Message #1 from a brief series on the life of Moses
This morning, we begin a new series on the life of Moses. God sets the stage for Moses’ entrance in Exodus chapter one. There he tells us of the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt. They had lived as slaves about 400 years when Moses was born. As God does during particularly critical periods of salvation history, he chooses one man through whom he will accomplish a unique work of grace. And so, God brings such a man in Moses onto the stage of salvation history. We’re going to spend an entire week on the unique power of this man’s ministry when we get to Numbers chapter 12. For this week, let’s just leave it at this; Moses represents, in the Old Testament, the high water mark of what God can do through one man. He was, in many ways, the prophet and priest who set the precedent for all others to follow and his leadership of these two million stubborn Jews is unparalleled even among the good kings in the Old Testament for its wisdom, power and gentleness.
This morning, we want to focus in on the second chapter of Exodus to look at the roots of this mighty oak God raised up in Moses. Our goal is to discover crucial truth about God and how he prepares a person for ministry. First, let’s read Exodus chapter two through verse 22. We read, “Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, 2and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. 5Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. 6She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said. 7Then his sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?" 8"Yes, go," she answered. And the girl went and got the baby's mother. 9Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you." So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, "I drew him out of the water." 11One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?" 14The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "What I did must have become known." 15When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father's flock. 17Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. 18When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, "Why have you returned so early today?" 19They answered, "An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock." 20"And where is he?" he asked his daughters. "Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat." 21Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. 22Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, "I have become an alien in a foreign land."
Our focus this morning revolves around the question, what does God’s work in raising up Moses tell us about God? The lens we want to look through to get an answer to that question is one focused on God’s sovereignty. That is, we want to notice and wonder at the marvel of God’s absolute control over these events leading up to the call of Moses at the burning bush. The second lens will be trained in on God’s method for raising up Moses and by extension, other people he chooses to use. Let’s first notice the move of God’s sovereign hand in how he chose to raise up Moses by asking the question, WHY does God orchestrate the events of Moses’ birth and early life the way he does? Let’s face it; God waits until Pharaoh decides to kill all the Hebrew male infants killed before Moses is born. An uninformed onlooker might wonder about God’s timing there. Why on earth didn’t God allow his deliverer to be born BEFORE Pharaoh to kill all the Hebrew male babies?
Looking back, we can see many reasons, but let’s just look at a few. First, the lethal environment, in a unique way, provided the opportunity for a Hebrew child to be raised by the daughter of Pharaoh and therefore receive the best education possible for a person of this age which is precisely what Moses received. To lead 2000,000 stiff necked people through a hostile desert for 40 years, to meet face to face with Pharaoh and act as God’s spokesperson to Him and to write the first five books of the Old Testament all required a very special kind of training and the development of some unique abilities. And that training and the development of those kinds of abilities, in all likelihood, would have been an option for a Hebrew slave. Such a person would require much education, refinement and understanding into Egyptian language and customs. So, God allows a context to unfold wherein a Hebrew mother places a perfectly healthy, indeed beautiful child, into a wicker basket which would eventually end up in the possession of the daughter of Pharaoh who raises him in a manner befitting royalty. Think about the utter improbability of a baby boy born to a hated Hebrew slave receiving the grooming required to do all that God had planned for Moses. Yet, it’s just not a problem for God to arrange all that—he is sovereign. We need to read these narratives looking for the miraculous, sovereign hand of God orchestrating these events. We should never read a biblical story just to learn the details of the story. We must seek to see God at work. That’s where the blessing comes—when we meet Him in the text and train our eye to see what He is up to.
