God's heroes


The life of Moses can be divided into five chapters.

Chapter 1. The first 40 years.

Moses lived the first 40 years of his life in the royal court of Egypt. At that time, Egypt was the world superpower. Already in Moses’s time, Egypt’s population had risen to around three million. It is estimated that there were around one hundred thousand people in the service of Pharaoh, so Joseph and Moses, both of whom were at the top of the hierarchy, would have had many people under their command. If he had wanted to, Moses could have become either the next Pharaoh or a prime ministerial figure like Joseph. Moses received the best education available in his time, and he was also a very talented individual. He was physically and mentally strong and also very determined. Perhaps, to begin with, Moses entertained the dream that he could serve within the royal court as the advocate of the Israelites, helping to improve their status by utilising both his personal connections and the power structures of Egypt. This, after all, is what Joseph had done. An open conflict developed, however, and Moses chose, though also strongly led by God, to reject all of this and to leap into the unknown. This happened when he was around 40 years old. Moses probably felt at this point that everything was lost and that he had badly failed. He was meant to be the one to bring new hope, but instead he was now a refugee spending his days as a shepherd in the desert. That was quite a fall.

Chapter 2. From 40 to 80.

The next 40 years were spent in the desert as a shepherd taking care of sheep. It seems that God leads many people into a desert experience that brings them finally to maturity and to humbling themselves for the call that God has given them.

David spent 14 years in the caves of Adullam. Paul spent 14 years in Tarsus. Even Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before stepping into His calling. God shapes his beloved servants into polished diamonds. Once Moses’s 40 years in the desert had passed, he was humanly speaking an old man of 80 years. At that age, people are not normally called into new things. His old dreams had probably faded away. But then God calls him, and Moses experiences a resurrection. God calls him to take up that cause for which he had been so passionate already as a young man. His own ambitions and his need to be honoured by others were now long gone. Those things had been left in the desert. Moses had become the world’s most humble man. The only things that mattered to Moses were God and the people of Israel. One thing that speaks of his character, for example, is that Moses did not even want the priests of Israel to come from his line, but instead joyfully gave that honour to his brother. Nevertheless, Moses was still a strong spiritual leader, a prime ministerial figure who had all the skills needed to lead a large nation through a crisis.

Chapter 3. The 40 years from the age of 80 until his death.

When Moses returned to Egypt, he encountered once again a similar test to that he had faced when he had fled the country. Moses went to speak to Pharaoh on behalf of the Israelites, but Pharaoh got so angry that he instead increased the Israelite’s forced labour. As a result, the Israelites once again got really angry at Moses. If Moses had not spent those 40 years in the desert, this conflict would have probably sent him packing again, escaping to anywhere where he could just cry in peace. But he no longer chose to act this way. Instead, he acted as God’s instrument, and God did miracle after miracle through him until eventually Pharaoh himself drove the Israelites out from their slavery into freedom.

It turned out, however, that leading the Israelites through the desert and into the promised land was far from easy. The people kept rebelling. Leading them was itself draining. To begin with, Moses sought to resolve all the people’s problems by himself. But there were so many disputes and problems that the time and capacity of one single man was not enough. Everybody got tired of this. After this, Moses took the advice of his father-in-law and experimented with a pyramidal hierarchy in which power was delegated to different levels. This probably helped to free up Moses’s time, but the moral standards of the people did not improve. We can imagine that perhaps practical problems were resolved in a technical matter, but without the people’s hearts actually changing. This kind of leadership style can promote careerism, as those on the higher levels look down on those below them, while those below strive to get up higher, and there are always those that don’t shy away from working the system. Different kinds of rebellions kept arising, and sometimes Moses himself came close to being stoned by the people.

In the end, Moses was so burned out that he wanted to die – he just couldn’t handle it any more. Then God suggested a new approach: He would take the Spirit that was in Moses and distribute it to others as well, to 70 people in total. In this way, the change could come from within people, and it would no longer be about just obeying external commands. Moses’s right-hand man Joshua, who loved Moses as a father, was concerned for Moses at this point. He was worried that Moses’s uniqueness before God would be endangered if he was no longer the only one who heard God’s voice directly. Moses himself, however, was not worried at all, but instead wished that all the Israelites could experience the same thing as those 70 men. Moses, you see, was ahead of his time, longing for something which didn’t take place on a large scale until the day of Pentecost.

