Rembrandt_-_Moses_with_the_Ten_Commandments_-_Google_Art_ProjectIn The Second Chapter of Exodus, we have presented the Story of Moses and how he was prepared by God for the great mission he would one day take up, by God grace, that of delivering and leading the Jewish people to freedom and toward the Promised Land. But as we shall see, Moses’ preparation is anything but uneventful. God must prepare him in a crucible of sorts and also lead him to a greater humility prior to his great mission. It is not an easy preparation. Let’s look to the purposeful preparation of the Man named Moses.

I. Family situation - At the Chapter opens, we read: Now a man from the house of Levi went and took to wife a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could hide him no longer she took for him a basket made of bulrushes, and daubed it with bitumen and pitch; and she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds at the river’s brink. And his sister stood at a distance, to know what would be done to him. (Ex 2:1-4)

Thus we have the dramatic opening of the birth of Moses with a death sentence over his head. Pharaoh has ordered the death of every Hebrew boy saying to the midwives, When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live (Exodus 1:16). Moses is thus slated to die on account of murderous greed, royal injustice, and the fearful assent of others.

But look again! And see the focus on women and their initiative in this chapter. Moses’ mother, his sister and Pharaoh’s daughter are all mentioned as standing in the gap against the injustice of their day. It is interesting that men are not mentioned!

This provides a key insight into the ways of God. In situations of oppression it is often the weakest who show themselves most powerful, and that, in weakness, power often reaches perfection. Perhaps this is because the weak and powerless have the least to lose and are the least invested in the “way things are.” And thus Scripture teaches of how our weakness opens the door to God’s strength:

  1. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor 1:27 )
  2. Three times I besought 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.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, 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 Cor 12:8 )

As we shall see, this insight will be important for Moses in years to come when he is forty years of age. For in his strength he will be too “strong” to be used by God. God will first need to humble and age him, weaken his human power, to make him useful.

But for now simply note the strong stock from which Moses comes. His mother and aunt make a daring and risky move, and prove themselves resourceful in the midst of a depraved and wicked situation. They will resist evil, but not by adopting evil’s tactics, rather by making what will amount to a daring raid, a stealthy incursion, in to the very source of evil, Pharaoh’s own household.

It would seem that Moses’ mother must have informed him of his Hebrew origins at some point for Scripture says elsewhere:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. (Heb 11:24-27)

And while it involves some conjecture, we can almost imagine his mother, serving as his caretaker in pharaoh’s palace teaching him: Son, this is who you really are and don’t you forget it. Don’t be fooled by all this power and money, by all these trappings. Remember your people and consider that God has saved you for a reason and has a plan for your life.

Yes, we ought to know that Moses came from strong stock, and even if we have to read between the lines, it is clear that Moses had a strong and daring mother and family.

Lets read on.

II. Fantastic Sovereignty - Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, and her maidens walked beside the river; she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to fetch it. When she opened it she saw the child; and lo, the babe was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away, and
nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10 And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son; and she named him Moses, for she said, “Because I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:5-10)

In some ways the action of these women shows both desperation and decisiveness. Floating Moses downstream is quite chancy but notice the mother and daughter monitor the situation to see what will come, and be able to respond to whatever occurs. Hence they remain actors in the drama not merely hapless victims of the situation.

Note too, the similarities to the story of Noah and the Ark and also the Cross cannot be overlooked:

  1. A wooden ark covered with pitch
  2. Moses floats to salvation on the very waters that meant death for others.
  3. God is sovereign in that he works his purposes out despite human sinfulness and stubbornness. In fact, he even uses human sin to accomplish his purposes.
  4. Human sin becomes the launching pad for divine action.

Note the list of ironies and divine sovereignty we can observe in this short
passage:

  1. Pharaoh’s chosen instrument of destruction (the Nile) is the means for saving Moses.
  2. The women who are “allowed to live” sonce Pharaoh’s death sentence did not include them,  (presumably because they as less a threat) now proceed to oppose Pharaoh and deal a serious blow to his plans of suppression
  3. The mother of Moses saves him by following Pharaoh’s order (with a twist). Moses is cast into the water as ordered, but on the wood of a kind of ark or cross.
  4. A member of Pharaoh’s own family undermines his policies and saves the very person who will ultimately defeat Pharaoh.
  5. Egyptian royalty (through Pharaoh’s daughter) heeds a Hebrew girl’s advice and receives the seed of it’s own destruction
  6. Moses’ mother gets paid from Pharaoh’s own budget to do what she most wants to do (nurture her son).
  7. Moses is educated to be an Israelite leader within the very court of Pharaoh.
  8. Pharaoh’s daughter gives Moses a name that is prophetic: true she drew from the water, but Moses would draw Israel out of the water too!

