What do you think of when you think of Moses? If you were raised in the church you probably see him as a sort of Old Testament action hero; a Pharaoh-defying, Red Sea-splitting, Sinai-scaling man’s man with a beard so epic it would cause even Phil Robertson to covet. And while those stories are true and amazing, there is much more to the story, the part that probably would not have made Moses’ facebook wall. It’s his time in Midian.
Exodus 2 and 3 recount for us Moses’ early life and tell us the amazing story of God’s providence in his life. Pharaoh had issued a decree that all of the Hebrew baby boys were to be killed, and not only was Moses saved from this, it was Pharaoh’s own daughter he rescued him. Moses dined at the table of the very man who had decreed his death, for 40 years. But one day Moses witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, a man whose blood ran through Moses’ veins, and rather than trusting God to bring about justice, Moses acted in the place of God and killed the Egyptian. Though he frantically buried the man, all the sand in Egypt could not hide his transgression. And for the second time Pharaoh would demand his life. So the Hebrew who was to be the prince of Egypt, was now a fugitive.
Then came the wilderness.
Moses fled to a foreign land called Midian and while the Exodus doesn’t say it explicitly, Acts 7:30 gives away the story: Moses spent 40 years in Midian. 40 years. Away from the pomp and privilege of Egypt, from everything that was familiar. From home. What is more, Moses ended up becoming a shepherd and Genesis 46:34 tells us that “every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” Though Exodus doesn’t give us the timeframe, it does offer a clue into the state of Moses’ soul, at least initially, during this season; the text tells us that he named his firstborn “Gershom” which literally means, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.”
From Egypt to Midian. From Pharaoh to Jethro. From prince to shepherd.
From all earthly signs, Moses’ life had taken a tragic turn. However, the gracious hand of God was still guiding every step. Let’s not skip too quickly over the Midian Moses. Their is much wisdom to be mined from the caverns of the desert. The reality is, if you are a Christian you will spend some seasons in the wilderness. It’s not optional, it’s in the job description (see Hebrews 12:1-13). You might even find yourself there today. I want to simply offer four truths for us to remember when we find ourselves in the spiritual wilderness.
1. THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT CAN ONLY BE FORGED IN THE WILDERNESS
God is completely serious about making us holy. The problem is, it just so happens that the most difficult thing in the universe to do is to make a sinner holy. That means that the process of sanctification (ie being made holy), though often accompanied with joy and a deep sense of freedom, will also necessarily involve pain and struggle, and this often happens in the wilderness. In that moment, here’s what we need to remember: something is being wrought in your soul that is more precious than can be imagined, and it can only happen in the specific place you find yourself. Peter says it this way,
“. . . rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).”
This is true even if we can’t feel it. When we see Jesus we will be so thankful for the wilderness, because we will then see how the Lord was working in us to strengthen our faith and to make us more like Jesus. Tim Keller, in his insightful book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, says it this way: “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.” Believe it or not, if you could see from the perspective of heaven, you would welcome the wilderness.
2. THE WILDERNESS FREES US FROM THE ILLUSION OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY
In Exodus 3 the Lord appears to Moses from a burning bush. He tells Moses that he is going to send him to Pharaoh and secure the freedom of the Israelites from slavery. How does Moses respond to this revelation? He peers through his fingers and with a quivering voice utters: who am I?
This response reveals something significant: the wilderness had freed Moses from the illusion of self-sufficiency. Moses was not the headstrong Egyptian killer that he had once been. His time in Midian had humbled him, and he knew that he could not do what was being asked of him. Now he was ready to be used by God. It is worth noting what God didn’t say in response. He didn’t puff up Moses’ ego and say, “C’mon Moses, sure you can! You just need a better self-image!” That would have been both untrue and unhelpful. God gave Moses this simple and solid truth promise: “I will be with you.”
In the same way, we are all tempted towards believing we are completely autonomous. Rugged individualism is one of the trademarks of what it means to be American. Yet the reality is, we are an utterly needy people, and that is why the gospel is so amazing; that while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). We are never in a more dangerous place than when we forget how desperate we are for God’s grace. Listen to what Paul has to say about this,
“To keep me from becoming conceited . . . a thorn was given me in the flesh . . . Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).”
The wilderness shows us our weaknesses, yes, but it also reveals the grace and strength of the all-sufficient One. This is true freedom.
3. EVEN JESUS SPENT A SEASON IN THE WILDERNESS
Jesus knows the dark and lonely paths that we all must walk. How? Because he has walked them himself. In the gospel of Matthew, immediately after the baptism of Christ we read these remarkable words: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1).”
Don’t let that hang just hang in the air.
This is staggering. When you are in the wilderness you need to know that your Savior is not only walking with you in that very moment, but that he has also walked it himself. But why did Jesus willingly suffer in the same ways that we do? Few places shine so bright a light on this very question than Hebrews 5,
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (vv 7-9).”
Jesus suffered for us so that he could become our “source of salvation.” And not just that, but the text also says that even Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” Our God is not a distant, disinterested deity. He knows our pain. His love compelled him to walk with us into the wilderness. This is the truth. What a deep well of comfort for a tired and thirsty soul.
4. YOU CANNOT SIN YOUR WAY OUT OF THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
Often times it’s because of our own sin that we find ourselves in a dry season. That was certainly the case for Moses. Do you remember why he was in Midian? Because he was a murderer. Yet, God was not taken by surprise. Moses’ sin could not thwart God’s sovereign plan to bring freedom to his people. So God, in his lovingkindness, leveraged Moses’ sin to ultimately bring about the salvation of Israel. After all, if his people were going to be leaving Egypt he would certainly need someone to shepherd them into the wilderness. So God went into the wilderness, and found an old fugitive who had learned how to shepherd.
Exodus teaches us that our sin doesn’t have the final say, God does. This does not mean that our sin won’t cause very real pain and sorrow. It does. And it does not mean that God approves of our sin. He doesn’t. It does mean, though, that for all who have trusted in Jesus for forgiveness the power of sin has been destroyed. Now God is making everything new and is working all things together for our good and for his glory. This includes the folly of our youth (thank God).
Nowhere is God’s sovereign power over man’s sin demonstrated more clearly than in the death of the son of God. Consider these incredible passages from the book of Acts,
“‘Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death.” [ Acts 2:22-24, from Peter’s sermon]
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” [Acts 4:27-28, from a prayer of the believers]
You should probably read those again.
If God can use the most horrific act ever committed to secure our eternal salvation, surely our sin cannot derail the whole affair once we have trusted in Jesus. Sin should humble us, but the moment it turns to shame or condemnation, we know that we are living under the lie of the accuser (Rev 12:10). Jesus Christ has secured our freedom and when the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36).
Believer, we will all go through our own personal Midians, but if we pack these truths away in the satchels of our minds the bright light of truth will guide us through the darkness.
- I highly recommend this sermon by Sinclair Ferguson on Hebrews 12 and the discipline of the Lord: http://media.sermonaudio.com/sermons006/6101374036c.m3u
- This is adapted from a section of a sermon I preached on March 2nd. If interested, you can listen to it here: http://www.crosspointewintersprings.com/sermons/sermon/2014-03-02/-finding-freedom-in-gods-name---exodus-3:1-22-