Answering self-doubt – Exodus 4-7 sermon

Sermon audio

“Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)

Here is Moses full of self-doubt.  So what does Moses need?  Ask anyone today and they’ll tell you: the solution to self-doubt is self-confidence.  That’s the modern cure-all for whatever ails you.  Have more confidence in yourself.

That’s what the world says.  What does the LORD say?

Verse 12: I will be with you

Do you see what the LORD is doing?  Not trying to instill self-confidence, but God-confidence.  “I will be with you.”  The LORD doesn’t say “Moses, don’t do yourself down.  You were such a beautiful baby, and a powerful prince, and you’re in my top three all-time shepherds.  I think you’ve got what it takes.”

The LORD doesn’t turn Moses’ eyes back on himself.

Do you ever do that when someone’s full of self-doubt?  We often say, “Have more confidence in yourself, you’re so talented, you’re brilliant…”   But if someone’s fishing for compliments, how many compliments are enough?  The WORLD is not enough to fill our need for affirmation.  Just speaking for myself: the WORLD could not satisfy my black hole of self-obsession.  If you get me started, I’ll never be satisfied.

Which is why God does something very different.  He fights self-doubt with GOD-confidence.  Essentially the LORD says, “Who are you??  Who are you??  That’s not the point Moses.  I will be with you.”

There used to be a saying in tennis that the greatest doubles team imaginable was John McEnroe and anyone.  John McEnroe and anyone could win Wimbledon.

Well imagine if you were that anyone.  Imagine if you were John McEnroe’s partner going into the Wimbledon final and you spent the whole pre-match press-conference saying “Who am I to win a tennis match?  Who am I to win Wimbledon?  I am not a brilliant tennis player!!”

What would John McEnroe say?  Apart from ‘You cannot be serious?’  He’d say, “I will be with you.  I will be with you.  Enough about yourself, really it’s irrelevant.”…

…In a deep sense Moses is going to be just like that staff in his hand.  The staff by itself is nothing.  We call it a staff, that’s just fancy name for a stick.  But through that stick, miracles would be wrought.  Through that stick the plagues would fall.  Through that stick the Red Sea would be divided.  By that stick the Rock would be struck and the waters would come out.  Why, because it’s such a great stick?  Because the qualities inherent in the stick can call forth the powers of heaven??  No it’s nothing to do with the stick and everything to do with the eternal I AM who uses the stick.

He can use a stick to unleash the powers of heaven, He can use an octogenarian shepherd to defeat the most powerful man in the world.  Later in the bible He uses a bunch of fishermen to turn the world upside down.  Because where does the great I AM really show His power?  On the cross.  (John 8:28)  The great I AM bleeds and dies on a rugged wooden cross, and that’s the power that saves the world.  Can He deal with weakness?  Can He use weakness?  That’s His speciality.  2 Corinthians 12 verse 9, the Lord says to a weakened Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Full script below

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Exodus 3:10-7:7

Let’s begin in Exodus 3 and v12.  We’re on the mountain of the LORD, Moses is meeting with the God of the Burning Bush, the Rescuing LORD, the Angel of the LORD, the God of Abraham, the Great I AM:  This God says:

“I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Here is the story of the Exodus.  The Great I AM commissions Moses and will be with Moses.  And will bring the people out of slavery so that they can all worship God on the mountain.  That’s Exodus.  The Rescuing LORD, with Moses, saving the people out of slavery – through judgements (the plagues), through a bloody redemption – Passover) and out so that they can worship God on this mountain.

That’s Exodus.  But it’s also our story isn’t it?  We too have been saved out of slavery to sin, Satan and self.  The Great I AM, Jesus Christ, has brought us out of our own darkness and slavery, through the judgement and bloody redemption of the cross and brought us out so that we can worship God the Father.  This Exodus story is our story in miniature.  And so the lessons the Israelites learnt in Exodus, we will need to learn.

And this morning we’re going to learn this lesson:

No matter how weak we feel
No matter how deep the slavery
The LORD will bring us out.

Let’s first look at the weakness.  Think of Moses.  What an extraordinary figure!

