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Courageous Faith Series

Becoming A Leader:

“Overcoming Your Past” – Moses

2 February 2020

Let’s remember that we seek to follow the Divine Promiser and His promise which transforms ordinary people into “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). It is God’s promise which encourages our hearts and lifts our souls. His promise keeps us going when the going gets tough.

So far in our series on Courageous faith we have discussed Abraham, Jacob and Joseph. Now we come to the Story of Moses.

To begin, let’s recognize that everyone fails sooner or later. Failure is a normal part of human life. There are things on the road of life that we would prefer to leave behind: sins, fears, mistakes, disappointments, and heartaches.

Failure is especially hard on leaders. We don’t want to fail. In fact, we fear failure because we’ve seen what it does to people. And as for all those little talks about learning from our failures – forget it! We don’t want any part of it. But then it happens! We find ourselves face-to-face with failures and with ourselves.

This is the hardest part of dealing with failure – dealing with ourselves. It is so hard for people to face failure. People don’t want to fail. People don’t want to admit failure. People don’t want to do anything about it.

That’s where God comes in. He turns failures into leaders. Take Moses, for example.

The book of Exodus tells us that the Israelites prospered in Egypt, even after the deaths of Jacob and Joseph. But as time passed, a problem arose. The Bible explains in Exodus 1:8, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” That was the beginning of trouble. There was a new CEO, if you will. And he didn’t know about all the good work of the previous managers and employees. So, he started cleaning house.

Actually, a whole new dynasty of Pharaohs came to power. All the previous policies were revoked. And the Israelites became the target of many of those changes. Many scholars believe these newcomers were the Hyksos – outsiders who briefly ruled Egypt. That would explain why they were concerned about the Israelites becoming too numerous for them.

The new Pharaoh opposed the Israelites and enslaved them. He reduced them to forced labor: field hands, brick makers, and builders. But the Israelites continued to multiply. Next, the Pharaoh ordered the Hebrews midwives to kill all the newborn male babies. When they refused, he ordered the Egyptians to throw the babies into the Nile River. It was into this desperate situation that Moses was born.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

A couple from the tribe of Levi (who would become the family of priests) had a baby boy. Not wanting him to die, they hid him for three months. Finally, in desperation, the mother made a papyrus basket, coated it with tar, put the baby inside, and set him among the papyrus reeds (KJV, “bulrushes”) in the Nile River. In desperation, she did what she felt she had to do. She abandoned him to God.

In the meantime, Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river to bathe and found the basket. We’ve all heard the story of “Moses and the Bulrushes” ever since we were little kids.

Here is a child, born into poverty and slavery, discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised as her own son in wealth and splendor.

Since the Egyptians considered the Nile River to be a god, the princess took the child to be a gift from god (probably Hapi, the “Spirit” of the Nile). Her heart was moved by the baby’s cries. She “adopted” him as her own son and named him Moses after the royal throne name of the Pharaoh (Thutmosis). There can be little doubt that she hoped her son would rule Egypt one day as the new Pharaoh.

Moses had the finest education, military training, and social training that money could buy. He looked like an Egyptian, walked like an Egyptian, and talked like an Egyptian. His heart, however, was with the people of Israel. When he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he couldn’t restrain himself. He tried to intervene and inadvertently killed the Egyptian. It was an offense punishable by death, even for a member of the royal family.

Moses, who had spent years of living in prosperity in the palace, ended up running for his life. He fled from Pharaoh into the wilderness of Sinai and came to the outpost of Midian. And there he remained for forty years. The person born in poverty, but raised in prosperity, now ended up living in obscurity on the backside of the desert. It was almost as though God had given up on him. But in reality, God was preparing him for an even greater and more effective ministry in the future.

If there was ever a time when the promise seemed to fade, it was during those long difficult years in the desert. All hope seemed lost. The Israelites were in bondage. Moses was in exile. And God was silent.

But all was not lost. God had not abandoned His people. Exodus 2:24-25 says, “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.” Three things were happening while it seemed nothing was happening:

1. God heard.

2. God remembered.

3. God Looked.

And then, God called!

Learning From your Mistakes

Every time I read the story of Moses; I am reminded that it really doesn’t matter what your background is. You can either benefit from it, or you can rise above it. You may come from a very prosperous background. For some it is a blessing. For others it is a curse.

