Thursday, August 4, 2016

Moses: Growing Into His Calling

A few months ago when I started this broken vessel series my expectation was to take a look at the human and even broken side of many of the esteemed heroes of the Bible. I didn’t want to tear them down, but to examine how in God’s grace, He chooses to use broken flawed people just like me even for His most important tasks. I hoped this study would offer insight and encouragement to anyone like me who has felt for any reason God couldn’t or wouldn’t use them.
I anticipated covering the “big names”; Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter Paul, Etc. I did not anticipate spending weeks studying Jacob and his family. I also didn’t expect to be more than 3 months in and just now getting to Moses.  I am by no means complaining. I have only gone at the pace I have felt led to move at and have probably gained as much or more from this study as any of the readers. I have found the characters to be relatable, the stories to be intriguing, and God to be sovereign through it all.
I give the fairly long introduction as a way to somewhat warn the reader; I am not sure how many weeks we will be examining Moses. Last week we made it through the first four chapters of the book of Exodus, that sounds like a long way; until you consider Moses is the main character for the next 4 books of the Bible. There’s a lot of material.  With all of that being said; I suppose we should go ahead and jump into this week’s post.
When we left Moses last week he was standing at the burning bush, trying to convince God that he wasn’t the right choice to send back to Egypt to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land. He was giving God every reason he could think of why he wasn’t worthy or wasn’t capable, but God wasn’t hearing it.  Moses hid behind many of the same excuses we still do today; God assured him He would be right there with him and make sure he succeeded. God warned Moses dealing with Pharaoh wouldn’t be easy; but he also assured that He was with him.  Another great reminder for us.  
God prepared Moses by giving him signs he would be able to show to Pharaoh when he arrived and also sent his brother Aaron with him to help him speak.  So, after much consternation, Moses and his family headed out towards Egypt. The first meeting they scheduled was with the leaders of the Israelites. It was important to get them on board. They had to believe that God had actually sent Moses.   
29 Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, 30 and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, 31 and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped. Exodus 4:29-31
That had to feel pretty good. Moses had been unsure of the reaction he would get from the Israelites; he wasn’t sure they would accept him; but just as God had promised they welcomed him and gave glory to God.  If only it was all that easy. Once we accept God has something for us to do, we may think everything will go silky smooth; as Moses was about to find out that’s not always the case.
After they met with the Israelite elders, Moses and Aaron scored a meeting with Pharaoh.  As God had instructed, Moses told Pharaoh to let the Israelites go into the wilderness so they could have a festival and worship God. Pharaoh scoffed. At first he didn’t acknowledge who God was at all, later he reverted to a more practical reason why he did not want to let the Israelites go. He actually even punished the people for Moses even asking.
4-5 But the king of Egypt said, “Why on earth, Moses and Aaron, would you suggest the people be given a holiday? Back to work!” Pharaoh went on, “Look, I’ve got all these people bumming around, and now you want to reward them with time off?”
6-9 Pharaoh took immediate action. He sent down orders to the slave-drivers and their underlings: “Don’t provide straw for the people for making bricks as you have been doing. Make them get their own straw. And make them produce the same number of bricks—no reduction in their daily quotas! They’re getting lazy. They’re going around saying, ‘Give us time off so we can worship our God.’ Crack down on them. That’ll cure them of their whining, their god-fantasies.” Exodus 5:4-9 The Message
Pharaoh and the slave drivers made things miserable for the Israelites who were forced to work harder than ever.  The denied them the material they needed to make bricks but still required them to make the same number of bricks each day. It made the extremely hard labor even harder. If they didn’t meet their quota of bricks each day they were beaten.   The people who had just supported Moses, now blamed him.
20-21 As they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them. The foremen said to them, “May God see what you’ve done and judge you—you’ve made us stink before Pharaoh and his servants! You’ve put a weapon in his hand that’s going to kill us!” Exodus 5:20-21 The Message
Moses, who had finally trusted God and His calling, was now back to his old ways as well.
