As a child of God, has serving him ever brought you into conflict with those you loved most? Have you ever felt discouraged that what God called you to do was beyond your ability? Have you ever felt that life as a believer was not getting any easier, and that victories too quickly gave way to unimaginably difficult trials? Study the experiences of Moses in Exodus and discover some lessons.
Although Moses was born of Hebrew parents, he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He must have known he was of Hebrew origin, but growing up under Egyptian influence provided limited knowledge of what it meant to be a Hebrew slave. When Moses, walking as a free man among his enslaved kinsmen, saw a Hebrew being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster, he killed the Egyptian. Whether or not the murder was justified,” even the Hebrews did not applaud his act. Moses fled Egypt. The only events Scripture records about Moses’ first forty years of life are his birth, his adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter, and the murder of the Egyptian taskmaster. Until then, Moses had enjoyed a life of wealth, comfort, nobility and honor, but he had been historically and morally useless.
Upon fleeing Egypt, Moses settled in Midian. The Midianites were descendants of Abraham through Keturah, not Sarah. They were not Israelites, but a brother people. Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, a Midianite priest, and became a shepherd. Scripture does not record even one incident during the second forty years of Moses’ life. The son of Hebrew slaves, raised as an Egyptian noble and now a fugitive, Moses seems to have demonstrated no great spiritual aptitude that he should have become God’s chosen instrument. We do not once read of Moses praying during this period.
Nevertheless, during those forty years others were praying if Moses was not. Exodus 2:23 records that “the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God.” God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In response to the Israelites’ prayers, God called Moses to deliver them. When God called Moses from the burning bush, Moses was quite ignorant in religious matters. He knew that he was a Hebrew, but not even the name of the Hebrews’ God. In Exodus 3:13 Moses asked, “When I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say …The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them?”
Perhaps the Lord chose Moses, who at that point was completely ignorant of spiritual things, because he did not want a prophet with preconceived ideas about what God should or should not be. He taught Moses not only the identity of his holy name, but also its meaning—that he is the self-existent One, the only true and living God.
To say that Moses felt inadequate at that point is an understatement. But God patiently encouraged Moses to accept the idea that though he was inadequate in himself, God would be sufficient for the task. Despite God’s encouragement, Moses still felt overwhelmed by the task and sought to refuse it outright. Aware that his attitude angered God, he pleaded with him to send someone else. Exodus 4:14 records that the Lord, though angry with Moses, allowed Aaron to help him.
By God’s grace Moses—whose first forty years of life had been worldly and whose second forty years of life had been obscure—was called to be the greatest prophet of Israel next to the Messiah. By God’s grace Moses—who was unprepared, ignorant about the Hebrew religion and unworthy of the task—was called to be God’s representative to the greatest political power of his time. By God’s grace, God’s call on Moses’ life was not refusable. It was irrevocable, and it brought with it inescapable responsibilities.
This explains God’s mysterious attack upon Moses recorded in Exodus 4. God had called Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. Then as Moses set out to accomplish the task, God “sought to kill him.” Although Moses knew he was a Hebrew, he had not bothered to learn even his smallest spiritual obligations. Like many Jews today, he was a Jew only by culture. As a result, Moses’ son with the Hebrew name Gershom had never been circumcised. From the account we can infer that Zipporah, Moses’ Gentile wife, was opposed to circumcision and never became fully reconciled to the idea. After performing the circumcision to which she had objected, she left Moses and returned to her father (see Exodus 18:2). Eventually Moses and Zipporah were reconciled, but Moses had to face the beginning of his ministry in fear that his entire life was crumbling because of the call of the Lord. His decisions before he met God continued to haunt him, as later on in Numbers 12 we find that Miriam and Aaron both spoke against Moses for marrying the Midianite woman. It is a story to God’s respect for marriage that he miraculously intervened, and upheld Moses in this marital commitment which had undergone so much strain. On his way back to Egypt, however, Moses could not have known that things would ever work out. He only knew that God had called him to do something that pitted his own family against him. Yet he could not escape that call.
In all the previous years that Moses had lived apart from the knowledge of what God wanted, he had never experienced God’s anger over the circumcision issue. (The horrible consequence of sin is that we go on sinning, never dealing with the fact that our lives are under God’s wrath.) But now that Moses had been called by grace to be God’s servant, he had a new relationship with the Lord. It was unfitting that God’s chosen prophet had not even bothered to fulfill the most basic obligation of a Jewish father—circumcision of his own son into God’s covenant. Now Moses experienced the severe and loving discipline of God, forcing him to do what was proper.
When Moses came near death by the discipline of God, he surely must have wished to return to the simple life of a shepherd. He had never asked to be God’s prophet. When God called him, Moses said that he did not want to be his prophet, but he could neither refuse God’s calling nor escape the responsibilities that accompanied it.
So it is with the believer’s life of faith. Circumstances do not become easier. Rather, the Lord calls us into progressively steeper areas of commitment. He will not allow us to turn back to an earlier plateau and be satisfied. We are so sinful that if all at once God were to show us our sin, we would wither. If all at once he were to show us the level of commitment he required, we would think we could not go on. He allows us to awaken at a pace he chooses—one that will not devastate us. Yet it is often somewhat faster than we find comfortable.
God’s calling often pits family and friends against us and puts us in conflict with those we love. We want to take a step back—to idealize some past stage in our Christian walk—but God will not allow us to retreat. He would not allow Moses to retreat. After experiencing God’s call, Moses could no longer accept the way of life he had known for 80 years. He could never go back.
Moses lived to be 120. He spent the first 40 years of his life in royal comfort, and the second 40 years in rustic quietness. Scripture says very little about those first 80 years, but much about the last 40. The latter were filled not only with victory and revelation, but also with conflict, sorrow, stress and affliction. For all the thrill of leading the Jewish people out of Egypt, Moses also suffered the stress and drudgery of the long wilderness experience. God was refining him.
We have yet to plumb the depths of what God accomplished in Moses during those last forty years of his life—those difficult years he had tried to avoid. They were perhaps the most uncomfortable and unhappy time of his life. Yet they were the time worth recording in four books of the Bible.
Even at the end, Moses’ strength never was sufficient. The temper that had led to his downfall when he killed the Egyptian, again became his downfall in the wilderness. In anger he struck the rock to obtain water, and because of that impulsive act Moses died before entering the Promised Land. Yet we know he made it there after all. In Matthew 17 we read of him in the Promised Land with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, and that is the final lesson.
Like Moses, we must accept God’s call, knowing the path will be difficult. Our salvation is a commitment that requires us to bend to the Lord’s discipline, never looking back to the comfort of yesterday, but pressing on to the duties of today. This commitment asks that we seek the triumph of God’s mission in the world rather than our own happiness, peace or comfort. Because we belong to the Lord, we know that though we falter and fail, as Moses sometimes did, we too will make it there with Jesus!