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Acts 7:22: Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.

But when had been called upon to go to Egypt to proclaim God's message Moses claimed speech impediment

Exodus 4:10: Then Moses said to the Lord, "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."

Did Moses actually suffer speech impediment or he was afraid of the mammoth task that lay ahead?

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Excellent question on how to resolve the apparent contradiction between Ex 4:10 and Acts 7:22. The question provides two possibilities that either Moses had a real speech impediment or that he was very humble.

I am inclined to the latter view on the basis of two facts:

  • Numbers 12:3, Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.
  • Ellicott alludes to Josephus to show that Moses had been and done great things in Egypt, in his comment on Acts 7:22

Mighty in words and in deeds.--Josephus (Ant. ii. 10), still following the same traditional history, relates that Moses commanded the Egyptian forces in a campaign against the Ethiopians, and protected them against the serpents that infected the country, by transporting large numbers of the ibis that feeds on serpents. The romance was completed by the marriage of Moses with the daughter of the Ethiopian king who had fallen passionately in love with him. This was possibly a development of the brief statement in Numbers 12:1. The language of Moses (Exodus 4:10), in which he speaks of himself as "not eloquent" and "slow of speech," seems at first inconsistent with "mighty in words," but may fairly be regarded as simply the utterance of a true humility shrinking from the burden of a mighty task.

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Here are some words and deeds of Moses before he met God:

Exodus 2:12 Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?

Exodus 2:16 Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.

Note that some scoundrel shepherds came along: plural.

These are manly words and deeds of strength, courage, and justice. Stephen was impressed and in Acts 7:22 said Moses was powerful in speech and action. This is clear. There was no sign of speech impediment or hesitance only decisiveness.

So what happened when he met God?

Moses' 1st excuse appeared in Ex 3:11

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

After some more details of the job description, Moses' 2nd excuse came in the next chapter in Ex 4:1

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”

3rd excuse in Ex 4:10

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

4th and finally excuse in Ex 4:13

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Moses knew full well the power of Egypt. He was not willing to take on the mighty Pharaoh. He was insecure and reluctant to accept the epic task. He wanted to run away knowing the possible consequences. The slow speech part was just one of the excuses.

When Jeremiah was being commissioned, he also was reluctant:

Jeremiah 1:6 "Alas, Sovereign LORD," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am too young."

Nevertheless, like the case for Moses, God insisted.

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Moses was deeply concerned about his people, Israel.

Maybe, he thought that God may utilize him – also taking advantage of his favourable position inside the Egyptian court – as a medium of salvation for the Israelites (Acts 7:25). This situation happened when (Acts 4:23) he was about 40 years old (or less). In that epoch Moses was “a man with power both in his speech and in his actions” (Acts 7:22, NJB).

According the chronological sequence of the happenings described by Stephen, this Moses’ ‘power’ [‘dunatos’, Greek] was not in reference with the subsequent encounters with the Pharaoh – besides, Stephen did not mention that encounters between Moses and the king of Egypt – but refers to the Moses’ strong management of his superior position when he was in the Egyptian court, directing, mainly, to benefit the people of Israel (not to mention the other princely activities Moses performed according the recording of Josephus).

Like we know, after about 40 years (Acts 7:30) Moses encountered IEUE God (burning thornbush story) that commissioned him as deliverer of His people. In this occasion Moses try to avoid this huge responsibility pleading God a speaking problem (literally, ‘heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue’), as Exodus 4:10 states.

Some people see a discrepancy between these two passages, but, is it necessary argue so?

Ask ourselves, What kind of life Moses had in the intervening 40 years?

From the few clues the Bible offer us we may conclude that – after his departure from Egypt – he drastically changed his life-style: from a princely status (‘son of Pharaoh’s daughter’), as a powerful man belonging to royal entourage, to an humble sheep-leading life, as shepherd of a flock not even belonging to him. Further, the years went on also for him. Perhaps, in that intervening 40 years, he lose gradually the breeziness he had when he was in Egypt court, losing also the habit to speak in public as he did before.

I think there is no contradiction between these two Bible passages.

The 'point to point' this story teaches us is to trust fully God, without a doubt.

Like a pastor said many years ago, ‘When he (Moses) thought to be ready to deliver Israel, God thought he was not. When he (God) thought Moses was ready to deliver Israel, Moses thought he was not.’

This is in perfect harmony with the Paul's discussion on his own weakness. What God said to him, about it?

"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9, Webster)

As always, IEUE God was right.

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This is a case of the governance of the context!

Stephen, during his defense, recounts Jewish history, and he speaks about two well-known OT individuals, Joseph and Moses, who were rejected by their people but by the providence of God both played roles as deliverers and saviors.

And, Stephen specifically speaks in V. 20 to 40, about Moses' life and education in the Royal Court of Egypt. Therefore, it is only proper to interpret verse 22 in that specific historical context, not in the remote contexts, and then, Stephen's intended meaning of words will become clear when said:

"and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds." (Acts 7:21 -22 ESV)

In sum:

Stephen was a man full of Spirit and wisdom and full of grace and power doing great wonders and signs (Acts 6:5,8). He was speaking with his accusers "with wisdom and the Spirit" (Acts 6:10). As he was sitting in the Sanhedrin council, all witnessed his face was like the face of an angel(Acts 6:15), and he spoke in the Holy Spirit:

  1. Verse 22, Stephen was stating Moses was a man of power in words and deeds, which simply put, implies Moses was in every way a well-equipped leader. It is also noteworthy the parallelism with what Jesus said of Himself to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus used the same words, "mighty in deed and word" referring Himself to the two disciples in distress(Luke 24:14 -24.).

  2. "Did Moses actually suffer speech impediment?

    There are a few legendary stories available:

    Jewish Midrash tells Moses injured himself as a small child when he put a burning coal in his mouth. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi taught that Moses’ less-than-perfect communication ability was actually a reflection of his special and lofty soul.

    Besides, 104 research papers listed in NCBI about Moses' speech defect based on Moses's words: " I am not a man of words... I am of slow speech, and of a slow tongue...I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me," etc., nonetheless, all are nothing but speculations.

  3. "or he was afraid of the mammoth task that lay ahead?

    Moses, when he was forty years younger, a magnificent prince of Egypt, full of self-confidence, a presumptive deliverer, acted out 40 years prematurely.

    But, through the 40 years of nomadic life in the desert, Moses, a shepherd, a husband, and a father, and presumed forgotten even by God, was humbled (Num. 12:3) and matured as the deliverer of His people. God sees him as ready.

Moses, after 5 times of excuses:

  • I am not good enough (Ex 3:11)
  • People won't accept me as God sent (3:13)
  • People will not believe and listen to my voice.(4:1)
  • I am not an eloquent speaker, slow of tongue (4:10)
  • I am not qualified, send anyone but me.(4:13)

He was slow to accept the call and persistently unwilling, yet once he accepts the call, he was faithful and held to it steadfastly until his final day. Was he afraid of the mammoth task? Perhaps, he needed time to fully convinced of himself of God's provisions.

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