Exodus 2 tells the story.  Saved from Pharaoh’s genocide at birth and adopted by Pharaoh’s own daughter.  He’s smuggled into the Egyptian court under Pharaoh’s own nose and this Israelite is made a prince of Egypt.

And then from Exodus 2:11, aged 40, Moses breaks his cover.  He defends one of his own people.  He rescues a Hebrew slave, killing the Egyptian slavemaster.  Moses hopes that his people will get on board with this first revolutionary act.  But the Israelites are not on board with Moses.  Exodus 2:14 they say “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”  Good question.

Who is authorizing this act Moses?  Who has sent you?  Who made you ruler and judge?

At this point, Moses doesn’t have an answer for them.  And, v15, Pharaoh gets wind of it all and realizes that Moses is a murderous traitor.  Moses becomes Egypt’s most wanted man.  He flees the country to become a shepherd out in the wilderness.  He exchanges a ruling scepter for a shepherd’s staff.  The next 40 years he herds wayward sheep around the wilderness.

I wonder whether Moses thought: What a waste of time!  What possible use could this be?  What possible use could I be?  And as he turns 80 he might well have been thinking, “At least I’ll be dead soon.”

You see Moses wrote Psalm 90.  And Psalm 90 is famous for telling us about biblical life-expectancy.  We all know our life expectancy from the King James version don’t we: Three-score years and ten.  Or four score if we’re strong.  That’s from Psalm 90 and Moses wrote it.  I’ll give you the modern translation:

10 The length of our days is seventy years–or eighty, if we have the strength

So when Moses turns 80 he’s thinking, “Not long now.  I’ll be at peace soon, I’ll be in the Lord’s presence and I won’t have to lead any more stupid creatures around the wilderness.”

The LORD has a sense of humour doesn’t He?

Because here’s the fascinating thing – when does the LORD use Moses to save His people?  At the height of Moses’ powers and political influence?  At the height of his physical powers and good health?  No.  The LORD doesn’t use 40 year old Moses.  He uses 80 year old Moses.

40 years of power and privilege.  Then 40 years of exile and hardship.  But only now as Moses turns 80 is the LORD going to finally use him.

I love Dwight Moody’s famous phrase about Moses.  Moody, the 19th century evangelist said:

‘Moses spent 40 years thinking He was a somebody, then 40 years learning that he was a nobody, and then 40 years seeing what God can do with a somebody who realizes they are a nobody!’

That’s how our LORD works isn’t it?  Time and again.

But put yourself in Moses’ shoes.  Aged 80, fed up with leading stupid creatures around the wilderness.  You understand his reluctance in verse 11 can’t you?

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

“I’m no good at that stuff Lord.  You saw what happened last time.  Disaster.  It’s not for me.”

Moses here is full of self-doubt.  So what does Moses need?  Full of self-doubt, what’s the solution?  Well ask anyone today – and they’ll tell you: the solution to self-doubt is self-confidence.  That’s the modern cure-all for whatever ails you.  Have more confidence in yourself.

That’s what the world says.  What does the LORD say?

Verse 12: I will be with you

Do you see what the LORD is doing?  Not trying to fill Moses with self-confidence, He’s trying to fill Moses with God-confidence.  “I will be with you.”  The LORD doesn’t say “Moses, don’t do yourself down.  You’re brilliant, you were such a beautiful baby, and a powerful prince, and you’re in my top three all-time shepherds.  I think you’ve got what it takes.”

The LORD doesn’t turn Moses’ eyes back on himself.  Do you ever do that when someone’s full of self-doubt?  We often say, “Have more confidence in yourself, you’re so talented, you’re brilliant…”   But if someone’s fishing for compliments, how many compliments are enough?  The WORLD is not enough to fill our need for affirmation.  Just speaking for myself: the WORLD could not satisfy my black hole of self-obsession.  If you get me started, I’ll never be satisfied.

Which is why God does something very different.  He fights self-doubt with GOD-confidence.  Essentially the LORD says, “Who are you??  Who are you??  That’s not the point Moses.  I will be with you.”

