“Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, Certainly I will be with thee.” (Exod. 3:10-12)
Moses was surely a special servant of God; divine providence regulated the affairs of his life from his earliest infancy, and perhaps even before his birth. Saint Paul, whose interests were also superintended by divine power, said of himself that the Lord had set him apart even while he was yet in his mother’s womb. (Gal. 1:15) The Apostle recognized that he was born with certain traits of character and disposition that specially prepared him for his subsequent work as a minister of the Gospel. We may apply this same principle to Moses.
God equipped Moses with the qualities necessary for the great work of delivering His people from the bondage of Egypt. Nothing in this implies divine interference with free moral agency. Just as the Apostle Paul could have declined to preach the Gospel, and could even have repudiated the Lord and been a “castaway,” so also Moses could have repudiated his mission and chosen a life of sin and pleasure.
Because the wisdom and power of God is so diverse, the Divine Plan would not have been impeded if either of these men had taken the wrong course. Another could have been raised up, developed and instructed to do the work of the Apostle or the work of Moses and the Divine Plan would have suffered no loss. Nevertheless, we may be sure that God’s arrangements with respect to Saint Paul and Moses were so complete that it was more natural for them to take the course which they chose than to have taken the opposite one.
Moses was born at the time when Pharaoh Rameses II, fearing the Hebrews were becoming too numerous and strong, commanded all male Hebrew babies be killed at birth. (Exod. 1:8-22) We do not know how long this law was in effect, but it resulted in Moses being introduced into the royal family of Egypt. Moses had an older sister, Miriam, and a brother, Aaron, who was born early enough to escape the law.
When Moses was born his mother saw that he was a “goodly child,” and she hid him for three months. (Exod. 2:2) To hide the child for this long must have been difficult; the law regarding infants was known and probably a reward was offered for the detection of those evading it. When his mother could no longer hide him, an ark or basket made of bulrushes was prepared and overspread on the outside with pitch to keep it dry. With the baby inside, it was placed near the bank of the river among the rushes, which would hide it and prevent it from floating down the stream. The spot selected was somewhere near that portion of the river close to the royal palace set apart for the royal family to use for bathing. The time selected was when the princess was known to take her daily bath. The location was on the river Nile.
BROUGHT FORTH FROM THE WATER
As expected, Pharaoh’s daughter took her usual bath that day and saw the basket, which she had her maid retrieve. When the princess, who is thought to have been married but childless, opened the basket and saw the crying baby her heart was filled with compassion and she at once guessed the truth; this must be a Hebrew child, placed there by his parents in hope of saving his life. (Exod. 2:3-6)
Watching at a distance, little Miriam, as instructed, ran to propose to the princess that she might get one of the Hebrew women to act as a nurse for the child. The princess approved, and of course Miriam called Moses’ mother to be the nurse. The princess directed that the nurse take full charge of Moses and receive pay for doing so. Thus the family fortunes were helped, and at the same time full protection assured for Moses, for he was recognized as the adopted son of the princess.
It is thought that about seven years elapsed before Moses was brought to the princess and that during this time he enjoyed the care and instruction of his own godly mother. The princess named the child Moses, which signifies, “delivered from the water.” Some translate the word to mean, “born from the water,” supposing that the princess probably meant by this to signify that she had borne Moses as her son, borne him from the water. (Exod. 2:7-10)
To those who have the eyes of faith to see it, this chain of circumstances displays divine providence; to others, who have no such eyes, these were merely accidental occurrences. All these things worked together under divine providence to accomplish the divine purpose in connection with Moses and with the nation which God intended he should subsequently lead out of bondage as the typical people of God.
MIGHTY IN WORD AND DEED
“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.” (Acts 7:22) These words from Stephen’s discourse remind us that Moses was wonderfully prepared to become the great Captain of the Lord’s hosts. Moses is said to have been instructed at Heliopolis, one of Egypt’s two great universities at the time (the other being at Hermopolis).
It seems almost miraculous that young Moses could pass through such experiences as he had in the palace and in the school without being seriously injured by the vain philosophies that prevailed and were honored in these places. He evidently had sound religious instincts and undoubtedly the influence of his mother, acting as his nurse, had much to do with shaping his child mind and holding him firm in the Hebrew faith – the faith in the Oath-Bound Abrahamic Covenant, which promised that his people would in due time be blessed by the Lord and made the divine channel for the blessing of all the families of the earth. We have every indication that not only was Moses not spoiled by his education, in the sense of having his faith overthrown, but that his natural modesty, humility, and meekness continued with him to adulthood.
