The Gospel According to Moses
DAILY DEVOTIONAL READINGS BY KIM HARRINGTON
Day 22: Think Soberly of Yourself
But he said, "Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever Thou wilt." Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses...
Too much humility is as offensive—both to man and God—as too much pride. When Moses continued to moan and groan about his inabilities, the Lord eventually became angry at him. I have sometimes counseled people who were entirely bound by a low opinion of themselves. They were sure that they weren't really saved, that their hearts were worse than other people's, that God's promises were true for everybody but themselves... "God can't save little ol’ me, much less use me for His glory—I’m too miserable and imperfect." Often this exaggerated humility is a manifestation of pride—such people are afraid they might not live up to their own expectations, and are preparing everybody around them just in case; and in the meantime, they take great comfort in all the people who tell them, "Oh that's not true, you have all kinds of nice qualities..."
The Bible exhorts us to "think soberly" about ourselves, (Rom.12:3). Soberly means not too highly and not too lowly, but stepping back objectively and making a sound evaluation. The psychologists are right when they tell us that low self-esteem is a sign of an unhealthy and unstable mind. We miss all of life's opportunities, we hurt ourselves, we have a negative influence on our loved ones, when we constantly belittle ourselves. A proud and arrogant attitude, on the other hand, will have the selfsame negative effects; we must learn to think soberly.
Soberly, for a Christian, means this: apart from Christ I am nothing; I am a sinner, given over to a nature that is destructive, ungodly and without merit; and, contrary to what some have taught, God didn't send His Son to die for me because of my intrinsic value, but because of His own sterling character. But having received Christ as my Lord and Savior, this all changes. I am in Him and He is in me; I am the righteousness of God in Christ; I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me; I am more than a conqueror; I have authority over all the power of the enemy; and nothing is impossible as I continue in Christ.
God was trying to get Moses to see the "in Christ" side of the issue when He said, "Don't worry, I'll give you the words," etc. but He got angry because Moses would not exercise faith in who he was and what he might do in Christ. Think soberly of yourself—you’re nothing without the Lord, but with Him the possibilities are limitless.
Day 23: Does God Harden Hearts?
And the Lord said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.
The idea of God intervening and hardening someone's heart—like Pharaoh's in our text for today—so they can't respond in a positive way to His will is very offensive to a lot of thinking people. And it should be, for it's contrary to many other passages in the Bible that declare His willingness that none should perish. Did God "so love the world," but not Pharaoh? is everlasting life open to "whosoever will," except those that God decides aren't "whosoever?" What was the point of putting the tree of testing in the Garden of Eden if we have no choices in the first place, or if those choices can be revoked whenever God wills it?
Of course, this and other related questions have been discussed by Christianity's greatest philosophers and theologians down through the years, from Augustine to Wesley and into modern times, and labels have even been applied: Calvinism, Arminianism, and the varying degrees of each, like neo-Calvinism or hyper-Arminianism. It seems the more you look into it, the more complex and unanswerable it becomes, causing many preachers to simply leave it to the Lord, or to blindly take the stance of denominational headquarters.
Now I may not be the world’s greatest theologian, but I've never had a great deal of trouble with the issue. God doesn't will people to be hardened, as that would contradict the other Scriptures already mentioned, but His dealings can harden people in an indirect way. The same sunshine that melts wax into a more pliable form can harden clay; it's not the sun's fault, it's the fault of the material. Some people have hearts of wax, and though they may be hardened right now, God's dealings with them can soften and prepare them to receive His grace. Others, through a lifetime of ignoring their consciences, have allowed their hearts to become clay, and when God starts to deal with them they only get harder. Their pride is so strong, they will not repent at even the Great White Throne, but will shake their fist at the God who decided to have a judgment at all!
Such a man was Pharaoh. The dealings of God, designed to soften the Egyptians' hearts, hardened his. Did God do it? Well, yes. Did he know Pharaoh would resist? Of course. But He was dealing with more than Pharaoh: many other Egyptians softened their hearts; the Israelites were convinced of His power; the story is preserved for hundreds of generations as a testimony. Pharaoh was just one ingredient in the overall plan of God in this matter, and he blew it for himself.