There used to be a saying in tennis that the greatest doubles team imaginable was John McEnroe and anyone.  John McEnroe and anyone could win Wimbledon.

Well imagine if you were that anyone.  Imagine if you were John McEnroe’s partner going into the Wimbledon final and you spent the whole pre-match press-conference saying “Who am I to win a tennis match?  Who am I to win Wimbledon?  I am not a brilliant tennis player!!”

What would John McEnroe say?  Apart from ‘You cannot be serious?’  He’d say, “I will be with you.  I will be with you.  Enough about yourself, really it’s irrelevant.”

Maybe you’re being led into greater responsibilities.  With Neil gone, many people are stepping up into greater responsibilities, it’s wonderful to see.  But perhaps you’re tempted to ask the question: Who am I to step up into this daunting task? That’s not the question.  Who is God!?  That’s the question.  And it’s answered in v14:

14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:`I AM has sent me to you.'” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites,`The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ This is my name for ever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

I AM WHO I AM.  Moses, if your self-confidence is flagging, here’s someone who is sure of themselves “I AM WHO I AM.”  Here is a God who doesn’t just know who He is, He defines who He is.  And He defines Himself in relation to His saving acts.  It’s hard to capture in English all that’s going on with this name.

You’ll see there’s a footnote in v14 that tells us you could also translate it: “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.”  In a sense the LORD is saying, “You want to know who I am?  Watch this space.  Watch me as I WILL BE with you. (V12 ‘I will be with you’.)  Watch me as I WILL BE your rescuer.  Watch me as I WILL bring you out.”  If you wanted to get very technical, this name is saying “I AM who I WILL BE in My mighty acts of redemption.”  All of that sense gets packed into the name “I AM WHO I AM”.

And this name – if you write it out in Hebrew and then squash down the letters you end up with the Hebrew name “Yahweh” or when it’s anglicized we might say “Jehovah”.  Yahweh or Jehovah is just I AM WHO I AM squashed down in a single word.  And in our bible translations it’s indicated by the word “LORD” when all the letters are capitals.  Every time you see “LORD” written in capitals – over 6000 times in the Old Testament – it’s the personal name of God ‘Yahweh’ which would always remind the Israelites of this One from the burning bush “I AM WHO I AM.”

And really if you want to know all the ins and outs of this name, I AM, you have to wait and see – not only what He does in the Exodus.  But you have to wait and see what He does 1500 years later when the Rescuing LORD stands before His people again and says “I AM the bread of life” (John 6:35); “I AM the Light of the world” (John 8:12); “I AM the Gate” by which you must enter (John 10:9); “I AM the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11); “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25); “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6); “I AM the True Vine” (John 15:1).  Jesus is the eternal I AM.

One time in John chapter 8, the Jews become incredulous because Jesus claims to have met Abraham.  They say “You’re not yet 50 years old and you have met Abraham??!”  He’d have had to have been 2000 years old to have met Abraham.  But Jesus says, “Oh no, I’m much older than that.  Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).  Jesus is the eternal I AM, the same yesterday, today and forever.

Do you have self-doubt?  Are you asking the question, Who am I? Irrelevant.  Really.  Who is He?  The I AM of the bush is the I AM of the gospels and He’s the same I AM today.

Self-doubt?  Have God-confidence, Christ-confidence.

Well in Exodus 4:1, Moses has some more doubts:

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?

Well, the LORD gives Moses three signs to authenticate his ministry.  They have deep gospel significance and I commend chapter 4 to you for further study.  We haven’t got time now, but think later about the significance of snakes of clean hearts and of blood.  But with these signs to authenticate his ministry you’d think that Moses’ mind would be put to rest.

But v10,

10 Moses said to the LORD, “O 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.”

Now again, when someone is full of these kinds of doubts we’re tempted to say “Don’t talk yourself down Moses, I’ve heard you speak, you’re a wonderful speaker.  I think you’re just the man for the job.”  We try to combat self-doubt with self-confidence.  What does the LORD do?

