Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Transformation of Moses

Today I preached a message at the ECCI 11am service called "The Transformation of Moses." I'm not going to cover everything I shared in that message, but I want to highlight a few of thoughts that meant a lot to me personally.

You may remember that yesterday, in my post called "God's Magnificent Goal", I shared about God's promise of personal transformation. Well, as I studied the life of Moses, I saw how God transformed him through a process that took him through three clear stages:
  • Stage One - The first 40 years of his life - This was the stage of natural development, learning and personal capability. As a prince in Egypt, Moses "was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action" (Acts 7:22). He had everything going for him. He had the equivalent of today's best education - a degree in psychology, a degree in sociology, a degree in political science, a degree in history and an MBA all mixed into one. At the end of Stage One, however, Moses tried to exercise his leadership gifts in his own strength and failed miserably (see Acts 7:23-29). He ended Stage One by fleeing from the anger of Pharaoh and starting a new life in Midian.

  • Stage Two - The second 40 years of his life - This was the stage of personal despondency and a sense of failure. For 40 years, Moses led the life of a shepherd, out of sight in the wilderness of Midian and Sinai. As this stage ended (with Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush), Moses declared to God: "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue" (Exodus 4:10). This is a remarkable backward step, it would seem, from his description as "powerful in speech and action" in Stage One (Acts 7:22).

  • Stage Three - The final 40 years of his life - This was the stage of the fulfilment of God's purpose in and through Moses' life, which takes up the majority of the chronicled story of his life, starting in Exodus 3 and ending in Deuteronomy 34.

At the end of Deuteronomy 34, we find this epitaph of Moses' life:
"Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt -- to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel."
So what interests me is this: What was it that transformed Moses to become the great leader he eventually became? What was it that made the difference in his life?

Have you ever felt like you failed God? Have you ever thought that you were past your "use by" date? Well, that was Moses' frame of thinking when God interrupted his life in Exodus 3. In fact, when God announced that he was sending Moses back to Egypt to deliver His people from bondage (Exodus 3:7-10), Moses responded with five excuses:

  • Excuse #1 - "Who am I?" (Exodus 3:11-12) - Moses by this time had a well-established inferiority complex, nurtured for forty years in the wilderness. Whereas in Egypt, in Stage One of his life, he had been a Somebody, he had by this time convinced himself that he was a Nobody. In answer to this excuse, God encouraged Moses and told him that He would go with him to Egypt.

  • Excuse #2 - "Who are you?" (Exodus 3:13-22) - Moses turned the tables on God and admitted to an ignorance of God's identity (even though he knew that the God who was speaking to him was "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" -- Exodus 3:6). In answer to this excuse, God identified Himself as the Great I Am (Exodus 3:14).

  • Excuse #3 - "They won't believe me!" (Exodus 4:1-9) - Moses was still haunted by his rejection 40 years earlier (Exodus 2:11-15), and his imagination worked overtime, conjuring up images of continuing rejection by the very ones he had been sent to rescue. But in answer to this objection, God encouraged Moses and established a set of miraculous signs that would be proof of his anointed leadership.

  • Excuse #4 - "I'm not eloquent" (Exodus 4:10=12) - Some people have considered it possible that Moses was a stutterer, and this of course might be possible. But in the light of Acts 7:22, I think it more likely that Moses' lack of eloquence was the result of his inferiority complex and poor self-image. Once again, God encouraged Moses and even made a concession to him, allowing Aaron, his older brother, to act as his mouthpiece.

  • Excuse #5 - "Send someone else!" (Exodus 4:13-17) - This was the point where God finally got angry with Moses. Yet ultimately Moses did obey God and was indeed transformed into the powerful leader that Israel needed, the prophet described in Deuteronomy 34:10-12.

What was it that made the difference? That's what interested me today. Remember, this isn't for me just a nice study in biblical history. These last few days I've been conversing with the Lord about issues related to personal transformation, and so my study of Moses was driven by a desire to experience what he experienced -- at least the more positive elements of that experience ;-) So, what exactly was the process of transformation that ultimately made Moses into the man who lead God's people out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land?

The first thing I noticed, as I studied the life of Moses, was that God's transformation process had, for him, two important parts:
  • Part 1 - Humility
  • Part 2 - Empowerment
The first part of the transformation process is, I believe, extremely important, for 1 Peter 5:5 reveals the importance of humility in God's plan for our lives:
"...All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"
I love the way Peter terms it in 1 Peter 5:5: "...clothe yourselves with humility." In other words, just as we put on clothes, so we can also put on humility. And why is humility important? Because "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Why did Moses have to spend 40 years hidden in the wilderness before God could use him? Why did he have to experience rejection by his own people, and the trauma of self-recrimination? Obviously, God has His own timing. But apart from that, I also believe that humility needed to be worked into Moses' life -- and, boy, did God do a great job of that, for Numbers 12:3 tells us that Moses ended up being "a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth"!

If God had skipped Stage Two and immediately sent Moses to deliver His people from Egypt, I believe the whole endeavour would have self-destructed. Moses' pride wouldn't have just been his personal downfall (Proverbs 16:18; 29:23), but possibly also the downfall of the whole nation. Not only that but Proverbs 8:13 tells us that God "hate[s] pride and arrogance," and unless God first dealt with Moses' inner pride issue, then God would have continued to oppose Moses on a personal level -- not a good start to his job as deliverer of God's people. This is why Peter goes on to say in 1 Peter 5:6:
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."
Notice that it is "in due time" that God will lift you up. Once again, we see that God has His own timetable by which He works. Many of the heroes of faith, recorded in Scripture, went through a "wilderness preparation" before being launched on their prophetic or kingly career. Isaiah, for example, described this period of seclusion in Isaiah 49:2:
"He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver."
It was only after this intense (and lengthy) period of imposed humility that Moses became ready for the second part of God's transformation process. After the humbling, the time came for God to lift him up. As Jesus described it in Matthew 23:12:
"For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
In the second part of Moses' transformation -- empowerment -- the key, it seems quite clearly, is faith. In reading Hebrews 11:23-29, which describes Moses' life story, it's amazing to see how many times the phrase "by faith" is used -- five times in just seven verses! Even though Moses' gave plenty of excuses to try to get out of obeying God, the Bible tells us that Moses did eventually respond positively to God's command, and Hebrews 11:23-29 indicates that it was faith that motivated Moses' obedience, despite his initial misgivings.

So there it is: the two key elements to God's transformation process -- humility and faith. Both are needed to access God's grace, which is what ultimately transformed Moses into the powerful leader we all know and recognise. So after sharing this in the morning service, I had a long chat with the Lord. My desire is to be transformed into the likeness of God's Son (Romans 8:29), because I desire to expend my life in the purposes of God. And I recognise that, over the last 30 or so years, the Lord has indeed been working in my life developing both these attributes -- humility and faith.

The result of Moses' own transformation was that he became a person "whom the LORD knew face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10-12) and who knew the ways of God (Psalm 103:7 - read also my post on "The Ways of God"). This is also my desire -- not just to be used by God in His purpose, but to know God on the closest personal level possible. And so, Lord, I'm willing to submit to your process of transformation. I take a hold of the promise of 2 Corinthians 3:13,18:
"We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face...[But] we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

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