Examining between the lines of Moses' life can have benefits for our own. How did this prince turned shepherd become an example of humility?
"Who is the LORD that I should obey...?" the mighty pharaoh asked Moses in Exodus:5:2. This is the same question Moses had to ask himself years earlier.
The calling and conversion of Moses is a remarkable story (especially as we take some license to fill in the blanks of the narrative). As the Bible and history show, incredible honor was given to this man with incredible humility. What shaped this man's character, and what made him the meekest man on the earth?
Predestined and Protected
Moses' mother, Jochebed, may have remembered the good times in Egypt. Some reckonings show she may have been born while her uncle Joseph was still in a high position in Egypt (Numbers:26:59). Now, several decades later, pregnant with her third child, she and her husband, Amram, heard the news from Pharaoh—all male babies were to be killed!
The Jewish historian Josephus gives us traditional details he had learned. Josephus records that Amram prayed to God about this, and an angel appeared to him stating that the child that Jochebed was carrying would deliver the Israelites from slavery. The angel also said that he would be raised in a surprising way, and his name would last as long as the world ( Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, 9:3)!
When Jochebed went into labor, there was little pain, and very few knew she had delivered (Antiquities II, 9:4). For three months—with total faith in God—they kept the baby a secret. When things got to the point that they could no longer keep him hid, they demonstrated their faith by putting the child totally in God's hands (Hebrews:11:23).
Jochebed's hands may have been trembling when she put her infant son in a basket in the Nile, but her faith did not waver. God noticed and rewarded her and Amram's faith by allowing them to get to take care of their son for three years and get paid for it, although slaves! God had also blessed Moses with good looks and a gifted mind. No doubt his parents told him what his destiny was! Even at such a young age, Moses knew he was special.
Moses Must Choose
At age 3 Moses was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. Moses was given a royal education. He became great in Egypt. Apparently Moses became a general for the Egyptian army ( Antiquities II, 10:1). He was a great orator and had many great deeds (Acts:7:22).
Apparently both the Egyptian people and the Hebrews liked Moses. The Egyptian leaders, however, were uncomfortable with him.
Josephus records that even the Egyptians were aware that a "deliverer" would be raised up and free the Israelites. Some warned that Moses was this person, even when Pharaoh's daughter brought Moses before Pharaoh. From a toddler through adulthood, the authorities were not sure what to do with Moses. But God obviously influenced their decisions so His will would be done. Moses became a great prince, and partook of all the benefits associated with royalty ( Antiquities II, 9:7). Indeed, he was raised in a surprising way!
As Moses became more popular among the people, the authorities were more concerned with him, afraid he might bring a revolt against the Egyptians ( Antiquities II, 11:1). Moses tried to please the Egyptians and the Hebrews. Perhaps he thought when he had more power, he could free his people. But Moses finally reached a crossroads and had to choose.
We are told in Acts:7:23 that God brought into remembrance his purpose, and so Moses went to visit his people. At age 40, when he saw a taskmaster beating a Hebrew, he deliberately killed the Egyptian (Exodus:2:11-12).
As recorded in Acts:7:25, Moses thought his people would believe that God was working through him to rescue them. But Moses had taken things into his own hands and acted rashly. This act gave Pharaoh the reason he needed to get rid of Moses. Moses became afraid and ran. He left his family and his people. Moses became a fugitive.
Humility Before Honor
Imagine the change. From the plush comforts of Egypt to the hot desert of Midian. Moses chose God over Egypt, and this is how it turned out. Or did it? God did not immediately intervene when Moses got in trouble for trying to help his fellow man. Did Moses think, "Is this what I get for trying to be faithful and fulfill my calling?" (compare Hebrews:11:24-25).
But God had not given up on Moses. He just used the circumstances to continue Moses' training.
Moses became what the Egyptians despised—a shepherd (see Genesis:46:31-34). Instead of leading mighty armies, he was reduced to leading fragile sheep. Instead of being a great orator to thousands of people, he talked to animals. When Moses left Egypt, he had no intentions of becoming a shepherd. He still believed he was the chosen one. But as time passed, his illusions of grandeur began to fade.
When Moses looked into the night sky, how much did he think about being the deliverer his parents said he would be? When he saw the caravans going to Egypt, how much did Moses think about his family, still slaves? And when Moses prayed to God, how many of his prayers centered around his destiny?
Moses eventually married and raised a family. As the months turned into years, Moses came to the conclusion that he was not going to be great. His parents must have been wrong. As time passed, Moses became content and accepted his lot in life as a humble shepherd (Exodus:2:21) (the word was is better translated became ).
Moses learned a lot during these 40 years. He learned to be gentle and caring. He learned how to herd sheep, and now God could use him to herd people. But more importantly, Moses learned that all his knowledge and abilities had not gotten him wealth and greatness.
