Profiles of Faith: Moses - Leader of a Nation

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Moses - Leader of a Nation

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Set adrift on the Nile in a small, woven, waterproof basket, facing death by drowning, starvation or crocodile, a 3-month- old baby boy was surrendered by his father and mother and left to the elements and will of God rather than face certain death at the hands of the Egyptian authorities.

A new ruler of Egypt had issued an edict: All Hebrew male babies were to be killed at birth because the enslaved Israelites were beginning to outnumber their Egyptian masters. So it was that the baby's parents, Amram and Jochebed, trusted in God to spare their newborn son by setting him afloat on the Nile River rather than see him killed by the Egyptians.

This abandoned baby, Moses, came to serve his oppressed and disenfranchised people as leader and prophet and served all mankind as a type of Jesus Christ.

They didn't know that what transpired after their faithful act was destined to change the course of history, not just for Israel but for everybody. This brief article depicts the rest of that remarkable story: how an abandoned baby, Moses, came to serve his oppressed and disenfranchised people as leader and prophet and how he came to serve all mankind as a type of Jesus Christ.

Hebrew slave to Egyptian prince

The Egyptian historian Manetho records that Moses was born around 1520 B.C. at Heliopolis in Egypt (Merrill Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, Chicago, 1988, p. 886). His life can be divided into three 40-year periods: his time in Egypt, his exile in Arabia and his governance of Israel (Acts 7:23; Acts 7:30; Acts 7:36). After Moses' birth, Jochebed concealed him from the Egyptian authorities for three months, but when hiding him became no longer feasible she prepared a basket so he could float among the reeds on the Nile. This act takes on even greater significance when set against the backdrop of Pharaoh's two methods of killing Hebrew children. The Bible tells us that Pharaoh first attempted to solicit the support of Hebrew midwives to kill any Hebrew baby boys they helped deliver. When the midwives quietly refused to cooperate, Pharaoh then directed that newborn Hebrew boys be cast into the Nile to drown.

God, however, used the Nile to save Moses. Pharaoh's daughter, who came to the river to bathe, spotted the basket floating among the reeds and sent a servant to retrieve it. To her surprise, she opened the basket and saw the infant, who began to cry. She recognized this had to be one of the Hebrew children (Exodus 2:5-6).

Moses' sister, Miriam, watching from nearby, came immediately to Pharaoh's daughter and recommended a Hebrew nurse who could care for the little boy. As a result, Moses' own mother was allowed to care for her son on behalf of the Egyptian princess. The princess was not aware that the nurse was the baby's own mother.

God's plan for Moses was working out through these events, for God returned Jochebed's son to her and provided safety for Moses and his family under the adoptive care of Pharaoh's daughter. When someone pleases God, He can make even enemies treat that person well (Proverbs 16:7). Such was the case with Jochebed and Amram. They pleased God, who rewarded them and saved their son.

The princess named the child Moses, meaning "drawn out," because she "drew him out of the water" (Exodus 2:10). Moses' name and the account of his being saved from death through the agent of water symbolize a greater meaning.

The Encyclopaedia Judaica suggests that the phrase in Exodus 2:10 should logically have required the word mashui, meaning "one that has been drawn out." Moshe, on the other hand, means "one that draws out," signifying how this infant slave would later be used to draw out his people from their bondage in Egypt and from the Red Sea (Israel Abrahams, Encyclopaedia Judaica, Macmillan, New York, 1971, Vol., 12, p. 372). Moses and Israel were saved from death through water: the River Nile and the Red Sea. But first Moses went through a series of other remarkable experiences.

In one day the baby Moses' slave clothes were replaced with the raiment of a prince. He went from bearing a death sentence to a position of honor and privilege in Pharaoh's household. Moses, suddenly a royal child, received only the best education the Egyptians could provide.

According to the New Testament, Moses was educated "in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds" (Acts 7:22). For the first 40 years of his life Moses was trained and educated as only an Egyptian prince could be.

Yet in one day the 40-year-old Moses' life was again turned upside down. Although this was the result of his own actions, it also bore the handprints of God. Prince Moses was to become the leader and prophet of a disenfranchised, disgruntled people: the enslaved nation of Israel.

Moses as deliverer and leader

Moses' life changed dramatically when he tried to protect his own captive people. As an Israelite, he felt empathy for the Israelites because of the heavy burdens forced on them. One day Moses came upon an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. Shocked at what he saw, Moses killed the Egyptian, then buried his body in the sand (Exodus 2:11-12).

