The name "Moses" triggers vivid images of the Exodus â€” the awesome plagues in Egypt, the incredible parting of the Red Sea, the victory over the Amalekites, Mount Sinai engulfed in smoke and cloud as one man ascended alone to meet with God to receive the Ten Commandments, miracles of bitter waters made sweet and water springing forth from the rock.
The story of Moses began with his untimely birth when the Israelites were being oppressed as slaves in Egypt, and when Pharaoh had ordered all newborn male Israelites to be killed. By God's arrangement, his life was preserved when he was adopted and raised in the palace by Pharaoh's daughter, with his natural mother becoming his nurse (Ex 1:8 - Ex 2:9). This was probably why he knew all along that he was an Israelite. When he was of age, he decided to visit his brethren. When he saw their burdens and witnessed an Egyptian abusing one of his Hebrew brethren, his indignation drove him to strike and kill the Egyptian (Ex 2:11-12; Acts 7:20-24). This was surely no mere act of rashness committed on the spur of the moment. Rather, it signified a critical decision of faith-the determination to deliver his oppressed brethren and to deny the fleeting pleasures of sin that life as the son of Pharaoh's daughter would bring. So he chose to forsake Egypt, to suffer affliction with the people of God, and to risk the wrath of the king (Heb 11:24-27).
To Moses' surprise, his brethren failed to understand God's intention of delivering them by his hand. They did not appreciate his actions. In fact, they openly showed this lack of recognition when he attempted to reconcile two fighting brethren (Acts 7:24-28). They challenged his authority! This was a great blow to Moses.
Was it not God who had preserved his life and let him realize his status as a Hebrew? Was it not God who had nurtured his faith and zeal, so that he could clearly recognize his calling to deliver the Israelites? Were his Hebrew brethren not eager to be delivered from oppression? How was it then that they did not understand the tough internal struggles he had undergone to forsake all he had to be with them, to take up the even tougher task of delivering them? And when these people did not understand, why did God who had appointed him to the task remain silent? Though God had His purpose, Moses simply found no answer. The setback was too heavy to bear. The rejection of the people was too painful. Utterly confused and disappointed, Moses faded into Midian (Acts 7:29).
From an aspiring deliverer of Israel, Moses became a contented dweller in Midian. He settled down, happily married with two sons. He built a stable career tending his father-in-law's flock. Years passed and his lifestyle took form. He had a loving wife, a blissful family and a stable career. For many years, his routine life remained peaceful and undisturbed by any significant event. His great aspirations of delivering his people, the knowledge and skills accumulated in Egypt which could have been devoted to significant achievements, his underlying great leadership potential, his once-strong faith and fervent zeal were eroded by time. His faith was no longer the integral part of his life. He had lapsed into a state of comfort. He was contented with his secular life (Ex 2:21-22; Acts 7:29).
Does the above encounter of Moses not resemble our own experience? When we first believed or first acquired independent thought, were we not like him? Did we not make that critical decision of faith to forsake the world and embrace the faith? Back then, we had great zeal in learning the word of God. We had lofty aspirations for the Lord-to serve Him and to preach the Gospel to the end of the world. Our faith was genuinely an integral part of our lives. We may even have resolved to dedicate our lives to full-time ministry. But alas, the way ahead was not plain sailing. People just did not understand or appreciate us. God seemed to have withdrawn His arm of assistance and withheld His lips of justice. We sacrificed much of our time and energies in the service of the Lord only in exchange for cold and unkind remarks. Our sincere love and concern for our brethren were rewarded only with unappreciative rejection. Every new effort on our part was met with an even greater setback.
These made us turn to the materialistic world for satisfaction and acceptance. Ironically, the more we strayed from our faith and zeal, the less trouble and worry we seemed to have. Leading secular lives with a stable career, loving spouse and blissful family was peaceful, joyful and distress-free. We continued to attend services to delude ourselves that we were fulfilling our basic Christian duty. We cast aside zeal, aspirations and devotion. In short, our initial faith and zeal did not withstand the test of time, the trial of setbacks and the lure of the world. Like Moses, we lapsed into a state of contentment and comfort as we faded into Midian.
Moses' return came only 40 years later, when God called him at Horeb. By then, he had become a mild shepherd with hardly any drive for great works. As such, when God made clear His intention to send him into Egypt to deliver the Israelites,it kicked off a series of refusals. Moses cited various excuses. Each time God gave him an answer to one excuse and reassured Moses of His presence, Moses would raise another excuse. "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?" "Suppose they will not listen?" "I am not eloquent." Indeed, these excuses bear close resemblance to those we mouth when God tries to lift us from the ebb of faith to serve Him. "Oh, I'm not good enough for the job, I've lost touch" resembles the "Who am I" excuse. And when this objection is resolved, we continue with an unending series of "What ifs", citing the one thousand and one adverse scenarios which may happen if we respond to the calling of God.
This closely resembles Moses' "suppose they will not listen" excuse. And when an answer is given on each occasion, we give the excuse that we are not gifted, not unlike Moses' "I am not eloquent" excuse. With so many worries, considerations and with such alacrity in devising excuses, the Moses in Midian was a stark contrast from the young Moses who had been blazing with zeal to deliver the people.
Forty years of blissful, comfortable living in Midian had numbed Moses to the suffering of his people and drained his zeal and aspirations to deliver them. If the deliverance of his people had been utmost in his heart during the 40 years in Midian, he would surely have grabbed the first opportunity and pounced at the call of God. But alas, it was not enthusiasm that greeted God's calling at Horeb but a series of lame excuses which concluded with Moses' blatant request for God to send someone else (Ex 4:13). This angered God. Only then did Moses relent, and realize that he could not oppose the will and calling of God. And as this great commission finally dawned on him, he arose with his wife and children. With the rod of God in his hand, he finally left Midian, the land where he had lapsed into the ebb of faith, where his zeal was drained, and where his love for his brethren was numbed (Ex 4:14, 18-20). From henceforth, Moses became the great hero, prophet, leader and man of God we are all so familiar with.
The great commission of our Lord to go into the world to preach the gospel (Mk 16:16; Mt 28:19-20) mirrors the call of God at Horeb. Egypt symbolizes the world, and as Moses had to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt into the promised land, we are, likewise, to deliver the people out of this sinful world into the heavenly kingdom.
Indeed, when we first believed, we were charged with zeal to share the goodness of the Gospel. We were full of lofty aspirations to serve the Lord, to preach to the ends of the world, to encourage and revive the faith of brethren who had fallen away. Each time we saw or heard of our brethren backsliding in faith or unbelievers hardened in their hearts, our hearts of love immediately triggered a sense of pity and regret. But like Moses, with all his initial faith, zeal and love, who lapsed into Midian, the mundane pressures of modern life may lead us to slacken and fade into a superficial state of faith. Our initial zeal for God gradually becomes history.
However, Moses did not remain in Midian. He did not remain in the ebb of faith, zeal drained and love numbed. He responded to God's call, picked himself up and left Midian. Only then did Moses become the Moses we all know so well. For those of us who have lapsed into Midian, the similar call of God rings in our ears today. If we respond as Moses did, we will surely regain the faith, zeal and love we once had for God. What is more, we will have the rod of God in our hands to lead a victorious Christian life.