Or, you may come from a very poor background. You may have had to learn to make your own way in life. God will always use your background, even with its limitations, to prepare you for what He wants you to do in life. It doesn’t matter what your background is. Look at Moses, the son of a slave. His bed was a basket adrift on the Nile River. He was picked up by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in a palace with the greatest luxury of his time. Now he ends up out in the middle of the desert in total obscurity.

A Second Chance

After forty years of keeping the flocks of his father-in-law, Moses met with God in the desert. He came to Mount Saini and saw a bush burning and blazing with fire that was not burned up.

The burning bush caught his attention and he said, “I’m going to turn aside and see this great sight. This bush is on fire and is not consumed!” it is not unusual for a bush with a high phosphorus content to catch on fire in the desert. But ultimately it would burn up completely. This bush kept burning and burning and burning because it contained the very presence of God. The shekinah glory of the Almighty had settled there.

Moses didn’t realize this, and he came up the mountain to get a closer look. The Bible tells us the angel of the Lord appeared to him out of the midst of the burning bush. He said to Moses in Exodus 3:5-6, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are is holy ground…I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

God explained what He had been doing during Moses’ time of discouragement in Exodus 3:7-8, “And the LORD said: "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 "So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.”

That was good news to Moses’ ears. What came next, however, shocked him senseless. Exodus 3:10 says, “"Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."

Forty years earlier he had run ahead of God. Now he hesitated to move at all. Then the excuses began flowing:

1. Inadequate. “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Ex. 3:11)

2. Ignorant. “What shall I tell them?” (Ex. 3:13)

3. Insecure. “What if they do not believe me?” (Ex. 4:1)

4. Inferior. “I have never been eloquent…I am slow of speech and tongue” (Ex. 4:10)

5. Insufficient. “O Lord, please send someone else to do it” (Ex. 4:13).

When God Takes Over

Finally, Moses gave up and listened.

God said to him in Genesis 3:14, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" I am the God who always was, who always is, and who always will be. I am the God who is eternally present. I am the great self-existing God. I AM, that is the name you can use. And they’ll know who I AM. I AM the One who can help them. I AM the Promisor.

Moses’ excuses were not unlike our own. God may have tugged at your heart and said, “I want you to teach Bible class, or serve as a deacon or an elder or even a preacher” and you may have responded, “You’ve got the wrong guy! I can’t do that! Look at all my other responsibilities. Find somebody else!”

That’s what Moses said, “I can’t do it! Why, who would take care of the sheep? Bedsides, I’m a wanted man back in Egypt!”

But God said, “They’ve forgotten who you are!”

Moses protested and said, “But I’m not eloquent.”

God’s reply was in Exodus 4:11, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb?...Is it not I?” In other words, “If you have what you think is a limitation, could I remind you Moses, I am the God who made people. And I am the God who made you with your limitation. I want to use you despite your limitation so that you will bring glory to Me. I will be your mouth, and I will put the words in your mouth to let you know what to say. Besides that, if you need help, go back to Egypt and find your brother Aaron. He can speak for you.”

God took away every excuse Moses had. When Moses finally went back to Egypt, he let Aaron speak only one time. And he did such a terrible job that Moses never let him talk again. From that point on, Moses did all his own talking. Moses finally returned to Egypt – out of obscurity, into adversity, and on to victory.

No One Said it Would Be Easy

It is not easy for leaders to come back, because we expect so much of them and because they expect so much of themselves. But Moses had been fully prepared and equipped by his past. He was the only Israelite who had ever walked into the royal palace before. He was the only one familiar with Egyptian royalty. He was certainly the right person for the job.

Moses was also prepared because he had failed. He had tasted the bitter fruit of disappointment. And he knew what a second chance really meant. It meant a whole new life; a chance to redeem the moment and to right the wrong that had been done.

Many of us have been there. I certainly have. One moment we have so much, and then it’s gone! You’re in the desert, on the beach, or in the penalty box – alone but with God. This is when He becomes so real to us. When there’s nobody else to lean on and when all the props are removed. That’s when faith is put to the ultimate test.

In those lonely moments we are forced to reexamine ourselves – our beliefs, our values, and our future. We begin to realize what really matters most in life: our relationship to God and our relationship to our family. Everything else is secondary. Yet, in the success of life, it is easy to forget. It is easy to neglect and overlook the thing that really means the most to you.

