Moses – When Courage Fails the Strong

I noticed something in Acts the other day that fascinated me. It was a description: “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:22).

I had to stop and look at that again, because what I remembered about Moses was that when God told him he was to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses repeatedly objected, stating, “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).

Now, admittedly a lot happened to Moses between the time when he was educated in Egypt as a young man and decades later at the scene of the burning bush, but it’s likely that a lot happens to all of us between the time we are young and being educated, and the time we may be called to put that education to use.

What I find here is a message to the “educated,” to people who have gifts they have never used because they are fearful that when it comes right down to it, they will fail.

The Exodus story in chapters 3 and 4 recounts a little divine impatience with Moses, who has been chosen for a particular role, but it is God who delivers the solution: “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:12). Even then Moses continues to protest and to ask that God send someone else, so God creates a further solution: Moses’s older brother, Aaron. You can hear the exasperation in God’s comment: “I know he can speak well.” So that is how the story goes. The two brothers go before Pharaoh; God tells Moses what to say; and Aaron delivers the message.

We’ve all heard stories about how God helps the poor, the weak, the downtrodden, but this is a story about God helping the strong and the educated who are suffering a failure of courage. This is a promise to store in your heart for those times when your confidence and courage fail: Go to your spiritual center and hear the divine message, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

           

Off the Cuff

In a short article in the September 18 issue of The Christian Century, I learned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was not from a written, rehearsed text but was instead extemporaneous. The singer Mahalia Jackson stood near as Dr. King rose to speak at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and she said to him: “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” Hearing her, King folded up his prepared speech, put it away, and instead spoke from his heart.

The result was one of the most famous, most quoted, most remembered, most cherished speeches of all time. Chances are, if he had ignored the prompting of his heart and read the text printed on the paper, the speech might have been a good one, but with nowhere near the impact and reach of the one he gave.

So, can we say that “I Have a Dream” was impromptu? Not if we consider King’s background in faith and religious studies. The same Divinity Who said to Moses: “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” [Exodus 4:12] and to the 12 disciples : “At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” [Matthew 10:19-20] could certainly have whispered the same message to Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963, on the heels of the exhortation from Mahalia Jackson.