On May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary became the first person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. But that was not his first attempt to scale the world’s tallest mountain. After one unsuccessful attempt, it is recorded that Hillary stood at the base of the mountain, shook his fist at it, and in defiance declared: “I’ll defeat you yet. Because you’re as big as you’re going to get – but I’m still growing.”
I’m still growing. Hillary didn’t make it to the top of Everest on his first try. But he kept learning and growing as a climber, and as a result of that, victory finally came; he conquered the mountain. That’s a good picture of our walk with God. Our goal is not to climb a mountain but something even more challenging. It is to be conformed to the image of Christ as it relates to our character and to fulfill God’s purposes for us as we respond obediently to His will.
In this endeavor, it would be nice if success came the first time and every time, but we all know such is not the case. We fail. We have setbacks. Sometimes we may even turn away from God for an extended period of time. But the good news is that God doesn’t give up on us because of our failures. God in His grace sticks with us. He helps us grow through our failures, sometimes even using those failures as important ingredients in our spiritual development. If we are willing to cooperate with God in that process of growth, we will see God do incredible things in and through our lives. In our passage for today we see some of that growth process in the life of Moses. So let’s read Exodus 2:11-25.
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. 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.”
When Pharaoh heard of this he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.
When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?”
They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.”
“And where is he?” he asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.”
Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I have become an alien in a foreign land.”
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
Last week we examined the first few years of Moses’ life. Recall how his mother hid him for three months, defying the Pharaoh’s decree that all newborn Israelite males be put to death. When he was three months old, his mother placed him in a basket, and then placed the basket near the place where the Pharaoh’s daughter would come to bathe. She noticed the baby, had pity on him, and decided to keep him. But first he was returned to his mother to be nursed for several years, and then Moses was given back to Pharaoh’s daughter to be raised by her in the royal court. In fact, it says in vs. 10 that when Moses was taken back to the Pharaoh’s daughter, “he became her son.”
Scripture doesn’t give us any details about Moses’ life in the royal court, except for one verse in Acts 7:22, which says, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” Because Moses was now the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter, he received the finest education and training available at that time. Apparently Moses combined his excellent education with personal charisma, for as we read, he was “powerful in speech and action.”
Despite his upbringing in the finest of Egyptian academics and culture, Moses still knew that he was a Hebrew. His appearance was no doubt somewhat different from the Egyptians. And he probably had some faint memories of his earliest childhood days in the home of his parents. As the years passed, his sense of identity as a Hebrew grew, and he began to identify more with his fellow Hebrews, bound in the chains of slavery, than he did with the Egyptians who raised and trained him. Not only did Moses identify with his own people, but the oppression they were forced to endure pierced his heart.
As we read, one day Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. The anger in Moses over this injustice boiled over and he killed the Egyptian. But before Moses killed him it says that Moses glanced this way and that to make sure no one was looking. Then after he killed him Moses buried the Egyptian in the sand.
Isn’t that just the way we all are when we are about to do something we know is wrong? First we try to do it in secret, and then we try to cover up the evidence. We try to deceive others and we deny it to ourselves. It doesn’t matter if it is big thing or something relatively unimportant.
A friend from another church I pastored (Mari Tolliver) once told me a somewhat humorous story that took place in the home of her uncle and aunt. Her uncle was a Methodist pastor, and one day his wife had some women from the church over to their house for a meeting. The guests all placed their coats and purses in a bedroom while they met in the living room. Mari’s uncle and aunt had a two-year old child at the time, and you know how two-year olds can be. This child saw all the purses in the bedroom and thought it would be fun to take all the purses and dump their contents out on the floor. When the ladies came to get the purses after the meeting, there were all their empty purses and everything that had been in them was mixed together on the floor.
The ladies were good-natured about it. They understood that’s the kind of thing two-year olds do. So they just got down on the floor and began picking up their own items and putting them in their purses. And then they left. But after they had left, Mari’s aunt noticed one item was still on the floor. A pack of cigarettes went unclaimed. Apparently one lady wanted to keep secret from the other church ladies the fact that she smoked, and so she didn’t want the others to see her putting the cigarettes in her purse.
We may chuckle at that, but we’re all like that, aren’t we? Our God-given conscience convicts us both before and after we do something that is wrong. And so first we try to make sure no one is looking while we do it, and then afterward, like Moses burying the dead Egyptian in the sand, we try to cover up the evidence. As we’ll see in a moment with Moses, that usually doesn’t work so well.
But we see a lot more in this passage than simply Moses trying to cover up his sin. Some of this has to do with Moses and some relates to God. Regarding Moses, not only was he now identifying with his own people, but somehow he was beginning to understand his sense of call. He saw injustice when the Egyptian was beating the Hebrew slave, and he could not ignore it. He had to do something. And so he intervened. The way he intervened was clearly wrong. Murder cannot be condoned. If Moses was strong enough to kill the Egyptian, he was strong enough to simply restrain him.
