Faith of Moses: Moses in the school of God

Home >  Full Study List >  Faith of Moses: Moses in the school of God

Bible Studies on the Real Heroes of the Faith Hebrews 11

Faith of Moses: Moses in the school of God

by I Gordon

Hebrews 11:24-28 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. (25) He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. (26) 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. (27) By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. (28) By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

As you read through Hebrews 11, God's hall of faith, you can get the idea that these heroes of the faith were kind of, well, perfect... Someone very much unlike you! (And yeah... ok, me.) Hebrews 11 only looks at the wonderful words and deeds that were performed by these men and women of God. No spot or blemish in their life is mentioned, but only their life of faith and obedience to God. When you read the Old Testament account, it gives you a more 'warts and all' account. Noah got drunk. Abraham lied about Sarah, twice, putting her in danger both times. Isaac his son does the same thing with his wife Rebekah. Jacob deceived his father Isaac. Moses killed a man in anger. Samson had a severe weakness for Philistine women that ultimately lead to his downfall. David took another man's wife and had her husband killed. And we could carry on. Yet you will not find any of these mis-steps in Hebrews 11. The New Testament account is totally wart free. Actually, maybe warts aren't the nicest illustration to use.  [1]  Maybe this might be a better comparison: When they put a model or celebrity on the cover of a magazine they will Photoshop and air brush the image, resulting in a picture totally free from every spot, line, mark and wrinkle. Perfect. See the same celebrity in real life and you might think 'eeeerrgh'. They can look, well, normal. Average even... something not too dissimilar to the rest of us. So the Old Testament presents the life of these saints showing the good, the bad and the ugly - the steps of faith along with the stumbles. Read the New Testament and the mis-steps are gone. No spot or blemishes remain. So which is true? The Old Testament or New Testament account? Well, that depends on whose eyes you are looking through and what side of the cross you are looking from. From an earthly, pre-cross perspective, the Old Testament gives it to you just as you'd expect looking at their life with human eyes. But if you want to see the lives of these men and women of God from a post-cross, heavenly perspective, then the New Testament gives you that. It looks at these saints through God's eyes, where no spot, fine line or deep seated persistent wrinkle remains. The difference is the cross of Christ. It's a wonderful thing. And even better is the fact that all born again Christians are seen that way by God because of Jesus Christ!

So Hebrews 11 doesn't talk about their sins and it also doesn't say much about their training and preparation in their walk of faith. But this is important. Last time we began looking at the life of Moses from verses 23-26 which covered the first 40 years of his life. I had planned to just carry on in Hebrews which jumps straight to the start of the last 40 years when he led the Israelites in the exodus out of Egypt. But then I stopped. I kept thinking about what D.L Moody said - '  Moses spent 40 years thinking he was a somebody. 40 years learning that he was a nobody. And 40 years seeing what God can do with a nobody.  ' Clearly, the middle 40 years is important if we are going to talk about the life of faith. The first 40 years had the glitz and glamour of Egypt. The last 40 years was obviously the most productive in his obedience to God and is what we mostly think about when we speak of the life of Moses. But it seems that it was the middle 40 years, the 40 where he learned that he was 'a nobody' that prepared him and made him the man that God could use.

So we'll talk about this middle 40 years this morning. It is Moses' preparation, his training, which we'll call the 'school of God.' And let me say that I'm far from an expert in the school of God. I've failed quite a few lessons along the way... eagerly desired and tried to pull out of other classes. But thankfully God allows you to re-sit the tests in this school. So let's explore a little of this middle 40 years specifically around this theme of the school of God.

What the Egyptian education didn't teach Moses.

Exodus 2:11-14 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. (12)  Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.  (13) The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?" (14) The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "What I did must have become known."

Let's familiarise ourselves with Moses again at this time. He had been raised as an Egyptian. He talked like an Egyptian. He walked like an Egyptian.  [2]  Nothing was withheld from Moses and from the book of Acts we read that at 40 years of age, Moses was a man of power in words and deeds. He was a powerful man. If Moses spoke, you listened. If he acted, you followed. The Egyptian's were the great world power of the time and Moses was educated with all the wisdom that Egypt knew. And they knew a great deal. Scientists today still debate how they were able to make the pyramids.  [3] 