Verse 11:

11 The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

The LORD gave you a mouth, that was quite a difficult job.  You can tell it’s a difficult job because none of you have ever given someone else a mouth have you.  That’s not really in your power.  But God gave you your mouth.  If He can do that, don’t you think He can give you words for your mouth!?  Again, the LORD’s not trying to give Moses self-confidence but God-confidence.

In a deep sense Moses is going to be just like that staff in his hand.  The staff by itself is nothing.  We call it a staff, that’s just fancy name for a stick.  But through that stick, miracles would be wrought.  Through that stick the plagues would fall.  Through that stick the Red Sea would be divided.  By that stick the Rock would be struck and the waters would come out.  Why, because it’s such a great stick?  Because the qualities inherent in the stick can call forth the powers of heaven??  No it’s nothing to do with the stick and everything to do with the eternal I AM who uses the stick.

Well Moses will be the same.  He will lead this people out of slavery with mighty acts, not because he’s a great guy, but because the I AM is such a great God.

Moses still doesn’t get it

13 But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”

Well the LORD is slow to anger.  A lot slower than we’d have been with Moses.  But He does get angry, v14:

14 Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. 15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.

So even though the LORD is angry with Moses’ lack of God-confidence, He is kind and provides Aaron his brother.  In this way the LORD sets up a picture of how He works.  God speaks through His Prophet and Moses will speak through his brother Aaron.

But do you see how the LORD has answered Moses’ self-doubt.  Not by instilling any self-confidence but by calling forth God-confidence.

Let’s just press pause there on the sermon, and maybe there are things the Lord is calling you into.  You are daunted by new tasks or new initiatives or pressing conversations you need to have and you’re asking ‘Who am I?’  Let’s bring those before the LORD now.  Silently name those tasks and those fears and those self-doubts before our Father.  And let me tell you in love – that your weaknesses are not that important.  Your strengths are not that important.  Jesus Christ the great I AM, the same yesterday, today and forever – He’s what’s important.

Look away from self – look away from your weaknesses, look away from your strengths.  Look to the great I AM.  He can use a stick to unleash the powers of heaven, He can use an octogenarian shepherd to defeat the most powerful man in the world.  Later in the bible He uses a bunch of fishermen to turn the world upside down.  Because where does the great I AM really show His power?  On the cross.  The great I AM bleeds and dies on a rugged wooden cross, and that’s the power that saves the world.  Can He deal with weakness?  Can He use weakness?  That’s His speciality.  2 Corinthians 12 verse 9, the Lord says to a weakened Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

So that’s point one, no matter how weak we feel…

But then secondly, no matter how deep the slavery…

Turn to Exodus 5.  Here’s where we see round one of the confrontation between Moses (with his prophet Aaron) and Pharaoh.

Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says:`Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'” 2 Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”

Do you see how incredibly weak they are?  Moses is 80 years old (Exodus 7:7 tells us).  Aaron is 83 as they address the most powerful man in the world.  And they haven’t come in any earthly strength.  They’re not using any political clout, they’re not using any philosophical reason. They’re not trying to build bridges with the Egyptian culture or Egyptian religion.  No, Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God of the Hebrews, He says, Let my people go.  Pharaoh says, “Who’s Yahweh, never heard of him?!  I’ve heard of Ra, Amun, Osiris, Isis, Seth, Nephthys, these gods I know.  Who is this Yahweh??

And essentially the answer to Pharaoh’s question will be, “You’ll see.”  Who is the LORD?  You’ll see.  Because it’s IN the LORD’s mighty acts whereby He saves His people and judges His enemies, “then you will know that I am Yahweh – the LORD.”  That’s the repeated refrain from Exodus, when you’ve seen the mighty acts of salvation and judgement: then you will know that I am the LORD.  Our LORD is known in action.

Well Pharaoh’s not impressed by this at all: weak men, preaching a weak message about this unknown God.  Pharaoh is baffled and angered, and so turns up the heat on the Israelites.  From v7: “Don’t supply the people with straw, let them gather their own straw, but require them to make the same number of bricks.”  And the rest of the chapter goes into great detail about what a burden this is to the Israelites.

