The One Quality That Separated Moses
From The Average Israelite
AT the end of the first forty years, Moses had both ability and faith (Hebrews 11:24) but he still wasn’t where he needed to be.
Moses ranked well above average in the area of personal development. I doubt he could achieve much more but you need more than personal development alone to serve God.
Moses was in the right place to grow further but he wasn’t fully ready to serve his ultimate purpose. That’s where the second stage is important.
STAGE TWO: THE RESOLUTION STAGE
(Exile in Midian, Exodus 2:11-21).
This stage started with a skirmish but then settled into monotony:
- At the age of 40 (Acts 7:23) Moses kills an Egyptian in a failed attempt at alleviating the suffering of the Israelites.
- Rejected by the Israelites and threatened by Pharaoh, he escapes to Midian.
- In Midian, he defends a group of shepherd girls.
- He meets Jethro, the shepherd girls’ father, and marries one of his daughters, Zipporah, with whom he has two sons.
- He works for Jethro, shepherding his flocks for the next forty years.
At the end of forty years as a shepherd, God commanded Moses to return to Egypt. Only eleven verses cover this stage but Acts 7 provides more details.
A few additional observations are helpful.
Moses continued to learn in this second stage but it involved different lessons. The lessons in the first stage were mostly mental and physical.
- Moses was trained in all the wisdom of Egypt – he could think.
- And he developed the skills of a military leader – he could fight.
But he needed more.
There were still emotional and spiritual lessons to be learned:
- How to follow God
- And how to lead people.
Both lessons were hard to learn and according to his experience, they proved hard to live with.
His Abilities Were Apparent But Insufficient
There’s not much detail from the second forty years but three things are worth mentioning.
- He killed an Egyptian slavemaster.
His excuse for killing the slavemaster was his desire to deliver Israel but the effort was ineffective so it’s a moot point. What he wanted to do and how things turned out were very different. Israel wasn’t delivered and Moses had to run.
Moses wanted to do the right thing and his effort was an expression of faith but the only thing he really did was vent frustrations.
From this experience, Moses learned that his natural abilities, though extraordinary, weren’t sufficient for the job.
- He was an able fighter.
Physically, Moses was no slouch. Killing an Egyptian slavemaster single-handedly would have been difficult for the average individual. Not for Moses. If a problem could be solved with physical dominance, Moses was the man.
But, again, he needed more than his natural abilities to solve the problem.
- He knew God had called him to deliver Israel and he was committed to that calling.
Moses was frustrated with Israel’s continued repression and slavery.
For forty years he watched his parents suffer at the hand of Pharaoh. His parents, particularly his mother, had reminded him often that God had promised to solve their national problem (Gen. 15:13-14) and she surely planted the seed that he was God’s chosen man for that job.
Armed with that knowledge and a determination to follow through, he was going to do something, anything to deliver Israel.
Shepherding Not Leading
At first glance, the second forty years pass by in a rather mundane way. It was quiet. Moses was a shepherd. Shepherding was hard work but boring.
Shepherding was also the very thing Moses would do later. Leading Israel out of Egypt was a first step only and it transpired quickly. He would spend most of his time organizing Israel and leading them to the promised land.
Moses would realize later that shepherding people is a lot like shepherding unknowing animals. Patience, understanding, and consistency are necessary qualities.
His Character Was Set
Other than a few interesting observations, the second forty years offer little detail to analyze.
We can ask questions about his character, such as why did he defend Jethro’s daughters?
It’s a good question. He didn’t know these ladies and when he arrived on the scene their lives were not being threatened. They were being bullied by their male counterparts for first rights to water their flocks but it was a regular occurrence and they had learned to tolerate it.
Since it was the norm, Moses’ noble response stands out.
Moses could have easily let it go but, no, he took charge, held the male shepherds off, and even helped water the ladies’ flocks.
Where did that come from? He learned to fight from the Egyptians. Where did he learn to respect women?
The answer could be his mother. I doubt she told him to respect women in so many words but how could he not with his first exposure to the fairer sex being his mother’s incredible example.
And she was Jewish. Jewish Mamas are not so easily dismissed.
But all of that speaks to his character which developed during the first forty years. What happened during the second forty years? How did that stage shape his life?
His Faith Grows
The Bible says Moses had faith and speaks of it in complimentary terms (Hebrews 11:24-26) but at this stage, his faith wasn’t much. He had enough faith to make a commitment but his faith needed to grow considerably if he was to serve God meaningfully.
