Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"IN MOSES THE LORD PICKED UP A BROKEN TOOL TO ACCOMPLISH HIS PURPOSE."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The big picture of things in God’s kingdom was not good. The Creator of heaven and earth had once promised to bless all the families of the earth through the descendants of Abraham (Gen 12:3); from his seed would come the Christ who would undo the fall into sin, and reconcile sinners to God. But these chosen descendants of Abraham "groaned because of the bondage" to Pharaoh in Egypt; they were an oppressed people, a broken people, a blessing to no one….
The extensive passage we read from the book of Exodus describes for us what God did to set His people on the road to becoming a blessing to the nations. By God’s ordinance, the first step was to deliver His people from their bondage. How God should deliver His own? As a master workman, He picked up the tool of His choice, and set to work with that tool to lead His people out of Egypt’s slavery. What His tool was? None else than the man Moses. But Moses was such a broken, mangled tool…. Hardly a fitting way, we say, to hasten the day of Christ’s coming.
We look at ourselves, at our strengths and weaknesses. Honesty compels us to admit that there’s so very much broken within us; as parents and spouses, as Christian businessmen and Christian employees, as office-bearers and school-board members we see so very, very much brokenness in ourselves and in each other, so many character faults, so many weaknesses, so much ignorance and folly. We don’t see how we can hasten Christ’s second coming; our personal weaknesses and faults, the spouse’s weaknesses and faults, the boss’s, the teacher’s, the office-bearer’s weaknesses – surely through us, through him, through her God’s kingdom will not be made to come….
We learn from our text, brothers and sisters, that it’s not for us to puzzle over the tools God is pleased to use, nor to be offended by the brokenness of the tools of His choice; it’s for us to believe that the Master Mechanic of the universe knows what He is doing when He picks up a tool to use. As triumphant Lord at the Father’s right hand, He’ll surely accomplish His purpose with whatever tool He picks up; even through us He’ll hasten the day of Deliverance.
I summarize the sermon as follows:
IN MOSES THE LORD PICKED UP A BROKEN TOOL TO ACCOMPLISH HIS PURPOSE.
Who is the tool?
Our text states clearly that the Lord God sent Moses to Pharaoh. But who was this Moses whom God was pleased to send to Pharaoh?
We can think of reasons to conclude why God’s choice in sending this man was a good choice. Moses, we know, was born in the time of Pharaoh’s persecution of the Hebrews. So his mother, in an effort to save his life, first hid him, then placed him in a basket in the Nile. There the daughter of Pharaoh found him, and rescued him. He was subsequently raised first by his mother, then brought up in Pharaoh’s palace. Stephen in Acts 7 relates the result of his royal upbringing; "Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds" (vs 22). Specially his training in the courts of Pharaoh lead us to conclude that Moses was most suited to visit Pharaoh and lead Israel out of Egypt.
We can think of more reasons why Moses was the obvious choice for the task. Moses had a zeal for God. For after he had grown up, he rose to the defense of his own people. That’s what we read:
"Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens" (Ex 2:11)
According to the author of the letter to the Hebrews, this was faith in action. I read in Heb 11 these words:
"By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter" (11:24).
More: Moses chose
"rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt" (vss 25f).
Education, zeal for God: we find here two factors combining to make Moses the obvious choice for the person God should choose to approach Pharaoh and lead His people out of Egypt. And we can add on top of those two positive factors the fact that his forty year stint as a shepherd had surely taught him patience and dependence on God – to say nothing of knowing the ways of the desert, a quality that would surely help immensely in leading a people through the wilderness. Yes, adding it all together we conclude that God’s choice in sending Moses was a very good choice; Moses was surely a worthy tool in God’s hand.
Yet, my brothers and sisters, we do well to examine the question more carefully. What sort of man was this really, whom God chose to send to Pharaoh? The closer we look, the more brokenness we see….
To begin with, Moses was hopelessly out of tune with the goings on in Egypt. He may have been raised in Pharaoh’s palace, but he spent the second half of his life –the last 40 years- floating around in the desert as a shepherd. In as much as we do not expect a swagman roaming Australia’s Simpson Desert since 1960 to tell the Prime Minister what to do, so it makes little sense to suggest that Moses front up in Pharaoh’s palace and speak on behalf of a minority he hasn’t seen (as far as we know) for the last 40 years.