The next day Moses observed two Israelites fighting. Attempting to play the peacemaker, he addressed the wrongdoer in the dispute, asking why he would fight with his own people. The Israelite asked: "Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" (Exodus 2:11-14). Moses then realized his days in Egypt were numbered. He fled to the land of Midian.

Here we see an end and a beginning for Moses. His life of privilege and luxury was over; a new, difficult life was beginning. Now God would educate him through the seclusion of a shepherd's life, preparing him for his service to God and His people.

The biblical record of Moses' next act also dealt with water. This time he generously helped some young women water their sheep (Exodus 2:16-17). These seven maidens were the daughters of Jethro, who then befriended Moses.

Shortly thereafter, Moses married the Midianite Jethro's daughter Zipporah. From this union came a son, Gershom, whose name, which meant "foreigner," identified the child and Moses as strangers and pilgrims in the land (Exodus 2:22; see also Hebrews 11:13). Moses, however, was no stranger to God, and God was about to make Himself known to Moses in a more personal way.

Moses' calling

In due time God introduced Himself to Moses in Midian through the miracle of a bush that burned but didn't burn up (Exodus 3:1-2). At the outset, God made two things clear: His eternal, supreme existence as the true God and Moses' commission to help deliver His people in fulfillment of earlier promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 2:24; Exodus 6:3-8).

God informed Moses that He had heard Israel's anguished cry for relief and that He wanted Moses to go back to Egypt to deliver His people from captivity. "Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:10).

Moses tried to evade this divine directive: "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11). Humanly speaking, this fallen prince of Egypt knew well the extent of Pharaoh's power and the futility of an Israelite outcast going against the might of Egypt. Four times Moses framed arguments to convince God to use someone else. First, he said he felt inadequate to attempt the task. Second, he asked by what name God would be announced to the Israelites (Exodus 3:13). Third, he expressed doubt that the children of Israel would listen to or believe him (Exodus 4:1). Fourth, he protested that he was slow of speech (Exodus 4:10).

Patiently, God answered every objection: He assured Moses that He would be with him; Moses should tell Israel that the One who sent him identified Himself as "I am" and "the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."

To convince Moses of His power, God performed two miracles: Moses' rod became a snake and then resumed its former state, and Moses' hand became leprous and then instantly healed. God told Moses that He would perform these same miracles for him when he appeared before Pharaoh, along with a third miracle: Water from the Nile poured on the ground would turn to blood (Exodus 4:2-9). Moses again pleaded with God to send someone else (Exodus 4:13). This displeased God, but He said He would send Moses' brother Aaron with him as a spokesman (Exodus 4:14-16).

Moses' reaction to the circumstances reveals a man devoid of personal ambition and pride. Indeed, he holds the distinction of being the meekest man of his time (Numbers 12:3). However, once Moses undertook the mission, his willingness to submit to God's direction and guidance was a strong, positive attribute. God had prepared Moses to deliver and lead Israel out of Egypt, but first he had to go back into Egypt.

Back to Egypt, then the Exodus

God instructed Aaron to meet Moses in the wilderness, where Moses informed his brother of God's instructions. Together they went to Egypt and called the elders of Israel to assemble and relayed to them God's intention to free them from Pharaoh's rule. This was so overwhelming to the Israelites that they all bowed their heads and worshiped God (Exodus 4:31).

Pharaoh, however, was not so receptive. When Moses and Aaron declared God's divine instructions to him, he was contemptuous. "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go" (Exodus 5:1-2). Immediately conditions got worse for Israel. Pharaoh added to the Israelites' work as slaves, now forcing them to gather their own straw for brick -making while producing the same number of bricks. Pharaoh had the Israelite supervisors beaten because of the people's inability to continue at the same rate of production.

The Israelites complained to Moses about this difficult turn of events, and Moses in turn complained to God: "Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all" (Exodus 5:22-23). Moses had yet to learn that God works things out in His own good time and that He does not forget His people.

God reassured Moses and instructed him to visit Pharaoh again. In the king's presence, Aaron threw his staff down, and it was transformed into a serpent. When Pharaoh's magicians performed an apparently similar feat, for a moment the two sides seemed to be at a standoff. But then Aaron's serpent swallowed the magicians' serpents.

Even so, rather than heed Moses' and Aaron's request, the Egyptian ruler set his mind against them and refused to release the Israelites.