We don’t think of faith as something that grows. You either have it or you don’t. You’re either saved or not, believer or not, Christian or not.
And that is true. People fall into only one of two categories: believer or non-believer but crossing the line from one category to the other is just a first step. Growth, expansion, and development should continue.
The Apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5) and later Peter encouraged us to, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
The New Testament actually teaches us to measure the growth of prospective ministers before they take on the mantle of leadership.
Lay hands suddenly on no man. 1 Timothy 5:22
Which means don’t ordain individuals to ministry too quickly. A momentary show of faith may be nothing more than a flash in the pan.
Faith grows and develops just like every other skill: medical, legal, sociological.
Getting the right answer on the first day of algebra class doesn’t mean you know algebra.
If we defined faith by Moses’ experience, it would be something like:
Going where you haven’t been and would rather not be, doing what you haven’t done and would rather not do, and doing both in spite of resistance all around only because God led you to.
Moses’ faith wasn’t the only area of concern.
It’s tempting to assume Moses needed patience but that isn’t the focus of this second stage.
Yes, it was forty years before Moses began the process of delivering Israel – a very long time – but a lack of patience wasn’t the reason he ended up waiting so long. Moses needed to learn the importance of deliberation, or to put it in New Testament terms, counting the cost.
Initially, Moses did nothing like that.
He didn’t pray. He just took action by doing the one thing he was good at, fight.
He thought if he did what he could do, his countrymen would get the message and rally to the cause.
It didn’t work. His efforts only made the Israelites suspicious of his motives (Exodus 2:14).
And once Pharaoh discovered his disloyalty, he ran for his life to Midian, where once again he resorted to fighting. Fighting was his greatest skill and the one he most often used to solve problems.
He was a hammer. Every problem and/or irritation was a nail.
He was obviously a better-than-average fighter and it’s a good thing. In Midian, he single-handedly fought off several male shepherds to allow several female shepherds to water their flocks first.
What we learn from Moses is that an act of faith shouldn’t be thoughtless but it can be.
When Moses killed the slavemaster, he knew he didn’t have an army to lead and the people he hoped would join the mix were ill-prepared for a full-on fight. Apparently, that second thought never crossed his mind.
Waiting wasn’t the point. Waiting, which often translates to doing nothing, can be just as wasteful as doing the wrong thing.
Moses was learning that obeying God is an act of deliberation, not an ill-considered response. Thinking may take time and it may feel like waiting but it makes things go more quickly in the end.
Abuse Breeds Disbelief
What Moses didn’t understand is that abuse of any kind – manipulation, oppression, mistreatment, etc. – generates hopelessness.
When Moses attempted to provoke his people to fight, he was working against years of bad psychological formatting. They couldn’t see it. They couldn’t believe it and they didn’t trust Moses.
His efforts, though honorable, were a little short-sighted (refer to the point on deliberation). He did what he could do and it was well-intentioned, but good intentions can’t solve such deeply ingrained problems.
It’s easy to see problems, define them, point them out, and decry them. None of that, though, qualifies as a solution.
Recognizing a problem is a first step and the easiest one to take but solving such problems will take more than a good ole boy doing the best he can, even one as highly qualified as Moses.
Deliverance Is Long Term
Even after Israel was delivered from slavery, which didn’t take long to happen, it still took time for them to adjust psychologically to a different order and a better life in the land of milk and honey.
That’s the point of the second stage. Deliverance was a long-term project. Moses would stand between God, who was perfect, and Israel whose physical deliverance would happen quickly but whose development would take years.
It’s like salvation. A person is saved in a split second but it takes years to build a lifestyle of faith and purpose.
Moses had to follow God while at the same time pastor/shepherd people. A huge learning curve was involved. What he learned is that shaping a poorly organized, horribly abused crowd of people is very different to commanding an army.
Reflecting On Experience
Moses failed big. The question is could he learn big. Failing is not a problem. Everyone does that. Moses was no exception.
When Moses arrived in Midian, his pride was bruised. He had gambled on a strategy to deliver Israel. It took courage, skill, and faith but the outcome was utter failure.
He needed to heal. He was angry at the Israelites, Pharaoh, and God. That anger needed to subside. Moses didn’t get angry easily but once he did someone either died or was injured badly.
It took forty years for Moses to develop his abilities and work up the courage to deliver Israel. Now he would take another forty years to learn two additional lessons.
