Moses’ Speech Problem

Moses’ Speech Problem

Some of the most potent speeches ever heard by men were given by Moses. Consider his speech recalling the episodes in Israel’s history on the plains of Moab before his assistant Joshua would lead the Israelites over to the Promised Land. And his eloquence seen in the “songs of Moses” in Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32, and Psalm 90, is unparalleled. His song in Exodus 15 is sung in heaven (Revelation 15:3)! No Wordsworth, or Dickinson, Keats or Frost will be heard there, but Moses will be sung, along with the “Song of the Lamb” — two poems by representatives of the two major epochs in Bible history.

Yet, when Moses encountered Yahweh and was commissioned to lead the Israelite slaves out of Egypt, he demurred, saying, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

This statement seems contradictory to what we see in Moses.

Add to the confusion this comment by Stephen about Moses in his speech before the Jewish Council a short time before his stoning: “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” This sentiment would have surely been a common among the Jews listening to Stephen’s historical monologue.

Who’s opinion should we take? Moses’ himself, or Stephen’s?

Yahweh’s Plan

Let’s follow the storyline closely. God was very unhappy with Moses for bringing up his perceived inadequacy after he had told him explicitly what he was to do. In one’s first encounter with God, listening and obeying would be a better course of action, it appears.

Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, and He said, “Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.

You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him. (Exodus 4: 14-16)

This solution belies that Yahweh had already planned this speech arrangement for Aaron and Moses before Moses complained. As honest and innocent a query as it seemed, Moses should have believed that Yahweh’s command would never exceed his supply. It was not a good start to their relationship!

Though Moses did not necessarily perfectly align his mouth with God in casual speech, when he was speaking for God as his prophet before the people, he said exactly what God put there. In this way, the prophet Moses delivered precisely God’s words to the Israelite people.

So Moses was to be as God to Aaron and Aaron was to be his mouthpiece, like a prophet. Yahweh spoke through Moses, then Moses spoke through Aaron, and the content was the same throughout. This bond between Moses and Aaron his mouthpiece is seen throughout the Law and other places in the Old Testament. The phrase “Moses and Aaron” shows up over 60 times!

Why Moses Was Reticent to Speak

With this information, we can make some deductions about the reason for Moses’ initial fear of speaking. The reason he resisted being the spokesman was not that Moses was incapable of speaking persuasively and powerfully, nor that he had a speech impediment that prevented him from effective communication to masses of people. Rather, it must be that Moses was incapable in an area that Aaron was not. Precisely, Moses was not proficient in the Hebrew language, and Aaron, a Levite living among the Hebrew people, was. Moses grew up from the time of his rescue out of the river until he left Egypt for Midian in the Egyptian court, receiving the best education he could possibly have, but in Egyptian, not Hebrew.

I have traveled in many countries of the world, teaching the Bible. I believe that God has a message for me to deliver, but I believe I would be as uncomfortable as Moses if I were asked to deliver my message in Romanian, Hindi, Portuguese, or Bahasa Indonesia, and especially if a large contingent of people depended on it.

The Larger Message

But there is even more here to see. This experience also projects us to Christ, who facilitated a similar arrangement. Jesus was capable of eloquent speech, the most compelling and eloquent among all of mankind and all of history. Yet he testifies the following: “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49, emphasis mine). Does that sound familiar?

And this:

I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:26-29, emphasis mine)

Though there are mysteries here regarding the unique relationship between the Father and the Son in his humanity that are not useful to attempt to articulate now (if we even could), we know that whatever is in the mind of one person of the Trinity is in the mind of all persons of the Trinity, for they speak as one. “I and my Father are one,” Christ insisted. He declares here that the Father spoke through him; to hear the Son was to hear the Father.

Finally, the writer of Hebrews said that

Moses was faithful in all his house [i.e. among the Israelites] as a servant for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. (Hebrews 3:5-6)

Yes, faithfulness. Moses and Jesus were faithful, and we also must be faithful. Our confidence in God’s word to us is lifted and amplified by the faithfulness of Moses and Jesus. Among other things, they were faithful to speak the words of the Father as they received them so that we may stand on a reliable foundation of truth as we look to the future hope. It is the testimony of Scripture that Moses and Jesus spoke accurately the mind of the one God, Moses’ perceived speech problem notwithstanding.