Moses and Stephen and the power of words.

So, you’ve had the weekend to think about questions I raised on Friday. Was Moses accurate when he said he was inarticulate or was he trying to get out of what God was asking of him? Was Stephen accurate when he said Moses was powerful in word and action, or was he merely making Moses look good?

We need to look first at the Egyptian standards for discourse.

Eloquence was discussed by the Egyptians, in the same way we talk about learning how to speak more effectively. In particular, according to David Hutto, because of the authority of the Pharaoh being like deity, learning how to talk to people with more power, less power, and the same power as you have was very important.  People learned how to refrain from speaking, how to respect arguments from tradition and repeating what had been said by those in power. Language was treated with great respect, with almost magical power at times. Being a good speaker conveyed status.

Moses, as a member of the court of the Pharaoh, would have received that kind of training. He would have been aware of the importance of polished speech, practiced interaction, strategic words.

And after having spent 40 years in the wilderness as a shepherd, Moses would have been out of practice. He had avoided Egyptians, perhaps had avoided speaking formal Egyptian, using whatever trade language would have allowed him to talk with the Midianite family of his wife.

So compared to what he knew of the expectations of the royal court, Moses could have said to God, “I am not eloquent” and meant, “I’m really rusty.” But when he says, “I never was eloquent, and I haven’t been since we’ve started talking,” Moses is making a claim we can’t test. There’s no way to know whether he struggled with speech lessons.

So perhaps, Moses was right. But there’s more to the story.

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For the next few weeks, I’m moving to posting three days a week instead of five. Between extra teaching, a little vacation, and preparations for a wedding in about two months, I’m cutting back. And maybe editing more. I’ll see you on Wednesday with the rest of this story.

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About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of 300wordsaday.com. I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

2 thoughts on “Moses and Stephen and the power of words.

  1. Moses was eager to find any excuse he could, whether they had any validity is beside the point. So often God chooses someone somewhat inadequate for a job to makes it clear, they must be getting help from Him.

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