“Apparently it doesn’t.” That is how the post murderers and God ended. Apparently, being a murderer, or an adulterer, or a coward, or a liar does not disqualify a person from connecting in an intimate way with God.
When Moses turned aside to see “a blazing fire in the midst of a bush,” he was not Moses-who-parted-the-Red-Sea. He was Moses-the-murderer, Moses-the-coward. In Egypt, Moses thought he was really something, “a prince or a judge” over the Jews. In his arrogance, it seemed perfectly reasonable to take matters into his own hands, even if that meant killing a man. The ends justify the means. It was all for the greater good of Israel, “his brethren”.
After having escaped to Midian, Moses did not display his leadership potential, as one might expect of a young man from Pharaoh’s house. Instead of leading a nation, Moses shepherded sheep, and alas, the sheep did not even belong to him. Rather, he pastured “the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian.” What a disappointment Moses must have been to his mother. What a disappointment Moses must have been to himself.
Sitting on the sidelines for forty years can do a man a lot of good, though. It was certainly plenty of time for Moses to think about his life. Moses may have thought a lot about that fateful day in Egypt, but the rest of us don’t. After the report in Exodus 2, the fact of the murder never comes up again in the Scriptures. Ironically for Moses, murder is the subject of one of the ten commandments. I have to wonder what Moses was thinking as he watched the finger of God carve the sixth commandment into the stone tablet. It would seem to have been a perfect opportunity for God to have raised the issue, but He didn’t. It appears that God has been forgiving sin for a long time, now.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that Moses had committed a murder. It is also entirely believable that Moses spent forty years processing the decisions he had made and dealing with the irrevocable loss of “what could have been”. After forty years, he was broken, convinced that he was of no use except to shepherd sheep. This is the man who turned aside to “see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When God-in-the-bush called out, “Moses, Moses!” He was speaking, not to a great patriarch of the faith, but to a man with a sordid history, who was on the down-and-out and sidelined, and who believe that he wasn’t much good for anything but making sure the sheep are fed, watered, and safe.
What Moses did not understand is that in his emptiness, he had it all.
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matt 5:3, The Message)
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In a previous post, I noted that “I prefer to think of the Bible as a collection of biographies that have a greater purpose than just to tell us about Jewish history.” Most of us read the stories of the great men and women of the Bible as just stories, history, narratives that tell us how God used special people to accomplish His redemptive acts. Certainly, the stories of the Bible are informative, inspiring even.
Our reading of these stories is selective, though. When we think of Moses, we think of the dramatic exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, the awesome encounter with God on the mountain, the pillar of fire. They are exciting stories about a truly great man who spoke with God “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend”. Viewed in this way, Moses is untouchable. We do not stop to reflect on the fact that when Moses first ran in to God, he was Moses-the-murderer, a broken and apparently useless man. After all, he was in Midian in the first place because he had killed a man!
This realization re-frames the whole story of Exodus 3. God did not pick out a giant of the faith; He chose a guy who had the potential to be a great leader but who had made a horrible choice, ruined his own life, and was destined to be a nobody in the middle of nowhere until the day he died. It is not terribly difficult to find other prominent Bible characters with similar life stories. Peter, who healed a man lame from birth right on the sidewalk outside the temple (Acts 3), started off his career by denying that he ever knew Christ. You know the story of Saul-turned-Paul. You may have thought, in reading a previous post, that I was writing tongue-in-cheek when I concluded that “I’ll bet I could be a quitter or a coward just like Moses or Peter!” In fact, I was most serious. Moses’ personal narrative begins not with a great Bible hero, but a loser. Likewise, Peter. Likewise, me. As Thomas Merton said, “We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners.”
The same could be said of every other person in the Bible, save Christ. Instead of putting them on a pedestal where they become unreachable, I now recognize that these are men and women who are living lives just like mine. All of us have flaws and problems, many of which we will accompany us to our graves. (Did Moses ever get over his arrogance?1) Reading about how God approached them, how they approached God, and how they interacted and lived life with God, makes for interesting history, but these stories are even more informative as I seek God myself. The Bible is not an instruction manual or a book of recipes (or formulas, as Donald Miller would say). It is a collection of narratives (not just one!) that tells me about life, lived out by normal human beings, and about God and how He enters into all the chaos and confusion that people like me experience on a daily basis. Most importantly, it answers the question of a hungry person, “Where do I, someone who has nothing to offer God, begin?”
As long as I come to the Scriptures to read about the “heroes of the faith,” I will be reading the “Bible as literature.” But, if I see these stories as narratives about broken men and women, mangled by sin, then I stand to make progress. These narratives represent God’s brilliant method for communicating how to live a life of faith to someone like me who has been broken and mutilated by sin. Now, everything can change.
1 “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (Numbers 20:8-12, my emphasis)