Reading: Exodus 1-3
(Context: It’s a normal day, full of its regular monotony, when Moses comes face to face with the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, the “consuming fire” that fills and radiates heat, but will not consume the bush. Moses steps forth in awe and great wonder, there to be given the difficult task of freeing a people overridden by over 300 years of every-worsening slavery. It is a wildly immense task, one that would change the history of the world for all times, being the beginning of Israel’s improbable history.)
Since Sunday I have been travelling by bus from the Northern Jungle of Peru down to my “home” in Southern Bolivia. It’s was not a particularly interesting or life-changing trip, but it was a time for reflection. Meditation is one of the great lost arts in the Christian faith. Sure, Zen Buddhism and Yoga look to be forerunners in this, and therefore we have a knee-jerk reaction to it. I do not believe this is correct, and I speak primarily out of a study of the lives of great Biblical men, of the Psalms, and of the Church Fathers. God has many times called some of His greatest men and women through their willingness to search for Him (Job, Augustine), fight with and for Him (Jacob, Luther), listen to Him (Moses, David, G. Muller), and ultimately live for Him.
On the bus, while sitting hour after hour, I had time to do quite a bit of reading (including the Bible) and listening. One passage that stood out to me while reading the Scriptures was Exodus 3. The sequence of events here is spectacular, especially given the past and future context of Moses. Let’s take a quick look, and find the “key to his success” (I say this last part a little jokingly, because of all the self-help leadership guides out there. God made Moses great, not some quirky method).
1. The past life of Moses: A Jewish boy who almost looses his heritage and culture, being trained in the palaces of the great Pharaoh, under his daughter who would become his adoptive mother. How much did he know of his Jewish heritage? I suppose he knew enough, for his “nurse” turned out to be his very own mother. I suppose when he reached his early twenties he started having a desire to “change the world”, as many of that age do. Perhaps he did certain things to improve conditions of his fellow Jews. But year after year, his words and actions fell on deaf ears and on stone walls.
Then he did the unthinkable. He killed a man in cold blood. I wonder if he felt proud of himself? Had he done justice through vengeance? Yet, oh so soon his pride turned to terror and fear, as he fled to modern-day Saudi Arabia from the wrath of the Pharaoh (perhaps a half-brother to him).
Here we find Moses: a worn-out forty year old man who tends to sheep in the desolate and barren hills of the Midianite wilderness. What good was his education now? What good were his dreams of retribution and vengeance? They had slowly been blowing away in the wind.
2. The future life of Moses: Immediately after God visits Moses, everything seems to begin to change, and to show great signs of hope. This timid, embittered desert shepherd is now a man with a purpose, one adequately prepared in God’s “school of humility” to be able to do what few armies could do–overpower the world’s greatest empire.
The book of Exodus, up until Joshua, declare the greatness of one man’s faith, but even more-so the Almighty Power who was at work through his faith.
How did this transforming change take place? The answer comes in God’s answer, as He puts Moses’ greatest fear to rest: his fear of failing and being dishonored. It would be so much easier for Moses to simply stay in Arabia, enjoy being with his wife and kids, and thus avoid greater humiliation and probable death. Yet, let us not forget that those who never try anything can never succeed at anything.
C.S. Lewis once said: “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go…to move forward.”
Moses had failed in doing what he saw as justice, and it pained him to imagine reliving such an event again.
With one single phrase, Moses’ fears were to be answered and put to rest. It was not a kind word, or God telling him how loved and useful he was. It was God declaring to Moses who He, the voice in this burning bush, truly was. Let’s relive the sequence, at it’s climax:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:13-14)
Think about that. God identifies and self-defines Himself in the only way He can, in Himself. He is indefinable. He is infinite. He is full of mystery, yet willing to let us see Him in Christ. He is unchanging. He is without beginning or end, ever being and never not being.
In short: God is. He is everything we can define as good, just, righteous, pure, eternal, Divine, and loving. The list goes on, and words grow weak as He grows greater.
God didn’t give Moses a feel-good speech about Moses’ own greatness, instead God acknowledged Moses’ weaknesses. God did something very much greater, for He showed Moses the armor and the shield that would protect him, and the sword that would force submission. Moses was simply the carrier of great and awesome power, the wielder of Divine wrath and justice against a despicable Egyptian Pharaoh bent on annihilating God’s People.
The man who thinks he is something, on his own, will fail, be humiliation, and will fall in a heap of his own weakness. I refuse to be dependent on my strength, or proud of my own ability. Far be it from me! Far be it from any human, much more any Christian. Let us take a lesson from the listening ears of Moses, and the humble dependence of this man.
I conclude reminding us of what the prophet Isaiah would have us understand about God in comparison with our weaknesses:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)