Your way or God’s way?

–Brenda DeVries

Lent can be a great season of reflection; a time where we set our path towards the cross and remember Jesus’ temptations in the desert, and the temptations that we all face as followers of Jesus.

Moses is one of the great heroes of the Bible.  We usually remember the great things that he did.  But he wrestled with temptation and his human nature, too.  From the beginning of his story, we recognize that Moses will forever be a person from two communities—a hyphenated Egyptian, so to speak.  There may be bits and pieces of different cultures that might make up your background and upbringing, and you might enjoy different foods, songs, and traditions from two different worlds.  Moses comes from the neighborhood where the slaves live, but he gets adopted into royalty and gets to live in the royal house.  

You have to wonder WHO it was that told Moses the reality about his background and heritage.  He was probably three years old when he went to live with the princess and wouldn’t remember much of anything from his birth home.  Pieces and remnants may have remained of his Hebrew heritage, but Moses was afforded the opportunity to have all the advantages of an Egyptian royal child. His formal Egyptian education would have started at the age of 4[1] and lasted about twelve years.  There would have been strict discipline, and Reading, Writing and Arithmetic,[2] and learning the Egyptian ways.  As a child of the palace, Moses would have been able to go to the Oxford of the ancient world—with an ‘unintended’ scholarship from Pharaoh!  Having the ‘wisdom of the Egyptians’ was an amazing thing! He learned the language, and could study science, medicine, astronomy and literature.  He would have studied battles and combat tactics and would have had some exposure to the arts.[3]  He had it all.  Stephen, in his great sermon in Acts 7 states:  Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. Acts 7:22  Although Moses grows up as an Egyptian, he is still a slave, in a different sense: Moses becomes a slave to the systems, the thoughts, and the ways of Egypt and the ways of human nature.

Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his fellow Hebrews and looked at their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his fellow Hebrews.  Exodus 2:11

By this time, Moses is approximately forty years old.  However he came by the knowledge, he is aware at this point that the Hebrews are his brothers.  He is not a detached observer here.  He SEES what is going on. He FEELS it.  He IDENTIFIES with it.  And when he spots an Egyptian hitting a Hebrew, Moses finally has a crisis moment.  An Egyptian beating a Hebrew is a familiar picture in the artwork and experience of the people. This isn’t just one incident written here between ONE Egyptian and ONE slave: this is representative of Egypt and Israel[4] at the time.  But something stirs in Moses. 

When we think back about the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses’ adopted mom, we remember that she had compassion when she saw him in the basket. She could have lived it up and stayed in the palace, with her parties and her prestige, and no one would have been wiser.  But she chose the difficult path.  In a sense, this is the same crisis that Moses is facing.  He may be royalty, but something is definitely wrong here.  Moses can just walk away and keep on living as if nothing had happened, or he can reach out to his brother.  But the second he has compassion he puts his status in jeopardy, just like Pharaoh’s daughter did. Did he think about the implications of what he was contemplating? Did she?  The Pharaoh’s daughter named Moses for her rebellious act of drawing him out of the water.  She was able to make the unthinkable happen, as she brought a slave baby into the palace and raised him as her own.  She heard the cry of another human being and she stretched out her hand.  Will Moses reach out his own hand, too?   

So he looked this way and that, and when he saw that there was no one around, he struck and killed the Egyptian, and hid his body in the sand. Exodus 2:12

In the English text, it looks like Moses is looking back and forth to see if anyone is watching to see what he’s doing.  But the word ‘around’ is in italics.  It’s added. Rather than just looking around, Moses may be looking to see if someone is going to step in and do something about what is happening.  In Isaiah 59 this phrase is also used:[5] The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice.  He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene. Isaiah 15b-16a.  This same kind of parallel reading can be found in other places in Isaiah,[6] and the idea is also in Judges and 2 Samuel.[7]

There are good things to recognize about Moses’ character in this instance. He isn’t tolerating oppression.  He is identifying with the plight of his people. He has sympathy for the underdog.[8]  And it’s not without consequences.  The writer of Hebrews looks back at this moment and says:  By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin…Hebrews 11:24-25

Moses goes against the culture, somewhat like Pharaoh’s daughter did.  But he also does things in his OWN way, and in his OWN strength.[9]  Moses may have SEEN and FELT what is going on, but he assumes he is alone.  He can no longer wait for “something” to happen or for someone else to do something.[10]

It’s a pivotal moment in Moses’ life.  And he may have looked around horizontally in both directions, but it doesn’t say that he looked UP.[11]  Moses did not have the blessing of God in his actions when he goes after the Egyptian.  Douglas Stuart writes: “It’s his first attempt to deliver his people, but he’s acting alone and in secret and relying on his own strength and wisdom.”[12]  He tries to bring justice, but it is excessive and the Egyptian ends up dead. He tries to cover it up by burying the body in the sand.  But as Chuck Swindoll so aptly wrote: “the sand always yields its secrets…”[13]

Now he went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, “Why are you striking your companion?”  Exodus 2:13

