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Life of Moses

Moses - the Beginning

Exodus 1 - 3

Lesson audio

The life of Moses studies one of the central characters of the Old Testament. His life was a grand parade, so much so that Cecil B. deMille made an epic movie about it – twice. (One was a silent movie; the other one featured Charlton Heston.)

A little background from the first chapter of Exodus is necessary:

  • At the time of Moses’ birth, the Egyptians had enslaved the Israelites and had them at hard labor.
  • One reason for this was that the Egyptians feared that the Israelites, who were becoming more numerous, would side with Pharaoh’s enemies, leading to the destruction of the kingdom.
  • This fear reached such intensity that Pharaoh issued a decree that all the baby boys born to Israelites were to be drowned.
The Ark

Exo 2:1-10 NASB Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. (2) The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months. (3) But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. (4) His sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him. (5) The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. (6) When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, "This is one of the Hebrews' children." (7) Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for you?" (8) Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Go ahead." So the girl went and called the child's mother. (9) Then Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child away and nurse him for me and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed him. (10) The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, "Because I drew him out of the water."

It is a curious thing: we know from other passages of Scripture just who the parents of Moses were; we also know the sister’s name, Miriam. His older brother, Aaron, is not mentioned either. It is as if God was telling us to pay attention to the events, not the people.

Moses’ mother (Jochebed) is taking advantage of Egyptian belief. Much of Egyptian belief centers on the annual cycle of the Nile flooding – a form of rebirth. One of the Egyptian gods (Osiris?) was said to have been killed and reborn, returning on the Nile. So from the princess’ point of view, this baby would be seen as something similar. Hence the favor shown, instead of just drowning the kid.

Interestingly, the word translated “basket” here is translated “Ark” when it applies to Noah. (“Ark” as in Ark of the Covenant is a different word.) It is as if God is telling His people that here is salvation just as the Ark was.

Great Deliverance

God is about to work His great deliverance. But as he does, somebody (here, Moses’ mother) has to play her part too:

  • Somebody has to build the ark (basket). It is obedience to do so, and faith to know it will work, but somebody has to do the work.
  • What’s really tough is to put the child in the basket and then put it into the Nile. That takes faith – and courage.
  • When the deed is done, hope remains. Here is hope in a time of hopelessness.

Murder and Flight

Exo 2:11-15 NASB Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. (12) So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (13) He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, "Why are you striking your companion?" (14) But he said, "Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and said, "Surely the matter has become known." (15) When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.

Let us not put too fine a point on it. This is murder.

  • Moses knew it was wrong. We see that when he “looked this way and that.” Only a guilty man would do that. Only a guilty man would hide the body.
  • He did this in anger. This is a lesson to all of us, that losing your temper often leads to greater sin.
  • Note the comparison: being Egyptian was enough to get the man killed. When the two Hebrews argued, he tried to settle the matter peacefully.

It does bring up the question: just when should righteous anger erupt?

Discovered

It might just be that God allowed Moses to find that his crime has been discovered – the easy way. When he tries to break up the fight, it’s clear he favors one person over the other (who is labeled the “offender”). If he hadn’t tried, his first knowledge of discovery might have been his arrest.

So Moses “got out of Dodge.” Apparently just in time, too – with Pharaoh’s agents on his tail. He flees to Midian, which is a rather long distance for that time.

Midian

Let’s take a look at the landscape:

view from space

True color image of the Middle East, 2002. By NASA.

 

There are a couple of things we might point out from the picture.

  • The land of Midian (now part of Saudi Arabia) is a hot, dry, dusty place. It is so harsh that the locals do not raise horses – only camels. Cows don’t get enough water here, so it’s sheep and goats only.
  • It’s also a place with large, volcanic mountains. The Gulf of Aqaba is actually part of the fault which causes the Great Rift Valley in Africa. So the mountains are geologically new (and thus steep!).
  • To get to Midian is a long, difficult walk.

Exo 2:16-25 NASB Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came to draw water and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. (17) Then the shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock. (18) When they came to Reuel their father, he said, "Why have you come back so soon today?" (19) So they said, "An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock." (20) He said to his daughters, "Where is he then? Why is it that you have left the man behind? Invite him to have something to eat." (21) Moses was willing to dwell with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses. (22) Then she gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land." (23) Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. (24) So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (25) God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.

The Midianites are descendants from Abraham. Evidently they retained some knowledge of the God of Abraham as well.

  • The priest’s name (given here) is Reuel, which means “friend of God.” This is likely a title, as in the next chapter we are introduced to him as being named Jethroh.
  • Note also that he is “the” priest of Midian. The providence of God has directed Moses to a most likely instructor.

We may well wonder: What did Moses learn from this priest during the forty years he lived in Midian? The Scripture is silent.

It would seem a fair sentence: forty years in the wilderness as penalty for a second degree murder charge.

Burning Bush

Exo 3:1-22 NASB Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. (2) The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. (3) So Moses said, "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up." (4) When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." (5) Then He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." (6) He said also, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (7) The LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. (8) "So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. (9) "Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. (10) "Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." (11) But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?" (12) And He said, "Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain." (13) Then Moses said to God, "Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' Now they may say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?" (14) God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (15) God, furthermore, said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. (16) "Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, "I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt. (17) "So I said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey."' (18) "They will pay heed to what you say; and you with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt and you will say to him, 'The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So now, please, let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.' (19) "But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. (20) "So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go. (21) "I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. (22) "But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians."

Meeting God

It is a curious thing about modern, evangelical Christians: they deny the very existence of holy ground. It is likely left over from the anti-Catholic feelings; if the Catholics do it, then we don’t. (And the Catholics do.) But we do refer to Israel as the “Holy Land,” for wherever God sets foot, it is holy ground. Perhaps it is holy only when God makes it so.

One thing we may note: God calls Moses, not the other way around. So often we petition God so that we may do great things – whereas He calls the unlikely to do the impossible.

We may also note God’s introduction. He clearly tells Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. The point is important; a God who was new to the Israelites might not get the same reaction. There is a reason to praise the “God of our fathers.”

The Purpose of God

God now reveals why He has called Moses. Simply:

  • He has seen the suffering of Israel.
  • He is going to deliver them from it.
  • And guess who gets to do the legwork?
Objections

The world’s greatest salesman, Monte Hipple II, once taught me that sales don’t start until customer objections begin. Moses has his first objection. Just who is sending me? What am I going to tell these people?

God’s response is a great revelation. He claims to be the self-existent one.

Why is this important? Walk with me through a few brief steps:

  • One of the standard arguments for the existence of God is that there must be someone or something who is self-existent. That’s someone who must exist as the Uncaused Cause, the Necessary Being.
  • The standard objection raised to this simply says, “How do you know this philosophical God is the God of Abraham?”
  • The answer is here: by His very Name, God proclaims Himself to be the self-existent.

Here, for the first time in human history, God proclaims Himself as the only possible and true God. His statement is the same today. There is only one.

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