Moses in the Desert

We have a tendency to just read over that section in Acts 7, where Stephen is recounting the ministry of Moses and shows that he went to live in the land of Midian, where is says: And when forty years passed…

Forty years is a long time to be put on the shelf. Forty years is a long time to spend in the desert. Forty years is plenty of time to utter those famous words of the psalmist, “How long O Lord, how long?” I’m quite certain that the LORD never answered Moses when he uttered such words. It would have sent him into despair to know that he would be a shepherd for the next 40 years. If He had answered Moses, I’m sure Moses would have asked why 40 years? The LORD might have said: “Because you are not qualified nor ready and it will take ME 40 years to get you to that point. Plus, your kinfolk are not ready either and it will take 40 years for Me to get them there. I do things in My own time Moses, not yours.” But that is mere speculation and I’m in no way, shape or sense channeling the LORD.

Moses becoming a shepherd was hard enough. It would be like taking a guy today who is middle age, having his career taken from him and giving him a job where one of his primary duties is washing bottles. But for Moses it was more than that. Moses had been raised and trained in Pharaoh’s house and was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians… He knew how despicable it was to be a shepherd. In fact, there was no lower profession on the face of the earth than that of the shepherd for the Egyptians. They found the profession completely disgusting. I wonder if Moses ever caught the irony in what God was doing during that 40 years. The LORD was training him to work with sheep so he would be ready to work with his fellow Jews in leading them out of Egypt. He was also preparing him, in the lowest profession in the world, to humble one who thought he was almost a god.

The LORD does that to people. He takes the proud, high and mighty and brings them really low. He did it with Moses when HE sent him into the desert. He did it with Pharaoh when HE used a shepherd to exalt His own Name above the names of Pharaoh’s false gods. The difference? He showed graced to Moses during those 40 years and opened his eyes to the ways of the LORD. The LORD would harden the already hardened heart* of Pharaoh in the process of humbling him. It was not a humbling that led to repentance, but to entrenched rebellion. (Just a side note: when God brings judgment on a nation or a people, it rarely leads to repentance and faith. It’s not meant to. It’s judgment. So when we see natural disasters around the world, don’t make the mistake of thinking God is using it to bring people to Himself. He is judging them. Judgment, be it through natural death or natural disaster is never meant to lead people to Christ. The preaching of the gospel is what is to be used to bring people to repentance. God wasn’t bring Moses in to preach the gospel to Pharaoh. He was bring Moses in the pass judgment on a wicked king and his nation.)

The ways of the LORD sometimes mean being put on the shelf, out in the desert, for a long, long time. At least it looks that way to those put on the shelf. In fact, it’s probably not right to say that Moses was put on the shelf, even though from a human perspective, this is what it looked like. It’s more like the LORD sent Moses to seminary. Not a seminary like today where we make all kind of servant-leaders with cutting-edge technology to reach the millennials for the 21st Century and beyond via the cult of personality… But a seminary where Moses learns that if he is going to be used by God, He will be humbled by God. God doesn’t need a Moses who thinks that he can do what he is called to do. He needs to know that what he was called to do was way beyond his capability to do. He needs to know that human strength isn’t strong enough to accomplish what must be done. He will need to rely upon God alone to accomplish the task.

What the text never mentions is what I often wonder about Moses’ first few years in the wilderness. Did he get angry with God? Did he cry out and ask the LORD, “why have you done this to me?” Did he wonder if God had completely forsaken him? Did he wake up every day, look at those sheep, and grumble at the reality he had been brought down to the lowest profession on earth? Did he ask the LORD just to take him out? Did he despair over the constant “what if” questions that so many of us struggle with?

The text is silent on these questions. But I bet he did go through some of that. I bet he had one or more pity parties the size of Texas every now and then. But I’m sure he got to the point of acceptance and even enjoyment of that life in the desert. He probably focused on his two sons, and poured his life into them. Those two boys were probably the joy of his day.

And the final thing I wonder about is that when things got tough while God was using him to deliver Israel out of Egypt, I wonder if he sat back in some sort of nostalgic trance for the good ol’ days back in Midian? I wonder if he sat around the tent at night, telling Aaron about how life was before he was leading a million or so people to the promise land. I wonder if he sat there and said, “back in the day…”

I wonder…


*Concerning the fact that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we must remember that He is not doing something to Pharaoh that Pharaoh has not already done to himself. In fact, we are all born with hardened hearts to the truth of the gospel because of original sin. God’s grace is taking our hardened hearts and making them pliable to the truth of the gospel. He doesn’t have to do a thing to harden them, and moves by grace to soften our hearts. So Pharaoh having his heart hardened is not unjust. His hear was already hardened to begin with.

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