Be not mistaken, brethren. God is just. He gives every man and every woman the same choices. He wants everyone to be saved. He loves the whole world, not just the "elect." The tree of life and the forbidden tree stand before all of us. Don't blame God if you or someone else makes the wrong decisions.
Day #24: When God Tried to Kill Moses
Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and threw it at Moses' feet, and she said, "You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me." So He let him alone.
Today we look at a very curious story in the life of Moses. Just after the meeting at the burning bush, our man goes back to his father-in-law, bids him farewell, then packs up his little family and starts off for Egypt to fulfill the command of the Lord. On the way he is attacked and has to fight for his very life, and his attacker turns out to be... the Lord Jehovah Himself! Why would God want to kill His own servant while he's on company business?
The Bible doesn't say just how the Lord tried to kill Moses, so we're left to our imagination: perhaps it was a deathly sickness, or perhaps He actually appeared as a man and fought with him, as He did with Jacob... we just don't know. But Moses knew it was the Lord, and that the Lord was angry enough to kill him. That's pretty serious.
God had to get serious to attract Moses' attention. It seems that Moses had not circumcised his son yet, and that's pretty serious for a Jew in covenant with God. We don't actually know how old the boy was, or if it was the younger or older of his two sons, but he had been in the wilderness for forty years so it's not likely that we're talking about an infant here; this child, or young man, should have been circumcised a long time ago. The reason he wasn't also becomes clear in the following verses—Zipporah, Moses' wife. It wasn't the custom among her people, the Midianites, and she had strong feelings against the practice. Moses wanted to circumcise the boy, but not if it meant a big fight with the wife, so he kept putting it off.
Circumcision is a sign of God's covenant with His people. It's like wearing a wedding band if you're married, or like a wife's taking her husband's name—neither the band or the name-change actually put you in covenant, but they are important symbols of the covenant you've entered into. To not adopt them is to appear to be ashamed of your covenant partner, as though you're still keeping your options open. The Hebrew was not saved by circumcision, but it was a declaration of his salvation, or his being in covenant with the Lord. It is much the same as water baptism is to New Testament believers: baptism doesn't save us, but the true believer submits to baptism as a token of his commitment to Christ. If a person refuses baptism, or insists that his or her infant baptism was sufficient, there is reason to wonder about their depth of his or her commitment.
Moses had allowed family pressure to keep him from circumcising his son, just as some people allow family pressure to keep them from public commitment to the Lord through baptism. God would not take second place to Moses' family, and He let him know that in no uncertain way. As soon as the circumcision was completed, normal relations with God were resumed. There are some lessons to be learned here, so don't allow yourself to fight God... or worse still to find Him fighting against you.
Day 25: Intimidated
But the king of Egypt said to them, "Moses and Aaron, why do you draw the people away from their work? Get back to your labors!...Let the labor be heavier on the men, and let them work at it that they may pay no attention to false words."
When Moses and Aaron arrived in Egypt they showed their miracles to the sons of Israel, and got the desired result: the elders of the people glorified God, fell on their faces and worshipped. Things were going better than Moses had sometimes expected in his weaker moments.
From there they went up to Pharaoh himself with the demand to let God's people go. Of course, by the time they were actually ushered into the king's presence, they no doubt had to hang around waiting rooms, convince lesser officials of the importance of their visit, and be put in their place again and again. They had to explain why a couple of slaves were skipping out on their labors and walking around the king's palace. They were probably feeling pretty small and insignificant when they actually stood before Pharaoh. And, unless I misunderstand it, they even changed the Lord's request, shifting things around a little here and there, in order to make it more polite and less insolent sounding. For example they said, "Please," ("we pray thee" -KJV) something that God hadn't included—God gives orders, he doesn't beg the Pharaohs of this world. And while God had told Moses to threaten Pharaoh with the death of his first-born (Ex. 4:23), Moses instead said that God might kill the Israelites if they didn't go and worship Him in the wilderness (Ex. 5:3). The two men were feeling pretty intimidated.
