moses had a speech impediment.

He is “heavy of mouth” and “heavy of tongue”,* where “heavy” has the sense of being dull or burdensome. This is more than unwillingness, or the nerves that you make stutter.

Moses feels that this disability is a barrier to his calling. God though? He is not bothered. He reminds Moses that this is not new information to him, he knows all about disability and it’s somehow within the realm of his sovereignty (Exod 4:11). The solution: “I will help you speak, and will teach you what to say”.

That’s not enough for Moses, though, and he begs again, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else” (Exod 4:13). God gets a bit angry at this — his presence and his provision should be sufficient. But ultimately God relents and agrees to provide Aaron to help Moses when public speaking is necessary (Exod 4:14-16). But this seems to be concession to Moses’ insecurity rather than any requirement that God has for a fully-abled servant.

The “problem” of Moses’ disability is “fixed” only within community with another, and not by the alteration of Moses’ body or the removal of his impairment.

Sometimes we ask God “just fix me!”, and he responds by leading us into deeper community

Even more interesting, in Acts 7:22, Stephen describes the Moses who grew up in the palace as “powerful in speech and action”. Back then he was qualified for the job, he was confident… and he bombed, badly.

What happened, I wonder, to make a man who was once “powerful in speech” become “slow of speech”? Maybe it was an accident, maybe it was an illness, either way, Moses felt like he was now disqualified.

“You could have used me once, God, but now it’s too late”.

It’s never too late in God.

And that point of weakness in you? That’s the very place where God’s power finds it’s full expression (2 Cor 12:9).

Not despite your weakness, but because of it.

God’s not as bothered by our weaknesses as we are. Moses wasn’t disqualified by his speech impediment, he was the one chosen to lead his nation. But even better, he was the one chosen for special conversation with God. Exodus 33:11 describes how “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” God was comfortable with Moses’ impaired speech, he didn’t need him to hurry up and speak more clearly.

The very weakness that Moses thought disqualified him, was the point in which he connected most closely with God.

* Tigay, Jeffry H. ““Heavy of Mouth” and “Heavy of Tongue” on Moses’ Speech Difficulty.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research vol. 231 (1978): 57-67.

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