Yes, God has initiated through these women, a daring raid on the lair of evil, Pharaoh’s palace, and placed and agent, a savior there who will be prepared by Pharaoh’s own court for its eventual downfall.  Indeed, though we know little of these years from the Exodus account, Scripture later tells us, through St. Stephen’s speech in Acts of the glory of Moses’ upbringing in the Court of Pharaoh:

At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for by his family.When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son.Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. (Acts 7:20-22)

Yes, Pharaoh was teaching and preparing his own nemesis. He was preparing his own downfall. You might call this  the “fantastic sovereignty” of God.

III. False Start - So things are well underway for deliverance for the Hebrews. But then comes a twist, a kind of development in the plot that warns us not to get out ahead of God.  The text says,  One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together; and he said to the man that did the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh, and stayed in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well. (Ex. 2:11-15)

The problem here is that Moses appoints himself. The Hebrew man may be rude and in the wrong but he speaks rightly, asking,  Who made you a prince and a judge over us? And of course the answer is, “no one has.” God has not yet spoken to Moses as he will later do. Moses is out ahead of God. Moses tries to save his people without God. This is pride and presumption.

This is at the heart of the matter. God needs to work with Moses for forty
more years before he is ready.

We cannot avoid the clear indictment that Moses is a murderer. Despite feeling righteousness indignation well up within him, he has no right to kill.

It remains a truth that our most of our Biblical heroes have “pasts” and struggled with sin and weakness in their lives. We are dealing with human beings here, not epic heroes. We see in Genesis with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rachel, Leah, et al., all of them had “issues.” Looking ahead, we shall see other examples, David. Elijah, Jonah, Peter, Paul, just to name a few. Regarding Moses, Imagine God making a past murderer the great leader of his people!

And thus, God will use whom he will use, even those with a past and those who have had great struggles.

But as for now, Moses has gotten out ahead of God, and in his pride commits the sin of murder. Scripture says elsewhere of Moses’ error:  [Moses] supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand (Acts 7:25). And indeed, why should they? God has revealed no such thing to them yet, and has not yet sent Moses to them.

Let us be clear, Moses, at age 40, in his prime, is too strong and too proud for God to use. God seeks the weak and humble, those who will depend on him. Thus Moses needs purification and preparation in the desert, where he must now flee. For forty years, God will work with him, and when Moses is finally weak and humble enough, not trusting in his own power, then God will finally call him. For now, he must stand down.

Pay attention dear reader. Too many of us also get out ahead of God. Too many of us also undertake tasks that God has not given or has said, “not yet” to. Troubles and burdens, even grave sins can come when we get out of or ahead of God’s will.

IV. Formative Sojourning - And Thus Moses flees to the desert where God will purify and prepare him for something he cannot handle right now. The text says,  Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came and drew
water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. The shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. When they came to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “And where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. She bore a son, and he called his name Gershom; for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” (Exodus 2:16-22)

Moses will now live humbly. He will have a desert experience. He will learn to
shepherd. He will raise a family. He will learn patience and, with age, his own limits.

The paradox of all this is that God seeks us in our humility more than our strength. Without humility we are dangerous and God cannot use us. Finally in forty years, when Moses is 80, leaning on a cane, and of stammering speech, God will finally say, “Now I can use you, for now you will rely on my power, not yours.”

V. Foreseeing Strategy - The text of Exodus 2 concludes: In the course of those many days the king of Egypt died. And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the people of Israel, and God knew their condition. (Ex 2:22-25)

In a strange way God has almost been in the background up to this point. Now
finally he is disclosed and described as one who hears, remembers, sees and knows the condition of his people.

We know from what follows and also from what we have already discussed, God
is not a passive observer here. He has been laying the groundwork for the deliverance of his people and is working his purposes out. All this time God has been silently at work.

