The Greatest Man in the Old Testament (Moses)
Great men receive distinction for various reasons. Adam gained distinction because he was the world's first man, Abraham because he was the "father of the faithful," David because he was king of Israel in its Golden Age. Napoleon gained distinction because he was a mighty warrior, Gladstone because he was a great statesman, George Washington because he was our first U.S. president.
But why do we remember Moses? Why has he made such an impression on world history? As our text says, we remember him because he was a prophet "whom the Lord knew face to face." He came into closer fellowship with God then any man since the Fall. the great nation of Israel lived and lives today because of Moses, and Israel is his monument. Someone has called him "the giant of the Nile," but he is the giant of all the ages. He was the greatest man of the Old Testament. Let us look at his life.
God's chosen people were in oppressive slavery and bondage in Egypt, but they grew so rapidly that the king became afraid of their power. In order to stamp them out he ordered that all male children born to the Israelites should be killed. But God did not let a little king of earth thwart His people. So when a healthy child was born to a Hebrew couple, they kept the boy alive for three months, then hid him in an ark among the bulrushes of the Nile, Hoping that he would be rescued. The kingís own daughter rescued the baby and in Godís design the baby was given back to its own mother, to be reared in the faith of the Hebrews
God was working; He we preserving His man in His own way. As Jesus was preserved when Herod issued his decree for the death of all children under two years of age, so God preserved Moses for the task for which He was preparing him. Was it blind change that sent the princess to the right place at the right time? No, it was God. Suppose she had come on another day and to a place 100 yards up the river. But God was directing the whole affair. Things do not just happen with Him. The poet was right who said, "Thereís a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will."
We make our plans, we choose our paths, but God always has His way.
One day Jesus met a sinful woman at a well near the town of Sychar. He talked to with her, confronted her with her sin, and she was converted; then she ran back into the city to bring many others to Him. Suppose she had come to the well an hour sooner or an hour later. She and the people of Sychar would never have known Him. But this was not chance, for God had planned it from the foundation of the world. In the history of the world God has used all sorts of people and all kinds of circumstances to carry our His purposes. The preservation of Moses was a vital part of Godís great eternal plan.
The civilization of Egypt was the highest of that day and it centered in the kingís court. This was where Moses was trained in all the wisdom and science of a great nation. But he received greater training elsewhere -- he was brought up at the knees of his godly mother, and there he was taught the things of God and His people and His plans. It was not accident that Moses was given to his mother to raise in his early years; it was God training him.
When God wants a man for a certain task, He gives him the best training. When Paul was converted God sent him into the deserts of Arabia, where for nearly three years he communed with God and received from Him all the mysteries of the gospel. Since that time God has placed many men in the right homes with the right environment because He had a task for them in future years.
As Moses came to manhood he looked out on the bondage and affliction of his people and he sympathized with them. He wanted to rescue them but he went about it in the wrong way. He allowed himself to be guided by his own passion instead of the voice of God. One day he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and he slew the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. The next day he saw two fellow Israelites fighting, and when he tried to intervene and stop them, they turned on him and accused him of the murder he had committed the day before. "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23). When the king heard of what Moses had done, Moses had to flee the country and went to Midian.
It is presumptuous to take matters into oneís hand instead of waiting on the Lord. But we are all guilty of this. When problems present themselves we run ahead of God and try to solve them in our own strength. People often make the wrong marriage and it ends up in tragedy because God was not considered or consulted. Careers fail and homes are broken up because God is ignored and our own feeble wisdom is considered.
Moses went to Midian and stayed there tending sheep when those years could have been used in the service of God and His people. During that time, back in Egypt, Mosesí people spent the years in suffering and many of them died in slavery. We lose time and souls when we run ahead of God.
While Moses was busy at the menial task of tending sheep, Godís sorrowing people were crying out to Him for deliverance. And God heard them and said, "I will deliver them out." One day Moses noticed a bush burning by the wayside, but it was not consumed, so he turned aside to investigate this phenomenon of nature. Modernists tell us that this was not a miracle but that the sun was shining on the acacia bush that made it appear to be burning. But Moses has been in the desert forty years, and if this had not been a strange and unusual thing he would not have said, "I will not turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt."
When he went to look at the bush he heard the voice of God calling him to return Egypt and deliver His children. In some respects religious curiosity is a good thing. When God calls we are to turn aside and listen. When the earthquake came to Philippi the jailer was ready to listen to Paul and learn the way of salvation. When the winds of Pentecost blew, thousands of people listened and were saved. And now when God calls, we should listen. That call may come through a sermon, a preacher, a still small voice that comes in the night. But if you feel that it is God calling in any way, you should heed that call.
God said, ďYou are to lead My people to a land flowing with milk and honey.Ē But Moses began to protest, "I canít do it. I canít go up against the mighty Pharaoh." Then God gave him strong assurance,"Certainly I will be with thee." And that was enough to make Moses stronger than a thousand Pharaohs.
Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world and tell people about His death on the cross for them, but He knew that was too much to ask of them alone, so He said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." When God calls us to follow Him He says, "You put your neck in on side of the yoke and Iíll be in the other side." Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me" (Phil. 4:13).
Moses continued to make excuses: ďThe king will not let the people go." But God responded with, "I will smite them and cause them to release them." Then Moses said, "But our people wonít believe that the Lord has appeared to me." Then God told him to cast his rod on the ground. He did it and the rod became a serpent. Then God told him to seize the serpent by the tail and it was turned back into a rod. But Moses came up with another excuse. He said that he was not eloquent man, that he was slow of speech. Then God said, "Your brother Aaron is a good speaker; I will be with his mouth and you can speak to him for Me."
All of us have our limitations, but when God says, "Follow Me and I will bless your labors," we need have no fear of the results. Peter was a ignorant rough fisherman but God used Him as the great preacher of Pentecost. Fanny Crosby was blind but she wrote scores of hymns that have blessed the world and turned many sinners to God. When Livingstone preached his first sermon he vowed that he would never try again. But God blessed him and he turned a dark continent toward the Lord. His precious promises are for us all. If we follow Him in life of complete surrender He will use us, however meager our talents.
VI. Proclamations and Plagues
Moses now went down into Egypt and confronted Pharaoh with the request that he give the Israelites their freedom. The proud king must have laughed at him. "Look at me,Ē he said, "I rule the greatest country in the world. I have all power in Egypt. The Hebrews are my slaves and Iíll never let them go free. Who is this God you speak about? I never heard of Him. Get our of my sight." Moses must have said, "Iíll go, but remember this, you and your people are going to feel the heavy hand of God."
As Pharaoh persisted in his refusal, the Lord sent a series of plagues on Egypt. All the water in the land turned to blood, the frogs came up and filled every house, then the dust of the earth was turned to lice, then flies covered every place in the land. Next all the cattle of Egypt were afflicted with a fatal disease, but the cattle of the Hebrews were not touched. Then the Egyptians were plagued with boils, next heavy hail fell on the land, but there was no hail in the land of Goshen where Godís people dwelled. Then locusts came and ate up all the crops that were left. Finally, darkness covered the land for three days.
Every time a plague came on the land, Pharaoh seemed to repent. He would call Moses in and ask him to get God to call off the plague, promising each time that he would then let the people go. But when the plague ended, Pharaoh changed his mind. God then said, "It is enough, the plagues have not moved the heart of Pharaoh. Now I will go about a midnight in the land of Egypt and the first-born of every home shall die, even the first-born of Pharaoh."
But what about Israel? Were their children to die also? No, for God said, "Kill a lamb without spot or blemish, spill its blood in a basin. Then take some hyssop, dip it in the blood and sprinkle that blood on the two side posts and on the upper post of your homes. And when I see the blood I will pass over you."
The awful night passed, and when the sun rose on a new day there was wailing and weeping in every Egyptian home and even in the palace. Then the mighty Pharaoh fell on his knees by the body of the crown prince and said, ďThe Lord has won, I give up; the Israelites can go.Ē
There are many people like Pharaoh. When trouble comes they turn to God and make their promises to leave their sin and live for God and their promises. Look at the price that was paid because of rebellion against God. The people suffered, many parents and ever the king lost their first-born. Here is a great lesson for all of us. When God commands it pays to follow His will.
At last the Israelites were allowed to march out under the direction of Moses. In the more that 400 years they had been in Egypt their number had grown from 70 to approximately 2,600,000. When they came to the Red Sea they looked back and saw Pharaoh coming toward them with all of his mighty hosts. He had changed his mind about permitting the Israelites to go free. But again God took over and preformed a might miracle. He cause the Red Sea to roll back so that His people could cross over on dry land, but when Pharaoh and his army attempted to cross the waters tumbled in on them and they were drowned.
God let that great host of people all the way, with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. On their journey God fed them with manna and quail from heaven and quenched their thirst with water drawn from the rocks. Then on day the Lord called Moses up on Mt. Sinai where He gave him the Ten Commandments, which are listed in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. But when he came down from the mountaintop he found the people engaged in an immoral orgy, worshiping a golden calf. They had forgotten God so quickly.
In his hot displeasure Moses threw the tables containing the Ten Commandments down and broke them in pieces. Later, after the earnest intercession of Moses for the people, God gave Moses two new tables of stone on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments.
Finally, after many adventures and many instructions from the Lord, they came to Kadesh-barnea, where they could easily have entered into the Promised Land. But when ten of the twelve spies who were sent into the land came back with a pessimistic report, which left God out, the Lord caused this great host to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Only two of those twenty years of age were allowed to go into the Promised Land and these were Caleb and Joshua, who urged the people to go into the land at Kadesh-barnes, depending on the Lord to protect them. All the other over twenty years of age died in the wilderness.
There is never a reward for the man who has no faith. "Without faith it is impossible to please [God]" (Heb. 11:6). We are to trust God and He will see us through. His best things are for those who have implicit faith in Him.