Consider further Moses’ wife. Zipporah was the daughter of the priest of Midian, and so a descendent of Abraham by Keturah (Gen 25:2) - a line of Abraham’s descendents who did not receive the promise. And from the episode concerning the circumcision of the sons (Ex 4:25f), we receive serious doubts whether Zipporah was actually a believer in the Lord and His covenant promises. Is it not a serious liability if a leader has a wife on whom he cannot really rely, a wife who is not an example to those who are being led?
And what shall we say of Moses’ reputation? The man was guilty of manslaughter, if not outright murder. For he had killed that Egyptian who had beat a Hebrew, and stealthily buried his body in the sand….
And his own people? Stephan says in Acts 7 that Moses "struck down the Egyptian" because "he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand" (vs 25). "But," Stephan adds, "they did not understand." Instead, they rejected Moses. The next day, as Moses sought to settle a dispute between two Israelites, the one lashed out at him with words of betrayal, "Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" (Ex 2:14; cf Acts 7:26ff). At this word, Moses, in fear for his life, fled the vengeful sword of Pharaoh; he’d blown his chance to help his people….
To make matters worse yet: for forty years Moses had lived in Midian, away from Israel, away from the communion of saints, away from the church of the Old Testament. True, the service of the Lord amongst the people of God in Egypt was weak. But the fact that the church was weak did not give Moses the right to "withdraw from it, content to be by himself." He may have had to flee for his life, but even this "state or quality" did not free him from the obligation of one and all to join and unite with the people of God, "maintaining the unity of the Church" (Art 28, Belg Conf).
And that becomes evident in his response to God at the burning bush. Though God calls Moses to a task in His kingdom, Moses raises no less than 5 objections, 5 excuses.
Chap 3:11: I’m unworthy.
Chap 3:14: Who is God and what can He do?
Chap 4:1: the people won’t believe me.
Chap 4:10: I haven’t got the gift of speaking.
Chap 4:13: I don’t feel like going; send someone else.
After spending 40 years "by himself", outside the circle of the church, the faith that drove him 40 years ago to look up his brethren and try to help them had all but withered away…. To say No to God five times – it’s surely not the language of faith! And that’s the more so when we observe that after each objection, God demonstrated that the objection raised held no water. Yet Moses persisted in his objections…. If faith is shown by its works, Moses’ protests and excuses surely suggest that Moses’ faith was more dead than alive….
You see, brothers and sisters, even by the standards of our corrupt world today, Moses’ track record and his prolonged absence from the pulse of real life would make Moses an impossible candidate to speak to Pharaoh – let alone deliver a people from bondage. How well we can relate to the objections Moses raises to God; Lord, thanks, but this is not for me, send someone else!
Yet we read in our text: "Come now, and I will send you." Is God making a mistake? Is God ill informed as to Moses’ background, Moses’ credentials? No, beloved, God makes no mistake. And God knows very well every detail of Moses’ background, of Moses’ character. Yet God is pleased to call his particular sinner to perform this particular task. Since God calls, there can be no objection to this commission – neither on Moses’ part nor on the part of those to whom God sends him. Important is not what sort of tool, or what quality tool, the Lord is pleased to use; important is only and always who handles the tool – second point.
Who handles the tool?
Who the tradesman is that chose to use this tool is amply clear from what God showed Moses before giving those instructions to go to Egypt. Though Moses knew the desert, he saw one day something he’d never seen before. A common thorny shrub had somehow ignited, but the flames were not consuming it; the bush just burned without disintegrating. Investigation brought him closer to behold this marvel, until a voice stopped him in his tracks, a voice that instructed him to come no closer, indeed, to take off his sandals for he was standing on holy ground. The voice from the burning bush identified itself with these words:
"I am the God of your father - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:6).
The significance of these words was clear to Moses; here was God Almighty! Hence his fear; he hid his face.
There is significance, brothers and sisters, in the way God revealed Himself to Moses. Long ago, when He appeared to Abraham, He simply walked down the road with two angels to Abraham’s tent, and Abraham didn’t know who his guest was until He had delivered His message. Why not the same way this time? Why this time in a flaming bush?
