The first article in this series introduced some striking similarities between Moses and Jesus. Moses’ personal relationship with the One who became our Savior is a 120 year-long story more fascinating than the well-known epic of history that is Moses’ life to most. In this article Moses tries in every way possible to avoid performing the commission God created him for, and for which you and I know him so well. Moses’ attitudes, arguments and pleas – God’s response in kindness, love and anger – help us love both more!
Moses’ first forty years was a piece of cake. A miraculous answer to the prayers of Pharaoh’s daughter provided her with the son she sought. Born on the bosom of the great god-Nile, a tiny ark of bulrushes floated the new Prince of Egypt into her arms. She dubbed him “Drawn Out” (Moses), because she drew him out of the water – he who was born to “draw out” the whole nation of Israel from slavery to sovereignty and make “exodus” a household word.
Reared in the lap of luxury unimaginable, honored, praised, loved, lauded, protected, pampered, educated and prepared to become a Pharaoh himself, Moses struck tragedy at age forty. Through a careless act of his own, and undoubtedly spurred by palace intrigue from his royal Egyptian semi-siblings who hated him in jealous rage, Moses fled into exile to save his life. A fugitive from the justice of Egypt, Moses plummeted from the pinnacle of riches and honor into an unknown future.
That future stretched another forty years, preparing him for the commission God had prepared for him. The prince became a pauper, and scratched out a living in the searing sands of Sinai as a shepherd for a Midianite mogul named Jethro. Trading his bejeweled, golden staff which designated him prince of the greatest nation on earth for a crude, gnarled, hardwood shepherd’s staff, Moses began his forty years of humbling hard work. Moses married Zipporah, eldest daughter of his boss. They had two sons. Moses wandered through the woeful wilderness of Sinai for forty years, yet won no wealth. Unlike his own great grandfather Jacob, who hired out as shepherd for Laban and in twenty years became rich and a sheik in his own right, Moses remained a shepherd, virtually penniless.
Moses put on the cloak of humility in the place of princely robes. Long, endless hours under desert sun and stars were spent in contemplation and soul searching. Alone in the empty waste, Moses had time to mature. He became both hardened and softened.
Hardened physically, following his father-in-law’s flocks for limitless leagues, trudging sandal-clad, sleeping in the open where night would find him, yet ever alert for predators or bandits that might do him to his charges. Hardened in self-reliance, because there were no long eager servants available to answer whim or need. Hardened in character, spirit, faith – hardened with bands of steel in his relationship with the as yet unseen God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Softened with the compassion so necessary for a successful shepherd, tenderly caring for little lambs and kids, foals and calves. Softened with solitude and inward search, seeing the real helplessness of humanity in a harsh world. Softened with memories and nightmares of the condition of his real kin, the slaves in Egypt: Israel in ignominy. Softened in malleable obedience to the demands of a man of Midian. Softened in a personal relationship with a family of his own. Softened with time.
Moses, general of the armies of Egypt, now had for troops only sheep to command. Moses, builder of massive monuments in the empire of Egypt, lived mostly in the open, with no shelter – his best building at home with Jethro and his family, a tent. Moses, the handsome prince, became old man Moses, weather-beaten, wrinkled and burned by sun and sand.
Forty years of opulence and everything – forty years of austerity and hardly anything: eighty years all told, and God felt he was finally ready. Ready for another forty years so fabulous they would seem like forty lifetimes. Ready for the great commission God was about to confer upon him. God knew Moses was ready – but Moses had his doubts!