- The difference between impulsively deciding to take action and resolving to wait on and follow God closely.
- And he was learning that shaping a nation (his ultimate purpose) requires a different set of skills to commanding an army.
Learning those lessons would require a skill Moses didn’t have, reflection and he had plenty of time to do that.
Moses was an angry man and I doubt he forgot his anger quickly. The healing and forgetting would take time and he also needed to revitalize his interest in leading Israel.
God still planned to deliver Israel and His plan still included Moses but God needed Moses to learn.
Deliverance Involves Many Layers
You could say Moses was learning the most important lessons during the second forty years and they were hard lessons to learn. God is to be followed, not led. Delivering Israel from slavery was the ultimate plan but it was God’s plan and as I mentioned before, it was long-term.
Deliverance wasn’t in question. Everyone was aware of it. The Egyptians opposed it but were afraid it could happen. All Israel expected it.
Jochebed, Moses’ mother, wanted deliverance. All Israel prayed for deliverance. Killing the Egyptian slave master was Moses’ feeble attempt at initiating deliverance but deliverance wouldn’t happen without God’s intervention.
Deliverance did come but it wasn’t easy or simple.
- There was a military dimension – defeat the Egyptians.
- There was a geographical dimension – move to the promised land.
- There was a legal dimension – set up a system of laws for a fledgling nation.
- There was a spiritual dimension – establish an organized relationship with God.
- There was an individual dimension – set up land ownership and homesteads in the promised land.
Deliverance was more than a quick military exercise. It was not about revenge or taking over Egypt. Once the Egyptians were defeated, Israel was then faced with the hard work of moving to a new land, building a legal/religious infrastructure, and establishing their families with homes and occupations.
They were organizing, not reorganizing. They had never been an independent nation before. Israel had grown to national proportions but was completely dominated by Egypt. They weren’t allowed to start small businesses or manage community affairs.
What to do next was the question.
Egypt was bad for them but it was also their support system. Once they left they wobbled like cripples on crutches or addicts in withdrawal.
Deliverance day was the first day of their nationhood. A new beginning for which they were inexperienced and ill-prepared. Their shaky responses were dictated by their insecurities.
They weren’t just leaving one place and heading for another. They were transforming into something the world had never seen before.
Leading Requires Following
For deliverance to be effective, both Moses and Israel had to follow. There is nothing passive about following and for the Israelites much of it happened in the blind.
They didn’t know what they were doing or where they were going. They didn’t know how to defend themselves. They didn’t even know how to live peaceably with each other.
Following orders means doing what you’re ordered to do. In this case, there needed to be a very strong sense of personal connection to God. They needed more than indifferent belief in God. They needed to believe only God could direct their steps.
They couldn’t understand what God was doing. They’d never been a strong, well-formed nation before. They’d never been to the promised land before. They believed in God but had no experience with worship and they resisted at every turn.
The transformation God had planned would never happen without unwavering trust.
Moses didn’t have all the answers either. He was more experienced and that made him more stable during their migration but he was navigating uncharted waters too.
He had developed a strong conviction about following God.
He had learned that following God wouldn’t be easy.
He had learned that it is imperative to wait for God’s direction and then do exactly as He leads.
But he had never been to the promised land or worshipped at an altar or constructed a tabernacle or instituted a legal system. In many ways, he was as blind as the Israelites.
The one thing he was sure of was they needed to follow God closely.
When the Israelites complained and resisted, and that happened often, instead of acquiescing he held firm. Why? He knew who was ultimately in charge.
Holding firm wasn’t an easy thing to do. Aaron, Moses’ brother, gave in easily almost without hesitation when the people demanded a golden calf. And then he found excuses for his failure.
Moses had developed a well-tempered sense of who’s in control over forty years of waiting. He got ahead of himself before and then had to wait a very long time for God to intervene.
But his resolve to follow was hardened during that waiting period and he would need all of it to successfully lead Israel to the promised land.
God had to deliver Moses from arrogance before Moses could deliver Israel from slavery.
God needed a leader who was so anchored in God’s direction, he couldn’t be moved by the whims of an entire nation.
In this second stage, which was anything but exciting, Moses learned to follow God by waiting on God.
Moses was willing to do his part but he needed to learn to wait on God to do it.
Not Finished Yet
When the second forty years ended, Moses was a long way from a polished leader. The last forty years show him being tried and tested at every turn. He also failed a few times and the cost was dear.
That we’ll cover a future post.