22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5: 22-23 NIV
God was there to reassure Moses again. He promised him that He was going to use him for His glory. He promised to make Pharaoh pay for his disobedience and he promised again to give the Israelites the land he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob. Unfortunately for Moses, The people were losing trust in him.
 But when Moses delivered this message to the Israelites, they didn’t even hear him—they were that beaten down in spirit by the harsh slave conditions Exodus 6:9 The Message
This couldn’t have been easy for him with his seemingly already fragile self-esteem. God told him to go back to Pharaoh and deliver the message again but Moses was downtrodden.
12 Moses answered God, “Look—the Israelites won’t even listen to me. How do you expect Pharaoh to? And besides, I stutter.” Exodus 6:11. The Message
God again has to become a coach and encourage Moses and Aaron to get back up and try again. I can certainly see Moses’ frustration; he was living this nice comfortable life tending his father-in-law’s livestock in Midian; minding his own business and now here he is back in Egypt. Everyone’s mad at him and just like he suspected, he is not capable of doing the mission God has called him to. He tried to tell God he would fail. When things don’t go as we hope, it’s easy to pack it in and lose hope.  Moses is about to learn a huge lesson for any of us who have ever been discouraged or lost hope when we have encountered failure. The lesson God teaches Moses isn’t quick, and it isn’t easy, but as we will see the results are remarkable.
The first thing he does is gives Moses YET ANOTHER pep talk. God told Moses He would make him “Like a god to Pharaoh” and reassured him once again, that He would prevail. God told Moses and Aaron to go back to Pharaoh and again request he release the Israelites. This time he gave them a sign to use to try to convince him.
8-9 Then God spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said, “When Pharaoh speaks to you and says, ‘Prove yourselves. Perform a miracle,’ then tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down in front of Pharaoh: It will turn into a snake.’”
10 Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did what God commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his servants, and it turned into a snake.
11-12 Pharaoh called in his wise men and sorcerers. The magicians of Egypt did the same thing by their incantations: each man threw down his staff and they all turned into snakes. But then Aaron’s staff swallowed their staffs.
13 Yet Pharaoh was as stubborn as ever—he wouldn’t listen to them, just as God had said. Exodus 7:8-13 The Message
So, that had to be pretty cool for a minute, you throw your staff on the ground and it starts slithering around and turns into a snake. Had to kind of be a little deflating though when the magicians were able to do the same thing. It had to be somewhat satisfying for Aaron’s staff snake to devour the staff snakes of the magicians. That was kind of a weird sentence to write.  Again though Moses followed God’s instructions and again he was rebuffed. Moses could have very easily have gotten discouraged here; but God didn’t really give him the opportunity.
Moses and Aaron would spend the next several days and weeks going to Pharaoh and requesting that he release the Israelites. They would ask several times. Each time they asked Pharaoh refused. Each time Pharaoh refused, Egypt suffered.
First God instructed Moses and Aaron to turn the water in the Nile to blood.
20-21 Moses and Aaron did exactly as God commanded them. Aaron raised his staff and hit the water in the Nile with Pharaoh and his servants watching. All the water in the Nile turned into blood. The fish in the Nile died; the Nile stank; and the Egyptians couldn’t drink the Nile water. The blood was everywhere in Egypt.  Exodus 7:20-21 The Message
That seems like it would be a pretty scary and pretty awe inspiring sign; but the Egyptian magicians were able to match the feat and Pharaoh was not moved to change his mind. The people of Egypt dealt with the bloody stinky Nile for 7 days before God finally allowed it to return to normal.  That’s when Moses went to Pharaoh again and requested he allow the Israelites to leave. This time, if Pharaoh didn’t allow them to leave, Egypt was going to be overrun with frogs.