Allow us to quote from The Living Bible, Paraphrased and mix in a little of our own: “One day as Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, out at the edge of the desert near Horeb, the mountain of God, suddenly the Angel of Jehovah (YHVH) appeared to him as a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw that the bush was on fire and that it didn’t burn up, he went over to investigate: Then God called out to him, ‘Moses! Moses!’ ‘Who is it?’ Moses asked. ‘Don’t come any closer,’ God told him. ‘Take off your shoes, for you a4re standing on holy ground. I am the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ (Moses covered his face with his hands, for he was afraid to look at God.) Then the Lord told him, ‘I have seen the deep sorrow of my people in Egypt, and have heard their pleas for freedom from their harsh taskmasters. I have come to deliver them from the Egyptians and to take them out of Egypt into a good land, a large land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Yes the wail of the people of Israel has risen to me in heaven, and I have seen the heavy tasks the Egyptians have oppressed them with. Now I am going to send you to Pharaoh, to demand that he let you lead my people out of Egypt’” (Ex. 3:1-10)!
How could Moses resist an offer like that? Here was the very Creator he worshiped speaking directly to him, Moses, octogenarian has-been from Egypt, and giving him the opportunity of being the one to free the Israelites from slavery and oppression. And more than that: to give them a land of their own, equal to, if not more impressive than, opulent Egypt! Here was Moses’ golden chance, guided, inspired, empowered and blessed by God Almighty – not just to lighten the burdens of Israel (as Moses had tried to do in that disastrous crisis of forty years earlier that had led to his exile), but to make of them a sovereign nation, under God!
This was Moses’ own dream multiplied. How could he refuse? How? How do you tell God, “No”? Enoch didn’t. Noah didn’t. Abraham didn’t. But Moses did! “But I’m not the person for a job like that!” Moses exclaimed.
What were Moses’ thoughts about this revelation? Let’s guess. First, God says He is going to deliver the slaves of Egypt. Then He says Moses is going to do it! How does a simple, hireling shepherd of forty years at the age of eighty go charging into the most powerful court on earth where he is wanted for murder and tell the king to let all his slaves – the mainstay of the economy – go free? Forty years ago things might have been different. Then Moses was familiar with all the procedures at court, knew of all the intrigues, had a power base of his own as a popular prince and general, was still young and daring, burning with a desire for the betterment of his Hebrew brethren. His own people had rejected his efforts then, how much more so would they now – why, they wouldn’t even know this Moses, and if they did, would they recognize any authority he might try to exercise over them as a shepherd when they had rejected his power as prince? He’d be laughed out of the ghetto!
And even if the Israelites did accept him, the Egyptians certainly wouldn’t. Moses thought he had forgotten most of what he knew of court protocol. Whom could he go to even gain an audience with the Pharaoh? Something like this was just dot done without long planning, organization, and powerful friends. No way, thought Moses, and he immediately conjured up a hundred reasons why he was certainly “not the person for a job like that!”
“Then God told him, ‘I will certainly be with you, and this is the proof that I am the one who is sending you: when you have led the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God here upon this mountain!”
Now, Moses thought about that proof. He had certainly worshiped God on this mountain, but what “proof” was this, that he would “worship God here upon this mountain” after he “led the people out of Egypt”? Not that Moses doubted God, he doubted himself. What good was after-the-fact “proof” – it was getting Israel out of Egypt that he doubted possible.
So Moses reasoned with God. “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them that their father’s God has sent me, they will ask, ‘Which God are you talking about?’ What shall I tell them?”
Now God was patient and sympathetic with Moses – after all, He had been preparing him for eighty years. He didn’t rebuke Moses for his hesitance. He understood the unspoken questions in Moses’ mind. But He also knew Moses to be a man of intelligence and character and no small amount of experience. So His answer was enigmatic: “I Will Be What I Will Be” was the reply. “Just say, ‘I Am has sent me!” Yes, tell them YHVH, the God of your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has sent me to you.