Fire has a specific meaning in the Scriptures. A special fire means in the Bible that God is present. I think, for example, of that other experience that Abram had. When God made His covenant with Abram (Gen 15), the Lord told Abram to divide a number of animals into two, making of the parts two separate though parallel rows. According to the custom of the time, a covenant was confirmed by the two parties passing between the two rows of animal parts. As a sign that God confirmed this covenant, God passed between these pieces –how?- in the form of "a burning torch". That fiery torch, in other words, indicated that God Himself was present. Moses certainly knew this material; in his infancy his mother had impressed it into him. That Moses now saw a fire that did not consume the bush could leave with him but one conclusion; God was here!
But more often than not, fire implies more than that God is present. Fire includes also the concept of judgment. I remind you of the flaming sword guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24). I remind you also of the fiery destruction that fel1 on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24). Yes, the fire indicated that God was present, but this is a God who tolerates no sin, a God whose holiness demands judgment.
Moses knew God’s revelation to the forefathers, surely knew also the meaning of fire in God’s revelation. Now there was here a bush on fire and yet not burning; here, then, was God in His glory, God in His holiness. And the holiness of this God should imply also that anything sinful in His presence be immediately consumed, Moses himself not least of all! But as the bush, though burning was not burned, so also Moses, though in the presence of God, was not consumed by His awesome holiness. So at the burning bush was displayed not just the presence of a God of great glory and holiness; here was manifested also the mercy of a God of great grace.
This God of holy glory and infinite mercy leaves no doubt in the mind of Moses as to precisely Who He was. Said a voice from the bush: "I am the God of your father - the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob." In one word, this God of holy glory and great mercy identifies Himself as the God of the covenant. Long ago, some 400 years in fact, God had said to father Abraham: I establish My covenant with you. And what was that covenant? To be God to you, ie, to be your Father and make you My child. So: I will care for you, provide for your daily needs so that you can live for Me. That same promise once made to Abraham had been repeated to Isaac and again to Jacob. God was their God, Israel was His people. And Moses’ own father Amram believed that, and therefore had the faith to hide Moses and so spare him from death in the Nile.
But after saying this to Abraham so long ago, God now speaks again: I am still this God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. I’ve not forgotten what I said to them long ago, I rather remain true to My words; I am ever faithful. In fact, even now I hear their cry in the land of Egypt.
You see, beloved, in this fashion God displays Himself to Moses at the flaming bush, and in so doing God reveals to Moses who He is. Then, yes, Moses receives a mandate – a mandate Moses doesn’t feel up to…, and we’d agree he’s got so many negatives counting against him. But before He gets his mandate, he is told who the God is who gave the mandate. And that is where the accent lies; not on the tool but on the Handler of that tool.
So it is that when Moses objects to his call, it is to the identity revealed in the burning bush that God draws his attention. Moses’ first objection concerns himself: who am I? (Ex 3:11). But God’s response is: who you are is beside the point. The point is that I will go with you. And the important question is who I am. Who I am? Well, I’m that God of glorious power and infinite holiness who speaks to you from this burning bush.
And when Moses comes with that second objection –just who is God and what kind of a God is He- then God reveals His Name –I AM WHO I AM- and with that Name stresses that He is exactly that God who revealed Himself at the bush; I AM WHO I AM, gloriously holy and majestic, infinitely merciful and faithful (Ex 2:13ff). So also in answer to the third objection God displays that He is a God of power; the rod becomes a snake becomes a rod again, the hand becomes leprous and then clean again (Ex 4:1ff). All of these responses to the excuses of Moses serve to underline further what God displays in that burning bush that is not consumed; His identity as God is revealed to Moses.
This is the God, brothers and sisters, who says to that shepherd with the poor qualifications: "Come, I send you." Now we see the point. Moses may feel so inadequate, and Pharaoh may seem so powerful, and the people so rebellious and even aware of Moses’ record. But if it is God who sends, the rest just is not important. Important is not the tool, his shape and qualities; important is the God who is pleased to use that tool. Let it be clear, congregation: Moses was nothing more and nothing less than a tool, an instrument, in the almighty hands of the Lord of lords. And it is never for people to say that the tool God is pleased to use to work the redemption of His people and so make Israel a blessing in Christ is damaged or broken; it is for people to realize that the God of heaven and earth is powerful to use with success whatever tool He in wisdom is pleased to pick up.
