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The calling narratives of Moses and Gideon both follow a similar pattern that involves the called person initially demurring to the calling. In Exodus 3:10-11 we read:

"So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

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

Gideon similarly protests in Judges 6:14-15:

The Lord turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?"

"Pardon me, my lord," Gideon replied, "but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family."

Is the initial "who am I" reaction in these narratives supposed to be taken positively as a sign of humility in the character? Or negatively as a sign of a lack of faith? Neither?

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    It seems this detail is more pertinent to the reader to know who God chooses, namely those who don’t rely on their own abilities but wholly rely on God, rather than something one needs to learn to say and be prepared to answer if ever God calls him. – Nihil Sine Deo Apr 5 '19 at 3:52
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From the story-telling point of view, Moses and Gideon are prime examples of reluctant heroes. Today, we adore them in movies.

Vertically speaking, God wants to teach us some lessons:

  1. He could use defective humans to achieve His goals.
  2. Humble people will be exalted if you trust in God.
  3. At the end of a story, God would be glorified, not people.

Is the initial "who am I" reaction in these narratives supposed to be taken positively as a sign of humility in the character?

Definitely yes. No one could do better than "who am I" when he meets God. Look what happened when God spoke to Job.

Or negatively as a sign of a lack of faith?

No. Look at Mary when Gabriel spoke to her.

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Is the initial "who am I" reaction in these narratives supposed to be taken positively as a sign of humility in the character? Or negatively as a sign of a lack of faith? Neither?

The best way to know if the response is positive, negative, or neutral is to look at the context and see the response of God. Humility is from the heart and only God knows our heart.

Digging into the context:

Exodus 3 (NIV)
10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

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

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Later in Exodus 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.”

11 The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

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

14 Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you.

Moses flat out did not want to do what God wanted him to do and it was in no way positive.

In Judges 6 Gideon has an on going conversation with God:

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

Later

36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

At no point do we see God's anger toward Gideon. God's response demonstrates God's knowledge of Moses or Gideon's heart. Moses warranted God's anger and Gideon was granted sign after sign to confirm his task and encourage him.

We don't see God's anger toward Gideon, but we don't see God's pleasure either. God's response to Gideon is neither positive or negative but more patient, gracious, and affirming.

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In scripture, pattern is prophecy. There is an idea which is recapitulated using various symbols, of which, the demurring is just one example.

Consider the common idea expressed by the following:

The one who is least is the greatest in the kingdom. The one who is last is first. The mustard seed is the least, which grows to be the great tree. David was the least among his brethren, and became the great king. Bethlehem, the least to produce the great king. Meek and poor in spirit inherit the kingdom. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and other second (least) sons made to be first.

The pattern expresses the idea that Christ was the greatest in the kingdom because he was the least; serving us all through his death on the cross.

As we become imitators of Christ, we are called to become the least, as we put others in first position. We put God first, and then our neighbors first. This is the law of love.

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