I don't watch much TV at all, but last Saturday night--Easter weekend--I caught a very short portion of a very, very long movie on television. That movie was none other than "The Ten Commandments", starring Charlton Heston. I remember as a kid watching that movie at my Nanny's house, as she, at some point, had made a VHS recording of it when it came on TV. (Besides the fact that it was Easter weekend, I also thought the timing was nice, as last week marked the 9th anniversary of my Nanny's passing.) To be honest, I have to say...I had forgotten how absolutely cheesy that movie is! It kind-of made me laugh a little bit...
However, when we take a look at the actual Biblical account of the life of Moses, the person we find within those pages was quite different than the one that Charlton Heston protrayed. Moses was a humble man who became a strong leader because he relied on His God. His task was not easy, and he even sometimes questioned what the Lord was doing. But he knew who God was, he knew that God keeps His promises, and he desired for the Lord to be near to him and his fellow Israelites. Moses was anything but cheesy.
The task that the Lord gave to Moses is not one that I would willingly sign up for, and it is abundantly clear that Moses struggled with it from time to time. Honestly, reading some of those passages, when he questions--even accuses--the Lord and the Lord's actions, makes me a little uncomfortable. Towards the beginning of Moses' task, when he first returns to Egypt, he is frustrated, because the neither the people of Israel, nor the Pharaoh of Egypt, will listen to him. In fact, after he first goes to Pharaoh, the Israelites slavery becomes even more difficult, as they are required to make their bricks without straw, and the Israelites seem to blame this on Moses. Moses, in turn, seems to blame this on God, as he accuses, "O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all." When God answers Moses and sends him back to Pharaoh, Moses' retort is, "If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?"
Regardless of Moses' perceptions and accusations, the Lord did, in fact do what He said He was going to. He delivered His people from Pharaoh. But the Israelites seemed to have quickly forgotten about this, as they are wandering through the desert. They complain about everything, and when they are angry with Moses because of a lack of water to drink, Moses complains to the Lord, "What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me!" Again, despite the fact that the Lord provides water for His people to drink and manna for His people to eat, they continue to complain, next about a lack of meat to eat. This time, Moses just seems to let the Lord have it, as he asks Him, "Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!' I cannot carry these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now--if I have found favor in your eyes--and do not let me face my own ruin." The Lord does not answer Moses harshly, but He does assure Moses that He will provide the people with meat "until they loathe it." When Moses questions God's ability to do this, I do think God's reply to him is worth remembering: "Is the Lord's arm too short?"
Really, though, Moses knew better. He knew that the Lord's arm was, indeed, mighty to accomplish His tasks. He knew what kind of God that He followed, and similarly to Abraham, he often appealed to the nature of the Lord and to His Great Name. On two separate occasions when the Israelites disobeyed God--when they worshiped a golden calf, and when they did not have faith enough to enter the promised land--Moses did exactly that. The Lord was angry with the people; He was ready to destroy them and make Moses into a nation. Each time, Moses' response was something to the effect of "O Lord, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.'" On another occasion, when a few people rebelled against the Lord, Moses asked of God, "O God, God of the spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?" Very important, it seems, that in each of these instances, the Lord listened to Moses, and he did not bring the great punishment that He had intended.
Through all of this, I love the fact that Moses wants to know God and have a relationship with Him. He loves his God. You might miss it, amidst all the accusing and the questioning and the pleading. But let's not miss a very important conversation that Moses has with the Lord, in Exodus 33: "Moses said to the Lord, 'You have been telling me, "Lead these people," but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, "I know you by name and you have found favor with me." If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.' The Lord replied, 'My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.' Then Moses said to him, 'If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?' And the Lord said to Moses, 'I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.' Then Moses said, 'Now show me your glory.'" The most astounding part of this situation is that right after this conversation--the Lord shows him His glory!
Now, there are several things that I can take away from these passages of scripture. The first is that I can be doing exactly what God is telling me to do, and the results may not immediately be what I am expecting. That's a frustrating feeling, and based on the interactions between Moses and the Lord, I feel comfortable voicing those frustrations to Him--He already knows how I'm feeling anyway. But it would be wise of me to learn that He works on His timetable, not mine.
Secondly, I can always remember that the Lord's arm is never too short to keep His promises. Whatever He says He is going to do...I can guarantee that He will. Yet He is also willing to listen and forgive.
Finally, I get the feeling that I can't underestimate the importance of being in the Lord's Presence...and of having His Presence accompany me. Moses would've rather died than try to go forward in life without God. Moses wanted to know that the Lord was pleased with Him, and He seemed to equate that with the Lord's Presence going before him. Likewise, as Christians, the Lord is pleased with us, because God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Christ, and through Christ to reconcile to Himself all things. This, the apostle Paul says, is an incredible mystery, but one that has now been revealed...that is, Christ--God's Presence, in us!