6. Misplaced Zeal

Meditations in Exodus: 6. Misplaced Zeal

Ex 2:11,12    One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

Forty years have passed and Moses has grown up as a prince of Egypt. Somehow in that time he was obviously taught about his own people, the Hebrews living in Goshen (in the north east corner of Egypt), and so one day he decided to go to see them, but of course they are slaves with Egyptian overlords. So far this fact had either evaded him, passed him by or simply not impacted him, but now he sees one of the Egyptian slave masters beating one of the Hebrew slaves. Looking around he appears to be on his own and so he intervenes and kills the Egyptian, burying him in the sand.

Now if he had left it at that he might have got away with this but next day he decides to go back and visit them again and we read, The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” (Ex 2:13,14) Clearly what must have happened was that the man he had saved the previous day told others about it. However, they are not impressed by this Hebrew masquerading as an Egyptian prince and so speak roughly to him when he chides the two fighting men. The word is out!

But worse that that, it gets to Pharaoh’s ears: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” (ex 2:15a) Pharaoh is also not impressed that he is part of the family and does not countenance Moses interfering on behalf of his people. The outcome is obvious, Moses has to flee the country.

So why does he settle in Midian? Well, to the east of Egypt is the Sinai Peninsular and to the east of that, the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba is Arabia, the western side of which is Midian.  Over the years the Egyptians had colonized Sinai partly as a protective wedge to the east but partly because copper and turquoise had been discovered in the mountains down the western side of Sinai and it is probable that over the forty years of the first part of his life, Moses would have visited the mines (also being worked by Hebrew slaves) and would be familiar with the country to the east of Goshen. Thus he flees in that direction and keeps going and going travelling up the Gulf of Aqaba and on into Midian where we will see he settled.

But what relevance can all this have to our lives today, for we said at the beginning of this series we would seek to check that out in each study? Well, there is a basic principle here which is very important: don’t try doing God’s work man’s way! It will go wrong! Did God want Israel out of Egypt? Yes, at the appropriate time. We have seen already that the Lord was going to do it in such a way as to show up the Pharaoh, bring judgement on Egypt and on Canaan, when the sin in those countries had risen to a peak. That will be in another forty years time but Moses doesn’t know that yet. He just senses a wrong in what is happening and so intervenes with very negative outcomes.

Could the Lord have put him off going to his people so he wouldn’t get into trouble?  No doubt but one of my favourite verses from the New Testament is “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Moses may not ‘love’ God yet but he will do before he is finished and he is certainly in God’s sights to be called in another forty years’ time. So what am I saying? I am suggesting that the Lord is using Moses excessive and uninformed zeal to get him to a place where, over the years, he will come to be malleable in God’s hands to become the world’s greatest human deliverer (apart from Jesus) and one of the most famous names in the Bible.

What is this teaching us?  God will not stop our unwise over-zealousness but will use it and use the consequences of it to mould and change us. We may be overly righteous and get slapped by the world for it, but the Lord will use it to humble us. Force is only the answer as the last resort in a defence situation. Otherwise force has no place in our activities. Moreover clever scheming or political activity is also not the way to achieve God’s will. Both those things may be used to bring about our will and from that prosperity (as happened in the case of Jacob) but the big changes that God wants to bring about – in you and me – will not come those ways.

We need to be wise here for I have almost overstated the case to make a point. The Lord can give us wisdom which helps us sort out problems and change circumstances in life in our community or nation, which may involve prosperity and success (as in the  case of Solomon) and in war circumstances give us victory (as with David) but it is always as HE leads, inspires, guides and directs us. Left to ourselves we are too prone to getting it wrong. You want to do well at work? Seek His wisdom. You want to do well in the community? Seek His wisdom. In all these things His love and goodness will be our underlying principles and when we have success it will be because of His favour (see Joseph in the Old Testament). Not my way, His way! We will see more of this in a later study.


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