The story of Moses begins in Exodus 1 and stretches across the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Moses was born to Hebrew slaves in Egypt, seemingly at the worst possible time. Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, had ordered all Hebrew male babies to be executed. To save baby Moses’ life, his mother and sister put him in a basket and floated him down the Nile River. He was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, who raised him as her own.
Moses grew up as the privileged grandson of Pharaoh, but he still retained his Hebrew identity. When he saw an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave, Moses killed the overseer. From that day on, Moses was a fugitive. He hid for 40 years in a desert wilderness, where he became a shepherd, found a wife, and raised a family.
When Moses encountered God in the form of a burning bush, God instructed him to return to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh release the Hebrew people from slavery. That encounter changed not only the course of Moses’ life, but also the course of history.
Pharaoh initially refused to release his enormous workforce—it took 10 plagues to convince him. After God delivered his people, Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the wilderness to the land God had promised their ancestors.
It was a monumental task. The Hebrew people complained nonstop, even though God miraculously provided food and water for them. When they reached the promised land, they found it occupied. God instructed them to conquer the occupants and drive them out, but the Hebrews refused. Because of their lack of faith, God determined that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
Moses frequently grew frustrated with the people. His frustrations boiled over on one occasion when the people were complaining about being thirsty. God had instructed him to speak to a rock so that water would flow from it, but Moses struck the rock with his staff instead. As punishment for his disobedience, God forbade him from ever entering the promised land.
After 40 years of wandering, Moses eventually led the Hebrews to the edge of the promised land. From a nearby mountaintop, he was allowed to look at the place he had longed to see for so many years. And then he died.
Moses is arguably one of the central figures of the Old Testament. In addition to his adventures in Egypt and the wilderness, he is credited with writing the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. He is also credited with writing some psalms and is revered in Jewish history as a teacher and a prophet.
God called Moses—and Moses alone—to the top of Mount Sinai, where he gave the Hebrew leader his laws and the tablets that contained the Ten Commandments. When Moses returned from his mountaintop experience, his face shone in an extraordinary way—the afterglow of his personal encounter with God.
In the New Testament, when Jesus was preparing for his final entry into Jerusalem, he took Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain. There, Moses and Elijah appeared to Him. According to the Gospels, Moses spoke to Jesus about His impending death.
The first lesson we can take away from Moses’ life is that being in the right place at the right time only means something if you do the right thing. Moses was equipped to complete the monumental task that the Lord laid before him. Yet it was his faithful willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Lord’s work that set him apart.
The second lesson is that faithful obedience matters, which Moses learned the hard way when God forbade him from entering the promised land. Yet even after he had nothing to gain (from a human perspective)—even though he would not be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor—Moses remained faithfully obedient to God and His work.
The author of Hebrews offers this summary of Moses’ life: “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. 11:26–27).
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