“Call together all the elders of Israel,” God instructed him, “and tell them about YHVH appearing to you here in this burning bush and that he said to you, ‘I have visited my people, and have seen what is happening to them there in Egypt. I promise to rescue them from the drudgery and humiliation they are undergoing, and to take them to the land now occupied by the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” The elders of the people of Israel will accept your message. They must go with you to the king of Egypt and tell him, “YHVH”, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us and instructed us to go three days’ journey into the desert to sacrifice to him. Give us your permission.” But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go except under heavy pressure. So I will give all the pressure he needs! I will destroy Egypt with my miracles, and then at last he will let you go. And I wills e to it that the Egyptian load you down with gifts when you leave, so that you will by no means go out empty-handed! Every woman will ask for jewels, silver, gold, and the finest of clothes from her Egyptian master’s wife and neighbors. You will clothe your sons and daughters with the best of Egypt’” (Ex. 3:12-22)!
But Moses still had doubts. Not to be construed as a lack of faith, but it all seemed very vague to him. How was he to convince his slave-brethren with promises? How could he go and tell them: “‘You’ll Find Out Who I Am’ sent me, and He promises us freedom and a new country of our own that is presently occupied by six powerful, separate nations. All we have to do is ask Pharaoh to let us go for three day and sacrifice to ‘I Will Be What I Will Be’ in the desert. But Pharaoh won’t let us go until ‘I Will Be’ has destroyed Egypt. Then all of you can ask for all the riches of Egypt from your former masters; they will gladly give you all their gold, silver, clothes, jewelry – and we will all be rich and free!”
Now who is going to believe a story like that? If I tell them I talked to God who was in a burning bush in the desert, they’ll call for the men in white and rush me off to an institution. They’ll say I’ve lost my marbles, that I’ve been wandering in the desert too long, that I’m just an old man dreaming of restoring my former glory, that I’ve been hallucinating after being alone so long with a flock of sheep in the desert. “They won’t believe me!” Moses complained to God. “They won’t do what I tell them to.
They’ll say, ‘YHVH never appeared to you!’”
Now, God was again patient with Moses, listened to his arguments, sympathized with his dilemma. “I understand your problem, Moses,” God replied. “What’s that in your hand? “It’s just my shepherd’s rod,” Moses answered sheepishly.
“Well, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do, Moses. I understand that people have a great difficulty in believing what my servants say I say – so “I’ll let you have three good tricks you can perform, real tricks, miracles, that’ll make their eyes bug out in disbelief – if they want to see something, we’ll give them something to see! First, throw that rod you have down on the ground and I’ll make it into a snake, you grab it by the tail and it’ll become a rod again. Second, stick your arm into your robes and when you pull it out it’ll be leprous, but when you put in back into your roe and pull it out a second time, it’ll be normal again. Third, if these two tricks don’t achieve the goal, you take some water from the rive Nile and when you pour it out it’ll become blood right before their eyes! Now, bolstered with these miracles, do you think you could the job?”
Well, Moses threw down his rod, and sure enough, it became a snake, and when he picked it up by the tail it returned to its original stick shape. He put his arm in his robe and when he drew it out, sure enough it was leprous! Hopefully, he thrust it into his garments again, and thankfully when he brought it out again it was okay! He didn’t have any Nile River water handy, so he had to take that one on faith. And Moses did believe.
But somehow, Moses just couldn’t seem to picture himself performing this job God wanted him to do. He cast about in his mind for yet another excuse that would convince God that He’d picked the wrong man – he was getting desperate!
“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 – my speech is slow and halting. I just don’t think I’m the one you really want to.” Now, God became a little upset. Why was He even listening to the arguments of a mere human being? Who did Moses think he was talking to his Maker that way? Couldn’t he see that God was not just asking him to do this job, but telling him?
“Who is it that makes mouths, anyway, Moses?” I Will Be said, “Isn’t it I? Am I not the one who makes a man so that he can speak or not speak, see or not set, hear or not hear? Now you do what I tell you, or else! I will tell you what to speak, and then help you to speak it, and you will do what I say!”
Incredible, isn’t it? You’d almost think that Moses had already read and was convinced of the words of a man call Paul – yet to be born, thousands of years into the future: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses. So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).Yes, Moses believed in and practiced that principle long before Paul wrote it – facts is, Moses’ own example as well as Paul’s own experience and knowledge probably inspired Paul’s words.