This is what happens when you meet earthly power with the weakness of preaching.  In the end the earthly power comes tumbling down, but in the short-term the people of God suffer more.

But as we read about their burdens, this isn’t just a history lesson for us.  This is our autobiography.

Jesus will say in John chapter 8, “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.”  (John 8:34)  You and I were born into a slavery to sin and Satan and self.

We were in Egypt.  And look at how it’s described:

V4: Labour, work – it’s all about striving.
V6: Slave-drivers There’s no real love in the world, not unconditional, not no-matter-what love.  The world is not like God.  God is your Father, the world is a slave-driver.
V8: Here’s the world’s mantra: “Don’t reduce the quota, They are lazy, that’s why they’re crying out”.
Verse 9: “Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working”
Verse 11 “Your work will not be reduced at all” That’s the treadmill of the world, the flesh and the devil.

You’re enslaved to sin, working harder and harder to prove yourself and getting less and less recognition.  Even as you do more and more you are branded as lazy.  Our slavery to sin and Satan is just like this.  We chase after moving targets and never get the verdict we’re looking for.

But over against this helpless slavery, the LORD comes with incredible gospel promises.  Let’s just finish with Exodus 6, verses 6-8.  No matter how weak we feel, no matter how deep the slavery, here’s what the LORD says:

6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites:`I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.'”

Do you see how the name “The LORD” is unpacked in these verses.  The verses begin with “I am the LORD” and they end with “I am the LORD”.  And in the middle of this sandwich is some incredible meat.  Here is what fills out the meaning of the LORD’s name.  There are seven promises here.  Seven “I wills” from the LORD.  When someone vows “I will” over and over again, what does it bring to mind?  These are like marriage vows.  The LORD’s covenant with His people is like a marriage where the LORD says “I will be your God and you will be my people.”  And here the LORD repeatedly says I WILL.  To a people who, v9, are too hurt and disheartened to even hear it.  But still He says it.  I WILL.

Look at all these verbs

V6: I will BRING you out from under the yoke.
I will FREE you from being slaves
I will REDEEM you with power
v7: I will TAKE you as my own people
I will BE your God
v8: I will BRING you to the land I swore
I will GIVE it to you as a possession

The Israelites have done NOTHING to earn this.  They are weak and enslaved.  They haven’t promised to clean their act up, the LORD has simply set His love on them and He will redeem them with Almighty Husbandly Love.

This is our story.  A story captured beautifully by Charles Wesley.

Long My Imprisoned Spirit Lay,
Fast Bound In Sin And Nature’s Night;
Thine Eye Diffused A Quickening Ray;
I Woke, The Dungeon Flamed With Light;
My Chains Fell Off, My Heart Was Free,
I Rose, Went Forth, And Followed Thee.

The Christian has heard these marriage vows, calling us out of slavery and setting us on our feel.  This week, will we live as slaves? Will we live as self-doubters?  Or God doubters?  Or this week will we remind ourselves of the power and the love of Jesus our Great I AM, who vows these promises to US and guarantees them with His own blood.

V6: I will BRING you out from under the yoke.
I will FREE you from being slaves
I will REDEEM you with power
v7: I will TAKE you as my own
I will BE your God
v8: I will BRING you to the land I swore
I will GIVE it to you as a possession

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Posted on by Glen in Exodus, leadership, pastoral theology, sermons

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

3 Responses to Answering self-doubt – Exodus 4-7 sermon

  1. woldeyesus

    Perfectly true! “God-confidence” versus “self-confidence” is the struggle which originated from the consequence of man’s known choice between the “tree of life” and the “tree of knowledge” in the Garden of Eden and still continuing today in the form of obedience or disobedience to the cross of Christ (Gen. 2: 8- 3:24; Matt. 16: 21-28)

  2. Tim V-B

    Hi Glen,
    Would you mind adding the ‘Exodus’ tag and category to this post? I’m teaching Exodus in our Sunday evening home fellowship and this sermon keeps eluding me!
    That said, this site really is an Exodus-treasure-trove.
    Tim.

  3. Glen

    Done.

    One of these days I’m going to have to sort out my sermon/blog filing. One of these days…

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