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The Bible is surely history’s most honest book. Its unfettered and brutal transparency about the unimpressive nature of God’s chosen people, even its human authors, testifies to its authenticity.
The gospel makes this point powerfully.
Jesus, the God-man, entered human history, lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, and rose again so that unrighteous, unimpressive chosen people would be reconciled to God. If God’s people believe they’ve been saved by grace through faith—that they contributed nothing to their salvation except the sin that made redemption necessary—then why do they often have such a challenging time believing that God can use them to do his kingdom work?
Frequently God’s people sense a lack of ability, as if God chooses to work only through those who have some innate and impressive aptitude.
Moses struggled with this very thing.
The same Moses whom God used to deliver Israel from Pharaoh’s oppression was a self-identified unimpressive man who believed he was unable to accomplish God’s mission. The example of Moses helps highlight the unimpressive nature of God’s chosen people and his choice to use them anyway.
Toward the beginning of Exodus, shortly after God commissions Moses, there’s a genealogy that seems out of place. But the genealogy, found in Exodus 6:14–25, serves a critical purpose in the exodus narrative and a larger theological purpose for God’s people. Unfortunately, our tendency is to read genealogies hastily or skip over them altogether. Genealogies offer God’s people critical information, however, and Exodus 6 is no exception.
Like the framing on a piece of art, a literary framing complements and accentuates the substance within its border. Moses, led by the Holy Spirit, builds this particular frame so God’s people would better understand the genealogy’s significance to the exodus story.
What’s recorded directly before (Ex. 6:10–12) and after (Ex. 6:28–30) is the same occurrence. Though the wording is condensed in the latter, it’s important to note that these aren’t separate occurrences of God commanding Moses and Aaron to speak with Pharaoh. They are the same event recorded twice, once before and once after the genealogy.
This genealogy serves a critical purpose in the exodus narrative and a larger theological purpose for God’s people.
This particular bookend structure succinctly records God’s command to Moses and Moses’s immediate pushback. Moses believes he’s unable to do what God has commanded. It’s not that Moses opposes what God plans to do; he’s against whom God’s planning to use to do it.
Moses describes himself as having “uncircumcised lips.” There’s debate as to exactly what this means, but there’s a consensus that Moses had, or at least believed he had, a speech problem. This could’ve been a stutter or simply a fear of public speaking. Regardless, it’s clear Moses thought himself unable to do what God had commanded.
This intentional framing of the genealogy reveals the point of the genealogy itself. God had Moses record it to emphasize that Moses was a regular, unimpressive man.
God Doesn’t Correct Moses
We might expect God to respond with something like, “Moses, don’t be so hard on yourself. You can do this!” Yet the opposite happens. God directs Moses to write down his family line for all to read. It’s as if, rather than encouraging Moses by building his self-esteem, God says, “You think you’re unimpressive? You have no idea how unimpressive you are. Let me show you.”
In the ancient Near East, status and credentials were primarily found in one’s family line, and this did not bode well for Moses. Here are just a few of his relatives’ sketchy track records:
- Reuben had a sexual encounter with his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22).
- Simeon and Levi became outraged and killed all the men in a city to avenge their sister’s rape (Gen. 34).
- Korah rebelled against Moses and Aaron and was swallowed up by the ground (Num. 16).
- Amram (Moses’s dad) married his own aunt (Ex. 6:20).
Additionally, 40 years earlier, Moses himself killed an Egyptian man and had to flee for his life.
Morally speaking, the family line is unimpressive. Combined with Moses’s lack of speaking ability, it seems odd God would select Moses as his mouthpiece. Yet, this is precisely what he does. Don’t overlook the language just after the genealogy:
These are the Aaron and Moses to whom the LORD said: “Bring out the people of Israel from the land of Egypt by their hosts.” It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing out the people of Israel from Egypt, this Moses and this Aaron. (Ex. 6:26–27)
It seems the point of the genealogy is to show just how unimpressive God’s chosen people are.
We’re All Unimpressive
Nevertheless, God delivers Israel out of Pharaoh’s hand using the unimpressive Moses. This type of action is not out of character for God; he exclusively chooses unremarkable people to do his kingdom work. He has no other kind of human to use. Paul correctly understood himself to be weak, but knew God demonstrated his strength by using weak people (2 Cor. 12:10).
We’re no more capable of ministry success because of our abilities than we are righteous because of our actions.
The church does not share in the specific commands to Moses and Aaron, but all God’s people are commanded to make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). And yet we often feel ill-equipped. Still, we must trust God will provide for us what he has commanded of us. It’s common to get the gospel right, yet fail to believe its effects—namely, that God has chosen to work in and through common people to achieve his uncommon work. God doesn’t ask if we are able; he asks us to go and do his kingdom work—to care for the disadvantaged, to seek justice, to humbly and boldly tell lost people the good news of Jesus.
We may not be impressive, but if we’re in Christ, then our success isn’t based on our ability, but his faithfulness. We’re no more capable of ministry success because of our abilities than we are righteous because of our actions. Our loving Father both saves us from our sin and also equips us to accomplish his mission.