Have you ever read the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst? It is a child’s book, so if you don’t have kids you probably haven’t had the opportunity to laugh your way through 24 hours with the main character and his constant calamities. As we read Chapter 5 in Exodus, I sort of feel like I am reading a very serious Old Testament version of that book, only featuring a day in the life of Moses-a day I’m sure he wished was children’s fiction.
If you remember back to Monday and look again at the end of Exodus 4, we find Moses at the “general assembly” with the Israelite leaders, finally experiencing a little bit of success. I can see him and Aaron coming out of that meeting and giving each other a fist pump. I envision excitement; especially considering that Moses has just escaped a near death experience with the Lord and yet is still unanimously instated as the new leader of God’s oppressed people. Talk about a victory for the come-back kid! The only proof he presented to the elders that he was their man was the miraculous signs the Lord had given him. I can almost hear Moses whispering, “please work, please work, please work,” as he must of put his hand in his cloak and threw the staff to the ground that night. They did work of course. The people bought it, worshipped, and sent Moses and Aaron off to order up some deliverance. However, did you happen to notice Moses’ failure to mention the part about how Pharaoh was not going to co-operate and that this was going to be a bit of a struggle (Exodus 3:19)? That might have been an important piece of information, don’t you think? I wonder if he was on such a roll that he accidentally forgot, or maybe he didn’t want to be a downer in the midst of what must have been some serious rejoicing. The reason why Moses didn’t divulge the upcoming difficulties on the road to deliverance we can only guess, but the consequence is obvious. It left a nation unprepared for a difficult and long journey. But it also led to a critical lesson for this inexperienced leader, one that we will hopefully learn alongside him.
Moses’ first encounter with Pharaoh had to make his top-ten-list of rotten days. The Egyptian ruler does exactly as God predicted and denies his request for a religious holiday. “That same day” (Exodus 5:6), the Israelites were ordered to work even harder, under more abusive conditions and find their own supplies. But the most crushing blow of all had to come when Moses’ own beloved people turned on him. Feelings of defeat and failure certainly overcame Moses as the foremen said to him “May the Lord look upon you and judge you!”(Exodus 5:19). Martin Luther King Jr., a man who could certainly relate to Moses’ circumstances, once said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” By the end of chapter 5 we find Moses precisely in the midst of one of those defining moments.
Although the next chapters will describe in great detail the complexity of the plan God carried out through Moses, a priceless discipline emerges from our leader-in-training that is really quite simple: Moses’ first step in his time of crisis was to return to the Lord (vs. 22). I realize that verse doesn’t seem practical for our modern day leaders nor reveal a dramatic theological plan of action; maybe that is why it so rare. Our pastor regularly prays from the pulpit that our government leaders would be men and women that would seek the Lord, but I’ll confess to you-I can hardly imagine what that would look like! Last month marked the 38th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. How many lives would have been spared if the government leaders involved in that tragic decision would have “returned to the Lord”? Unfortunately recounting the failures of ungodly leaders doesn’t change the historic consequences of their actions, but looking to leaders like Moses can alter the results of ours.
Thankfully, the Lord does not limit returning to Him to those He places in public leadership roles. Although only a few of you can relate to the frustration Moses experienced in this chapter as a leader, all of us can glean from his example of seeking the Lord when we feel as if we are failing miserably at the jobs we are certain God has called us to. I wish I were exaggerating when I tell you that most Sunday evenings, after spending an entire two days with our four lovely children, my husband looks at me in desperation and says, “I think we are doing something wrong…” and it prompts both of us to immediately return to the Lord! But think of how much more difficult this response is when our perceived failures hurt the ones we love the most. It is in these moments that I usually go a little crazy and start justifying all of my actions “in the name of Jesus!” In contrast, Moses takes a much more sane and effective approach. He returns to the One who has control over the situation and we witness the cry of a broken and contrite heart (see Psalm 51:17), and a man persevering; sincerely seeking the Lord’s will. Moses isn’t running through the Israelite camp pleading his righteousness, but back on his knees and in a sense asking God, “Do I have this right?” A place we would be wise to find ourselves when defeat comes knocking on our doors.
If you are not currently in a time of trial, you can be sure one is waiting just around the corner. In Matthew 16:33, Jesus promises that in this world there will be trouble. And what will our response be? Can we return to the Lord with Moses, no matter how crushing the blow, and ask for guidance? It’s going to take humility, a teachable spirit, and the resolve to get up and do the thing again if He asks us. Hear these encouraging words to those willing to fight the good fight.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:2-5
We certainly see these verses unfolding in the life of Moses as he returns to the Lord by the end of the fifth chapter of Exodus. But the question remains, do we see them in ourselves? As Dr. King accurately stated nearly a half of a century ago, the world will continue to measure men and women on where they stand in a crisis. Jesus however is much more interested in how quickly we can kneel. Praise Him for that sister!
Your Homework for next time is to read Exodus 6: 1-12. Have a restful weekend!
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