The favor Moses enjoyed in the palace and throughout the land as the adopted son of the princess did not diminish his loyalty to his people. He saw the injustice heaped upon his fellow Hebrews, and his sympathy for one of them who was being abused by a taskmaster caused him to strike the taskmaster so that he killed him. He buried him in the sand, thinking that his brethren, the Hebrews, would surely keep the secret of how he had defended one of their own. He presumed that his actions would awaken the energy and spirit of his people who would then accept him as their leader who would deliver them from Egypt.
He found himself mistaken, however, for when endeavoring to correct a dispute between two Hebrews, the one at fault flung in his face the fact that he was the murderer of an Egyptian. Soon word of this spread everywhere, even to the Pharaoh, who quietly began to seek an opportunity to kill Moses – not an easy matter, however, as Moses was very popular. Nevertheless, fearing for his life, Moses at the age of forty fled into the land of Midian, where he remained forty years, returning for the deliverance of his people when he was eighty years old. (Exod. 2:11-15)
Not every child can become a Moses, even with divine guidance. Very few are equipped for such an exalted position and generally there are few opportunities for them. Israel did not need more than one Moses. We can, however, say that divine providence has a general supervision of all the affairs of God’s people. While we cannot all be a Moses, we can be one of the Lord’s people and be cared for by Him through a Moses, through a Deliverer.
We cannot all be reared in palaces and educated in great institutions of learning nor become mighty in word and deed, but we should each look for the leadings of divine providence in our own experiences and be glad to fill any position marked out for us. While we cannot occupy so prominent a place in earthly affairs as did Moses, let us look to divine providence in the affairs of our lives, and note that still greater privileges, opportunities and honors are ours through Christ.
With all Moses’ preparation and fitness for the great work of delivering Israel from Egypt, the secret of his success lay in the fact that God was with him – God was the Deliverer of Israel; Moses was merely His servant and representative in connection with the work, as the Lord Himself declared: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exod. 20:2-3)
LONG YEARS IN PREPARATION
When we consider the eighty years of Moses’ life when he was in preparation for the great work of the Lord, it helps us to better appreciate the fact that our God is never in haste. “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18) He has no need for haste; He knows the end from the beginning, and every feature of the Divine Plan is properly timed. Thus 4000 years and more passed before Jesus was born, and yet the Scriptures assure us that “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” (Gal. 4:4)
This thought should give us great confidence that the Lord’s plans will develop at the proper time. He cannot err in judgment; He is working all things according to the counsel of His own will. (Eph. 1:11) Whether matters seem to culminate rapidly or slowly, each feature of His plan will be in “due time.” Although so much time passed in preparation for the deliverance of Israel, yet when the appropriate hour came, in one morning the whole nation started to move. Let us all learn the lesson to wait on the Lord, and then to be ready to move promptly when He indicates that His appointed time has arrived. (Psa. 27:14)
The life of Moses was divided into three parts of equal length. The first forty years brought him to mature manhood and made him familiar with all the learning of the Egyptians. The second forty years began when he fled after killing the Egyptian, finding that his brethren were not prepared for deliverance. It ended when he returned to the people of Israel under the divine direction and successfully led them forth from Egypt. The third forty-year period of his life began with the exodus and terminated with his death at the end of the forty years in the wilderness, just as the people of Israel were about to cross over into Canaan.
The period of Moses’ life from forty to eighty years of age was spent as a shepherd in the service of his father-in-law, Jethro. We may be sure that in that long period of time this meek man, who was ready to do with his might whatever his hands found to do, had large opportunities for learning lessons of patience.
Like the shepherd David, Moses must have learned to think of the sheep and his care over them, and to consider God the great Shepherd of His flock. He may have wondered why God left the children of Abraham in apparently hopeless bondage after giving the gracious promise to Abraham. No doubt he thought back to his own fruitless efforts to help his people, thinking how it would have been to his advantage had he followed the course marked out for him by his adoptive mother, Pharaoh’s daughter. Had he remained a member of the royal family of Egypt, he would have shared in the honor and dignity of those who oppressed his people. He must have thought that by his desire to do good to his brethren and to serve their best interests he had blighted his entire life and spoiled all of his earthly prospects. Doubtless he thought of their ingratitude and failure to appreciate him, their resentment when he kindly offered his assistance, saying, “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?” (Exod. 2:14)
Moses probably resolved the matter in his mind with the thought that he had done his duty, the best he knew how to do. He was probably more or less despondent about the future, as a meek, humble-minded man would be likely to feel. In the meantime, under the Lord’s providence his travels with his flocks and herds took him to the very land to which he would later lead the people of Israel. In those forty years he must have become very familiar with the vicinity of Sinai and lower Palestine. Little did he know the value of the lessons he was learning. The lesson in all this for us is faithfulness to God and to duty as He gives us to see it, leaving all the results with Him. Another lesson is that present experiences, trials and difficulties may be fitting and preparing us for a future useful service for the Lord and His people, even though at the time we see no relationship or connection between the two.
