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God changes Moses during forty years in Midian
One day, while shepherding Reuel's flocks, Moses saw a strange sight on Mount Horeb, or Sinai (Exodus 3:1-21).
1 Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.
Moses "turned aside to see" this marvellous sight and God revealed His presence from the midst of the bush. There on that desert mountain Moses entered into a dialogue with the Holy One, a dialogue that was forever to place its mark on the faith and history of the people of God. There Moses learned that God is not some uncaring being who watches the events of history in a bemused fashion. On the contrary, He is fully aware of oppression and suffering of His people and is willing to enter into the stream of human history in order to work out His redemptive purposes. To this end, He summoned Moses as the agent through whom he would make known his intentions and his demands. Moses' specific task would be to represent God before Pharaoh and to lead the chosen people from Egypt. Once free, he was to bring them to that very mountain, where the covenant between God and the people Israel would be formally sealed.
Again, Acts 7:30 provides added detail, telling us that Moses was eighty years old, forty years of desert life having passed by the time God met Moses at the burning bush. Moses began the great task which would take the remaining forty years of his life; the triple work of deliverer, lawgiver, and founder of the theocratic state. The time element is corroborated by Exodus 7:7, which tells us that Moses was eighty years old and Aaron was eighty-three when they stood before Pharaoh.
We also learn an interesting principle in God's choice of servants through examining the life of Moses. Forty years previous to the encounter at the burning bush, we learn that Moses was thoroughly trained in the ways of the Egyptians, for Acts 7:22 says he "was mighty in words and in deeds." Forty years later we see a man lacking self-confidence in his abilities, a man who now claimed to be slow of speech (Exodus 4:10) and lacking any ability at all as a leader. Moses had changed from being a man the world would have chosen to lead the children of Israel out of bondage, because of his abilities in military strategy, philosophy, and architecture learned from the Egyptians, to a broken, humble servant who God delights in using. History records for us this fact in Numbers 12:31, where we read:
Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.
These attributes are found most perfectly for us in our Servant King, the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it was predicted (Zechariah 9:91):
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus Himself spoke of the servant attitude that we should learn from:
Matthew 11:291 "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.
This is a teaching that is repeated by the apostles who, nonetheless, had to exert firm discipline upon the new congregations of believers just as Moses was soon to be called to discipline the Israelites in their habitual rebellions:
1 Peter 5:51 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
Another continuing theme throughout the Old Testament is found in the miraculous acts of our God. He repeatedly reduces the numbers so that man cannot take credit and uses individuals least likely to succeed because "no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Corinthians 1:291). God's victories bring Him all the honour and glory and we should never lose sight of this fact. Forty years in the desert crushed the human spirit in Moses that had led to his rash attack on the Egyptian slavedriver and there was no longer evidence of the confidence he had in himself as an educated man in Pharaoh's courts. It was as a humble shepherd, crushed, without self-confidence, and stumbling in speech, that he encountered God at the burning bush with nothing in his hand except a shepherd's staff. Again, the reflection of the Shepherd King, Jesus, who comes before the might of the Pharisees and Sadducees with the direct claim to being the Good Shepherd who will never lose one of His sheep and willingly lays down His life for them (John 10:1-18).
God asked Moses in Exodus 4:2, " What is that in thine hand?" He cast his crook to the ground and it became the rod of God. God intended to use this symbol of His own Shepherding love and care for the lost sheep of Israel. The important symbolism would have been well known in these conflicting nations for two reasons. First we read in Genesis 46:33-341 how Joseph instructed his brothers and father's household when they came to Egypt to escape the famine:
33 "And it shall come about when Pharaoh calls you and says, ‛What is your occupation?' 34 that you shall say, 'Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,' that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians."
How humiliating it was going to be for the mighty Egyptian nation to be defeated by their slaves led by a loathsome shepherd!
Israel became increasingly aware through her history of her role as sheep wandering in a hostile world, but lovingly cared for by the Great Shepherd whom Israel recognised, when blessing Joseph and his sons (Genesis 48:14-161):
14 But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh's head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the first-born. 15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; And may my name live on in them, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth."
God forewarned Moses in chapter 4 that He would harden the heart of Pharaoh (v21-231) so that he would not release the people and that eventually God would have to kill the firstborn of Egypt.
21 And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22 "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, "Israel is My son, My first-born. 23 "So I said to you, 'Let My son go, that he may serve Me'; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born."'"
We should not miss noting that Moses was now so far transformed from the man of education that he was hiding behind his inabilities, claiming to be "slow of speech and of tongue" (Exodus 4: 101) and this early rebellion caused God's anger to burn against him (v14). Now we read (Exodus 4:24-261) that God sought to put him to death:
24 Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and threw it at Moses' feet, and she said, "You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me." 26 So He let him alone. At that time she said, "You are a bridegroom of blood" - because of the circumcision.
We learn something of Zipporah here and the importance of the blood covenant for, whether she had opposed Moses in the circumcision of her babies, as some writers have postulated, here she reminded God of the covenant in blood through the foreskin of their newborn son and He relented.7 Thus Aaron, Moses' brother, met him in the wilderness and was informed of his role as Moses "mouth," declaring his words to the congregation. Thus supported, Moses and his family left their Midianite kinsmen and set out for Egypt.
(Continued on page 489)