We were reading Stephen’s final speech before he was killed. He was explaining the history of his people, building a defense for his actions. And in the process, he was talking about Moses.
The story is pretty familiar if you’ve read Exodus or watched “The Ten Commandments.” Moses is born to a Jewish couple, is put near the river to die, because of Egyptian law, is rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter, and is raised in the court.
And then Stephen says, Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.
A couple of us were surprised by this characterization. When Moses is describing himself to God, he says, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
It could be that Stephen has his story wrong. He was, after all, standing in court. But it is possible that Moses was wrong.
This statement is in the middle of a conversation that God is having with Moses about going to Egypt and telling the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. In every turn of the conversation, Moses provides reasons for not being the message carrier. He’s arguing with God. And then he makes this claim about not being articulate.
As I was writing, I thought, “I wonder whether there is anything about Egyptian rhetoric?” I used to be a rhetorical scholar. I ask questions like that. And so I quickly found an article: “Ancient Egyptian Rhetoric in the Old and Middle Kingdoms.”
It seems that there were rules of discourse at the time which valued restraint in speech. Moses’ claim to be slow of speech, wold have made him eloquent, not kept him from eloquence.
I have to think about this. More on Monday.
But in the meantime, you may be more eloquent than you admit to God.