THE BURNING BUSH
At eighty years of age, Moses was shepherding his flock on the side of Mount Horeb, called Mount Sinai, where the law was subsequently given. He saw that a bush burned near him, probably acacia or shittim wood – the kind of wood used in the construction of the Tabernacle – which sometimes grows to quite a large size in that region. As Moses watched he noticed that the bush was not consumed by the flame, and considering this a most remarkable phenomenon, he drew nearer to it to observe. It was then that the Lord spoke to him through His angel from the midst of the burning bush saying, “Moses, Moses . . . . Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Exod. 3:4-5)
Moses knew at once that what he had witnessed was a miracle used by the Lord to attract his attention, with the object of communicating some important lesson. God’s miracles usually have a symbolic meaning, and this one seems to represent Israel in the midst of tribulation, yet not consumed. Later on, in Reformation times, the Church of Scotland appropriated this burning bush as its emblem on its banner because its experience had been similar in that it had passed through severe afflictions and distresses and trials, yet had not been consumed. And is not the burning bush a good illustration of the experience of Christ and all of His members? Are they not indeed surrounded by fiery trials? Do they not emerge from these unscathed, uninjured, but rather blessed, developed, and strengthened?
The Scriptures well declare: “The fear [reverence] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psa. 111:10) We greatly deplore the growth of irreverence in our time, and urge upon all the cultivation of this proper attitude of mind, so helpful to prepare for the current life and the life to come. Liberty and independence are valuable qualities to be conserved and protected, but they should never lead to irreverence. It is important to guard against this because the world around us is growing more irreverent due to a declining faith in God and everything supernatural. The proper reverence for God is an integral part of love. The wise man wrote, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God.” (Eccl. 5:1) That is, take heed to your standing and to your conduct.
The Lord’s first instruction to Moses, who “was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3), was a lesson of humility. May we not suppose that such a lesson is necessary to us? Let us honor the Lord in our hearts, in our outward demeanor. Whether we bow to give thanks for our daily bread, whether we bow our knee night and morning in acknowledgment of divine care and providences, or whether we meet with those of like precious faith, let us see to it that reverence marks our conduct and our words as well as rules in our hearts. Let us also take off our shoes, that is, let us lay aside the ordinary conduct of life by which we are in contact with the world, and in all our ways acknowledge Him, especially when we hearken to His voice in the study of His Word as His people.
“I KNOW THEIR SORROWS”
Rameses II had died and evidently the Israelites were even more oppressed under the new Pharaoh, but God heard their groans and had sympathy on them. (Exod. 2:23-25) “And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.” (Exod. 3:7) With these brief words the Lord informed Moses that He had not been negligent of the interests of Israel. By these words He allowed Moses to understand that not until this time had the appropriate moment come for Him to intervene on behalf of Israel.
These words gave Moses confidence in the Lord’s ability to work according to His own good purposes in His own due time. It should be the same with us. When we look back over this Gospel dispensation and perceive how the Lord’s cause has been permitted to be overwhelmed by the forces of evil, we stand amazed, and might be inclined to say, “Does God not know? Does God not care? Why does He allow His own name to be dishonored and His Truth to be trampled underfoot and His faithful people to suffer?”
The Lord assures us also that He knows all about these matters and is very sympathetic, far more so than we, and He is both able and willing to grant the deliverance needed at the appropriate time. What confidence it gives us now when we look back and behold that Spiritual Israel has been preserved through all these centuries! Despite the fiery affliction and adversity that burned against them, they have not been consumed! How it comforts and cheers us now to hear the Lord’s voice telling us of the deliverance that is just at hand, sending through us His messages of love and power to all those who are willing to hear, and who are desirous of having liberty from the power of the world, the flesh and the Adversary. Oh yes! We occupy holy ground; we hear the holy voice; our eyes are opened to see the wonderful things. The Lord be praised! Let us give heed to His Word.
“BRING FORTH MY PEOPLE”
The Lord informed Moses, “I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians;” then He adds, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.” (Exod. 3:8,10) Note that God expressly declares Himself to be the Deliverer, and had Moses been disposed to boast of his own powers and actions we can be assured that the Lord would have found someone else for the work. When the Lord gives us work to do, He does not wish us to undertake it as our own mission or to claim the honor of any success it produces. He merely uses us as His instrumentalities. How wonderful it seems that God throughout all His works, past and present, has been willing to use His consecrated people. While acknowledging their imperfections, He assures them of His willingness to use their imperfections and to overrule and guide them in their service for Him and His cause.
