The Speech Problem of Moses
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There are two points of interest in Exodus 4: 10. The minor of the two comes at the beginning of the response in which Moses expresses his feelings of his calling of God. The various versions range from the informal to the formal in interesting fashion. The major of the two comes at the end of his comment in expressing why he feels that he cannot accept his calling.

Examine what Moses said, according to the translators, and try to determine what his speech problem was. After presenting the various renderings of this verse, I shall present an alternate interpretation in a commentary.


Versions Compared

 

DHB Darby Holy Bible
EVD English Version for the Deaf
GW God's Word
HBME The Holy Bible in Modern English
IB Interlinear Bible
JBK Jerusalem Bible (Koren)
KTC Knox Translation
LB Living Bible
LBP Lamsa Bible
LXX The Septuagint
MNT Moffatt New Translation
NAB New American Bible
NBV New Berkeley Version
NCV New Century Version
NLT New Living Translation
NLV New Life Version
NWT New World Translation
REB Revised English Bible
SBK The Shorter Bible
SISR The Scriptures (ISR)
SNB Restoration of Original Sacred Name Bible
TEV Today's English Version
TJB The Jerusalem Bible
WMF The Word Made Fresh


Exodus 4: 10
DHB And Moses said to Jehovah, Ah Lord! I am not eloquent, neither heretofore nor since thou hast spoken to thy servant, for I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.
EVD But Moses said to the Lord, "But Lord, I am telling you the truth, I am not a skilled speaker. I have never been able to speak well. And now, even after talking to you, I am still not a good speaker. You know that I talk slowly and don't use the best words."
GW Moses said to the LORD, "Please, Lord, I'm not a good speaker. I've never been a good speaker, and I'm not now, even though you've spoken to me. I speak slowly, and I become tongue-tied easily."
HBME Moses, however, replied to the EVER-LIVING; "But yet, LORD, I am not an eloquent man, I have not been so in the past, nor in this speaking between You and Your servant, for I am slow of mouth and heavy of tongue."
IB And Moses said to Jehovah, O, Lord, I am not a man of words, either from yesterday or the third day, nor since You have been speaking to Your slave. For I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.
JBK And Moshe said to the LORD, O my LORD, I am not an eloquent man, neither yesterday nor the day before, nor since thou hast spoken to thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.
KTC Then Moses said, Lord, have patience with me; but all my life I have been a man of little eloquence, and now that thou, my Master, hast spoken to me, I am more faltering, more tongue-tied than ever.
LB But Moses pleaded, "O Lord, I'm just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I'm not now, even after you have spoken to me, for I have a speech impediment."
LBP And Moses said to the LORD, I beseech thee, O my LORD, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore nor since thou hast spoken to thy servant; for I am a stutterer and slow of speech.
LXX And Moses said to the Lord, I pray, Lord, I have not been sufficient in former times, neither from the time that thou hast begun to speak to thy servant. I am weak in speech, and slow-tongued.
MNT Moses said to the Eternal, "But, Lord, I am no speaker, I have never been and I am not now, not even since thou hast spoken to thy servant; I am slow of speech, I have no command of words."
NAB Moses, however, said to the LORD, "If you please, LORD, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue."
NBV Moses said to the LORD, "Please, Lord, I am no orator now and I never was; not even while Thou art speaking to Thy servant. I am slow of speech and of an awkward tongue."
NCV But Moses said to the LORD, "Please, Lord, I have never been a skilled speaker. Even now, after talking to you, I cannot speak well. I speak slowly and can't find the best words."
NLT But Moses pleaded with the LORD, "O Lord, I'm just not a good speaker, I never have been, and I'm not now, even after you have spoken to me. I'm clumsy with words."
NLV Moses said to the Lord, "Lord, I am not a man of words, I have never been. Even now since You spoke to Your servant, I still am not. For I am slow in talking and it is difficult for me to speak."
NWT Moses now said to Jehovah: "Excuse me, Jehovah, but I am not a fluent speaker, neither since yesterday nor since before that nor since your speaking to your servant, for I am slow of mouth and slow of tongue."
REB "But, LORD," Moses protested, "I have never been a man of ready speech, never in my life, not even now that you have spoken to me; I am slow and hesitant."
SBK Moses said to Jehovah, "O Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since thou hast spoken to thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow in expressing my ideas."
SISR And Mosheh said to YHVH," O YHVH, I am not a man of words, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."
SNB And Moses said unto YAHVAH, Pardon, O my Master! not a man of words am I, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant, for heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue I am.
TEV But Moses said, "No, LORD, don't send me. I have never been a good speaker, and I haven't become one since you began to speak to me. I am a poor speaker, slow and hesitant.
TJB Moses said to Yahweh, "But, my Lord, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence, either before or since you have spoken to your servant. I am a slow speaker and not able to speak well."
WMF "All this sounds fine, O Lord," replied Moses, "but I am not a public speaker. When I get up before a crowd my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth."


Commentary

 

The various versions indicate that Moses had a physical handicap in speaking, or at least a fear of speaking to a group. Thus, Yahweh appointed Aaron to be the spokesman for Moses. Is this really what the problem was, or could there have been a different one? I shall present an alternative for my reader to consider.

Acts 7: 22 in the King James Version is part of a quote of Stephen in regard to Moses. It reads as follows: "And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds." In the New Century Version, it reads as follows: "The Egyptians taught Moses everything they knew, and he was a powerful man in what he said and did."

This verse speaks of Moses as being a highly educated man, one who could work and speak well. The Alphabet Makers is more specific in his learning accomplishments. He knew the Egyptian hieroglyphics. As a diplomat in the Pharaoh's court, he would have used Babylonian cuneiform, which was the dominant writing system for international correspondence. While in the Sinai region, he would have come upon sinaitic inscriptions, an early Semitic alphabet. He would also have come upon Canaanitic inscriptions. The tablets of the Law obtained on Mount Sinai were written in the North Semitic alphabet. Thus, he would have been familiar with those previously.

He was in contact with teachers, foreign emissaries, and various alphabets. Therefore, not only was he highly educated, but he also was able to speak well. He lived at a time when a Semitic authority standardized the form of the North Semitic alphabet.

He lived only a short time with his own family before the pharaoh's daughter took him to live at the palace. In that brief time, his mother taught him about his people in the Hebrew language. On going to the palace, where he stayed for nearly forty years, he would speak in the language of the Egyptians. Then, briefly, he was with his people again. After killing an Egyptian, Moses fled to Midian, where he would have learned to speak another language. During most of the eighty years, he would have had little contact with the language of the children of Israel.

Consider what it would be like if you were to be using languages other than your original language, then return to where yours would be spoken. Not only would you have forgotten much of it, but you would find that there would be changes in the words and their meanings. Think also about your being called to lead a large population of people with whom you are not familiar and having to appear before a despotic ruler of the country to seek their freedom.

Now think of Moses in his situation. The people were not ready to accept him. Also, he had to face an uncooperative pharaoh. His speech impediment most likely was that he did not know the language, but his brother would. He probably also had difficulty in communicating with Aaron at first. During the forty years in the wilderness, Moses seemed to have no physical handicap in talking to the people. As a highly educated man, he would have been able to learn the language, despite his advanced age.

Was it that Moses stuttered and feared to speak to anyone publicly or did he have a problem in being thrust into a language environment that he did not know? Weigh the evidence and make your own decision.