WHAT WAS WRONG WITH MOSES’ SPEECH?
by Shawn Brasseaux
When the LORD God met with Moses in the burning bush, informing him that He had chosen him to deliver His people Israel from Egyptian bondage, Moses voiced his objections in the form of lame excuses.
The Bible relates the matter in Exodus 4:10-12: “ And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.  And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?  Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” How was Moses “slow of speech, and of a slow tongue?” In chapter 6, we find parallel thoughts: “ And Moses spake before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?…  And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?” How was Moses “of uncircumcised lips?”
To answer these questions, let us examine Moses’ early life. At that time, another Pharaoh was slaughtering—drowning—Hebrew male newborn babies so as to counter the Jews’ population explosion in Egypt (Exodus 1:15-22). It was during this time that Moses was born. His mother hid him for a mere three months, ultimately being forced to send him away via a basket floating in the river (Exodus 2:1ff.). Moses’ older sister Miriam witnessed Pharaoh’s daughter discovering him, and Miriam conspired and convinced Pharaoh’s daughter to let her find a Hebrew woman to nurse him. Moses was briefly returned to his mother. When older, he came back to become the foster son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
Moses writes about himself in Exodus chapter 2: “ And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.  And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.  And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.  And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?  And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known.  Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.”
The Holy Spirit through Stephen provides additional commentary over a millennium later, in Acts chapter 7: “ And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.  And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:  For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.  And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?  But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?  Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?
“ Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons.  And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him,  Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold.  Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground.  I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt.”
Stephen provides us with a calendar. Firstly, Moses was 40 years old when he fled Egypt (verse 23). That is, he spent his first four decades of life among the “sophisticated” Egyptians. Although Jewish by blood, his connection to Pharaoh’s daughter afforded him an Egyptian’s schooling. Moses was an educated man, as Acts 7:22 already told us: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.” The Egyptians were advanced for their time: Moses studied science, mathematics, religion, the arts (music, architecture, and so on), world history, et cetera. At age 40, Moses departed Egypt to live in Midian.
Secondly, Stephen reveals it was 40 years after his leaving Egypt that Moses met the LORD in the burning bush (verse 30). In other words, Moses is now 80 years old. What has he been doing for the last four decades? Exodus 3:1 gives us a clue: “Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.” Working as a stinky shepherd “out in the middle of nowhere” is quite different from his previous socializing with the “cultured, intellectual” Egyptians! (Centuries prior, Joseph had attempted to spare his family, father Jacob and kin, from a similar shame. Genesis 46:33-34: “And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What is your occupation? That ye shall say, Thy servants’ trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.”)
Re-read Exodus 4:10-12: “ And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.  And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?  Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” Also, chapter 6: “ And Moses spake before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?…  And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?” How was Moses “of uncircumcised lips?”
Considering all that has been presented, we can see why Moses would be embarrassed to appear before an Egyptian pharaoh. Moses complained to the LORD that Pharaoh would not be interested in hearing from an “uneducated,” repulsive shepherd; thus, the LORD should not send him as His spokesman to the Egyptian monarch. Now, let us make some clarifications. It was not that Moses had a physical speech impediment or mental illness—as in lisps and other speech defects. Rather than a literal disability, the description is metaphorical. Moses was intimidated or nervous. Having left “glorious” Egypt long ago, he was now a “nobody.” Pharaoh would surely detect him as a non-Egyptian and a lowly shepherd.
Moses’ lips were “uncircumcised” in that—like the male reproductive organ still having the foreskin—they were thickened, elongated, blocked. Again, there was nothing physically wrong with Moses’ mouth, lips, or brain. This is figurative. His chief weakness was unbelief/fear. Instead of worrying about any potential limitations or stigmas he had, he should have relied on the LORD to compensate for and overcome them. This prompted the rebuke: “And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.”
Also, bear in mind Israel’s bondage to Egypt was a serious, complicated matter that had spanned centuries. Moses contended, “God, You want me to get involved in liberating Israel?! How can I possibly negotiate with mighty Pharaoh? Even You know the Egyptians vehemently hate shepherds! Also, my speech is not polished or fluent as it once was! I do not know what to say to persuade Pharaoh!” The LORD replied, “So what if you are a loser in Pharaoh’s eyes! You let Me take of any weaknesses and difficulties you have, Moses!” (And, as we know, the LORD did!!)
“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:25-31).