Moses the deliverer was snatched from the waters, educated and prepared in Pharaoh’s own courts, by Pharaoh’s finest. Moses has had his pride humbled, and his human strength replaced by divine dependance through a forty year purification in the desert. And now the deliverer of Israel is finally ready.

Chapter three will show some need to grow in trust, But Moses is now ready and the deliverance shall commence.

And as for Moses, there was operative for him those forty years in the desert the words of an old Gospel Song:

God is preparing me.
He’s preparing me for something
I cannot handle right now;
He’s making me ready just because He cares.
He’s providing me with what I need
to carry out the next matter in my life.

He’s maturing me
He’s arranging me
He’s preparing
He is training me
He is tuning me
He is purging me
He is pruning me
For everything
That comes in my life

That’s Moses’ Story. How about yours?

22 Responses

  1. Peter Wolczuk says:

    Numbers 12:3 “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) NIV. This was after a lot of God’s preparation of Moses.

  2. Sandra Lipari says:

    We ALWAYS stand in the “gap” for our families… no matter what the cost! Our peripheral vision is fully round seeing and watching is coming. Preparation and posture for the road ahead our constant vigil. May Holy God protect all mothers!

    “Moses’ mother, his sister and Pharaoh’s daughter are all mentioned as standing in the gap against the injustice of their day. It is interesting that men are not mentioned!”

  3. RichardGTC says:

    Exodus 7:1 “[1] And the Lord said to Moses: Behold I have appointed thee the God of Pharao: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” I think the relationship of Aaron to Moses foreshadows the relationship of the Pope to Jesus.

  4. Vijaya says:

    Thank you for the wonderful breaking open of the Word. I never before thought about how God uses the weaker sex. The story of Moses is so magnificent, so beautifully rendered in the Ten Commandments.

    Our story, in a nutshell: it’s taken us a long time to realize we have been climbing the wrong tree (that of material success) … now that we’ve fallen, we are being humbled and purified. I hope it doesn’t take us another forty years. I just made a blog post about Motherhood and Career (http://www.vijayabodach.blogspot.com/2013/05/on-motherhood-and-career.html) which is relevant.

  5. Candida Eittreim says:

    “This is my story, this is my song” He is the Potter, we are His clay. Alleluia! how skilled at shaping us He is! Thank you again for another wonderful reflection.

  6. Dylan Kim says:

    I thank you and I pray for you, Monsignor. This sheep is never full on your preaching.

    I love the list of ironies. I tend to forget that truth is so often a paradox requiring a much closer look at what is happening and what is *actually* happening. Even then, without faith, I could not reason or analyze productively. Realizing the irony of life in general inspires me to trust God so much more, and myself so much less!

  7. george w. says:

    You left out:
    Pharaoh then commanded all his people, “Throw into the Nile every boy that is born, but you may let all the girls live.” Moses is thus slated to die on account of murderous greed, royal injustice, and the fearful assent of others.(Exodus 1:22).

    • I am not sure what you mean since you’re quoting my article.

      • Marie says:

        Msgr., I noticed the same thing. The article seems to leave out the part about _how_ the boys were to be killed. It just says, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live (Exodus 1:16).” This is in the third paragraph of the article and its omission makes the later point (about water intended to be the means of death) harder to understand.

        • Once again I am puzzled since you say on the one hand I leave something out and then say “It is in the third paragraph of the article.” And if I am quoting from Exodus how is it that I am leaving something out for a quote must report what is written. Any way I am genuinely confused.

          • Chris says:

            Dear Monsignor Pope,
            If I understand George and Marie’s posts correctly, it seems that your quotation from Exodus in the third paragraph says that Hebrew boys would be killed; however, it does not specify “HOW” the killing would take place, i.e. perhaps the midwives could have strangled the newborns or killed them by some other horrendous act. Later in the article, you mention that an irony is that “1. Pharaoh’s chosen instrument of destruction (the Nile) is the means for saving Moses.” Without knowing that Pharaoh had instructed the midwives to kill the boys “specifically” by drowning, we would not know why the Nile was an instrument of destruction for the Pharaoh.
            Thank you so much for this article, Monsignor. It is very thought-provoking, and I have never looked at the story of Moses as having so many promising avenues of study to explore. I plan to bookmark this article and return to it during my Scriptural study time to be able to investigate your points more thoroughly. Thank you again for this gem!