While you are standing in the desert, you are consumed by the enormity of a seemingly vast wilderness of empty space. Yet, even in the desert, there is life, there is survival, and there is God. He is ready to meet you at your lowest and loneliest point. God is ready to ask, “What is that in your hand?” As He did of Moses in Exodus 4:1-5. The answer is always closer than we think!

Back To the Beginning

The journey back to Egypt was long and hard. Moses had plenty of time to think it over. He even had some close calls along the way. But there was no turning back now. He had made his decision.

Moses and Aaron gathered the elders of Israel together and explained to them what God had said He would do for them. Their response was positive. The Bible says in Exodus 4:31, “And they believed.” Their renewed faith triggered a hope for the future.

Then the Scripture adds this further note: “When they heard that the Lord was concerned about them…they bowed down and worshipped.” When people are convinced that God cares about them, they cannot help but fall at His feet and worship him. Faith, worship, and hope – these were the keys to their success.

Moses was now ready to face his past. He went to Pharaoh with a tremendous sense of courage because he had met God face-to-face. No fear. No hesitation. He simply said, “Let my people go!”

Pharaoh said, “You’re out of your mind! Get rid of this free source of labor? Are you crazy? No way!”

Moses was undeterred by the king’s resistance. Initially Moses only asked that his people be allowed to go out in the desert to worship God for three days. Later he would ask permission for the Israelites to leave for good. God, however, had to prepare the way for this to happen.

God placed plagues on the people of Egypt. They had to go through a whole series of confrontations, involving plagues of lice, frogs, flies, bugs and everything you can imagine. Some plagues were tragic. The second plague was almost hilarious. In that plague, Egyptian houses were filled with frogs – in their beds, in their ovens, and on their floors. The frogs multiplied by the millions! The Egyptians could not get rid of them.

Moses came to Pharaoh and said, “How do you like these frogs?”

Pharaoh said, “I don’t like them! Get rid of them!”

Moses insisted, “Let my people god!”

Pharaoh agreed, “You may go.”

Moses then asked Pharaoh, “When do you want me to get rid of the frogs?”

Pharaoh responded, “Tomorrow.”

Why didn’t he say, “Right now?” Was it because he wanted to spend one more night at home with the frogs? No, when he said tomorrow, he meant as soon as possible.

Each successive plague, sent by the God of Israel, was aimed at the gods of Egypt. Each was designed to convince the Pharaoh that the Lord was superior to their idols and false gods. There were ten plagues in all:

1. Nile turns to blood verses Hapi and Osiris (Nile gods).

2. Frogs versus Heqet (frog goddess)

3. Beetles versus Khepri (divine scarab)

4. Flies versus Uatchit (fly god)

5. Livestock death versus Apis and Hathor (cow deities)

6. Boils versus Imhotep (divine healer)

7. Hail versus Qetesh (storm god)

8. Locusts versus Isis (goddess of fertility)

9. Darkness versus Ra (sun god)

10. Death versus Ptah (god of life)

Moses went through all these confrontations. Pharaoh changed his mind time after time. “You can go…no you can’t go.” What he was really saying was, “I’m not really sure this is the hand of God. Maybe it’s just a coincidental circumstance, a quirk of nature, or some other such thing.”

The last two plagues, however, struck at the very heart of Egyptian religion: the sun and the sons. In a desert kingdom, everything revolved around the sun. So, the plague of darkness frightened the Egyptians more than any of the previous plagues. Also, in every ancient society, no one was more important than the first-born son, especially the son of Pharaoh. He was the god incarnate, destined for the throne. To the Egyptians, his death meant the death of their god.

After the plague of darkness, Moses warned Pharaoh, “If you don’t let us go, the firstborn of every child in Egypt will die, including Pharaoh’s own son.”

On that night, the death angel passed over Egypt. The firstborn of every Egyptian family died, including Pharaoh’s own son. He was so brokenhearted he finally said to Moses, “Go, and never come back!”

The Price of Leadership

Moses had confronted the greatest and most powerful ruler in the ancient world. He had not only conquered Pharaoh, but he had also conquered himself and his past. There would be no more wallowing in his guilt and failure, nor wishing that he was the Pharaoh.