So surely God would be interested in such a man! Surely God would like to use such a powerful man straight away would He not? Well... not so fast. We see that Moses had the right heart and desire in that he wanted to free his people from their slavery. But 40 years of Egypt's greatest education hadn't taught him how to rely on God yet or His timing. It hadn't taught him that it is God that makes a difference. And it hadn't taught him that God isn't looking for someone mighty in power and deeds - if that might comes from pride and the person's own ability. And so we read in verse 12 that Moses looked this way and that. He looked left, he looked right. He looked left again. This is all well and good if you are about to cross the road but Moses was about to strike a man down! He looked every way... except up. The man that is full and complete in himself will always try to work out a way to get something done. He'll think about what he should do, he'll look to his own clever ingenuity and resources and he'll make it happen. But that isn't the Christian life or the type of person God wants to use. And so God let the matter be found out. Moses was found out. He had murdered a man and it was all exposed. He had failed and all that was left was to run. Acts 7:25 tells us  "And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand.'  Moses supposed that they would understand just like he supposed that God would back his move. But they didn't understand because it wasn't God-appointed. This was Moses bolting ahead in his own thoughts and schemes, 40 years ahead of God's scheduled timing for deliverance.

The man of power misfires

Exodus 2:15-22 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. (16) Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father's flock. (17) Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. (18) When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, "Why have you returned so early today?" (19) They answered, "An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock." (20) And where is he? he asked his daughters. "Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat." (21) Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. (22) Zipporah gave birth to a son, and  Moses named him Gershom, saying, "I have become an alien in a foreign land." 

And so began the second 40 year stretch of his life. You can imagine what it would have been like going from being the real deal down in Egypt to just being 'a nobody' in Midian.

  • Let's start with his new profession. He has gone from potentially ruling over Egypt to just trying to manage a few sheep. Genesis 46:34 tells us that ' every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians' and that is how Moses would have been raised. The Egyptians farmed crops but saw sheep as unclean animals and thus detested shepherds. And now Moses has become one of those! Argh!
  • Think also about his sense of guilt. Moses would have felt like such a failure. In his zeal for his fellow Israelites he has actually killed a man and then tried to cover up the crime scene by hiding the body. He had to live with that.
  • Think also of his loneliness: Back in Egypt he had an Egyptian family and an Israelite family. He was forced to choose between them the two and ended up with neither! Now he's got nothing.

This was going to be a long hard lesson in a tough, but necessary class. For decade after decade he would have thought that he had failed and let his people down. He had once thought he might be their deliverer. Now he has run away while they remain in slavery in Egypt. This was a hard training ground and there is nothing recorded about God showing up to reassure Moses of His plans for him. Not yet anyway. I think we see a little of Moses' thoughts in the naming of his first child. He names him 'Gershom' which means 'a stranger here'. The biblical account says he named him this because 'I have become an alien in a foreign land.' Behind it you can hear his thoughts - 'What have I done? I thought I was going to deliver my people Israel and now look at me. I was once in line to rule Egypt and now I'm a nobody, living in the middle of nowhere. I had friends and family and now I'm a stranger in a strange land. I failed. I'm a failure.' But God, as He does, had a purpose in all of this... as He does for us as well. He can use failure. In the school of God, God uses the events of our lives to train and teach if we would but listen and learn. An old author that I really like called CHM writes about this purpose:

 'Nothing can possibly make up for the lack of secret communion with God, or the training and discipline of His school. "All the wisdom of the Egyptians" would not have qualified Moses for his future path. He might have pursued a most brilliant course through the schools and colleges of Egypt. He might have come forth laden with literary honours - his intellect stored with learning, and his heart full of pride and self-sufficiency.  He might have taken out his degree in the school of man, and yet have to learn his alphabet in the school of God... The man whom God educates, is educated, and none other.  It lies not within the range of man to prepare an instrument for the service of God. The hand of man could never mould "a vessel meet for the Master's use." The One who is to use the vessel can alone prepare it; and we have before us a singularly beautiful sample of His mode of preparation.  There is a very wide difference between human and divine education. The former has for its end the refinement and exaltation of nature; the latter begins with withering it up and setting it aside.  "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2: 14) ...Moses... was "grown," he was "learned," he was "mighty in word and deed," and yet he had to learn something at "the backside of the desert," which Egypt's schools could never have taught him.' 

