Once God issues an invitation to be involved in what He is doing, the ball then lands in our court. What will we do? How will we respond? Will we trust Him? Will we be willing to be obedient? Or, will we seek to negotiate? Will we try to bargain with God? Will we express our reluctance? Will we take the risk of missing what God could accomplish through us because we are afraid to follow? Do we really believe this all about us in the first place?
Let’s learn about responding to God’s invitation.
Exodus 3-4:17: Moses – Reluctant Servant
The encounter between Moses and God as recorded in this passage is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Moses had fled from Egypt and was now married and working in Midian.
Midian – drew its name from one of Abraham’s sons. After Sarah’s death, Abraham married Keturah (Genesis 25:1-4) and she bore him 6 sons. Midian was the 4th son born to them. His family settled on the eastern side of the Red Sea and along the Gulf of Aqaba (Saudi Arabia today).The descendants of Midian intermarried with the sons of Ishmael. In fact, the terms “Midianite” and “Ishmaelite” were often used interchangeably in antiquity.
I AM – In Exodus 3:13 – Moses asked God to give Him some certainty as to His identity. He needed to know how to refer to God when he went to Egypt. God answered Moses in Exodus 3:14 with His famous “I AM” statement. What did that mean?
Scholars have debated for centuries just how to translate the first part of God’s answer. The NIV translates it, “I AM WHO I AM.” Some have argued is could be “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” Regardless – most seem to be comfortable with the shorter “I AM” and that is for sure used in the second part of God’s answer.
In Hebrew – it is written YHWH. We are not sure how to pronounce it. For centuries now, most scholars have agreed to the pronunciation, “Yahweh” as the best we can determine. The NIV always translates the Hebrew word as LORD. That distinguishes it from another Hebrew title for God, Adonai – which is rendered “Lord” in the NIV.
The point being – God revealed some of His nature to Moses on the mountain that day. He is eternal. He simply is. He has no beginning and no ending. He just is. His self-designation as “I AM” communicates this tremendous truth about Him.
Burning Bush – Moses is puzzled by the fact that God appeared to him through the angel of the LORD (3:2) in a bush that was blazing but not consumed. This was a powerful statement from God to Moses. God is the creator of the universe. It responds to His command. As this story unfolds, Moses is going to encounter this truth about God as miracles occur again and again. The plagues, parting of the sea, striking of the rock and manna – all will be powerful testimonies pointing to the Creator’s control over His creation.
The Invitation – God was calling Moses to join Him in delivering His people from Egypt. God was going to accomplish this miracle (3:7-10). He had heard His people and He was going to respond. However, He was going to work through Moses to accomplish it. He was calling Moses to Himself and to His plan.
Moses’ Reluctance – The story of Exodus 3:1-4:17 is an honest account of how Moses responded to God. In summation – Moses was just reluctant! In fact, He offered God 5 reasons why he didn’t think he could do it.
In your Bible study time – and in a class discussion – it might be helpful to spend some time exploring these 5 excuses. Do they resonate with you? Have you ever resisted God’s direction in your life? Have you ever offered God an excuse as to why He can’t use you?
So – there you have it. Moses was just reluctant to follow God’s invitation. Guess what? He was in good company. Many folks who will follow after him in this great story will offer similar excuses.
Judges 6: Gideon – I need a sign!
Many years after Moses, Israel was living in the Promised Land. They were struggling to be obedient to God’s desires. In fact, they had committed evil in God’s eyes. So, He judged them and handed them over to . . . guess who? The Midianites! Isn’t that interesting? Wow. Moses used to live in Midian. Ishmael had lived there as well. Now these people had overpowered Israel.
In the midst of this story, God sent a prophet to Israel to let them know that He had not forgotten them (Judges 6:7-10). He reminded them of the story of the Exodus! He was going to rescue them again.
In Judges 6:11 – the angel of the LORD appears again. This time – to a young man who is harvesting wheat in a winepress. He was hiding in a winepress because he was afraid of the Midianites who often plundered the Jews during the harvest.
I love the encounter recorded between the angel and Gideon. The angel said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (6:12). Gideon responded with a rebuttal. Essentially, Gideon said, “If the LORD is with us, then where is He?” (6:13) Again – wow! Gideon seemed to believe God had abandoned His people. He had heard about the Exodus, but that was ancient history (6:13). He wanted God to act now.
Next, Yahweh spoke through the angel and said, “I am sending you” to save Israel from the hand of the Midianites (6:14). “Are you talking to me?” was Gideon’s reply! Surely there is someone else. Gideon reasoned with the angel. “I am the youngest member of my family” and “my clan is the weakest” in our tribe (6:15).
Gideon then declared, I need a sign (6:17). The rest of the chapter is about how God responded to that particular need in Gideon’s life. Gideon needed reassurance from God. So, we read the famous story of how Gideon “put out the fleece” to get a sign of confirmation from God (6:36-40).
Jeremiah 1:1-10: Jeremiah – I’m too young!
Again, many years after both Moses and Gideon, God was at work in His people’s lives. The context for Jeremiah’s ministry was about 625-586 BC. Israel already divided into 2 nations: Israel (north) and Judah (south). The northern kingdom had been destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 BC. Now, only Judah remained. Jeremiah was a prophet who had to give the disturbing message to Judah that Yahweh was about to judge His people and deliver them into the hands of the Babylonians.
Jeremiah declared a message of repentance and challenge to the people of Judah. He tried to lead them away from disobedience and rebellion. However, it was to no avail. God did judge His people and allowed the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and take many Jews captive to Babylon.
More germane to our study is the call of Jeremiah. It is found on the opening page of his prophecy. Read Jeremiah 1:1-10. God issued His call to Jeremiah in 1:4-5. God told Jeremiah that He had been preparing him for his work. He had knit Jeremiah in the womb and appointed him a prophet to the nations.
How did Jeremiah respond? Notice 1:6 – I am too young.
Jeremiah did not see himself as a prophet! He didn’t have the life experience yet. He needed more time to mature and grow. Perhaps he felt he needed time to develop perspective and gain knowledge. Regardless, he thought he was too young.
God’ response was quick and to the point. He chastised Jeremiah and told him to not offer any more flimsy excuses! He was going to be with him so he should not fear (1:7-8). Then God touched Jeremiah’s mouth in a symbolic display of His anointing. God would give this young man the words to say. Sound familiar?
Matthew 19:16-30: The Rich Young Ruler – I have too much to lose!
Towards the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Matthew records a sad encounter between Jesus and a wealthy young man. The encounter began innocently enough when the young man asked Jesus a question that others had asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)
This young man was a faithful person. He was diligent in keeping the Law. His piety was revealed as the conversation moved forward. He was a man who had taken seriously the Law as given to Moses (19:20). Yet – he knew he was lacking something. What was it? He wanted Jesus to guide him to the most important statutes.
Jesus issued a call to discipleship in 19:21. Jesus could tell this man was too tied to his earthly possessions. His heart was too connected to his position and the power associated with his accomplishments. Jesus challenged him to surrender his dependency on himself and his ability to provide for himself. He challenged the man to transfer his affection from his accumulations to the Master. He invited this man to walk the rest of the earthly journey with the Son of God and then follow Him for the rest of His days.
How did the man respond? He just couldn’t do it. He had too much to lose!
This is the saddest story of our collection of stories today. Moses, Gideon and Jeremiah were reluctant. They offered excuses. But – they finally followed! This man went back to his own, ordered life and missed the opportunity of eternity!