Prophets who didn't want the job

Moses wanted G-d's help, but would have preferred to leave the job to Aaron.

Professor Gerald Aranoff,

Judaism Prof. G. Aranoff
Prof. G. Aranoff

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

Moses, Jeremiah and Jonah hesitated to God before accepting His mission.  They seemed not to want the job!

Pesikta Zutrata Exodus 4:13: “Three prophets protested when God asked them to undertake His mission: Moses, Jonah, and Jeremiah.”

We, and even the nations throughout the world, read, adore and are inspired from the words of Moses, Jonah, and Jeremiah in the Bible. These prophets tried to make the world good and righteous.  Their teachings are alive today. Yet these three prophets protested, apparently fearing failure, before accepting God’s mission!

Moses feared that he could not persuade Pharaoh by himself. Verily, God told Moses “Yet I know that the king of Egypt will let you go only because of a greater might” (Exodus 3:19).

In the midrash, Jonah feared the impending Assyrian Empire exiling of the 10 Tribes. Jonah protested to God: “He prayed to the Lord, saying, “O Lord! Isn’t this just what I said when I was still in my own country? That is why I fled beforehand to Tarshish. For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment” (Jonah 4:2).

In the midrash, Jeremiah feared the impending King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destruction of the Holy Temple and of the State of Israel and then 70 years exile. Jeremiah hesitated to God: “Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; Before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations. I replied: Ah, Lord God! I don’t know how to speak, For I am still a boy” (Jeremiah 1:5-6).

Moses argues for 7 days against accepting God’s mission: “But Moses said to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

Rashi says here: “We learn that all 7 days the Holy One Blessed Be He enticed Moses to accept His mission by the Burning Bush…”

Moses, on the 7th day, states: “But he said, “Please, O Lord, make someone else Your agent [Lit. send through whomever You will send.]”(Exodus 4:13).

And it says in Midrash Rabbah - Exodus 3:16:

“R. Hiyya the Great said that Moses pleaded: Lord of the Universe! Thou desirest me to redeem the children of Abraham who proclaimed Thee Lord over all the creatures? Send, I pray Thee, by the hand of him whom Thou wilt send….The Rabbis say that one must not think that Moses refused to go, he only wished to pay respect to Aaron; for Moses said: Before I arose, my brother Aaron prophesied to them in Egypt for eighty years, as it is written: “Say to them: Thus said the Lord God: On the day that I chose Israel, I gave My oath to the stock of the House of Jacob; when I made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, I gave my oath to them.

"When I said, I the Lord am your God” (Ezekiel 20:5). Whence do we know that it was Aaron who prophesied? For so it says: A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus said the Lord: Lo, I revealed Myself to your father’s house in Egypt when they were subject to the House of Pharaoh, and I chose them from among all the tribes of Israel to be My priests—to ascend My altar, to burn incense, [and] to carry an ephod before Me—and I assigned to your father’s house all offerings by fire of the Israelites. (1 Samuel 2:27-28). Moses thought: If I now trespass upon the domain of my brother, he will be vexed. On this account, he was reluctant to go.”

Rashi says on 1 Samuel 2:27:

“I revealed Myself to your father’s house in Egypt-from here [proof] that Aaron prophesized in Egypt.  What was his prophesy: “I also said to them: Cast away, every one of you, the detestable things that you are drawn to, and do not defile yourselves with the fetishes of Egypt—I the Lord am your God. But they defied Me and refused to listen to Me. They did not cast away the detestable things they were drawn to, nor did they give up the fetishes of Egypt. Then I resolved to pour out My fury upon them, to vent all My anger upon them there, in the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of My name, that it might not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they were. For it was before their eyes that I had made Myself known to Israel to bring them out of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:7-9).”

The world knew that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes performed miracles.  Didn’t Laban say “But Laban said to him, If you will indulge me, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me on your account” (Genesis 30:27)?

In the midrash, Jacob was teaching Laban Torah and God’s ways for many years. Yet we read: “Meanwhile Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household idols” (Genesis 31:19).  

This was the condition common in Biblical times.  The nations of the world knew of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes Torah and religious teachings, yet worshipped idols! We see this today.

I have written that in Egypt, Jacob and the Tribes taught Torah and God’s ways to the world.

In the midrash, God sent prophets to teach the nations Torah and God’s ways.  Yet, the nations, and alas, also wicked Israelites, were deeply attracted to idol worshipping and to wicked fetishes.

Aaron preached to the world and to the Israelites to cast away idols and wicked fetishes.  The nations and wicked Israelites were drawn to their idols and fetishes.

God killed wicked Israelites. Rashi says on Ezekiel 20:8:

“But they defied Me-these are the wicked, the majority Israelites that died during the darkness of “Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days” (Exodus 10:22).”

Aaron taught Torah and God’s ways. The Malbim says on Ezekiel 20:7:

“I also said to them-verily, he conditioned with them [Israelites in Egypt] from now they are holy to God and are not like heathens, they must become holy by deeds. Idol worshipping are thorns in their eyes which they must throw out. These were matters of idol worshipping to go after harlotry that relates to eyes.  The fetishes of Egypt---defilement---are matters of idol worshipping and beliefs in empty and vain…”

Etched on the Hammurabi stones in museums today are many idols.  The Biblical nations had a fear, to dare not to slight or to offend any idol for the idol will punish them. Biblical nations had no fear to anger the God of Israel, for that God rejects all idols. They believed that the idols would be pleased if they offended the God of Israel.

In Biblical times, the nations of the world felt it safe to attack Israelites, once Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes passed on, as Pharaoh did.  The nations respected Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the tribes as miracle workers. When Levi died, the last of the tribes, they no longer respected the Israelites for miracle powers. The Egyptian enslavement started.

Today, in Europe and in other places, many express a view to respect all cultures, however empty, vain, corrupt, and wicked the culture is.  This is like saying one should respect all idols. Never to offend any idol.

The Israelites lived in Egypt in Goshen. The nations knew that God promised to redeem the Israelites, as stated: “At length, Joseph said to his brothers, I am about to die. God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:24).  Some of the nations were righteous, as were Job and Jethro. Aaron preached to Israelites and to the nations the belief in one God and in God’s ways. Aaron fought against idol worshipping.

Moses, Jeremiah, and Jonah were seeking God’s help in their mission. We seek God’s help that all the world follow one God.