These events were just the beginning of Moses’ long road of leadership. He had to lead his people – the former slaves – to the Promised Land. However, they weren’t used to freedom. There would be some bumps in the road ahead.

One thing, however, was clear as they marched out of Egypt: The Promise was alive! It had lain dormant for many years, but it had not died. The Promisor was still alive! Psalm 105:42-43 says, “For He remembered His holy promise, And Abraham His servant. 43 He brought out His people with joy, His chosen ones with gladness.”

The Israelites left town with relative ease. They even took Joseph’s mummy with them. When they turned south toward the Red Sea, however, they found themselves in another bind. They were stopped by the Red Sea when Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army after them. Six hundred chariots appeared on the horizon. The Israelites turned on Moses.

“What kind of leader are you? You brought us out here to the edge of the Red Sea. And we’re all going to get killed! We should have stayed back in Egypt.”

Moses began to pay the price of leadership. It was difficult enough dealing with the Egyptians. Now he had to deal with his own people as well. But this was certainly no time to turn back. Real leaders don’t quit when the road gets rough. They move ahead and march off the map!

In Exodus 14:13 Moses says, “"Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.” Moses raised his rod, and God sent a great east wind (a desert sandstorm) to part the waters of the Red Sea.

The Israelites crossed on dry land. Then the waters closed on Pharaoh’s army and destroyed it. Pharaoh was defeated and this time for good. All his army drowned. All the children of Israel were safe and sound on the other side.

However, this was not the end of the story, because Moses then led the people into the Sinai wilderness. There he had to contend with his own people.

The Israelites got to the wilderness, looked around, and said, “There’s nothing to drink here.” So, God provided water for them from a rock.

Then they complained, “There’s nothing to eat here.” So, God brought them manna from heaven. Yet, they complained again. “We don’t like manna. We want meat.”

So, God brought quail. Then the people said they were sick of quail. Finally, open rebellion began. God simply opened the earth, and it swallowed some of them. The rest of the Israelites finally got the point. They were supposed to follow God’s leader to God’s destination.

Despite all the difficulties, it was there in that wilderness that God’s greatest blessings came. There the Israelites received the Law and the Ten Commandments. They built the Tabernacle – they established a place to worship God – there in the wilderness. The glory of God came down from heaven and rested on the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies in that Tabernacle.

It took forty long years in the wilderness to learn the lessons God was teaching them. Eventually, Moses brought them to a place of victory.

You may be going through a tough time in your life right now. You may feel like you are in a wilderness. Perhaps the struggle has been long and difficult, and you don’t know when you’re ever going to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Friends, God is there every step of the way. In times of difficulty, as well as the times of blessing. He has not forgotten you.

You may be at one of those wilderness points in your life. Don’t give up! And whatever you do, don’t blame God. He is there with you every step of the way, even when He is silent. Remember what He was doing while the Israelites were in bondage? He saw their plight. He heard their cries. He remembered His promises. And he came to rescue them. And He will rescue you too – When He is finished preparing you.

When failure comes your way, remember:

1. To fail is to be fully human. God is aware of your limitations. True success is not avoiding failure but learning what to do with it.

2. To fail is not to be a failure. Babe Ruth is remembered for his home runs. But he also set the record for the most strike outs.

3. No one is a failure until he stops trying. Thomas Edison made over five thousand attempts before he finally invented a lightbulb that worked.

4. Failure is never final if you get up one more time than you fall down. The fear of failure is far greater than the failure itself. If you’ve failed, admit it and start over. Focus on your future, not your past.

Perhaps things haven’t gone well, and you are in obscurity. This is not the end. It is only the process. It will lead to greater things, You may have lost a position of leadership, been demoted to another job, taken a pay cut – or all of the above!

Or, perhaps everything is going great right now. You may be riding the wave of success. May I remind you: When you’re up have a heart for those who are down. Reach down and lift them up. When they’re up and you’re down, they can reach down and lift you up as well. Believe it or not, most of us can survive failure. The greatest temptation of all is dealing with success.

Moses is an incredible example for us. He was born in poverty raised in prosperity, sent into obscurity, and returned in victory. What made the difference? He met God in the wilderness, After the burning bush, he knew that he was no longer alone. God was with him. God made all the difference. And He has promised to do the same for you!

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