Pharaoh must have sensed it immediately. He was used to people feeling intimidated around him—after all, he was the most powerful man in the world, and could have someone's head in a basket on a whim, with no one daring to ask why. These two men were making a rather bold request, but they were also afraid. He just saw two disobedient slaves standing before him, lazy slaves trying to get out of work. He sent them back to the fields.
Moses and Aaron didn't think to do their miracles. They were confused for the moment. They hadn't expected it to be easy, but they had at least expected a little dialog, a chance to present their case; they hadn't expected to be treated totally without dignity or respect. So they acted like slaves. They accepted defeat, and they went back and told the story to the sons of Israel. Pharaoh increased the peoples' work load, and they got mad at Aaron and Moses. And Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord, why hast Thou brought harm to this people? Why didst Thou ever send me...Thou hast not delivered Thy people at all."
How quickly we fall apart sometimes, how quickly our "word from the Lord" evaporates into thin air, at the slightest sign of resistance! How easily we are intimidated by the world, especially by the powers that be! How small our God suddenly seems, and how insignificant we seem in our own eyes. We act like losers and are treated as losers. But no servant of God is a loser if he's on assignment from heaven. Moses ended up going down as one of the most influential men in history, while Pharaoh is unknown—scholars debate just what his name might have been. Don't be ashamed of the Lord or make excuses for Him or qualify His statements for Him. Just tell it like it is and watch for the results. You won't be ashamed.
Day 26: Enemy Strongholds
But Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go."
The initial experience of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh is common throughout the Bible, church history, and modern-day endeavors. You get a word from the Lord and get all excited about the great things God wants to do. You feel honored and privileged to be called into the service of the Lord, and you leap into your ministry with great zeal – only to find out that Satan is totally unimpressed with you and your grandiose dreams.
You see, the forces of darkness aren’t just going to roll over and play dead simply because you suddenly arrived on the scene. And they’re not likely to run away just because you "bind" them verbally in prayer, either. They’ve held this ground a long time, and aren’t about to give it up without a struggle. As a matter of fact, the enemy and his cohorts have seen other ambitious young would-be heroes come and go over the years, and they’ve perhaps managed to destroy them and their families, break them physically and/or financially, and send them back to where they came with their tails between their legs. Or to distract them from fruitful service in a thousand other ways. If some ground is yet untaken by the church of Jesus Christ, there's a good reason for it—that particular stronghold has defied the kingdom of God until now.
To say the enemy is totally unimpressed by the your arrival is not completely accurate, however. Pharaoh acted tough with Aaron and Moses, but privately, to his aides, he instructed that new precautions be taken concerning the Israelites, just to insure there was no real trouble. The two servants of the Lord made him a bit nervous, as the servants of Jesus Christ make the devil himself nervous. He never knows if this person standing before him is going to be another Moses, Gideon, or Apostle Paul, and the very prospect of such a thing sends a fear deep into his being. If this man or woman really gets ahold of God's power by faith, he or she could topple everything he's labored so long to build and maintain. The risk is very real.
So if you find yourself standing before a Pharaoh, a devil, an insurmountable financial burden that won't go away, or resistance from some well-meaning but misguided human source, don't get bent out of shape. This is the common experience of God's pioneers. That's why he's put you there where you are—because a battle needs to be fought and won. Hang in there, lean upon the promises of God, go forth again and again to confound the enemy, and you shall at last prevail.
Day 27: Shortness of Spirit
So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.
In the New Testament we're told again and again to enter into a walk of faith; don't labor for earthly things but believe God for your sustenance each day. Take no thought for what ye shall eat or drink—your Father knows your needs. Walk by faith, not by sight. Lay up treasures in heaven not on earth. Don't live for the flesh; don't let your belly be your god; sell everything, give to the poor and follow me, etc. etc.
The issue at stake is not just the Lord's providence, but our own spiritual life. It's not just that He wants to relieve us of our worries about material things, but that worrying over fleshly things destroys our spirits. Living for the flesh destroys our spirits, and quenches our ability to respond favorably to the Lord on more important things—and there are more important things than physical needs.
