If the pen really was mightier than the sword, the idiom would be unnecessary. Nobody says, “Atom bombs are stronger than paper clips” or “Ferraris are faster than Fiats.” Most simple slogans are untrue. “He who hesitates is lost” is contradicted by “Look before you leap.” “Out of sight, out of mind” is contradicted by “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
The truth is usually a composite of the two extremes. One must balance too much hesitation with too much impetuousness. One can miss those who are far away but after a while one can also forget them. Similarly, sticks and stones can break bones but words written by a pen cannot. Yet there are certainly times when the long term impact of words is greater than that of guns. Sometimes victories are brought about by bullets but other times they are won by ballots.
Because we’re all imperfect humans, our emotions can propel us toward ill-considered action rather than thoughtful words. The little boy in the playground pushes or punches rather than inviting his antagonist to a symposium on mediation. The crying wife drives many a husband to action, as he tries to fix the problem rather than listen to his wife explain her sadness. The business professional might impose his will rather than negotiate what could have been a superior solution.
At times even when action is the wrong solution, the intensity of our feelings can nonetheless still push us towards doing something instead of saying something. By the way, when a bad boss has provoked you into walking out and yelling, “I quit,” you have actually used action not words.
Wouldn’t you like to know how to make sure that you use words even when your emotions are trying to make you lash out with an action you’ll later regret? The answer lies in a Biblical mystery.
At the burning bush, for about 35 verses God argues with Moses, persuading him to take on the mission of bringing Israel out of Egypt. God promises him that Pharaoh and the Israelites will listen to him. God gives him wonderful signs to impress the Egyptians. After God’s many assurances, Moses finally yields basically saying, “Okay fine, go ahead and send whomever you wish; I’ll do it.” (Exodus 3:4-4:17)
Would you not have thought that the story would have ended quite soon with the triumphant march of Israel out of Egypt? Yet in fact, what happens is quite the reverse. The plight of the Israelites is worsened by Pharaoh oppressing them further. As a result of Moses’ agitation, the Children of Israel must deliver the same quota of work while scavenging for their own raw material. (Exodus 5:18) At the burning bush, God gave Moses no inkling that all would not proceed smoothly. Something went wrong.
To add to the mystery, after this dreadful disappointment, Moses twice tells God that Pharaoh will never listen to him on account of his speech impediment. Twice he uses the Hebrew term “Aral Sefatayim” explaining that Pharaoh will not listen to him because he has ‘sealed lips’. (Exodus 6:12 & 6:30)
However, back at the burning bush, Moses used different terminology when he said, “…I am not a man of words…” (Exodus 4:10)
Why did Moses use two different phrases to refer to his speech?
The answer lies in the remarkable conversation Moses had with God at the burning busy. God said, “I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh and you shall take my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)
Moses responds, “…when I come to the Children of Israel…” (Exodus 3:13) Had Moses been talking to a human boss, he might have heard this: “Are you deaf, Moses? What do you mean asking me about going to the Children of Israel? Did I tell you to go to the them? No! I said quite clearly, ‘Go to Pharaoh – not the Children of Israel. Just do what I tell you!”
But Moses was talking to his Heavenly Boss. If we ignore His word, God allows us to proceed along the path of our own desires. God basically said to Moses, “Well, okay, if you insist, go ahead and try it your way.” It was only later, once Moses’ approach had failed and Israel was even more miserable than they had been that God eventually said to Moses, “Okay, let’s try it my way now. This time, go to Pharaoh like I originally told you.” (Exodus 7:2) This time Moses obeyed (Exodus 7:6) and the process of the Exodus was under way.
When Moses originally demurred by saying, “I am not a man of words,” he was not referring to any speech impediment. He was really saying to God, “Hey, I’m not a man of words; I’m a man of action. I’m the guy who killed an Egyptian for harassing my brethren. (Exodus 2:12) I did not engage him in a discussion about the root causes of Egyptian anti-Semitism. Don’t send me to talk to Pharaoh. Let me go to the people of Israel and stir up a great national revolution. We’ll take our freedom by force; by the people throwing off their yoke of Egyptian oppression. I want action not words.”
God knows that Moses must discover for himself that this redemption has to come from God not from a people’s liberation movement. Real redemption will come through following God’s words.
Sometimes we too must learn our own painful lessons by trying avenues that fail. We can save ourselves much heartache by doing the right thing first. This passage can help provide us with the necessary strength.
The pen is surely mightier than the sword when it is God’s pen and the words are His Book. Many times throughout history, people brandishing the Bible have beaten superior forces that knew nothing of the Bible and cared less. Our purpose in making these Thought Tools available to you is to enable you to deploy Biblical power and its ancient solutions against the modern problems that plague your life.
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