Moses comes up on a similar situation of injustice and oppression, but these two guys are supposed to be from the same team!  But when he tries to intervene, one Hebrew lashes back: he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.”  When Pharaoh heard about this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.  Exodus 2:14-15

Moses can’t hide from this.  Not from the Hebrews, not from God, not from the Egyptians, and not from Pharaoh. He becomes a man on the run: running from his past, running from his people, running from God?  The midwives in chapter one feared God more than Pharaoh and did what was right.  Moses does what is impulsive and is now driven by his fear of Pharaoh[14] into the desert.  He is still a slave to his emotions and his reactions.  He needed to learn that his way was not God’s way. But there’s hope for him yet.  When he gets to Midian, he runs into some bullies who are trying to prevent Zipporah and her sisters from getting water.  This time, he will rescue someone without killing the offender. He’s learning.  God had big plans for Moses.  In the future, God will make him a prince and a judge over the Hebrews in some sense, anyway.  But there’s some heart work to be done first.

It’s a good reminder for us during this time of Lent: a time of reflection and preparation and heart searching.  We may think we are free, but we are slaves to the culture, and have developed patterns of behavior that have become snares and chains.  We learn things from our parents, our upbringing, our traditions, and from what we read and observe, and those things have great bearing on our actions.  Some of those things are commendable and good, but sometimes we do what is good in our own way.  The Burger King commercial from the 70’s had a slogan that lasted for over 20 years: Have it your way.  That’s great for burgers, but not so great in our spiritual endeavors. 

The practices of Lent are practical in order to loosen the grip of thoughts, attitudes and bad practices from our lives.  It’s a good time to pause and think about our habits, our blind spots, and the ways we interact with others in order to promote our agenda, make ourselves look good, or have the upper hand.  Maybe we’ve indulged to the point of addiction, and our anger or other emotions have gotten out of control.  What are your patterns of behavior?  What have been some of the consequences of that behavior?   

You can Have it your way or have it God’s way. 

Like Moses, it’s a good thing to want justice, to want equity, and for right treatment for things that are going wrong in our world.  And just like Moses, we may see a situation and want to make things right.  But if we act as judge, and as a ruler who decides what should happen, we’re doing things our own way.  The same goes for any kind of emotion or thing that is good, but can be wielded or used in a manner that causes us to be excessive, and to sin by our actions.  Are we looking horizontally, or are we looking up?  Are we disciplining and training ourselves to be godly men and women of God, who don’t follow in the patterns of this world, but are renewed and transformed in our minds and in our hearts so that the life of Jesus is made manifest in us? 

Our actions, whether from a good heart or not, will become our undoing: when we try to bring justice in our own strength; when we let our passions rule us; when we try to fix situations in our own strength; when we hide our sins and run from God. Moses hid the body of the dead Egyptian in the sand.  In Genesis, Cain hid his brother Abel in the ground after he had murdered him. God said to him; “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”  Genesis 4:10. God sees our hearts and He knows our thoughts.  You can’t hide what you do from him: the sand always reveals its secrets.

Sometimes we want our own way when it comes to the church.  In our society, you can pick a church that’s personalized to your needs, you can live your life however you want to live, you can have your pet perversions and it’s okay: Have it your way.  It’s the Burger King way, where the customer is always right and we all become consumers. You can have it your way and find a church that doesn’t talk about sin, that doesn’t mention giving financially, that makes you always feel refreshed and happy all the time, that is oriented according to your personal political persuasions, and a place where there is no diversity of thought or practice or conversations.  You can watch church on tv and never connect to a real community.  But then what happens to confession and holiness and forgiveness?  Who decides what is sin, what will be confronted, and who will hold you accountable?  Where is the community that will embrace you when you have fallen and need forgiveness and encouragement?    

Having it God’s way is not easy.  Moses may have grown up with a silver spoon, but as soon as he had any kind of inkling of resonating with God’s people, it was over for him. God did a deep work on him in the desert and it was YEARS of preparation before Moses was ready to get back in the saddle and head back to Egypt.  I guess that’s some consolation, hm?  Nothing happens overnight.  I know I had the desire to be a pastor since I was a very young girl, and God either planted it or cultivated it, and he knew that trajectory, and it’s taken years of being molded and shaped and pruned to get to this point.  I’m not going to lie.  Being chosen by God is not pleasant.  He’ll did a work in my life like a surgeon.  But it takes the cut of a knife to root out the things that are ungodly, and in the end, I wouldn’t want it any other way…and neither would you, I think.    

We always need to be reoriented to the pattern of the kingdom of God.  In Lent we remember our humanity and our frailty.  It’s the Holy Spirit who shows us that we are enslaved.  We may think we’re free, but we a great need of a redeemer and a rescuer. We can’t escape the bondage on our own.  It’s not possible.  If we had it our way, we’d be on the way to hell.  But thank God for Jesus!  Through him, we can have it God’s way, and we can experience the community of the body of Christ that is available to us; the political kingdom of a holy God, with people who bend the knee only to him. It’s a community, a circle of people, where we can get encouragement, we can experience forgiveness, we can feel love, and there is evidence of the presence of God among us and in us and working through us.  Yes, it will take a long time to be completely free from sin…but we WILL be free.  God is graciously ready to go after the patterns we’ve built in our lives and root them out; to take out the gut rot and the sin that clings and grabs and tries to enslave us: and replace it with his love, his joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  I’ll take it God’s way.  How about you? 

