What a GIANT is Moses - not only a towering figure in the Bible - but also in human history! He stands taller than the mountains on which he received the word of the Lord. By whatever standard the makers of history are to be judged, Moses towers over most of the human race in solemn solitude and majestic grandeur. His story is one of the most captivating in the Bible.
Born of a race of slaves, his life was saved from a tyrant's cruel whim by the passionate cunning of his mother. As a baby, Pharaoh's daughter discovered him in the bulrushes. During his youth he lived as an Egyptian, pampered and privileged in the luxury of Pharaoh's court. As a young man, he struck out savagely in defense of one of his countrymen and was compelled to flee the land, a fugitive from his foster father's wrath.
During forty years of exile, he was a stumble-tongued shepherd tending sheep and serving in the household of a desert sheik - first as a servant, then a son-in-law.
While herding his flock on a remote backside of a mountain, God spoke to Moses out of the midst of a bush that burned without being consumed. From that blazing bush, Moses turned back to Pharaoh's court to take up life where he had left off. But this time his face was set toward a destiny that Pharaoh would never have guessed and which all the powers on earth could never have made possible.
He emerged from the wilderness defying the mightiest monarch in the world and leading a motley collection of ex-slaves out of bondage. For forty years they wandered in the wastelands of the Sinai. This tattered rag-a-muffin Hebrew band faced problems of food and water shortages, to say nothing of open rebellion and religious excess. There were endless and violent struggles for power. The wilderness trek was a difficult one for Moses and the Israelites, but he kept before them the vision of a future which they seemed to so easily forget. They longed to return to Egypt; they turned to other gods. Moses' greatness is seen in his ability to make them realize that God had made a covenant with them and prepared a Promised Land for them. Only a man of iron will could have endured the endless bickering, scheming, and backbiting of this cantankerous crowd. Moses was such a man. Despite the disappointments and heartbreaks along the way, the Israelites would discover that the Lord went before them; every mile the Lord went before them. Around every rocky curve, the Lord went before them. Up every hill and mountain, the Lord went before them. The purpose of the exodus was not merely to free a group of slaves but for something of far greater significance. It was the creation of a new nation, the uniting of a people.
He would see them transform from a disorganized horde of cringing slaves into a compact and confident nation of fighting men capable of wresting a fertile land from a desperate foe.
But Moses did more than make a nation out of those terrified slaves. He gave to them and to their descendants a sense of divine destiny that marks them to this very day. Wherever you meet a Jew today, he is first a Jew and after that a citizen. He may be American or Russian, German or Polish, Spanish or Asian, but he is always a Jew.
What other race among all humankind has furnished so many of the world's greatest as have the Jews? In almost every field of endeavor-art, literature, science, and music-you will find a colossal figure. So often, that figure is a Jew. Any list of those who have most deeply affected the thinking of the world today, you will make the discovery: Einstein, the mathematician; Lenin, the revolutionary; Marx, the economist; Rothschild, the financier; Spinoza, the philosopher; Mendelssohn, the musician; to say nothing of Paul, the theologian and missionary; and Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah.
And upon every one is the mark of this towering colossus: Moses!
The pivotal moments in his life took place on mountains. When God called him to return to Egypt to be his deliverer, it was on a mountain named Horeb in the Midian desert. After leading the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on a mountain named Sinai. Then, at the end of his life, there was a final mountain from which God allowed him to see the Promised Land - Mt. Nebo. From this mountain he entered - not the earthly but the heavenly - Promised Land. Moses died on that mountaintop, not in a valley. I don't know about you but I say, "What a way to go!" Dying as he gazed over the Promised Land is like an artist dying as he makes the last stroke on his greatest masterpiece.
Many who love the story of Moses are baffled that he died without setting foot in the Promised Land. We have no hint or explanation why. But God's decision to allow Moses only a panoramic view of the Promised Land will forever remain a mystery, and so will the fact that to this day, no one knows his burial place.
Is there some lesson in this ancient story for us today? Has Moses left a legacy not only for his descendants but for the human race? I dare believe he has!