Rather, trusting in himself only brought trouble and heartache (compare Proverbs:14:12). God had used circumstances—brought about by Moses' choices—to humble him and teach valuable lessons during these 40 years. Yes, Moses learned that true greatness comes only from God (Zechariah:4:6).
A Different Moses
The humility of Moses was apparent at the burning bush. He said that he was not great, neither in the past nor now (Exodus:4:10). But Moses was great in the things he said he wasn't (Acts:7:22). Yet Moses knew that his abilities were nothing compared to God. Moses kept declining the offer, thinking, "I'm too old to be chasing chariots!" And finally Moses said he just didn't want to do it, being content at 80 years old just tending sheep.
Consider, for a moment, what Moses' reaction might have been 40 years earlier. His answer may have been, "Yes, let's make those Egyptians pay for what they're doing! I've killed one, let's get the rest!" Moses' outlook had completely changed. He realized it wasn't all about him. Moses was finally ready, at age 80.
Can we imagine what was going through Moses' mind during his journey back to Egypt? Surely he thought of many memories of his family and the joy of seeing his brother and learning about the welfare of his parents and sister. Chills must have run up his spine as he realized his parents were right.
But now, instead of thinking of himself as someone important, he really felt inadequate. He knew he needed God. This was not the same Moses who left Egypt 40 years earlier.
A Man of Selfless Devotion
It is interesting to note that after accepting God's commission, whenever God told Moses to do something, the Bible records, "And Moses did as he was commanded." No more did Moses take things into his own hands, like killing the taskmaster. Moses learned to follow God's lead (Proverbs:3:5-6).
Also note that Moses did not have to kill even one Egyptian when he returned. God took care of all that.
Even with all the great miracles done through him and all the attention given him, Moses still gave credit to God. Forty years earlier this might have gone to his head (compare 1 Timothy:3:6). Even leading 2 million people, Moses knew God was their leader, not him.
This humility carried him far with God. On two separate occasions God was so aggravated with the Israelites that He offered to destroy them all and start over with Moses. Think 40 years earlier. There might have been a completely different story written. Would Moses' ego have gotten in the way then? We know that Moses changed God's mind. What would we have done?
Even when Moses' authority was challenged on several occasions, he never lashed out, "Do you know who I am!?" No, rather Moses prostrated himself and let God work it out. At times Moses even interceded for his accusers (Numbers:12:1, 13; 16:1-4, 20-22)! Yes, Moses took it seriously, caring for those whom God put under his care. Moses was never too busy to handle their problems. Moses had no selfish ambitions.
Why Was Moses Humble?
Because of Moses' humility, God was able to use him powerfully. God used Moses to write the first five books of the Old Testament. God used Moses as a prophet and as a type of Christ. Moses was shown with Christ and Elijah in the transfiguration.
God used Moses to lead some 2 million people out of captivity to the Promised Land. And God even spoke to Moses face to face as a friend. What honor! We know that humility and a deep respect for God were a large reason for this honor given by God (Isaiah:57:15; 66:2).
Numbers:12:3 tells us that Moses was the meekest person at that time. This statement was made after Moses' conversion, not before. So where did this humility come from?
A lot of Moses' humility came by hindsight. Moses looked back and saw all the years God worked with him, even though he wasn't aware of it at times. As an infant Moses' life was saved by a caring God. Moses' looks, intelligence and charisma were given by a gracious God (compare Deuteronomy:8:18).
The opportunities given him during his first 40 years were orchestrated by an influential God. The additional 40 years of final training in the wilderness was provided by a faithful God. And his incredible 40-year journey leading Israel to the Promised Land was guided by a longsuffering God. Yes, Moses understood that it was by God's grace that he became the person he was (1 Corinthians:15:10).
Like looking at the backside of tapestry, Moses at first could not see the purpose for all that had happened to him, but when the tapestry was turned over, he could clearly see the greatness and mercy of God in his life. Moses learned that when God is involved, all things work together for good (Romans:8:28). Now Moses really understood, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey?"
At the end of his life, Moses' own words state why he—and all people—should obey God. In Deuteronomy:4:39-40 he said, "Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time."
Moses also said in Deuteronomy:31:6, "Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you."
An Example to Follow
Like Moses, God has called us and has a plan for us. We can look back and see God's hand in our lives before we knew God. We can see God's hand in our lives today.
Like us, even after his conversion, Moses made mistakes (Numbers:20:1-12), became discouraged (Exodus:17:4), sometimes doubted his calling (Numbers:11:10-15) and even limited God (Numbers:11:21-23). But as Moses learned, and we should never forget, God will not forsake us.
Knowing all of this should humble us, as it humbled Moses. And like Moses, when the humility is there, God can do powerful things through us—both individually and collectively.
As Peter said in 1 Peter:5:6, "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time." Moses was a shining example of humility. Let's follow in his footsteps so that God—the "High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy" (Isaiah:57:15)—can exalt us as well. UN