“Choosing rather…”

As we read the record in Exodus it may seem that Moses was forced out of Egypt into exile by virtue of circumstances. The record in Hebrews makes it clear that he had already made a deliberate choice in favour of his people and his God: “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God”. The passage in Hebrews 11:24 explains what it means in Exodus 2:11 where it says, “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren”. Perhaps this was no ordinary stroll that Moses engaged in? Combining the records of Paul and Stephen together we see deliberate choice. The record in Acts 7 says, “it came into his heart to visit his brethren,” that is to say that he considered himself an Israelite in his heart. His later actions merely sealed that and from this moment on there was no going back. This was a crossroads in Moses’ life. He could stay in Egypt and enjoy all the pleasure that a life of indulgence would afford him or he could say that such things were sin and fleeting and he would rather have life with God’s people, even if it brought temporary hardship. It is a testament to the faith of his mother, in particular, that Moses chose well.

Normally when a prince went out walking he would be accompanied by a bevy of servants waiting to supply his every need; was the sun too hot?; would he rather be carried?; was he thirsty? No provision would be overlooked. This time he went out alone. This of itself would have been remarkable enough to reach the ears of those in power in the palace. Had Moses raised objections concerning the treatment of the people of God?The idea is possible. Perhaps he had expressed an intention to see for himself.

Perhaps an expressed intention to see the labour camps and to personally enquire after the condition of the workers saw Pharaoh strictly forbid it. Had Moses said he would rather be a slave in Goshen than dwell in Pharaoh’s palace, “choosing to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin”? Certainly Moses later left Egypt when the whole nation departed in the Exodus, but the reality is that by then he had not been part of Egypt for more than 40 years, having chosen in his heart to leave all those years ago.

It would not make Pharaoh pleased that the education and expense lavished on Moses had all been wasted. When Moses went to enquire after his brethren he had already made up his mind to leave the courts of Pharaoh. Now he had to leave Goshen also. Can we not see a little of the spirit of Jesus in Moses’ actions? Consider these later words of the Psalmist: “Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face. I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children. For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up”. Moses acted in zeal, and it consumed him like his Lord, who later acted in righteous anger. But he was to learn that God works “not by might nor by power but by [His] spirit.” Moses anticipated the divine timing and got it wrong, and was possibly disillusioned. Perhaps not yet the meekest man in all the earth, Moses too needed to learn obedience by the things he would suffer. Moses, like Christ, suffered the rejection of his brethren who refused to have him rule over them.

The news of the altercation between Moses and the Egyptian (Exod 2:11-14) spread through the camp of Israel like wild fire and even reached the walls of the palace. Moses was to reflect in fear, “surely this thing is known.” He had chosen to leave Egypt in his heart, and now as circumstances played out, he had no choice; he must see. As the reach of Pharaoh was considerable, he could only go where Pharaoh had no influence; so into the desert of Midian he went. Actually he could have gone almost anywhere: Greece, Asia or far to the east. Clearly God led him to the desert. The later words of Moses, spoken of God’s care for the entire nation had thus particular relevance to himself: “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deut 32:10). So Moses came into the wilderness of Midian and sat down at a well like Jesus would later do.

Into the wilderness

Abraham and Keturah had six sons, one of whom was Midian. Despite not being the sons of promise and being later sent away by Abraham, it is reasonable to surmise that they were all instructed by Abraham in the ways of Yahweh, for had not God earlier said, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment.” A priest of Midian need not be a pagan priest, but may equally have been a priest of Yahweh in similar fashion to Melchizedek. Reuel (the friend of God), Raguel and Jethro would all appear to be the same person and his character in the record is not sullied by references to pagan idolatry. I think it safe to conclude that Moses found refuge in a faithful house, which worshipped the God of the whole earth. Despite that, it would seem that the covenant of circumcision given to Abraham had slipped. What are the chances of Moses randomly straying into the territory of a worshipper of God? We may safely conclude the angels were at work even in the wilderness.

Like so many men God chose to lead and deliver, Moses now found himself as a shepherd. Moses wasn’t thinking of leading the people when he tended the sheep; for him it was unwitting preparation. When we consider how astonishingly thick a sheep can be, it is a sad indictment on human kind that being a shepherd is good practice for being a leader of men!