We mustn't forget that this cultured and scholarly young Hebrew from Pharaoh's court must have felt that his life had been shattered out there on the plains of Midian. A murderer, he had fled from Pharaoh's wrath, left behind him all hopes of a great career and settled down to live the life of a desert shepherd. Greatness seemed a thing of the past, but while shepherding his flock on a remote side of the mountain, God spoke to Moses and that conversation was the turning point of his life.
In difficult and trying times like ours, when many are giving up, throwing in the towel or cowering in the fear of the future, let's remember this man who left a legacy of faithfulness in the midst of unfaithfulness. When younger people were saying, "It can't be done, let's go back to Egypt," Moses was saying, "God promised that it can be done." When Moses was at retirement age, he might have hung up the shepherd's crook exaggerating the limitations of health. Instead he models for us all-that maturity, experience, and commitment are traits still needed in a world infatuated with youth. God called Moses in his old age. He is still calling-regardless of age! The tragedy is only those with attentive ears will hear. Moses was open, receptive, respectful. He was willing to do in his life what God was calling him to do. Of all the graces we can cultivate, perhaps spiritual receptivity may be the most rewarding.
And so we ask, "Is God calling in our day?" How many of us are turned off and tuned out and cannot hear the call? God called Moses and gave him a specific task to perform. I dare to believe that God has a specific task for you and me.
It may seem to casual observers that God chooses few from among the many. Actually, the reverse is true. At one time or another, each of us has sensed God's call, but many have been slow to respond.
Following a half century as a Methodist preacher, I have been honored to teach at the Duke Divinity School. Each year I encounter a number of men and women who experienced a call to Christian ministry years ago, but for one reason or another, they chose a different vocational path, often influenced by family, economic or social pressures. After years of turning a deaf ear to God's call, the divine imperative became so powerful they finally surrendered their will to God's will and are giving the remainder of their life to parish ministry. I marvel at their dedication and commitment, and in many instances, their financial sacrifice in answering the call. I often think of how much poorer the church would be if they had lived out their lives failing to respond to the challenge and call of God.
Some of you may be asking just now, "How can I know that God is calling me?" The first step is to ask God what he would have you do. That may be the most important step. God will lead us if we're willing to follow, but in order that we should know assuredly what God would have us do, it's necessary, in prayerful meditation and with as much honest objectivity as possible, to recognize the talent which he has given us.
Perhaps you are a 10-talent person, perhaps only five or two. Perhaps your talent can be measured in material ways or by natural aptitudes. Whatever talents they may be, realize God didn't give them to you accidentally or indiscriminately. God has a vital interest in your native abilities, your accomplishments and skills which you've achieved as a result. He grieves when you misuse or abuse those talents and treasures. God would have you invest them to the glory of his work on earth and the joy of your own soul.
Did God fill your heart and soul with music? How can you use that talent to praise him and to enrich the age you have been called to serve? Did God give you an intellect which makes study or research a pleasure? How can you use it to return thanks and to lift the shroud of darkness and ignorance from this world? Did God make your fingers sensitive so that they are skilled in some craft or art? How can you thank him and invest that talent in his interest, so that the blessings of the Kingdom might be extended to others?
In other words, what is your particular talent and how have you used it in relation to the God who gave it to you? Assess your talents carefully, prayerfully, for it is through them that God calls and challenges you, saying, "Come, I have a task to be done for you for which you are especially fitted. I need your abilities and unique qualities of personality that you alone possess."
God may be choosing you--as he chose Moses--for some special task. Be attentive to his call and it will be revealed what you are to do!
We live in times of great danger and crisis. But these are also times of great possibilities. God is still in need of a lot of modern-day Moseses who will accept today's challenges. I pray your response will be, "Lord, do this in my life. Make me, like Moses, a blessing in my own time."
Let us pray. The Lord supports you all the day long of this troublous life until the shadows lengthen, the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and your work is done. Then may God in his mercy grant you safe lodging and a holy rest and eternal peace at the last. Amen.