Lessons on Ministry

Exodus 2:11-25

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2016

We are studying the life of Moses in the Book of Exodus.  It is written by Moses himself.  Moses is giving us the details of his life.  Last week, we looked at his birth and infancy.  We saw how the deliverer had to be delivered by women.

To save his life, his mom put him in a basket in the Nile River where he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and adopted as her own.  Moses was the man with two moms, one nursed him and one raised him.

Today, we look at the next eighty years of his life.  I am not going to go into the entire chapter.  I want to focus on lessons on ministry that we learn from this section. In the rest of the chapter, Moses is not just a baby.  He grows up.  He does some traveling.  He moves from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.  He gets married. He has kids. He gets adopted into a new family.  He lives with his father-in-law.  This is family number three.

We learn a lot about the character of Moses in this chapter. He shows examples of leadership, even if he is misguided at times.  He was a man whose heart was on fire for justice, as R.C. Sproul points out.  He had a passion for justice.  He was dedicated to social justice.  Three times in this chapter he intervenes to help people.

The first time we see this was when a Hebrew slave was being beaten and Moses came to his aid and killed the abuser.  This is Moses the vigilante.  He was the biblical Clint Eastwood.  He said, “Go ahead punk, make my day.” This was Moses the Activist.  You have heard of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Moses was part of the Jewish Lives Matter movement.

The second time Moses intervened to help people was when he saw two Hebrews were fighting.  This time the conflict was not between an Egyptian and a Hebrew but between two Hebrews. Moses tried to be a peace-maker and help settle the dispute.  He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” (2:13 NIV)

The third time Moses intervened to help people in this chapter was when he went to Midian.  He became a Good Samaritan.  He rescued seven women from a gang of bullies.  He seemed to have a strong instinct to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  He doesn’t kill anyone in that case but he is clearly outnumbered and still drove the bullies away and watered the flock of these seven women.  He seemed to be a rescuer by nature.

There are a lot of parallels between Moses and Jesus in this chapter.  Last week, saw Moses as a baby. When we get to Exodus 2:11, Moses is no longer a baby.  He is an adult.  He has grown up.  It does not tell us how old he was here but the NT does.

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:23-25 ESV).

Stephen tells us that Moses was forty when this happened.  Exodus goes from talking about Moses as a baby to describing what happened to him when he was forty.  There is a gap of forty years between Exodus 2:10 and Exodus 2:11.  We do not find out what Moses was like as a child or teenager or even a young adult.  That sounds very similar to Jesus.  Moses is like Jesus here.

The NT describes his birth and then skips to his ministry around the age of thirty.  It only mentions one thing that happened to Jesus as a child.  The only event it describes is when Jesus was left behind by his parents in Jerusalem.  That happened when Jesus was twelve (Luke 2:42).  We do not have any stories about Jesus as a teenager.

That gap is referred to as “the silent years” and all kinds of writers with great imaginations have described what Jesus must have been like as a teenager or a student in school.  Many of these stories are found in the New Testament Apocrypha.

We know one thing that happened to Jesus and a child and we have one description of Moses during the first forty years of his life, not in Exodus but in the NT.  Acts 7:22 says, “And when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (ESV).

Moses began life in terrible circumstances but had an amazing reversal of fortunes.  He was born to a poor slave family with a death sentence on his head but he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and was raised in the royal palace in luxury and wealth.  He went from the bottom of society to the top of society.  Stephen focuses on one aspect of Moses’ upbringing, his education.

The Education of Moses

Moses not only an education, he received the best education in Egypt.  He received a world class education.  He received the education of a prince.  He went to the Cambridge or Oxford of the ancient world.  He learned hieroglyphics.  He could read cuneiform. Why is that important for us?  Some preachers mock education, learning and knowledge, as if it were unspiritual.

It is true that you do not have to have a great education to be used by God.  Most of the Apostles were uneducated (cf. Acts 4:13).  They were simple fishermen but God used them.  God can use people without an education but he also uses some people with an education.

Moses is a great example of this. The one that God used to write the first five books of the Bible was highly educated.  He was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.  In fact, Moses received a secular education.  It was a pagan education.  He did not go to a Christian school.

Paul wrote twelve or thirteen books of the NT.  All of the great theology of the NT comes from the writings of the Apostle Paul and he also was highly education.  He sat under the feet of Gamaliel.  That name does not mean anything to us today but Gamaliel was like the Albert Einstein of his day.

