We like to think that success is measured by signs of our personal power. We imagine that in order to establish the work of our hands we need to do spectacular things. We need to turn the waters of the Nile red, bring hail down on our enemies, and part the Red Sea. But God told Moses that he could succeed—could establish the work of his hands—because “I will be with you”. And the sign of Moses’ success would be that after Moses brought the people out of Egypt, they would all worship God (Exodus 3:12).
Where do you worship God? I’m not asking for a geographic location—latitude and longitude.
I’m asking for a place in your life where you worship God.
For Moses, this place came at a burning bush—a place in your life where God shows you that he hasn’t given up on you, even though you’ve given up on yourself.
A generation before, the first attempt of Moses to help enslaved Hebrews ended in violence and failure.
Moses killed an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew. In retribution, Pharaoh tried to kill Moses. (Exodus 2:13-15).
In the face of this threat, Moses was neither strong nor courageous. He made no more efforts to help God’s people.
All Moses worried about was saving his own life. He “fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian” (Exodus 2:15).
This spelled the end of Moses’ efforts to help his enslaved people for a generation. Indeed, if Moses had had his way, he would never have tried to help his people again.
Fortunately, God did not give up on Moses even though Moses gave up on himself. Forty years later, God called to Moses from “flames of fire from within a bush.” (Exodus 3:2).
Many years had passed since the brash young Moses “took the law into his own hands.” I’m sure Moses felt his usefulness was at an end.
Moses was an old man. He was well “past his prime” when he began his most fruitful service to God.
Moses is an inspiration to all aging failures!
Because if anyone had reasons to feel they had thrown their life away, it was Moses. He’d been adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter! With a fine education, wealth, and all the right connections, Moses should have led a successful and productive life. If he’d been really lucky, he could have become a mummy on display in a modern museum!
Moses could have done much to help God’s people.
Moses could have worked within the Egyptian legal system to protect his people from the worst aspects of slavery. He could have worked to educate his people so that they could raise their standard of living. He could have laid the groundwork for their eventual freedom and prosperity.
Instead, Moses had wasted his life. He was doing menial, demeaning jobs such as wandering around the wilderness looking after a bunch of dumb sheep.
In hindsight, we know Moses wasn’t wasting his time.
In fact, as we now know, this “lifetime” of humiliation was exactly the training Moses needed to help God’s people.
Not merely because Moses would need to shepherd God’s people as patiently as he had tended his sheep. But also because the survival skills that Moses learned caring for sheep in the wilderness would be needed when he led Israel through the wilderness.
In addition, God led Moses to the right spot to learn how to be a religious leader—he married the daughter of “a priest of Midian” (Exodus 2:16-22).
I have often wondered how much of Moses’ knowledge about Israel’s past, about the attributes and personality of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and about religious rituals, may have come from his father-in-law.
At the very least, Moses had ample time and opportunity to reflect on whatever his mother and others had taught him about his Hebrew traditions and beliefs.
And, perhaps most important, Moses learned firsthand what it was like to be looked down on as the outsider, the minority, the victim of discrimination.
For Moses was not a Midianite. He was an exiled Egyptian. A murderer.
He even gave his son the name “Gershom” to express his realization that “I have become an alien in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22).
In Egypt, Moses had seen the oppression of “his own people,” the Hebrews. But he had viewed their oppression from afar, as a member of the Egyptian ruling class. This was far different from being the victim of discrimination and hardship himself.
Now Moses was much better equipped to identify with his fellow Hebrews. Now Moses was prepared to proclaim principles of justice that ring down the centuries and across all cultures.
Now Moses was prepared to proclaim that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Now Moses was prepared to command that we must treat our neighbor as ourself (Leviticus 19:18).
To be sure, the Law of Moses contains many features that do not measure up to this ideal of loving everyone like ourselves. For example, Moses permitted slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46). And Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife whenever the man felt like it. (Matthew 19:3,7).
The best answer for such contradictions between Moses’ ideals and Moses’ actions is the answer Jesus gave when he came to fulfill the ideals of the Law of Moses.
With regard to divorce as a right only of a man and as a right of that man to divorce his wife at any whim of that man, Jesus explained that: “Moses permitted you [men] to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8).
Because when God established marriage in the Garden of Eden, God wanted a man and a woman to unite and “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:-6).
In other words, Moses had a dream—just as Martin Luther King had a dream—that in the future there would be a Year of Jubilee.
And in that Year of Jubilee, we will follow Moses’ command to “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:8-10)—the very command that was inscribed on the Liberty Bell that rang when America declared its independence to secure everyone’s God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Furthermore, Moses dedicated the rest of his life to reaching his dream—getting God’s people to the Promised Land where they could fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to all peoples.
Unfortunately, there was one bad result from these years of disappointment and menial labor. Moses lost his self-confidence. He no longer felt he could lead God’s people.
Despite God’s dramatic call from the burning bush, Moses made excuse after excuse for not accepting Gos’s purpose for his life.
After a long litany of questions and excuses, Moses finally complained: “O Lord, I have never been eloquent . . . .” God replied: “Who gave man his mouth? . . . . Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:10-12).
Despite this promise of help from God, Moses still refused to go. He told God: “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” At this stubborn refusal to obey, “the LORD’s anger burn[ed] against Moses” (Exodus 4:13-14).
Eventually, God overcame Moses’ excuses by giving him someone (his brother Aaron) to help him. God also gave Moses the power to perform miraculous signs using his staff (Exodus 4:14-17).
The most important sign that God gave Moses was the most interesting one—and it is not often discussed.
We like to think that success is measured by signs of our personal power. We imagine that in order to establish the work of our hands we need to do spectacular things. We need to turn the waters of the Nile red, bring hail down on our enemies, and part the Red Sea.
But God told Moses that he could succeed—could establish the work of his hands—because “I will be with you”. And the sign of his success would be that after Moses brought the people out of Egypt, they would all worship God (Exodus 3:12).
So remember, nothing truly important has changed in 3,500 years.
You’ll reach a place in your life—a “place of worship”—where God shows you that he hasn’t given up on you, even though you’ve given up on yourself.
When you reach this place in your life where God calls to you—you’ll realize he’s been preparing you for many years to answer his call.
When you reach this place in your life, you’ll feel inadequate to answer God’s call. You’ll make excuses. You’ll ask God to send someone else.
But God won’t take no for an answer. He’ll give you people to help you. He’ll give you the talents you need to succeed.
Most important, he’ll promise to be with you and that someday in the future you (and those you help) will all worship God. (John 4:21-24).
Because nothing truly important has changed in 3,500 years.
To succeed—to establish the work of our hands—we still need to have God with us.
Success is still not measured by spectacular displays of our personal power.
Instead, success is measured by bringing people out of whatever “slavery” ruins their lives. Success comes whenever people worship God after being freed from the sins that enslaved them.
To read more about Moses, please read “PART TWO: Establishing the Work of Your Hands: Moses” in my book The Promised Land, at pages 73-120.