The school of God

There are things that can only be learned in the school of God which is quite different to the schools of man. I remember when I was in 7 th form trying to pick my classes for study at University. I had decided to go do a Computing and Mathematical sciences degree so a lot of the courses were obvious and within the stream I had chosen. But I did get to chose one random paper in my first year. So I looked through the list, knowing next to nothing about any of them, and chose to do a management paper. I convinced my friend Brett to come and do likewise. 'It will be great' I said. He has since learned not to listen when I say something will be great. Well... little did I know that management is actually the most popular degree at Waikato University and you soon find yourself among thousands of others doing the same course. Before long you learn that one of the goals of the lecturers and professors in the first year is to get rid of about half the people that have enrolled... to weed out those that shouldn't be there. Like Brett. So I wrote my first essay on Management and the results came back: A 'D'! Brett got his results back... A 'D'! That made me feel a little better : )  [4]  The shock of the first result lasted about a minute before turning to laughter when it dawned on me that I could barely manage myself, let alone other people... or write riveting essays on something that bored me silly. So that was that... We both pulled out of the course. It was just a bad choice and I mercifully cut short what was never going to be a budding career in management.

Now that's the school of man. But the school of God is a little different. You don't get to choose the courses in the school of God and pulling out, I've found, is not so easy. So let's just talk a little about the school of God for our own lives.

  •  Firstly, every true born again Christian is enrolled in this school:  You don't enrol yourself into this school. God does that. All Christians are enrolled. It isn't a choice. Moses didn't know that he had been enrolled in this school... but he had. The backside of a desert tending sheep was God's classroom for teaching and reshaping His pupil Moses.
  • Secondly, it is a training school : Hebrews 12:7  Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  The word translated 'discipline' here is the Greek word 'paideia'. It has the thought of  'tutorage, that is, education or training; by implication disciplinary correction: chastening, instruction, nurture.'  In short, it means what I said above - if you are a true child of God, then you are in God's training school.
  • Thirdly, God's classes come with God's time frame : Time to God is not the same as time for us. Have you found that He is not in a hurry like we are? He knows that which is important can't be rushed. A student once asked his professor whether he could take a shorter course than the one prescribed. 'Oh yes' said the professor. 'But it depends on what you want to be. When God makes an oak, he takes 100 years. When He wants to make a pumpkin, 4 months.' Speaking of time, my nut tree had a nut!
  • Fourthly, we don't all have the same classes : God knows what lessons we, as individuals, need to learn and why. We know neither. There are different lessons and different classes.
  •  Fifthly, we can't see in advance how long a lesson or class will take:  Moses had no idea that this training ground down in Midian would take 40 years. In fact, He probably didn't even know that God was training him during this period. He just thought that he had blown it and that was now his lot in life. But God knew what He was doing. Even Jesus had 30 years in relative obscurity learning from His Father before His 3 years of ministry. After the young David defeated Goliath he soon found himself running for his life before a jealous and mad king Saul. David had to run, hide and live in the wilderness and in caves, and even down with the Philistines in Gath. Scholars think this may have carried on for between 7-10 years  [5]  . That is a long time to be running and David would not have had any idea how long it was going to go on for. But this was God's training ground for David so he would learn to trust Him and prepare David for the time shortly coming where he would reign as king over God's people Israel. Time with God is relative to what He needs to make.
  • Sixthly, God's classes have the ultimate purpose in mind: It is not trying to make you smarter or more knowledgeable. He is not trying to make you more confident in yourself. God's ultimate purpose is the development of His likeness in you.  Rom 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.  That is God's ultimate purpose for His children. Moses at 40 was not somebody that God could use for the task at hand. Moses at 80 was. Moses at 40 was very sure of himself, powerful in word and deed. God wanted someone whose power came from God working through them. That Moses was about 40 years of humbling away. It is a totally different Moses that we see when God visits him again 40 years later.
  •  Seventhly, you can re-sit a class and failure is often the way forward!  Most of God's saints moved forward through one or more failures in the Bible. They had to re-sit classes. It is a strange concept for some but going down is often the way up with God. Failure isn't an option in the Christian life. It is an essential. Examples: Moses, Jacob, David, Elijah... Peter, Paul - one commandment 'though shall not covet' and because an abject failure crying out 'what a wretched man that I am'. And through that failure he found a whole new way forward not by trying to be good and keep the law but by a whole new principle called 'the law of the spirit of life'.
  • Eighthly, graduation day is not till the return of Jesus - Only then will you find out how well you have done. You will be in God's school till the day you die. God never says 'well, that person's getting old, by golly she's just ticked over 80... how did that happen? Oh well, no need to teach her anything anymore.' It doesn't matter if you have been a Christian 60 days or 60 years. God is always trying to teach and train us.