Second, and even more astonishing to notice is God’s work in bringing about certain events in Moses’ life that would clearly point to another, even greater Deliverer whom God would raise up 1500 years later. We must never forget that God’s ultimate purpose in raising up people like Moses and David and Elijah is because they, in a unique way point to Christ. And Moses, perhaps more than any other Old Testament figure (except maybe David) points like a laser beam to Jesus Christ. Moses is perhaps the most overt type of Christ. That is, a man who God will prefigure the coming Messiah—who will unmistakably pave the way for him. Think about it. Moses is THE lawgiver of the Bible—Jesus comes as the One who fulfills the law. Moses is the first prophet of God, speaking with God face to face. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses prophecies about Christ saying, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” Moses is quite conscious here of the parallels between himself and this later prophet and Jesus comes as the GREAT prophet—the living word of God. Moses delivers God’s people from the bondage of slavery to the Egyptians. The great Old Testament story of liberation and deliverance is the exodus. In the New Testament, Christ, the ultimate, liberator, delivers God’s people from the bondage of sin and death. There are so many parallels between these two and we haven’t even touched on the ones found in our text for this morning.
Brevard Childs, in his commentary on Exodus is succinct in pointing the parallels we see in Exodus two. He says, “Both [Moses and Jesus’ stories] have to do with the birth of a young male child, whose life is threatened by the ruling monarch, at first secretly, but later in open hostility. The child is rescued in the nick of time, but the other children are slaughtered in a vain effort to remove the threat of the one child” Both of these deliverers, Moses and Jesus, begin their young lives in remarkably similar situations—in desperate need of God’s deliverance. A coincidence? I think not. It is also no accident that God took Moses out of Egypt to prepare him for ministry and Christ also, living in Egypt as a child and an alien, was called out of Egypt so God could prepare him for ministry. Hosea prophesied this about Christ, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” So here we see God, as he does so often, writing history from the end to the beginning. He knows precisely the events surrounding the birth of his Son a millennia and a half away, and he intentionally prefigures these events in the birth of Moses. Again, when we see these things, we should marvel at what a glorious God we have. And we should do more than that. When we are in desperate need of deliverance, we should look to the God who has already done it for us—it’s already in the books. We can trust a God like this.
Now, let’s turn to this matter of the method God uses for raising up Moses, and by extension, the rest of us so we cab be used for his glory. What did he do in Moses’ early life which prepared him to be the man of God he was? The answer to that question is seemingly complicated by the fact that the biblical narrative of the life of Moses is greatly imbalanced. That is, it is heavily weighted to the last third of Moses’ life or, the last 40 years. The account of the first 80 years of Moses’ life is found in the first two chapters of Exodus. The last 40 years of his life are recorded in the next 135 chapters of the last four books of the Pentateuch, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. So, the first two thirds of his life are represented in less than 2 percent of the biblical record about him. God lets us know everything he wants us to know in the Old Testament about the first 40 years of Moses life in 15 verses and for the second 40 years of Moses’ life, there are 10 verses of Old Testament Scripture. The amount of information we do NOT have on Moses’ time spent in Egypt and Midian is enormous. What most people “know” about Moses’ life in Egypt and Midian is rooted much more in the fanciful conjectures of Cecille B. Demilles (who gave us a Moses who looks amazingly like Charlton Heston) and Stephen Spielberg (who turned Moses into a cartoon character). The Scripture, the only reliable authority on Moses, tells us almost nothing. One obvious lesson we can derive from that is the Holy Spirit wants us to know much more about what happened in the last 40 years of Moses’ life, from the time he met and was called by God at the burning bush in Exodus chapter three.
But is there something else the Scripture is saying to us implicitly by its lack of information about the first two thirds of Moses’ life. We must admit, this WAS a crucial time in Moses’ life. Moses became a man God could use during those first 80 years. It’s clear that Moses’ efforts at being the deliverer of the Hebrews during this first 40 years were a complete bust. When he murdered the Egyptian who was beating fellow Israelite, that clearly didn’t achieve any freedom for the Jewish race. We must also conclude that the 40 years Moses spent on the back side of Midian wasn’t simply a waste of time—a meaningless pause in history. God used those 40 years to prepare Moses to be a very different kind of deliverer—a deliverer who depended on God for the liberation of an enslaved nation instead of his own strength and cunning.