Moses was not merely guided by his sense of justice but he was controlled by his anger. And so Moses not only did something that was wrong, he did something he knew was wrong. That’s why first he glanced this way and that to make sure no one was watching. He looked to the left and he looked to the right, but he should have looked up. He should have taken a moment to consider whether or not this was the way God wanted him to respond to this injustice. Moses was on the right path in identifying with his people and working against injustice and oppression, but he had a long ways to go on that path before God would be able to use him effectively. Like Sir Edmund Hillary after that unsuccessful attempt to scale Mt. Everest, Moses had a huge task before him, but he also had a lot of growing to do before he could accomplish that task; he had to manage his anger and learn to do God’s work God’s way.
The very next day Moses would learn how foolish and impossible it is to try to keep your sins secret. Moses tried to break up a fight between two Hebrews. But one of the men said to Moses, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” What Moses thought he had done in secret was seen by someone, and the word spread. That’s the way it always is, isn’t it? We think we can keep things secret, and we may for awhile, but eventually things come to light. Then we have to face not only the specific act that we did, but we have to face the truth about ourselves – what kind of people we really are down deep.
Well, word spread not only among the Hebrews but even the Pharaoh heard that Moses had killed the Egyptian. Pharaoh realized this was not only an act of murder, but a matter of treason. One who was raised in his court, one who as a member of the royal family had been trained to be a leader in the Egyptian government, now sided with the Hebrew slaves. That could not be tolerated, and so he tried to kill Moses. Moses had no choice but to run for his life, and so he fled to Midian. Midian was a desert region to the east of Egypt. There Moses would remain for some 40 years, tending sheep. It was there, in the desert, that a lot of the growth Moses needed to undergo before leading the Israelites to freedom would take place.
In all these events we see the providence and grace of God. God was preparing a man to deliver the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt. Moses’ training began when he was a young boy being raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in the royal palace. There he received the finest education. He learned the ways of Egypt and specifically of the Egyptian government. He certainly acquired administrative skills and mastered the art of organizing and managing people. All of these abilities would be necessary if he was later to lead all the Israelites out of Egypt and into a new way of living. So we see the providence of God in placing Moses just where he needed to be to learn what he needed to learn.
But that was only part of his training program. For the next 40 years he lived in the desert region of Midian. This was also due to God’s providence. There he learned how to survive in the harsh conditions of the desert. It probably was not a very fun education, but it was one that Moses would have to have. During the 40 years of leading the Israelites through the desert wilderness he would have to rely on the knowledge and skills needed to live in that environment he picked up during this 40-year interim period of tending sheep.
And in addition to the administrative skills he acquired in Pharaoh’s court and the survival skills he learned in the desert of Midian, Moses also needed to grow in character. For Moses was a murderer. He identified with the right cause in trying to help his oppressed brothers and sisters, but he went about it all wrong. One of the Ten Commandments Moses would later bring down from the mountain was, “You shall not murder.” God is totally opposed to the taking of innocent life.
Yet even though Moses made this horrible mistake, God is gracious. God did not approve of Moses’ action, nor did He ignore it. But God did not write Moses out of the script in spite of this terrible failure. God still had a very important role for Moses to play. Moses needed to grow in character before he would be ready to fulfill God’s calling, and those 40 years in Midian gave him the opportunity to do that.
There are so many lessons for us in this passage. In the first place, God has a purpose for each of us, just as God had a purpose for Moses. There is a reason God created each one of us. That gives meaning and value to our lives. God’s purpose for us is multi-dimensional. It has to do with our family life, our careers, our involvement in the church, our relationships with others, our witness for Christ through our words, our actions, and our lifestyle, etc. In every aspect of our lives God has a purpose for us, and God invites us to embrace and fulfill that purpose.
Second, we need to make sure we not only understand what God’s purpose for us is but that we also go about it God’s way. Moses realized he was to defend his oppressed people, but when he murdered the Egyptian he went about it all wrong. He tried to do it his way instead of waiting for God to show him how he was to stand up for and lead the Israelites.
Like Moses, we can do the right thing in the wrong way. If you are a parent, you know that sometimes you need to discipline your children, but we can do the right thing – discipline our children – in the wrong way if we do it out of anger or if our response is disproportionate to what our child did.
God may have called you to a leadership position in the church, but you can exercise that leadership in the wrong way, such as if you become domineering or power-hungry or controlling.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to live a holy lifestyle. But we can even do that in the wrong way if we do it legalistically or self-righteously, being proud of our achievements while looking down on others who are not living up to the standard we are.
When we do the right thing but in the wrong way, as was true with Moses, we usually end up doing a lot of damage to others and to ourselves as well. So it is essential that we take time to discern and understand not only what God’s will is for us, but also how God wants us to do His will.
Third, we have the assurance that when we mess up, as we all do, God is still gracious. Yes, we need to take sin seriously for God takes sin seriously. We should not take a casual approach to the will of God. But God is gracious, forgiving, and always ready to give us a second chance. Not even murder disqualified Moses from fulfilling God’s call on his life. And so we must be sure that we don’t rule ourselves out from God’s purposes for us because of past failures.