Let me just state part of that CHM quote again: 'There is a very wide difference between human and divine education. The former has for its end the refinement and exaltation of nature; the latter begins with withering it up and setting it aside.'  People don't often talk like this much anymore but for me personally I can relate to this because I see it in my life as a Christian. I became a Christian in 1990 while at University and straight away had a pretty healthy appetite to learn more about God. I read a lot of Christian books on different topics. I did enough to get through varsity but reading books on physics, maths and computer science wasn't always what you'd call 'riveting reading'. I was far more interested in this faith I had come into and that was what I wanted to spend my time learning about. After university I went off to Bible College to learn more. I came out of there with different experiences and more learning and was now a strong man of faith ready to tackle the trials of life right? Ba-bong... Wrong. I got through Bible college but still had to, as CHM said above, learn my ABC's in the school of God. Things quickly started going downhill for me in 1996 with unexplained health problems. I tried various different doctors and naturopaths in various cities. I tried different machines and many expensive sure thing products... but no one could tell me what was going on. That in itself is difficult. If they say 'argh, yes, Mr Gordon, you've got 'idiotothrombictus' you can say 'argh, drat... ok'. When you do all the tests and they say 'um, pass...tis a mystery' it gets quite difficult. And when the issues go on year after year it because very trying. The point of this is that I learned early on that despite my reading and books, I didn't really have a faith that would hold me in the difficult times. But God has his ways and means of training and teaching us, mostly through the everyday trials of this life. God has His school and He has His reasons. As we said above, we don't all have the same classes, and we don't know the timing or how long things will go for, but we do have a good God who can be trusted that He has a purpose in what He allows.

Looking back at my struggles now, especially those early years when it was most difficult, I can see some of the good that came out of it. The first Bible study that I ever wrote was about the attacks of the enemy in the book of Nehemiah because I felt like I was being played with and had no strong walls of salvation. But because of what I was going through I saw and wrote about things that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. And people still write in to the website about that study 20 years later and so I say thanks Lord!

Conclusion - Moses... a changed man!

Moses was a different man after his 40 years in relative isolation. We haven't got time to look at how God came in the burning bush and commissioned him to lead His people out of Egypt but if you know the story, you know that instead of being a confident mighty leader, the Moses of 80 had probably gone a little bit too far the other way... he was very reluctant and after a series of objections to God's call, he finally ends with 'oh please Lord, get someone else!' But he came around and God used this man mightily. It doesn't mean that the school of God had finished for Moses or that he was now perfect... far from it. He still made some big mistakes. We all do. We are all a work on progress. But Moses was now teachable. He was mouldable, a vessel shaped into his Master's image. There is no doubt that God wants to teach and train us, but what kind of response do you think He wants from us? He wants us to ask 'What do you want me to see in this Lord?' We need to learn to see things from God's perspective and genuinely asking the Lord to help you see things as He does it a big step along this path. He also wants us to learn to always give thanks for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

We'll carry on with Moses in the next study where we see the prophetic and personal aspects of his journey in the last 40 years of his life.

[1] ↩  Some of you may suffer from der-mato-siophobia - a fear of the skin and what might happen to it.

[2] ↩  The Bangles would be well pleased although I fear I'm showing my age.

[3] ↩  J Vernon McGee writes:  'Moses was educated in the great Temple of the Sun which was the outstanding university of the day. We underrate what the Egyptians knew and accomplished. Their knowledge of astronomy was phenomenal. They knew the exact distance to the sun. They worked on the theory that the earth was round and not flat. They knew a great deal about chemistry which is evidenced by the way they were able to embalm the dead. We have no process to equal it today. Their workmanship and ability with colors were fantastic. Their colors are brighter than any we have today. I am confident that our paint companies would give anything if they knew the formulas used for color by the Egyptians. They are bright, beautiful, and startling after four thousand years. (I have to paint my house about every four years!) In addition to all of their other accomplishments, the Egyptians also had a tremendous library. And Moses, we are told, was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.' 

[4] ↩  Although Brett maintained, and still maintains, that if you held your head on a particular angle (a hidden lost mysterious angle known only to him), that it could be argued that he got an 'A'!

[5] ↩  David was around 17 when he faced Goliath and 30 when he first became king after the death of Saul. There was a bit of time after the defeat of Goliath where David was in Saul's courts and played the harp for him until Saul's jealousy rose to the level when he tried to pin David to the wall with a spear... causing David to flee. So probably something like 7-10 years away, hiding in the wilderness and in caves.