Prayer:  O God of exodus and wilderness, God of refuge and help, we confess that sometimes we lose sight of your kingdom and its ways.  By your truth you call all people to account.  Forgive us for ignoring our sin, and when we let the fruit of the Spirit be choked by weeds of evil.  Give us a new heart and put in us a new spirit, Father.  Restore our souls.  Take the chains that bind us and set us free by the power of the cross.  Once we were not a people, but now we are your people, through the work and sacrifice of Jesus.  Focus us on the cross and in your mercy renew us so that we can do things your way and be people of justice, peace, gentleness, goodness, love, joy and hope.  Amen.

Going Deeper Questions

–Begin with prayer.  Thank God for giving us the story of Exodus. Ask him to open our eyes to the ways He draws us out in order to draw us in.

Read Exodus 2:11. –In Rudyard Kipling’s story of the Jungle Book, baby Mowgli is lost in the jungle and is raised by a pack of wolves.  As he grows up, he realizes that he is different, and although he tries to fit in, he is not entirely accepted by the pack.  He eventually discovers that he is a man-cub, and he grows up and becomes a bridge between humans and the jungle.  How is that story similar to Moses’?  What does Moses realize about his identity in this scene?  How is this a critical moment for him?    

Read Exodus 2:12.  –Would it matter if there was a good reason for Moses to have killed the Egyptian? 

The historian Eusebius says that this killing was the result of a court intrigue in which certain men plotted to assassinate Moses. It says that that Moses successfully warded off the attacker and killed him. (Eusebius IX:27.)  In the Midrash Rabbah, it says that Moses killed an Egyptian taskmaster with his bare fists who was in the act of seducing a Hebrew woman. This is also written in the Koran.

–What does this act of violence reveal about Moses?   –Have you ever acted impulsively out of emotion?

It’s not enough even to be right about your calling or destiny or our sense of justice.  You can: Have it your way or have it God’s way.

–Read Exodus 2:13-14. –Moses has a sense of justice and intervenes when the Egyptian harms the Hebrew and when two Hebrews quarrel.  Like his adoptive mother, he reaches out his arm to the other, but he doesn’t consider the consequences: the ramifications of his anger, or the rift that it will cause with his Egyptian status.  Moses may have grown up as an Egyptian, but he is still a slave—to his anger and violent reactions.  He can’t hide from God.  The sand always reveals its secrets…

–Did someone ever call you out for doing something wrong?  –What difficult consequences did you have to face afterward?

–Read Exodus 2:15. Why is fleeing from our sin and guilt always a bad idea? How does it keep us from loving God and others? Think of examples from your own life. Why is owning and confessing what we have done essential to our spiritual health?

–What are the patterns of behavior in your life that have enslaved you?  (This is a great question to contemplate and to share with someone as you feel comfortable). Forgiveness, love, encouragement and the presence of God are meant to be discovered and shared in community.  How can the church as a family be better at sharing what we’ve done and asking for and offering forgiveness?

Read Stephen’s account of Moses in Acts 7:21-29.  –What is different about this telling of the account? 

–Exodus 2 looks like a story of failure:  Moses seemed to be in a perfect position to deliver the Hebrews, but Moses’ first attempt to deliver one of his own people from oppression is a complete failure.  He runs away and becomes a shepherd and an exile in a foreign land, while God’s people remain slaves.  Describe a time when God used a failure to teach you and mature you. What did you learn about yourself? About God?

–Moses makes some steps in the right direction in his maturity: His decision to leave the house of Pharaoh, his attempt to mediate a dispute between two Hebrews, and when he rescues Zipporah and her sisters without violence.  It takes years of preparation before Moses was ready to head back to Egypt to deliver the Hebrews.  Can you look back and see any progressions in your character development over the years?

[1] Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus, New York: Schocken Books, 1996, 33.   

[2] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991, 11.

[3] Charles R. Swindoll, Moses, Nashville: Word Publishing, 1999, 38. 

[4] William H.C. Propp, Exodus 1-18; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999, 166.

[5] James K. Bruckner, Exodus, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008, 32. 

[6] Isaiah 41:28; 50:2; 59:15b-16; 63:5

[7] Judges 12:3; 2 Sam. 22:42.

[8] Sarna, Exploring Exodus, 34.  

[9] Swindoll, 41.

[10] Holmgren, Fredrick Carlson, “Exodus 2-11-3-15”, Interpretation, 56 no 1 Jan 2002, 73-76, 73. 

[11] Swindoll, 43. 

[12] Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006, 95. 

[13] Swindoll, 43

[14] Mark S. Smith, Exodus, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011, 22.

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