Yet, this critically important process of preparing the man who is, apart from Christ, the greatest leader in the Bible…is shrouded in silence. God doesn’t give us hardly anything to go on. As crucial as it is to develop leaders among God’s people, one would think we should have, from the life of this great leader, Moses, some biblical data from which to draw principles and even write books on leadership training. Yet, we are left with so very little and what little we do have, especially in Midian, is utterly unremarkable. He takes a wife, raises a family and works as a shepherd for his father in law. That’s basically all God tells us about this forty years of preparation God used to transform Moses from a murdering, self-sufficient, failed liberator of his people, to a God-dependent servant through whom God does some of the most astonishing miracles in the Bible. And who, by the power of God, brings the most powerful nation in the world down to its knees. But what we know about the context God used to prepare him for this ministry is not much different any one of a 1000 other ancient near eastern sheepherders. The scant details we are given of his life during this period are utterly unremarkable.
And isn’t that precisely THE point God wants us to draw from the fact that he gives so little space and specificity about how he prepares Moses to be the greatest leader in the first 4000 years of salvation history? We must not miss the point it seems clear God is making here implicitly about Moses’ preparation. It is so simple; we can overlook the significance here. It is so basic; we’ll miss it if we are looking for something complicated. The reason God only communicates a tiny amount about his leadership-training program of Moses and the brief sampling we DO get is utterly unremarkable detail about his work and family is simple. That is: God’s preparation for ministry is primarily done privately in the daily, unremarkable situations of life.
We know from New Testament passages like Acts chapter six where the apostles tell the church to choose as their servants men who are “full of the [Holy] Spirit and wisdom.” We know from Titus chapter one and First Timothy chapter three where the qualifications for deacons and Elders almost exclusively highlight character issues that the cornerstone to any God-honoring ministry is character. The biblical qualifications for leadership are almost all related to character, not giftedness. From what little we know of Moses’ first 40 years in Egypt as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses probably discovered his gifts and abilities during this time. In Stephen’s sermon in Acts chapter seven he says in verse 22, “And Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.” Moses’ time spent in the finest academy in the world had certainly enabled him to know that he was, on a human, natural level, a very gifted, special man—powerful in words and deed. He had doubtless discovered that God had been very generous to him in the gifts department. But what did all of those gifts do for him? With all of those abilities, with all those highly refined attributes, he began liberating the Hebrews by brutally murdering a man, becoming a fugitive from Pharaoh and the governing authorities.
He had the GIFTS and the human grooming necessary to be powerfully used by God, but there is nothing in Exodus 1-2 to indicate he had the most essential quality to be of use to God, character. So, God slowly, carefully worked that into him on the backside of Midian as a husband, a father and a shepherd, working for his father in law. Do you see the point God is making in all this silence about Moses’ preparation? When God works on a person’s character, its generally done in private, in the course of daily living. Character is not chiseled out in times of deep, catastrophic crisis, but in the ever day trials of life. James calls these “trials of many kinds” in chapter one of his letter and his call is to persevere in them. That is, to remain under them day in and day out. The huge catastrophes WILL MANIFEST our character (or lack of it) but they are not God’s primary tools for SHAPING character.
What made Moses a usable vessel in the hand of God was the work done in his heart in the day-to-day, unremarkable stuff of life and that’s what makes us usable to God as well! Character is hammered out on the anvil of the day-to-day choices we make. Do we trust God and tithe our income to him, or do we doubt God and rob him? What do we do with the television when we are alone in a hotel room on a business trip? How do we respond when the rest of the office staff is howling in laughter at a profane joke? What is our response to the motorist in trouble on the side of the road when we are running late for a dinner engagement? When God burdens us to start getting up an hour earlier every morning to spend time with Him, what do we do with that? When God tugs at our heart to respond to a message in church, are we obedient? When our husband comes home from work grumpy for the fourth night this week, how do we respond to them? When our wives are sending clear signals we are not being attentive to them, what do we do about that? When our kid comes in with a question in the middle of an exciting basketball game or some other much-anticipated program, how do we react toward him/her?