1-4 God said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘God’s Message: Release my people so they can worship me. If you refuse to release them, I’m warning you, I’ll hit the whole country with frogs. The Nile will swarm with frogs—they’ll come up into your houses, into your bedrooms and into your beds, into your servant's’ quarters, among the people, into your ovens and pots and pans. They’ll be all over you, all over everyone—frogs everywhere, on and in everything!’” Exodus 8:1-4 The Message
The Bible says the magicians were able to make frogs appear as well, but apparently their magic was no match for God’s power. While the magicians made the frogs appear, they must have had trouble getting them to disappear; after days of the frogs invading everyone’s space and grossing everyone out, Pharaoh finally sent for Moses and Aaron and asked them to please make the frogs go away. He even momentarily agreed to let the Israelites leave.  Once God got rid of the frogs, Pharaoh changed his mind.
Since frogs weren’t enough to convince the King of Egypt, God ordered  Moses and Aaron to strike the dirt and he sent swarms and swarms of gnats.  There were gnats everywhere. How disgusting. How annoying.
 He did it. Aaron grabbed his staff and struck the dust of the Earth; it turned into gnats, gnats all over people and animals. All the dust of the Earth turned into gnats, gnats everywhere in Egypt.
18 The magicians tried to produce gnats with their incantations but this time they couldn’t do it. There were gnats everywhere, all over people and animals.
19 The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is God’s doing.” But Pharaoh was stubborn and wouldn’t listen. Just as God had said. Exodus 8:17-19 The Message
This was a significant moment as this was the first time the magicians couldn’t replicate the act that Moses and Aaron were performing. This was the first time they  acknowledged that God was behind what they were seeing.
Even though Pharaoh was still stubborn, Moses was growing stronger in his faith and the people of Israel were starting to believe even more that God had sent Moses and Aaron.  The same story that happened with the frogs and with the gnats was repeated with flies. This time however, God made sure to show anyone who was paying attention that His people were protected from his wrath. The king’s palace was covered in flies, the streets of Egypt all the people and all the livestock were covered in flies. The only part of Egypt that wasn’t overrun with flies was Goshen; where the Israelites lived.  Even Pharaoh could see this was God’s handiwork and after being pestered as long as he could take it, he relented and agreed to let the Israelites go he even asked Moses to pray for him… but he changed his mind again!
After the frogs, the gnats & the flies God sent Moses back to Pharaoh and again requested he release the Israelites. Same story; pharaoh refused and God sent down a punishment, this time he sent a disease that afflicted all the Egyptian livestock, but left the Hebrew livestock alone.  Pharaoh still was unrelenting so, when Moses asked again, and he refused again the Egyptian people suffered painful boils all over their body. The Bible points out that the magicians were even covered with boils and couldn’t even try to compete with the signs Moses and Aaron were demonstrating.
God is drawing this out to demonstrate His power. He is showing Pharaoh how powerful he is; but he is also reminding Moses and the Israelites of his power.  The next demonstration from God was a hail storm like the Egyptians had never seen before. The lightning and the hail covered the land for days and ruined crops and killed animals. Even in his stubbornness Pharaoh admitted how powerful God was and begged Moses to make the storm stop. Moses prayed; God stopped the storm. Pharaoh still refused to let the Israelites go.  
Moses has got to be in a weird state of mind now, he is seeing so much of God’s power, yet he still has not succeeded in his mission. The Israelites are still suffering in slavery and Pharaoh is still not allowing them to leave. Knowing the attitude he started with I can imagine Moses was getting a little down on himself. I can imagine him thinking “See God if you would have sent someone better all your power wouldn’t be wasted” What he wasn’t aware of is that the Israelites and the Egyptians were seeing all of God’s glory and power and witnessing God using him for greatness.  God had a plan through it all.