Plagues for the implacable

Pharaoh and his countrymen paid a terrible price for the ruler's intransigence. Consider the 10 plagues God unleashed upon the Egyptians described in Exodus 7-11. First, He turned their water into blood, then covered the land with frogs. Then He sent a plague of lice, followed by a great swarm of flies. Then God cursed the Egyptians' animals with disease and they died. Then He sent hail upon the Egyptians, followed by locusts that destroyed any plants that had survived the plague of hail.

The ninth plague was what the Bible called a "thick darkness" that covered Egypt for three days. Still the king refused to let Israel go, and he threatened Moses with death if he returned. Moses replied: "You have spoken well. I will never see your face again" (Exodus 10:29). Throughout these afflictions, Pharaoh seemed to waver but ultimately remained implacable. He refused to let God's people go.

The 10th plague brought about the death of all the firstborn of Egypt, "from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock" (Exodus 12:29). The devastation was staggering, and "there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead" (Exodus 12:30). Thousands of Egyptians, along with their firstborn livestock, lay dead.

The plagues accomplished their purpose, and the Israelites secured their freedom. Moses gained respect from Egyptian and Israelite alike. "Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants and in the sight of the people" (Exodus 11:3).

Deliverer and leader

Although God used Moses to deliverer of Israel, God Himself was responsible for delivering His people. With the last plague, the Egyptians were so panic-stricken that they pleaded with the Israelites to leave quickly (Exodus 12:33). The Israelites' departure was so hasty that they didn't have time to allow their bread dough to rise. They hurriedly baked unleavened, or flat, bread for their journey. Israel headed for the desert under Moses' decisive lead. Had he taken the most direct route, through the land of the hostile Philistines, the Israelites might well have turned back into Egypt. Instead, he led them into the wilderness by way of the Red Sea, a strategy that on the surface appeared foolish indeed.

However, Moses wasn't really the one leading them. God planned to eliminate the Egyptian army as it followed the mass of Israelites through the Red Sea. The Creator again showed His divine power through the miracle that followed: He opened up a path through the sea, allowing His people to walk safely across on dry land to the other side. When the Egyptians thought they could easily overtake the Israelites, to mercilessly slaughter or take them captive again, the walls of water crashed down on them, drowning the army.

Many centuries later the apostle Paul compared this great miracle to baptism. Baptism, he noted, figuratively washes away the sins of the truly repentant, just as the Israelites in the crossing of the Red Sea were washed clean of their old life as slaves to the Egyptians to start a new life as God's people: "Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

Moses as deliverer helped free the Israelites from captivity and their cruel taskmasters. He would then lead them for 40 years through the wilderness.

Israel's years of wandering through wasteland can be likened to our wanderings as Christian pilgrims through the spiritual wilderness of the world. In the Israelites' time of tests and trials, God patiently taught them that they should revere Him by listening to His instructions in every aspect of their lives. But they failed to learn from and obey God, even though He had given them His Ten Commandments-spiritual laws that, when obeyed, lead their adherents to a successful, peaceful, happy life (Romans 7:12; Psalm 119:165).

Remember 'My servant Moses'

Moses was a man of God. As a general and prince in Egypt, as the governor of Israel, as deliverer, leader and prophet, he was wholly dedicated to God. Yet he was a humble man (Numbers 12:3), realizing that everything he had and everything he had done had come about by God's intervention and through God's help (Deuteronomy 8:11-20). With this attitude, Moses was able to be a true servant of his people.

How far from Moses' example of selfless service are we? The golden rule (Luke 6:31) tells us to treat others as we would be treated. This timeless principle has been corrupted so that today too many say: Do unto others before they do unto you. Notwithstanding what man thinks, God's prescriptive rule that "humility goes before honor"(Proverbs 15:33, New Revised Standard Version) is a key to success in life. Moses' life of service demonstrated this truth.

The book of Hebrews holds Moses up as an example (Hebrews 11:24-29). It tells of Moses' refusal to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, that he chose to suffer affliction with God's people rather than enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin, that he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater than all the treasures in Egypt, that he kept the Passover through faith and taught the Israelites to do the same. Finally, he passed through the Red Sea while leading the Israelites to safety and freedom. In God's Word for all time, He preserved the record of Moses' faith.

The book of Deuteronomy includes the following tribute to Moses: "But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh, before all his servants, and in all his land, and by all that mighty power and all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel" (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).