When everyone else in the office is padding their expense accounts or loafing on the job—when the temptation comes to misrepresent our financial picture to the IRS—when we slam our hand in the car door, when our child interrupts a phone conversation, when we feel sick enough to WANT to stay home from work, but not really sick enough to justify calling in sick—when we are so tired, but our spouse wants intimacy and attention, when we are trying to lose weight and desert is served—when the electrician over charges us, when our car is wrongly towed, when the kids are sick and we are sleep deprived, when the dog wets on the carpet, when we are invited to do spend time with someone we really don’t like, when the movie we rented has unexpected, raunchy material in it, when we see a video in the store that we KNOW has raunchy, profane material in it—when we walk by the check out aisle and the women’s magazines are staring us in the face—when we hear a really juicy tidbit of gossip, when we pray and pray and pray and God wont tell us what to do with our lives---when all we ever seem to be doing is waiting on God. In all of those daily, “unremarkable” contexts and a thousand others just like them—what do we do—how do we respond? It’s the choices we make in THOSE moments God uses to shape us into people who look like Jesus.
In most of those contexts, no one knows the choices we make—whether we trust God and obey or we sin. No one knows…except God. I think that’s why we have no record in the life of Moses about these vitally important character-shaping years of preparation in Egypt and Midian. We don’t have the specifics of Moses sacrificially loving his wife and kids, of his submitting to the sometimes humbling demands of a boss who also happens to be your father in law. We don’t have accounts of the efforts Moses went to be fair to the neighboring shepherd when he could have mistreated him. We don’t know so much of that with any specificity, but we know this—that Moses, again and again and again, in the every day course of his life, chose to do the right thing before God—the hard thing, the inconvenient thing, the embarrassing, humbling thing in that context. We know his life was chocked full of those daily trials James speaks of and we know he persevered in the midst of them. We know all of that because at the end of 40 years he was a man of character, prepared to be mightily used by God.
It’s also instructive to notice that at the end of this 40 years, this man with the Ivy League education, who was “power[ful] in words and deeds”, chocked full of talents and impressive capabilities. That man, 40 years later, when God called him to act as his mouthpiece before Pharaoh, said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt.” There is a huge difference between this shepherd in Midian and the “Prince of Egypt” who 40 years earlier presumptuously took this matter of freeing the Hebrew slaves into his own hand, killed a man in cold blood and became a fugitive from justice. God changed him into a man through whom He could work his wonders and confront the most powerful man on the face of the earth by, day in and day out for 40 years whittling away at his pride and self-centeredness and self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. And he did that in the context of the private choices he made every day as a shepherd and a husband and a father on the backside of Midian.
There isn’t a sincere Christian I know of who wouldn’t like to know God like Moses did and be used powerfully as Moses was. The reason there are not many people who God can use like Moses is because there aren’t nearly as many people who are willing to choose to do the right thing again and again and again in the private, unremarkable moments of life when no one except God is watching. Many of us want to experience God the way Moses did and we go to conferences and listen to tapes and read books and do many other things and wonder why our progress in the Lord is stilted. The reason for most of us is because we fail to understand that God makes saints not in conference halls or between the pages of a book, but as we respond in obedience in the utterly unremarkable daily pressures of life. We are all in ministry training every day of our lives in the dozens of private choices we make—in whether we will die to our selves and be faithful to God, or take the expedient and disobedient course of action. Jesus states this principle explicitly in the parable of the talents. He says to the faithful servants, “Well, done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Its as we learn to be faithful in those daily decisions in our own private lives, that God will can use us in the lives of others. May God give us the grace to live as Moses did on the backside of Midian so we can be ready for his use in any other ministry he may choose to give us in the future.
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