You can read the Bible from start to finish and you will not find a more bold approach to God by anyone else. Here was a man, literally arguing with God! And surviving! And God, in His turn, was reasoning with Moses. It was a give-and-take situation between the Creator and the created! The Ever-living God was so far patiently putting up with mumbling Moses as he tried in every way to squirm out of the job God had for him to perform. But, believe it or not, even God’s patience wears thin. He had allowed Moses to refuse His offer and criticize His choice four times. Though Moses may not have known it, he was pushing his luck a little too far, being a little too bold when he rejected God’s offer the fifth time!
With no real or imagined excuses left to present to God, Moses simply said: “Lord, please! Send someone else!”
Then the Lord became angry! “All right,” He said, “I’ve had enough of your excuses! Your brother Aaron is a good speaker; if you don’t trust me to make you eloquent before Pharaoh, then you tell Aaron what I told you and let him tell Pharaoh – this is almost ridiculous! But I will let Aaron be your spokesman to the people – you will be as God to him, and he will be your prophet to the people and to Pharaoh. And don’t forget that rod of yours – be sure to take it along so you can perform the miracles I showed you. Now go do your job!!!”
With that, Moses finally got the hint! God had made up His mind on who He was going to use to free the Israelites from Egypt, and no matter how stubborn Moses was, God was yet more stubborn! The going was getting tough – and it was time for the tough to get going!
Besides, Moses didn’t really believe God was going to swallow that excuse about him not being a good speaker – Moses was too eloquent in presenting the argument! Generals and princes don’t’ tend to be “slow of speech.” And you and I know that Stephen, the first martyr of the New Testament Church, said about Moses: “Pharaoh’s daughter found him and adopted him as her own son, and taught him all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he became a mighty prince and orator” (Acts 7:21-22)!
So, like it or not, Moses was stuck with the job. Moses stopped arguing at this point – though he was to repeat that habit many times later and left the presence of God to begin his next, last and greatest forty years. He had been prince for forty years, pauper for forty – now he was to be prophet for yet another forty!
The reason all this is brought up is to show Moses in a different light than most see him. Moses was not eager to become the chief executive in the “administration of death” (II Cor. 3:7). Moses was a reluctant prophet. Faithful and obedient and hardworking, granted, but reluctant. Moses did the job God wanted done – but it wasn’t Moses’ idea – it was God’s!
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). This scripture is misquoted and certainly misapplied by most. It makes it appear that Moses was the giver of the law – that harsh, unbending, unforgiving, deadly set of rules that condemn and kill – while Jesus substituted grace and truth in the stead of law. Nothing could be further from the truth~
In the first place, the translation in the King James Bible is inaccurate. It should read: “For the law was given through Moses, while grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This Moses and this Jesus are very much two of a kind.
Law is not opposed to truth. Law is truth. Granted, law is not grace. It was never intended to be. The purpose of law is to show the need for grace. Grace is no way does away with law – grace forgives the transgression of law. Without law there could be not grace. Without grace there could be no law. Thank God for law – and grace and life!
Moses, the man, or any other man, could not produce or provide grace. Only Jesus, by His perfect life and His perfect sacrifice can grant grace. Hence, the law could be given through Moses, the man – but it was, and is, and always will be God’s law – while grace could only come through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and grace was, is, and always will be God’s grace.
Moses was thoroughly familiar with God’s grace, and he wrote five books of God’s truth. Jesus thoroughly believed in and knew all about law, for it was His voice that thundered God’s law to millions of Israelites from the heights of the holy mountain of God, Sinai in Horeb – where Moses reluctantly accepted the job God had for him!
In the next article, we’ll see many of the trials and tribulations Moses went through in doing the job the God who became Jesus demanded of him. We’ll hear more of his pleading, his arguments, and his boldness before the throne of grace. We’ll see how thoroughly familiar Moses was with grace and truth and how comp0letley the law belongs to God, comes from God, and was only given through Moses, the reluctant prophet.