Sometimes we tend to do that. We get down on ourselves. We fail and so become discouraged. We think, “How could God ever use me?” And so we give up. I imagine Moses felt that way. After his act of murder was discovered and he then learned that Pharaoh was trying to kill him, he fled. He left the luxuries of Egypt for the desert of Midian. He thought he was going to rescue his people; now he’s tending sheep for 40 years. I can see him, sitting there in the desert, thinking to himself, “Man, did I ever blow it! And now I lost my chance. Here I am in the desert, far away from my people. I can’t go back or Pharaoh will kill me. I guess I should just forget about delivering my fellow Hebrews. I better just give up on the idea that God could use me. I’ll have to settle for living out my days here in the desert watching sheep.”
I imagine Moses had those thoughts and feelings especially when year after year went by and nothing changed. Imagine, ten years, twenty years, thirty years and still Moses is there watching sheep. After so many years, it would be hard for Moses not to conclude that tending sheep is all he would ever do. But the day would come for Moses, as we’ll see next week, when God would re-ignite his sense of call. There were lessons for Moses to learn. He had to be transformed in character. He had to learn to trust in God and God’s ways rather than his own ways. And he had to learn the ways of the desert before he could lead his people there. But God did not give up on Moses. The time would come when Moses would again embrace his call from God.
And so when we blow it we may go through a desert experience. Or even if we didn’t blow it, sometimes God gives us a desert experience as part of our growth process. It may not be in a literal desert as was true for Moses, but it may be just as painful as certain things are stripped away from us. Our desert may be a period of unemployment or an extended illness. Whatever it is, it can be a time of stepping back so we can realign our lives, our desires, our actions with the purposes of God. In the desert God may shape our character, refine our motives, deepen our understanding, purify our desires, and strengthen our faith. It probably won’t be pleasant, but desert experiences don’t last forever.
Look through Scripture and you will see many people had some kind of desert experience – whether it followed on the heels of failure or not – but such experiences were only for a season. Afterwards, God’s people emerged with revitalized faith and a clearer sense of purpose. That was true for Moses, and that will be true for us as long as we don’t give up, but keep on trusting God and surrendering our hearts and wills to God. No matter what we should never give up on ourselves or on God’s plans for our lives, because God doesn’t give up on us. Experiences of failure and times in the desert can all contribute to our process of spiritual growth.
Related to this, we see that no experience of our lives is wasted. It’s all for a purpose. Moses grew up and was trained in the best Egypt had to offer. During those long years in the desert Moses probably wondered what purpose that time in Egypt served. As he would later learn, that would serve a greater purpose when Moses had to lead his people. Then there were those 40 years in the desert. That real-life experience equipped him to lead his people through the desert.
We may look back on certain events or periods in our lives and wonder, “Why did that happen? Why did I have to go through that? What purpose did that serve?” Or we may be asking those questions about our present circumstances. “What’s all this for?” But God takes all of that and weaves it into His design for our lives. No experience is wasted, even though it may take some time to see how it fits.
And finally, as we saw last week, we can trust God’s timing. Think of all the Israelites toiling in their slavery. Their cries went up to God but all they heard in response was silence. But the silence of God does not mean God is unaware or unconcerned. It just means the timing isn’t right. The Israelites didn’t know that God was preparing the man who would deliver them. And they didn’t know that before their deliverer could come the Pharaoh had to die, for that Pharaoh would have killed Moses if he returned. That’s why it says in vs. 23 that the king of Egypt died. Only after that could God send Moses back to Egypt.
When we cry out to God but hear only silence, it is not because God doesn’t care. It’s just that God, in His perfect wisdom, sees the whole picture. He sees pieces of the puzzle we don’t even know exist. And at the right time God will act.
Just before Moses killed the Egyptian, it says in vs. 11: “One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor.” Moses had grown up. But while Moses had grown up in terms of his age, he had not yet matured in his character and in his walk with God. And so God gave Moses exactly the experiences he needed so that Moses could grow in character, knowledge, and obedience, and thus fulfill the incredible call God had on his life.
No matter our age, we are always in that process of growth. There are always aspects of our character to work on, to bring into conformity with the character of Christ. There are habits we must die to. There is knowledge to be gained and lessons to be learned. But if we embrace that process of growth, not only will we have the joy of seeing ourselves become something we weren’t before, but we will also have the satisfaction of seeing how God can use us to make a difference in this world and impact others for His kingdom, just as was true for this flawed character named Moses.
So remember, God has a purpose for you. Be sure to commit yourself not only to fulfilling God’s purpose for you, but to do so God’s way. When you fail, always remember God is gracious. Be assured that no experience from your life is wasted. And be confident that God works everything out in His perfect timing.
So no matter our age, our past experiences, or how far we have come in our walk with Christ, may we have the same attitude as Sir Edmund Hillary as he stood at the base of that mountain, may we be able to truthfully say, “I am still growing!”