Events recorded later in the book of Exodus make clear that indeed God made no mistake in calling Moses for this task; God’s people were delivered from their bondage, led through the desert and brought to the Promised Land. But No, this success was not because Moses was shown to be such a gifted leader. He remained a man of sin, a man who needed atonement for his sins in the tabernacle later built at Mt Sinai just as much as any other Israelite needed it. This success rather came about because Israel’s covenant God handled His broken tool in such a way that the task God performed through the tool what He set out to do; through Moses as His tool, the Lord God did deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt. And through Moses as His broken tool, the Lord God did lead Israel for 40 years through the desert. Sure, Moses was a sinner, and Moses was weak, but important is never the tool God picks up to perform a task; important is always the God who handles the tool.
This God, beloved of the Lord, has not changed – though so many centuries have passed since the days God commissioned Moses. In the course of the Old Testament He sovereignly called so many persons to special tasks in His kingdom, be it as prophets or priests or kings, be it as parents or teachers or simply being a faithful witness to the neighbor next door. Every last person to whom God gave a task in His Old Testament kingdom was a sinner, every last one beset by weaknesses, every last one hiding skeletons of some sort in his private closet, every last one with character faults; all needed the atoning work of the promised Savior so very, very much. But God used with success every last tool upon which He laid His hand; not once did the Lord pick up a tool to use and then discard it as useless without accomplishing the purpose for which He picked it up.
Not once? Yes, once God did. Once only God rejected the tool of His choice. On the cross of Calvary the Lord discarded His only Son – and let this tool accomplish by Himself, without the muscle of the Master Mechanic handling the tool, the task the tool was intended to do. And Christ did it; on His own strength He –useless tool though He appeared to human eyes to be- paid for sin, reconciled sinners to God, destroyed the devil and overcame death. The result is that God Most High made the Son of God to be Lord of lords – the sovereign handler of any tool of His choice. In His kingdom today the exalted Christ uses fathers and mothers, teachers and preachers, truckies and sparkies as tools in His hands to accomplish particular purposes geared to hasten the return of Christ on heaven’s clouds. All are sinful, every tool He grasps for a particular task is broken, is twisted, is warped. But He uses them nevertheless, with success, to make His kingdom come.
But people remain people. Every tool Christ uses has faults, and so people can rightly point out those faults and offer criticism. But always, congregation, always, the fault is beside the point! Always, always it is wrong to criticize the qualities of the tool God is pleased to use. It will not do for children to pick fleas off their parents; the fact is that God knows the weaknesses of particular persons, and yet He is pleased to use them as parents of His covenant children. So it for children to "have patience with their [parents’] weaknesses and shortcomings, since it is God’s will to rule [the children] by their hand" (Lord’s Day 39). Similarly, it will not do for congregation members to find fault with office-bearers’ characters and stumble over those faults. God knew very well when He called brothers to office that they were sinful men, very broken persons. He knew the one comes across as weak and uncertain, while the other comes across as domineering and arrogant. He knew the one can’t speak freely and the other has a tarnished track record. But all those faults, brothers and sisters, are beside the point. When the exalted Christ today in His wisdom is pleased to use a particular tool to accomplish a particular task in His kingdom, it is for us to respect His choice and praise Him for it. For He makes His kingdom come and He gathers glory to His name not through the use of perfect tools, the latest and the best. He makes His kingdom come in the home, in the church, in the workplace through the use of broken tools – here a cracked spanner, there a twisted screwdriver, yonder a handful of bent nails; here a teacher that can’t her work organized, there a parent that quickly runs out of energy, yonder an elder that talks too much.
You tell me you can’t build anything that way? That may be true of people’s labors. But if God is the Master Builder, are we really in a position to criticize?! Know it well, beloved: to criticize God’s choice of tool is ultimately to criticize God. God wouldn’t take complaints from Moses, and He won’t take them from us either. Instead, it’s for us to acknowledge that God’s ways are higher than our ways and so respect His doings – accept that God is pleased to use particular tools, whether ourselves or somebody else.
Soon our Lord will return on the clouds of heaven. At that point in history, we’ll be granted the privilege to look back with perfect vision into the years of the past. We’ll find confirmation that the tools Christ was pleased to use over the years were broken tools. But we’ll find confirmation too, congregation, that the work Christ set out to do with these broken tools – you and I included!- was successful. He makes no mistake in picking up the tool of His choice.
Let that gospel be sufficient for us all – particularly when we see faults in ourselves or in each other. Amen.