1-2 God said to Moses: “Go to Pharaoh. I’ve made him stubborn, him and his servants, so that I can force him to look at these signs and so you’ll be able to tell your children and grandchildren how I toyed with the Egyptians, like a cat with a mouse; you’ll tell them the stories of the signs that I brought down on them, so that you’ll all know that I am God.” Exodus 10:1-2 The Message
Moses did as God said, he went back to Pharaoh again and requested he release the Israelites. He warned him if he didn’t release them there would be locusts everywhere and they would devour all of Egypt. Even Pharaoh’s advisors were turning on him and starting to see God’s power.
Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long are you going to let this man harass us? Let these people go and worship their God. Can’t you see that Egypt is on its last legs?” Exodus 10:7
To avoid a revolt from his own people and to try to save face Pharaoh tried to negotiate. He agreed to let Moses take the Israelite men, but not their women and children.  Pharaoh’s coyness was not amusing to God; who instructed Moses to go ahead and release the locusts.
 God said to Moses: “Stretch your hand over Egypt and signal the locusts to cover the land of Egypt, devouring every blade of grass in the country, everything that the hail didn’t get.” Exodus 10:12
14-15 The locusts covered the country of Egypt, settling over every square inch of Egypt; the place was thick with locusts. There never was an invasion of locusts like it in the past, and never will be again. The ground was completely covered, black with locusts. They ate everything, every blade of grass, every piece of fruit, anything that the hail didn’t get. Nothing left but bare trees and bare fields—not a sign of green in the whole land of Egypt. Exodus 10:14-15
The locusts humbled Pharaoh but again only temporarily. He still refused to let the Israelites go.  With Pharaoh still stubborn God used Moses to bring darkness over the entire land.  Still Pharaoh wouldn’t  budge.  Things get a little dark as God took a very harsh stance with Pharaoh. Moses passed along God’s message that if Pharaoh didn’t allow all the Israelites to leave Egypt he was going to take the life of every first born child throughout the land.  Even though he had seen all the damage God had done, Pharaoh’s pride and stubbornness still wouldn’t allow him to release the Israelites.
29 At midnight God struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, right down to the firstborn of the prisoner locked up in jail. Also the firstborn of the animals.
30 Pharaoh got up that night, he and all his servants and everyone else in Egypt—what wild wailing and lament in Egypt! There wasn’t a house in which someone wasn’t dead.
31-32 Pharaoh called in Moses and Aaron that very night and said, “Get out of here and be done with you—you and your Israelites! Go worship God on your own terms. And yes, take your sheep and cattle as you’ve insisted, but go. And bless me.” Exodus 12: 29-32 The Message
After 430 years the Israelites were finally walking out of Egypt as a free people.  Moses was right when he thought he wasn’t capable, but God was. He had gotten to witness God’s power in ways he never thought possible.
That day Moses led the Israelite people out of Egypt; just like God told him he would. His journey was far from over, in fact he wasn’t even completely outside of Pharaoh’s reach yet; but here was the same guy who pleaded with God to send someone else now at the front of hundreds of thousands of Israelites as they marched out of Egypt.
The man who had thought he had failed one his very first try was now feared by the Egyptians and followed by hundreds of thousands. Moses obeyed God even when he didn’t always want to and he persevered even when he wanted to quit.  In the end God had done exactly what He said He would do.
God used the stuttering murderer to show all the people how powerful He was. Our weaknesses are a tool for God to show His strength.  He used the stubborn King for the same reason. The more stubborn the resistance the more we learn we have to rely on God and the more we learn that God is more powerful than any resistance we may face.  
He is more powerful than doubt, sin, discouragement, suffering, or any King or Pharaoh we may ever encounter.  
There is a lot more to Moses’ story and when we pick up next week we will see one final conflict with Pharaoh and a lot of amazing signs and wonders from God. We will also see Moses deal with some more human emotions including anger and pride.

As a side note when my 13 year old was younger we gave her a Bible that had several lists in it. Before he learned the 10 commandments or the twelve apostles; she learned and memorized the plagues of Egypt.

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