From a human point of view, Moses wasn’t much, and he probably knew it. He didn’t have a whole lot to be proud of in his life. He was mostly just a murderer who had managed to escape from the long arm of the law. But Moses’ story is also an incredible story of redemption. And if we’re thinking this morning that we’re not much either, we should take note of the wonderful way in which God turned Moses’ life around, and crafted him into a faithful servant.
Moses’ life began rather fortuitously. He was born in Egypt during a time when the Pharaoh of Egypt was doing his best to eliminate as many little Hebrew boys as he possibly could. Previous to Moses’ birth, the Hebrew people living in Egypt, had, over time, become enslaved by the Egyptian authorities.
At the time, Egypt was enjoying a marvelous time of economic prosperity. Money was good, and the country was undergoing a huge expansion, with some really massive public works projects; things like cities and pyramids, and huge statues missing most of their noses. And with all of this massive economic expansion going on, the Egyptians needed a cheap labor force. And so they enslaved the Hebrew people. It was a race thing, pure and simple. We’ve got all of these Hebrew people living among us, let’s make them our slaves, and put ’em to work on the projects.
But there was a problem. The Hebrew people were a vigorous people, and the harder they worked the stronger they got. And the stronger they got, the more babies they made. And the Pharaoh became afraid of this quickly growing nation in his midst. He feared that in the event of war, that the Hebrew people would rebel, and fight against the Egyptians. The Pharaoh was spot on with that one: enslaved and oppressed people tend to rebel against their oppressors. The human spirit was created to live freely.
And so the Pharaoh instituted a program of ethnic cleansing. “Ethnic cleansing” is an oxymoron if I ever heard one, but we’ll not go there this morning. The plan was simple: kill all of the Hebrew boys, but let the little girls live.
Well, when little Charleton Heston was born, (you remember the movie, right?) his mother kept him hidden for a while, but when that stopped working, she made him a little boat out of a papyrus basket, and she set him afloat among the reeds along the shore of the Nile River. Big sister stood by to see what would happen, and before long, the Pharaoh’s daughter herself came down to the river for a swim, noticed little Moses crying away there in the basket, and immediately fell in love with him. Now ain’t that cute? I suppose we all ought to say “Awww.”
And the rest is easy history. Moses’ sister hopped up out of the bushes, and offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse Moses, and ultimately, Moses’ own mother got paid by the royal family to raise her own child. What a deal. The deal was, though, that once Moses got old enough to leave his natural mother, he became the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and for all intents and purposes, Moses became an Egyptian. He grew up in the royal palace, he dressed like an Egyptian, he talked like an Egyptian, he walked like an Egyptian, and he didn’t have to work on any of the public works projects.
But while all of this happy stuff was going on in Moses’ life, the Hebrew people were still being horribly oppressed by the Egyptians. Little Hebrew baby boys were still being killed, and every day, life grew worse for the Hebrew people living in Egypt.
And somewhere along the line, Moses became aware of his Hebrew heritage. I suspect that it was his adopted mother who was responsible for this. Probably one of Moses’ favorite bed-time stories was the one about how his mother had rescued him from the river and made him her own.
And one day, when Moses was grown up, he went for a stroll. And he noticed an Egyptian beating up on a Hebrew. Moses looked around. He looked north, he looked south, he looked east, and he looked west and he didn’t see anybody watching, so he sent the Egyptian to whatever afterlife that the Egyptians believed in. Done deed. Or so Moses thought. But somebody did see him, and word got out that Moses was a murderer. And when the Pharaoh learned about it, Moses’ goose was cooked. It was about that time that Moses decided that this was a good time to get into the wind, and so he ran away.
He settled in the land of Midian, eventually got married, and had some babies of his own. For forty years he lived the life of a shepherd, pretty much forgetting about his life in Egypt and the plight of his people, until one day, when he was nearly eighty years old, he stumbled upon God. For those of us who have truly stumbled upon God, we know that it is nothing less than a wild adventure that ensues. Its a strap on your seat belt and buckle up your helmet kind of ride.