We notice one thing about Moses all along the way, and that is that he was a man of prayer. Every time a problem presented itself you see him rushing to talk it over with God. James tells us that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availed much" (James 5:16). Witness the earnestness of this man, Moses. He asked God to forgive the sin of His people. "and if not, blot meÖout of thy book which thou hast written" (Exod. 32:32). He was to have a big place in that book, but in his earnestness and unselfishness he was willing to have his name blotted out.
Look at history, both sacred and secular, and youíll see that great men of the earth have been men of prayer . Another reason why we remembers Moses is that he prayed and God heard him. He knew his weakness and he asked for strength. He knew that he was nothing in himself, but when he prayed the Lord gave him power to do great things.
We live in an age of permissiveness and say, "Let people do as they please." But God believes in prohibition and often says, "Thou shalt not." At the Red Sea He prohibited the Egytians from overtaking the Israelites; He flung the waters against them and destroyed them. At Kadesh-barnea He kept the Israelites from going into the land because of their unbelief.
He exercised this prohibition against Moses, also. When the people lacked water God told Moses to speak to the rock and water would gush out for them. But in his anger Moses struck the rock. The water came out all right, for God wanted His people to have it. But Moses disobeyed God-he had taken the credit to himself, and God had to punish him. He told Moses that his dreams would never come true, that he would never enter the Promised Land, simply because he had trespassed against God before all Israel (Deut. 32:51).
God still has His prohibitions, His "shalt nots." If we disobey God, if we trespass against him, if we regard His commandments lightly, weíll pay the price even as Moses did.
Moses never reached his goal; he never led the people into the Promised Land. God showed him the land in all of its beauty, but had to tell him that he would never go in, and that soon he would die. I can imagine Mosesí sorrow and how the tears streamed down his face as he wept over shattered dreams.
A famous historian died. He was not afraid of death for his faith was in the Lord. He set his affairs in order and said ď"good-by" to his family. Then he thought of his masterpiece, the book he had been working on that would never be finished. And he cried out, "Oh, my book, my unfinished book." And when we come to the end of the way weíll be forced to leave many unfinished tasks behind us. So it behooves us to be busy for the Lord, for "the night cometh when no man can work" (John 9:4).
Moses wept on top of Mt. Pisgah as he looked over the Promised Land, but God put His arm around him and said, "Moses, I have something better for you than any land on earth. Look up and see your home in glory. You are being promoted to a higher place than anyone can have in this world."
Moses never entered the Promised Land, yet he was a great success, for God doesnít measure success by deeds but by faithfulness, and surely Moses was one of Godís most faithful men. The epitaph that God chose for Moses contains only three words, "My servant Moses." But all of the greatness of a great man was wrapped up in those words. We donít know where Moses was buried, but the poet pictures his funeral and resting place in these words:
By Neboís lonely mountain,
On this side Jordanís wave,
In a vale in the land of Moab,
There lies a lonely grave;
But no man dug that sepulcher,
And no man saw it eíer,
For the angels of God upturned the sod,
That was the grandest funeral
That ever passed on earth;
But no man heard the trampling,
Or saw the train go forth;
Noiselessly as the daylight
Comes when the night is done,
And the crimson streak on oceanís cheek
Grows into the great sun.
This was the bravest warrior
That ever buckled sword;
This the most gifted poet
That ever breathed a word;
And never earthís philosopher
Traced with his golden pen,
On the deathless page, truths half so sage,
As he wrote down for men.
O, lonely tomb in Moabís land!
O, dark Beth-peorís hill,
Speak to these curious hearts of ours,
And teach them to be still.
God hath His mysteries of Grace---
Ways that we cannot tell;
He hides them deep, like the secret sleep
Of him He loved so well.
--Cecil Frances Alexander
Centuries later God wanted a committee to come down to earth to talk to Him only begotten Son and He chose Moses to be the chairman of that committee. Somewhere in Egypt in a forgotten tomb there lies the mummified form of Pharaoh. I say he is forgotten because he never linked his life with God. But the man who did livers on forever in heaven and in his influence on people of all the ages. We can choose to use our lives as did Pharaoh or as did Moses. Which is it going to be?
Someone asked General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, the secret of his great life and he replied, "God had all there was of me." Moses could say that, and any person who says that is one of Godís great people.
Thereís an old , old story of how the great Mendelssohn came to see the mighty organ at Freiburg. The caretaker there did not know who Mendelssohn was and refused to let him touch the organ. But when the great musician persisted, the caretaker told him he could play just a few notes. Mendelssohn sat down and played such music as the caretaker had never heard. With the tears streaming down his face, he said.
"Who are you?" And when Mendelssohn told him who he was the old man sobbed, "And just think, I refused to let the master organist play the organ."
How about our lives? It is true we are not as great as Moses, but it is possible for every one of us to mean something to God and His kingdom. May He help us to turn our lives over to Jesus in full surrender. Then someday weíll stand with Moses in the presence of our Lord and hear Jesus say, "Well done."