The Hebrew phrase "despondency" in our text for today actually reads "shortness of spirit." The Israelites had undeveloped spirits; their inner selves were unable to respond to the Lord; they lived hand-to-mouth, one day at a time, with their entire concentration on their bellies and their earthly sufferings. They had no dreams, or rather, no serious dreams—for they often wished they could have the Egyptian taskmasters at the other end of the whip just once, and they sometimes talked around the fire about what they would do if they were as rich as one of the nobles. Those were mere pipe dreams, however, totally unrealistic; they had no dreams or visions of substance. They couldn't do anything about their future and they knew it. Their lives were in the hands of their oppressors and they were helpless. The Bible calls it shortness of spirit, no spirit of faith to get up and do anything about anything. I’ve sometimes called it the "slave mentality" – having your dreams taken away, and only being left with base, physical desires like food and drink and sex.
When it came to the prospect of being delivered from Egypt, the Hebrew slaves enjoyed playing along with Moses for a few days, but as soon as Pharaoh showed any resistance, they sobered up immediately. "Well, let's return to real life now, boys, before he punishes us even worse." Moses had to convince not only Pharaoh, but also the Israelites, to let God's people go—they were bound by the slave mentality, by shortness of spirit.
The lesson for us? It's obvious. Don't allow anybody, anything, any troubles, any suffering to draw you away from the walk of faith. You don't have to be a slave to have shortness of spirit. All you have to do is look at your stomach long enough, live for the flesh, and you'll retard your own growth—you don't need a Pharaoh to do it for you. And say, don't blame the Pharaohs of this world for your problems, either. Each one of us has the ability to look beyond our stomach, to walk by faith, to dream a little, and move on in life. It's a bit more difficult for some than others, but it not Pharaoh's fault. The same Israelites blew it in the wilderness, too, long after Pharaoh was out of their lives, long after their deliverance from slavery. Their problem was shortness of spirit.
Day 28: The Slave Mentality
So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.
The people of Israel had been slaves for four hundred years. They were accustomed to what the Bible describes in the above text as "despondency and cruel bondage." Neither they nor their immediate ancestors had known any kind of life except slavery. Their minds were conditioned to slavery—they couldn’t think outside of that narrow box.
Like the oppressed in any age or land, their vision was limited to the most basic needs of life—food and drink, and the opposite sex. Life held little pleasure beyond that. There were no cultural pursuits: they had no culture of their own except the vague memory of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and they were excluded from the higher pursuits of the Egyptian culture around them--they gazed from afar, their senses dulled and uncomprehending.
I've spent a good portion of my life in India, an many a time I've wandered through the muddy lanes of one of the notorious slums, taking tea in a ramshackle hut, slapping malaria-laden mosquitoes, endeavoring in my halting Hindi to communicate the gospel to people with little hope for something better in this life. One old street-sweeper stands out from the rest because of the pithy observation he made one day: "Saheb," he said, "You rich Americans can afford to talk about religion and spiritual things—I’m a poor man, and my one concern day and night is my belly." That may have been a bit of a cop-out, but in a very real way he put his finger on the essence of the slave mentality.
We ministered a lot among the so-called "untouchables" in India, and quite a few of them really lived up to the nasty reputation they had among the rest of society—they’d been treated like animals for so long that they started to act like animals; they simply dispensed with normal social graces. The slave mentality. Nobody respects me, why should I respect myself? My father deserted me, my mother abused me... hence, I must be a nasty, burdensome person... nobody loves me, so I must be unlovely.
Many urban dwellers in our own country suffer from the same sort of mentality: dysfunctional families, absentee fathers, immorality, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence. Good manners and common decency are set aside; it’s survival of the fittest and the quickest. The same old slave mentality. It’s not a racial thing. Each wave of new immigrants has gone through it: the Irish, the Italians, Puerto Ricans, Asians, and the descendants of African slaves.
The exceptions to all this unhappy dysfunctionalism are those with a strong faith in Jesus Christ. Children of dedicated Christians grow up with a stronger sense of destiny and confidence, whether they're black or white, urban or suburban. They've had faith instilled in their hearts by parents whose faith worked for them even in the midst of poverty and frustration. They break free from the slave mentality and embrace the victory that is theirs in Jesus.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Version unless marked otherwise.
Copyright © 2005 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.