          • Marie says:

            Msgr. in the third paragraph is where the omission occurs. The verse that you quote (1:16) does not specify drowning in the Nile. It just says, “if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him.” The verse that is omitted which it would be helpful to see included (in that paragraph or at least somewhere) would be 1:22.

            The reason it would be helpful is that the article goes on to make a point (#1 in the list of ironies) that depends on our knowing that Pharaoh had specified an actual method for the killing. I have to agree with George W that when I read that first point in the list of ironies it did not quite make sense to me based on the sections of Exodus you had quoted. It would be helpful if verse 1:22 were actually spelled out.

  8. Deaf & Dumb says:

    Monsignor, help me please. I take 2 lessons from this, one good and one not:

    1. Not to undertake tasks that God has not given or has said, “not yet” to. Good lesson worth pondering.

    2. Don’t come to the defense of the weaker (whether a “fellow Hebrew” or an unborn child) until God says to. Unfortunately, being hard of hearing, I’ll have to wait until God speaks to me from a burning bush.

    Until then, anytime I *think* God is telling me to act I’ll never know if it is Him speaking, or my pride trying to get out ahead of God. If I act, it’s pride. If I don’t act, it’s disobedience.

    How do I tell? You will answer “pray harder”. And I’ll say I do…yet I do not hear.

    Help me?

  9. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    In my early twenties I felt that it would be awsome to spend 40 days in the wilderness to commune with the Spirit. Family influences seemed to dictate my circumstances in spending the next 40 years wandering in the worldly desert, taking a wife and raising a family. The trials and tribulations have brought me closer to God but I haven’t received the any special calling, joy or success and that’s very humbling. I wonder sometimes if I have failed God’s will and yet I don’t see any alternative other than to carry on in faith leaving the outcome to Him. I have been blessed with good family and friends. Without them, there were hard times where I would not have been able to meet the challenges of providing for the needs of my wife and children. I feel I owe more to those I received from than I will ever be capable of giving back in return. Life just keeps on moving on without any brakes. Bless us oh Lord in these Thy gifts which we receive from Thy bounty and lead us not in to temptation but deliver us from evil amen.

  10. stefanie says:

    Thank you for this, Monsignor.
    I have come to think of my life in 40-years sequences. I returned to Holy Church when I was 40 — I’m 16 years into the new adventure. I feel very much that I am in the next 40 years-of-learning-to-be-a-handmaiden/servant in the desert phase — although there have been many oasis days. I keep on my desk at the parish a statue of a shepherdess holding a lamb to remind me of that very thing. Working at the parish reveals much weakness in myself and in others, yet we can only offer compassion and the solid food of sound teaching.
    Very aware that every situation and every person I’ve known — even now — has been preparing me for life in the Church Militant. God wastes nothing, even though sometimes I think I have wasted much while pursuing my own interests.

  11. stefanie says:

    I also love that our Lord honored Moses and the desert experience by going out into the desert Himself for 40 days before He began His public ministry.

  12. Lorraine from Canada says:

    Thank you Monsignor. I needed to grasp on to this today, especially the words of the old Gospel song. God bless you. I get so much out of all of your writings.

  13. K. Louise says:

    This post is exceptionally excellent. It is full of hope for weak humans. First of all, it teaches us the importance of the virtue of humility, how much God values humility and how much we need it to do God’s will. Secondly, for those of us who had a disrupted childhood and/or became involved with mortal sin, it gives us the model of Moses. Maybe we should call him St. Moses and take him for a patron saint. He went on to the mountaintop to receive the 10 Commandments from the Finger of God. The memory of his past became part of the foundation of his goodness. Dawn Eden writes about the prayer “Suscipe” by St. Ignatius in her book, “My Peace I Give You.” “…there is something very beautiful about St. Ignatius offering his memory to God. The saint acknowledges there are things he cannot change – the events of his past – and at the same time displays the bold hope that his Maker will accept him as he is now, with everything he did and everything that was done to him. Such is true abandonment to divine providence – joyfully accepting in your own life the truth encapsulated in the old proverb, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

  14. Drexel Gregory says:

    Monsignor Pope, thanks, when you posted this, I was having the same questions of myself. It’s one of those times when Providence works through coincidence.

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