I expect that you have thought at some time about what you would like to ask God if you would have an opportunity to have a direct conversation with Him and ask Him anything you wanted to. During those 40 years in the desert, Moses would speak with God nearly every day in the same way that we would talk with a friend. He would perhaps have been asking God whatever came into his mind. God, meanwhile, probably told Moses things which it hadn’t even occurred to Moses to ask about. For us, probably the most significant outcome of these discussions are the first five books of the Bible. Who else would have been better able to tell Moses how everything was created than the Creator Himself? Who else had been there when the universe was formed? We should also remember that God was telling these things to a man with the best education of his time. Moses had grown up within a culture which had built the pyramids already around one thousand years earlier and which had had a written alphabet for twice as long as the time that has now passed since Columbus first visited America. God explained things in such a way that Moses was able to understand them and write them down. These books written by Moses are indeed of such a kind that all generations and cultures over the following millennia have been able to read and understand them.

The most tragic aspect of Moses’s life was that there came a point when, in a moment of great frustration and temptation, he overstepped the authority which God had given to him. The people had once again started grumbling, wanting Moses to immediately find them some water. God wanted Moses to respond gently and he promised to answer his request. Moses however, acted in anger and struck the nearby cliff with his staff, thus setting a bad example to everyone else. Even then, though, God in his great faithfulness still did what Moses wanted and made water come from the rock. But his disobedience in this moment meant that he did not get to lead the nation into the promised land. Instead, God took him to a mountain so that he could see from afar what the promised land looked like. Moses asked forgiveness many times, but God did not change his decision. It is hard to imagine a sadder and lonelier scene than that of a 120-year-old man who, having toiled all his life, does not in the end get to reach his goal, but only to see it far off in the distance. Then Moses died, and no one knows what happened to his body. Only God knows.

Chapter 4. A journey through time and arrival in the promised land.

We meet Moses again around 1500 years later, when he appears on the Mount of Transfiguration together with Jesus, Elijah and three of the disciples. So Moses had travelled 1500 years through time. How did this happen? Perhaps Moses died and then rose again 1500 years later. Or perhaps Elijah’s chariot of fire travelled first back in time and took Moses on board before heading for the future. No one knows for sure except Moses and God Himself. As for me, I’m planning to ask Moses about this when we meet in Heaven. Either way, the final result is a joyful one. Moses gets to enter the promised land after all, though even he doesn’t get there without Jesus. Moses had supposed that all was lost and probably wept bitterly before he died. But then there came a joyful awakening, and the thing which Moses had had to let go of is given back to him after all. This speaks beautifully of how none of us can achieve our own spiritual calling without Jesus, not even Moses.

We are told that on the Mount of Transfiguration they spoke of Jesus’s coming crucifixion and resurrection. They probably also spoke of what this would mean for Moses and his calling, which had not yet reached fulfilment. Their experience on the Mount of transfiguration ends when Moses and Elijah leave. It does not end with their saying goodbye and walking off down the one side of the mountain while Jesus and the disciples head off down the other. Instead, they just disappear, and when Peter dares to look around once again, Jesus is the only one left. Moses and Elijah had somehow moved on again to another time. Perhaps Elijah’s chariot had once again picked them up for another journey through time.

Chapter 5. Moses and Elijah finally lead Israel into the promised land.

The book of Revelation speaks of two witnesses who have the ability and the right to do different kinds of miracles, and that these two are based in Jerusalem. This sounds rather like Moses and Elijah. If you read more closely, you can see that these two witnesses do the same kind of miracles that Moses and Elijah did. As a result of this, as Paul himself writes, all of Israel is saved. This means that the Israelites come into the spiritual promised land, the new Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God. Moses, therefore, gets to do more than he could have imagined in his wildest dreams: He gets to lead the whole of his beloved nation into the promised land. And then, as we read in the Book of Revelation, they sing ‘the Song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb’. What’s more, Moses gets to see the fulfilment of his dream that all the Israelites would be baptised with Holy Spirit and that their hearts would be changed, not just their external behaviour. And then their joy continues forever, as free and beloved people in the perfect home which God has made for them.

After hearing Moses’s story, who can say that God is not wise and good?

Has God called you to something, but you feel that somehow things have got messed up? I am praying that God will call you and show you how His plan for you continues to unfold. Have a blessed day.

Frank Hill