Moses’ Identity Crisis

When Moses gets to the age of forty, he has an identity crisis.  It is not a mid-life crisis, because he lives to be one hundred and twenty.  He would have to be sixty for that and he has this when he was forty. He has an identity crisis.  What caused the crisis?

He was born Jewish but he was raised Egyptian.  How did Moses know he was Jewish?  He said to Pharaoh, “Let MY PEOPLE go” (5:1).  How did he know he was Jewish?  God told him he was Jewish when he was eighty.  He appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6).

Even when he was forty, he knew he was Jewish. Exodus 2:11 says, “One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of HIS PEOPLE” (cf. Acts 7:22). Stephen said that this happened when he was forty years old (Acts 7:23).

There were some signs.  His complexion may have been a little different.  He was also circumcised form birth but I believe that his mother probably told him as well.  He had an incredible story of survival.  He was a Hebrew who was abandoned by his mother as a baby, found alive floating in the Nile in a basket.  He must have been told about his spectacular birth.

There is an interesting story that was in the news about a man named Marty Johnson.  He lived in Nebraska.  He was married and had two kids.  He was also adopted and did not know anything about his birth parents.  He did not even know his race, so he searched for his birth parents.  He was adopted forty years earlier.  After some searching, he found his mom and talked to her over the phone.

She met his father in graduate school and got pregnant.  He wanted to get married but his parents wanted to put the child up for adoption.  The dad would be seventy now if he was still alive.  He eventually found an address in Nigeria and wrote to it.  He got a letter back saying that he came from a prestigious family and was a member of this African dynasty[1].

That is a story about a peasant who finds out that he is a prince.  In the Moses story, a prince finds out that he is really a peasant. This caused an identity crisis.  Deep on the inside, he began to ask some soul searching questions about who he really was. He began to wonder, “Am I a Jew or an Egyptian?”

He may have felt guilty.  He lived in wealth and comfort, while his brethren lived in poverty and discomfort.  He lived a life of ease in the royal palace.  He feels even worse when he sees his own people working as slaves and beaten mercilessly.  Moses developed a bond with the Hebrews.  He began to identify with them.  He was secretly sympathetic to their cause and even defended them.  His heart clearly was with them and not with the Egyptians.

Exodus 2:11 says, “One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor”. Stephen adds some important details. “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. He says that this happened when he was forty.

At forty years old, Moses got a strong sense on the inside that he needed to be more involved with his own people.  He left the palace to visit them. What did he see?  He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew (Exodus 2:11; Acts 7:24).  The poor man may not have been working fast enough.  It was a disturbing sight to see.  How did Moses respond?  He killed the man on the spot.

Before we criticize Moses, we need to see some of his good traits.  He knew what was happening was wrong.  He was outraged.  This was not a question of race against race but of right against wrong.  He could have just shut his eyes and pretended that he saw nothing.  That is what some do today when they see evil taking place in the world.  Moses didn’t do that.

He wasn’t passive.  He was a man of action. He did something about it. He took a stand. He took leadership of the situation and stood up for slaves who were being badly mistreated.  That part was commendable, standing up for the little guy.  He took a stand He stood up for the helpless and defenseless.  He fought for the weak and oppressed, the people who could not stand up for themselves.

Apparently, Moses was not only trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, he was trained how to fight.  Apparently, hand to hand combat was part of his training.  He had the best karate training in the ancient world.  He is forty years old and still has some moves.

Was This Killing Justified?

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. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand (2:11-12). The question we want to answer is this:  Did he do the right thing here?  The Bible does not say.

Some writers believe that this killing was justified.  That is what Matthew Henry believed.  I believe that it was not justified.  What Moses did was wrong for four reasons.

1) God did not tell him to do this

Moses had no commission for what he had done.  God did not tell him to do this.  He does not get his commission for another forty years.  There was a need for a deliverer and Moses had the desire to be a deliverer but still had not received a call from God yet to do this.  He does not get this call for forty more years when he gets it at the burning bush. This is forty years premature.

Moses is running ahead of God here.  He took matters into his own hands. He had no authority to do what he had done.  He may have meant well.  He may have had good intentions but he had no authority from God to do this.  There are many who look at the killing that the Muslim jihadists do and say it is no different from the killing that you see in the OT.

