Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 7. A Murdering Deliverer
Ex 2:11,12 after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand
Moses’ Fame: Moses’ name features quite often in the Gospels, often by Jesus and sometimes by the Jews: “Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from,” (Jn 9:28, 29) and as the one who brought the Law, he was held in high esteem, and yet when we look at the big picture, yes, he did do staggeringly well as the Shepherd of Israel, but he also had blots on his name that puts him well and truly in our human courtyard. A failure redeemed by God.
Moses Rise & Downfall: His story starts as a baby rescued by the wisdom of his mother and raised in the court of Pharaoh (Ex 2:1-10) He lived as a prince of Egypt for forty years with all that royal privilege, but at forty he visited his people who were slaves living in the northern part of Egypt and there he killed (murdered) an Egyptian slave-guard (Ex 2:11,12). This became known and so he had to flee from Egypt and went north into the Arabian Peninsula and kept going, past areas controlled by the Egyptians, until he came to the area of Sinai and then Midian where he was accepted in and became a shepherd – for forty years! (Ex 2:13-22)
Chosen: Now they were forty years of silence until the Lord broke into that silence with an interview on Mount Sinai at the famous burning bush. (Ex 3,4) So here we have this failure, this discredited Prince of Egypt who has now been looking after sheep in the desert for forty years and what do we find the Lord saying? “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt,” (Ex 3:10) and the whole incredible story of the Exodus rolls out.
Questions? Hold on, doesn’t the Bible teach us that God is holy, that God judges unrighteousness and isn’t murder (or was it manslaughter?) unrighteous, so if God wants Israel delivered out of Egypt isn’t there a more fitting candidate? Does time obliterate our failures? No, we are still failures, but time and circumstances certainly can have a purifying effect. As a prince of Egypt Moses would have had complete self-confidence for, after all, he was royalty, adopted maybe but still royalty. But when we come to Ex 3 & 4 and his conversation with the Lord, self-confidence is the last thing he has. In fact we find most of the two chapters are him trying to explain why God has got it wrong and he’s not up to the job! But isn’t this the second time God seems to be turning a blind eye to murder (Cain was the first)?
A Conclusion: Now here is a staggering conclusion and it is staggering because it challenges everything of all of our preconceived and incomplete ideas. It is that our behaviour – our bad behaviour – isn’t the big issue with God, as bad as that behaviour may be. For the sake of running the country and maintaining an orderly community, yes, the death penalty came in the Law (e.g. Ex 21:12,14) and yet the principle had been laid down a lot earlier: “from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” (Gen 9:6) So how did Moses ‘get away with it’? We only produce a tentative answer. As we have noted above, murder within society, to maintain order, received supreme censure but Moses killing a slaver was not in the same category. Yes, guilty, without doubt, but on an ethical sliding scale is there any one sin worse than another, except in terms of the effect it has in the individual and in society. We now know that all sins – murder included are covered by Jesus’ work on the Cross.
Consequences: So God may hold back the death penalty but that does not mean there will not be other consequences as other stories in the Bible will show us. The consequence of Moses’ action was that he was banished, we might say, to forty years of isolation in the desert. It was a penalty that would completely change him. The passing of time does not excuse the sin, but it may certainly bring transformation and that, clearly in some situations, is what God knows can happen and is looking for.
The next forty years: As it turns out, the time confronting Pharaoh was possibly not the worst time in Moses’ life. The story runs that Moses ends up having to look after Israel for forty years in the wilderness while they live out their judgment from God for their disobedience in refusing to enter the Promised Land, with everyone over the age of twenty eventually dying off. I cannot imagine the thoughts that went through Moses sanctified mind throughout that period. Have I failed in getting these people into the Land? Should I have gone about it in another way? Who is the next one to die this week, this month, this year? How long will it be before they are all gone? Why me? In this, perhaps, a punishment that today we might call, ‘community service’, working for the community to satisfy justice.
And yet the account seems to suggest that Moses often met with the Lord at the Tent of Meeting set up outside the camp or in the Tabernacle set up in the centre of the camp, and no doubt that continual, amazing experience overrode regrets about the past and present. Some suggest that the Pentateuch was compiled by Moses and if that is right, it would have been in this time, as he put together the stories passed down through their ancestors, illuminated by revelation in the Lord’s presence throughout that forty-year time. It was clearly a life-changing time for this man of God.
Further failure: But then there was the time when the burden of Israel seemed to be too much for him when, yet again, they grumbled for lack of water. Once before the Lord had miraculously provided water (Ex 17:1-6). Now Moses, this man who is to represent God faithfully to this people, blows it: “Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” (Num 20:10) True but not a right spirit, and for that, “the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Num 20:12) Both Aaron and Moses die before the people enter the land. A severe judgment? No, there was a lesson that Israel would remember, and Moses was 120 after all; it was time to go home.
So, lessons? God knows everything, and especially what He can achieve through those He calls. Does every sin call for punishment? Yes it does, and Jesus has taken it. Is that the end? No, there are consequences but even in those the Lord works to change us more and more to be like Jesus. While our hearts are inclined towards Him, as weak as they may be, He never gives up on us. An unfinished work today? Yes. But what about tomorrow? That’s a new day, new challenges, new circumstances, new opportunities, and new changes (in me). Wow!
Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, thank you that Jesus died for my sins, my failures, my shortcomings so that the way is still open for you to continue to work in my life to bring to fruition the plans you have on your heart for me.