The calling of Moses

The record is silent for nearly 40 years. One wonders whether Moses had completely given up leadership aspirations. He certainly seemed in no hurry to accept his commission when it came. He no longer supposed that God, by his hand, should deliver Israel and tried five times to reject his Divine vocation. Moses said (Exod 3:11) ‘I am not good enough’, so God said ‘I will be with you’; then Moses said (3:13) ‘I won’t know what to say’, so God told him what to say; then Moses said (4:1) ‘they won’t believe me’, so God gave him signs; then Moses said (4:10) ‘I am not eloquent’ and God said I will help you speak; finally Moses said (4:13) ‘send somebody else.’ Only then does the record reveal God was frustrated with Moses. It took God quite a while to get angry with Moses and even then he showed forbearance and compassion.

Put together in this fashion, Moses’ series of excuses encompasses all of the excuses which we might feebly offer to God as reasons for our own refusal to accept His will for us. We must not challenge the God who has called us for His name and praise. If God wants us to work, then we must. We cannot say, God has made a mistake in choosing me, or God would not want me. Did not the Apostle Paul say, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Phil 2:13- 14). The fact that we are here means that God has called us. The question to answer is: how will we respond? Feeble excuses do us no more credit than they did Moses. It is not hard to see the cause for the divine exasperation. When God commands, we must obey.

The Moses who stood before God does not seem like the same man who interfered in the argument 40 years previously and dealt brutal justice without fear or thought. In many ways Moses was not the same man. Now he was meek and now he was ready. Forty years in Pharaoh’s court taught him how to conduct himself before the King, and forty years in the wilderness, how to lead God’s people in meekness.

Back to Egypt

Moses did not delay any further. The record goes on to say, “Moses went and returned to Jethro his father in law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt.” How many of us procrastinate in God’s service: some other time, some other place, some other circumstance….? Not Moses. It is to his credit that he went straight away. There is even in the final words of God an echo of his Lord: “… return … for all the men are dead which sought thy life” (Exod 4:19 cp Matt 2:20).

We read, that on the way, Moses was met by Yahweh or almost certainly His angel, who reiterated God’s charge and offered a warning that the firstborn of Pharaoh would be cut off if he refused to heed God. The incident that follows is challenging and it is difficult to be certain of the details.

It would seem that Moses’ firstborn, Gershom, had been circumcised but Eliezer had not been. It appears that Zipporah had discomfort in the idea of circumcision and had perhaps dissuaded Moses against performing circumcision on Eliezer. Reading between the lines, we infer that the angel who had Moses in the grip of death had told them both it was because the lad was uncircumcised. Moses, in the hold of the angel, was unable to do anything and so Zipporah performed the circumcision and flung the foreskin at Moses’ feet in disgust. Then and only then are we told the angel “let him go.” Moses had to learn that the divine covenant must be followed and that there are no extenuating circumstances or excuses that ‘will wash’ with God. When we remember the giving of the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17, the words immediately prior say, “I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen 17: 8). There is, then, some context to the requirement of God both on this occasion and the subsequent national circumcision immediately preceding the entry into the Promised Land. Simply put by Paul, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” It is easy to let things slide with the passage of time and distance; what once seemed imperative is at length watered down and finally let slip altogether. We would not do that would we? Would we let family protestation take precedence over the things of God? Would we diminish our stand over time? The clear message from God is that it will not do. Moses was to be the leader. How could the people follow if he would not lead? Moses, like Jesus, was to lead by example and God was to hold him to a very high standard.

Let us not think less of Moses for the failings he displayed in his preparation. True, Moses was, in the incidents we have considered, firstly presumptuous, then slow to heed God’s call and inattentive to one of God’s principles. Nevertheless, God said of Moses that He spoke with him personally as a friend; what a tribute that is! It is doubtful that any of us would have fared as well given his circumstances. Many of us placed in Moses’ situation might be even now mummified grandly in the tombs of Egypt awaiting some archaeologist to discover our moldering remains, entirely bereft of eternal hope rather than buried safely by God and awaiting His Kingdom. Moses was a truly great man, who humbled himself under the mighty hand of God and waited the due time for God to exalt him.

Here we leave Moses for now, en-route to Egypt to plead for his people.