How do you respond to Exodus 4:11?
“The Lord says to Moses, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”
According to some compatibilists, this passage teaches that all infirmities are willed by God. This interpretation is not required, however. Three things may be said.
First, as a matter of hermenuetical principle, Christians should always interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament, not vice versa. Most importantly, Christians should always start their reflections about God with their minds fixed upon the person of Jesus Christ, for he is the decisive revelation of God to us (e.g. John 1:14, 18; 14:7–10). Throughout his ministry Jesus came against all infirmities and diseases as things that God does not will. Never once did he ascribe these things to his Father’s will. Never once did he encourage people to find comfort in the notion that these things were part of God’s plan. Rather, infirmities and diseases were consistently understood to be the result of Satan’s activity, which is why he and his disciples delivered people from them.* However we interpret this Exodus passage, it must not contradict Jesus’ teaching or his example.
Second, it’s important to read this passage in context. Moses is arguing against God’s decision to use him as his spokesperson to Pharaoh and the Jews in Egypt on the grounds that he is “slow of speech and slow in tongue” (Exod. 4:10). God gets frustrated with Moses (v. 14), for he has just demonstrated to Moses that he can perform enough miracles to convince the Jewish elders that he is being sent by God. He thus uses emphatic language to drive home to Moses the point (once again!) that as the Creator of the universe he can handle any and all obstacles in attaining his objective of getting the Israelites out of Egypt. Thus he rhetorically asks Moses, “Who gives speech to morals? Who makes them mute or deaf?”
It’s also important to note that God speaks of the human condition in general terms in this verse. As Terrence Fretheim observes, the passage does not imply that God picks and chooses which individuals will be deaf, mute or blind, “as if God entered into the womb of every pregnant woman and determined whether and how a child would have disabilities.” It only implies that God created the kind of world where mortals may become disabled. God created a risky world in which natural processes can be corrupted by free agents with the result that mortals are sometimes “flogged” (mastix) with infirmities like deafness and muteness. God wanted Moses to know that as the Creator he is able to work around such obstacles in achieving his objectives. In the warfare ministry of Jesus, God went further and demonstrated that the presence of his Kingdom is evidenced by overcoming such obstacles altogether. Jesus frees these people from Satan’s “flogging.”
- * For a full discussion, see my God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), chapters VI–VIII. In God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Crossway, 2000), Bruce Ware critiques the open view on the grounds that it cannot provide comfort to believers who suffer because it does not affirm that their suffering is part of God’s plan. Among other problems with this critique, it is completely inconsistent with the ministry of Jesus. Nowhere does Jesus offer this “comfort.”
- T. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation Series (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1991), 72.