Reverence for the Lord and humility about our own talents and abilities are evidently the prime essentials for the faithful performance of such a service. It was so with Moses, the meekest of men; he was overwhelmed with the thought that the Lord would deign to use him as a messenger, saying, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exod. 3:11) He evidently felt there were others much more capable of the work, but it was this very appreciation of his own unworthiness that helped to make him suitable to do the Lord’s business.
And so it is with us: we may be sure that when we feel strong we are actually weak. When we feel our own strength to be lacking, then we are best prepared to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might and to be used of Him as His instruments. It was so with the great Apostle; it must be so, we believe, with all whom the Lord will use and acknowledge in any part of His service.
Overwhelmed with a realization of the responsibilities of the proposed work, Moses protested to the Lord that he lacked the qualifications. The Lord answered that his weakness would be perfected in the Lord’s strength: “Certainly I will be with thee.” (Exod. 3:11-12) This being true, how could the mission be a failure?
It is equally true with us today: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) Many of the Lord’s people have been called out of Babylon and its confusion and darkness to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, to give their hearts, all that they have, to Him and His service. (John 4:23; Prov. 23:26)
Not only did the Lord assure Moses of His presence and aid in the mission, but also that the mission would be successful – that He would bring the people out of the land of Egypt and to that very mountain, to the very place where the Lord was then communing with him. (Exod. 3:12) Moses began to see the matter take tangible shape in his mind. He believed it would be as God said it would be; undoubtedly His word would be fulfilled.
So the Lord’s assurances to us that all His purposes will be accomplished are an encouragement for us to go forward and do our parts. The Lord will do the work, and the whole question is whether or not we will have a share in it as His representatives.
“I AM THAT I AM”
Moses seemed to have lost whatever confidence he had in his fellow Hebrews and their readiness to believe the promises of God and to accept deliverance from Egypt. Even as God assured him of the success of the mission upon which he was being sent, Moses’ mind went back to the attempt he had made forty years before, and so he asked: “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” (Exod. 3:13)
The people of Israel, during their long association with the Egyptians, had doubtless lost much of their faith in the one God of their fathers. The Egyptian nation recognized various gods, and seemed to be very prosperous, and likely the Israelites had by this time come to wonder which god they should count as theirs and what his name might be. Moses’ question seems to imply this thought.
God replied by giving His name: “I am that I am.” (Exod. 3:14) In Hebrew these words are derived from the same root word as the name Yahweh or Jehovah – the self-existent one, the one who always exists.
When Moses objected that the people would not believe him, the Lord gave him various signs to establish his faith. The burning bush itself was one of these demonstrations of divine power. There were other demonstrations: The Lord instructed Moses to throw down his shepherd’s staff; it became a serpent and Moses fled in fear. The Lord told him to take it by the tail, and it once again became a staff in his hand. (Exod. 4:1-4) The serpent is a symbol of evil, and the turning of it again into a staff represents God’s power to turn evil things into good things through the operation of faith.
Again, the Lord told Moses to put his hand inside his cloak and when he took it out it was leprous; when he put it in and took it out again it was healed. (Exod. 4:6-7) Leprosy represents sin and the healing represents the power of Christ to cover our blemishes with the merit of His righteousness.
The assurance that he would be able to give the people these and other demonstrations proving that God had sent him to them strengthened Moses’ confidence in God and made up for his lack of confidence in himself. And this should be the case with all of us; we are not to have confidence in ourselves, but if we go forth strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, confident and rejoicing because He is with us, we are not only safe as respects ourselves but in the proper condition for the Lord to more and more use us in His service – “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
Moses further argued that the Lord could find someone much more capable of telling the good tidings saying, “I am slow of speech.” (Exod. 4:10) Meeting this objection, the Lord told Moses “I will be with thy mouth,” adding that He would give him his brother Aaron as a mouthpiece and “I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.” (Exod. 4:12-15) Thus strengthened and encouraged, the meekest of men set out upon his mission to meet the greatest king of earth at that time, Pharaoh Merneptah, the son of Rameses II.
Let each of us then impress upon our hearts the essence of this lesson: however humble and weak we are of ourselves, if God be with us and for us, we may be mighty through Him to the pulling down of the strongholds of error and for the building up of His people in the most holy faith, and for their deliverance from the bondage of error. Let us in the name of the Lord do with our might what our hands find to do, but always with the thought that we serve the Lord. Let His words, “Certainly I will be with thee” be the strength in our every endeavor in His name and cause.
(Based on Reprints 3987-3989)
In our next paper we discuss the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage and the dual fulfillment of the crossing of the Red Sea as a type.
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