For Moses, it was that burning bush thing. It was an odd sight, the bush was blazing away, yet it was not consumed. Curiosity is a wonderful thing, it often leads to wonderful adventures of faith, and so Moses decided to check it out and take a closer look. And that’s just exactly what God had in mind for Moses to do. Sometimes God sticks something out there on the outer horizons of our lives, just to see what we will do and how we will respond. And if we have the curiosity to come closer to check it out, we will always find ourselves standing on holy ground. And on holy ground there are always blessings and always divinely inspired challenges.
And that’s just what Moses discovered. I find it very instructive that the voice from the burning bush identifies itself by saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Its even more instructive that God starts out by saying, “I am the God of your father.” We know almost nothing about Moses’ father, and I suspect that the same was true for Moses himself. Moses didn’t really grow up at home, he grew up in Pharaoh’s household. Its likely that Moses knows very little about his father, other than that he must be dead. And does he care? Most likely not; Moses has left his Hebrew heritage behind him a long time ago. Its ancient history for him, but here it is again, right in his face.
But its time for Moses to have a Hebrew heritage lesson. Abraham was the one who first received the promise of becoming the father of a great nation. Isaac was Abraham’s son, and the absolutely miraculous beginning of the fulfillment of that promise. Jacob was Isaac’s son, and Jacob was the father of twelve sons, each of which became the father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, one of which was Levi, from whom Moses is descended. And so Moses has a lot of important fathers in his heritage.
And so Moses has gotten himself a pretty powerful history lesson in just one sentence, but more than that, he’s also gotten a very powerful reminder not only of his heritage, but also a very powerful reminder of who he is himself, personally. And facing ourselves is always important when we receive an invitation to go on one of God’s adventures. You’re not a Midianite, Moses, even though you married one and have been living like one for forty years, you’re not an Egyptian, Moses, even though you were raised that way; Moses, you’re an Israelite, you’re a child of God, and its time to start acting that way.
And the strong implication that comes along with this history lesson is that it is time for Moses to once again embrace his true heritage, and to come back into the fold. He’s lived like someone who he is not for too long now. He’s strayed, but now its time to come back. This is Moses’ invitation to return to the God of his heritage, and if we have strayed, it is also our invitation to return. Perhaps we have lived as children of our culture for too long now, and it is time to embrace our heritage as the children of the living God.
Upon hearing all of this, verse six tells us that “Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look at God.” I can understand Moses’ reaction, and unfortunately I can understand it all too well. There are times in my own life, if I thought that it would do any good at all, that I would hide my face from God, too.
But you know, there’s something wonderful going on here. This is how Moses begins his life of faith. He’s cowering a bit, perhaps ashamed of himself, not quite willing to face himself or his God. But later on, in his obituary, we learn that Moses and God had a face to face relationship. It was a relationship that no other prophet enjoyed. It is quite possible to interpret the moment of Moses’ death as coming about because God reached down out of heaven, and kissed Moses into eternity. That stirs my soul.
Things obviously changed for Moses over the course of his life; his relationship with God grew and matured, but all of it began with an honest, if not forced assessment of his life, and where he stood in relationship with God. If we can allow ourselves to do this, a life of godly and exciting adventure lies ahead of us.
As it turns out, once Moses has had a chance to gather some of his wits about him, he manages to voice some objection to God’s plan for his life. It has to do with that “nobody” thing that he’s lived most of his life around. He can’t let go of the fact that he thinks of himself as a nobody. He doesn’t think he’s up to the task. He thinks that God should really pick someone else; someone who’s more qualified. I guess that’s normal. It’s sometimes surprising even to us when God chooses us to do some particular thing for his glory. We respond like Moses did: “Who am I that I should do such and such?”
Who are we? We’re God’s chosen ones. And if God can gladly choose a runaway, straying, murderer to do his work, what can God do with us? I am sure that when God called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, that Moses could have thought of hundreds of things that he’d rather do. Not the least of which would have been remaining a nobody, shoving sheep around the Midianite countryside, and living out his days in relative peace and quiet. Doing that was certainly one of his options. He could have said “No” to God. Doing what we’ve always done is easy. But doing what God calls us to do assures us of a lifetime of excitement and adventure.