The Jews slaughtered the Canaanites.  They wiped out whole villages, men, women and children.  What’s the difference?  They only did that if God told them to do it.  The jihadists have no authority to do what they are doing.

2) He broke the law

Slavery was legal and it was legal for task masters to beat slaves.  It doesn’t say that he was killing him, just beating him.  What Moses did was illegal.  He became an outlaw. There was a warrant out for his arrest.  He was immediately placed on Pharaoh’s “Most Wanted List.”

His picture was in every post office in Egypt and he had to flee the country.  He became a fugitive from justice.  We are to live with a good conscience before God and man (Acts 24:16), not running from state to state hiding from the law.

He flees and survives death for the third time.  He survived Pharaoh’s murderous decree for three whole months.  He survived being abandoned in the Nile River and now he survives criminal prosecution.

3) It was premeditated

Moses committed premeditated murder.  This was no an accidental killing.  It was not a killing in anger.  It was premeditated.  How do we know?  The text says, “Looking this way and that and seeing no one” (2:12)He did it only after he saw that no one was watching him.

4) He tried to conceal the evidence

After he killed the Egyptian, he hid the body in the sand.  He tried to cover up the crime.  He tried to conceal the evidence.  If we do not do anything wrong, we do not have to hide anything.  If you have nothing to hide, you do not have to be ashamed of.  We can be completely open and transparent with people.

Lessons on Ministry

1. Ministry requires real preparation.

This is a big problem for ministers today.  They rush into the job.  They often have no preparation for ministry.  Some start churches and pastor for twenty years and then decide to go to seminary. It is very different from pastors from a different generation.  Jonathon Edwards went to Yale and graduated with honors.  He began to preach in a small church but refused to be the full pastor of the church until he spent six more years studying.

God was in no hurry. God was going to use Moses in an incredible way but he wasn’t ready yet.  Moses wasn’t ready to lead the Jews out of Egypt.  He had been through the best schools in Egypt but he still was not ready. God is going to give him another education.

Arthur W. Pink said “The colleges of this world cannot equip for the Divine service; for that we must be taught in the school of God. And that is something which the natural man knows nothing about”[2]  The best schools and colleges in Egypt could not prepare him to be God’s servant.  He learned some things in Midian which he could never have learned in Egypt.

God put him back in school.  It was a different kind of school. He went to God’s school in the desert of Midian.  He earned a post graduate degree in humility from the Midian Graduate School.  Moses took a few courses in obscurity and humility.  He must have passed them because he became “the meekest man of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).  Most leaders are not known for their humility.  Moses was.

Moses earned a BD degree (backside of the desert degree), which is what Moses received in Midian.  Before God used him, he had to break him.  Moses spent forty years in the WORLD.  He spent forty years in the WILDERNESS and he spent forty years in the WORK OF GOD.  After forty years in Midian, then God came to him, appeared to him and called him.

2. Ministry requires a specific call

Moses was doing God’s work without God.  Moses knew early what his life mission would be. Acts 7:25 says, “Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.”  He knew that God was going to use him in a big way but he jumped the gun.

He acted without any call from God.  God called him forty years later.  That was when He appeared and spoke to him.  That describes many people.  They go into ministry with out a call.  Jeremiah 23:21 says, “I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied.” 

Everyone should have a ministry.  God has given us all gifts and he wants us to use them in the body of Christ.  We should all serve in a ministry that God has called us to do.  We should not do it because someone twisted our arm or pressured us into doing it.

3. Ministry often involves disappointment

Anyone who has ever been involved in a ministry know this to be true.  When Moses began his ministry, he was a complete failure.  He encountered disappointment. He was rejected as a leader by his own people. His authority is not recognized by others.  They did not catch his vision.  They said, “Who made you judge and ruler over us?” (Exodus 2:14; Acts 7:27).

Moses once again is a type of Jesus.  He was rejected by his people (their brethren), He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  If you have faced, or if you are facing, rejection don’t let it bring you down.  Moses turned out to be a great leader, perhaps the greatest leader the nation ever had and yet, when he began his ministry, they did not want to have anything to do with him.


[1] http://www.nigerialinks.com/stories/2005/06/from-marty-johnson-to-chinenye-ogike.html

[2] http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Gleanings_Exodus/exodus_04.htm

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