I had mentioned before that Debbie has been reading Genesis to the kids and me whenever we travel somewhere as a family. Well, she has finished with Genesis and has begun Exodus. As she read the opening chapters this morning, I was struck at Moses preparation as a leader of God’s people.
First, the early chapters of his life foreshadow the journey Israel will undertake. As a child, Moses is saved through the waters just as Israel will be saved through the waters. Later as a man, as the consequence of his actions, Moses settles in the wilderness for forty years just as Israel will. As an individual, he embodies what the nation will eventually experience.
Second, what I find fascinating is what occurs during the forty years of Moses’ exile. Remember, he has fled Egypt because he has attempted to utilize the dominant culture’s leadership style in order to implement justice on behalf of one of his kinsmen — he kills an Egyptian who is beating an Israelite. Moses has simply acted in a way that is natural to the culture and leadership style he has learned as a member of Pharaoh’s royal family. But this backfires and God must take Moses on a journey to renew his identity and in the process, his leadership style.
Back in Genesis 46, when Jacob and his family migrated to Egypt to escape the famine that was sweeping the land, Pharaoh had instructed Jacob to leave all of his possessions (and therefore his identity) behind. Pharaoh offered the best of Egypt to Jacob and his family. New land, new possessions, new identity. Assimilation is futile. But wise Joseph counseled his father to tell Pharaoh that his family were shepherds, which the Egyptians detested. In this way, Pharaoh allowed them to settle in Goshen, which in turn, allowed them to maintain their unique identity.
Approximately four hundred years later, Moses emerges on the scene. However his identity and leadership have been shaped as a member of Egyptian culture and Pharaoh’s family. He looked, talked and acted like an Egyptian. (Reuel’s daughters describe him as an Egyptian in Exodus 2:18-19.)
As an exile in Midian for forty years, Moses is immersed back into the vocation of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He becomes a shepherd. It is a vocation that prepares him to embrace both the identity of God’s people and the essential leadership style to help the descendants of Israel to re-imagine and walk out their calling as God’s people in both victory and failure.
Moses cannot learn this overnight. It is a journey of formation. Yet in those forty years, Moses is transformed from a leader, who naturally and easily kills another in order to accomplish his agenda, and into a man that the Bible describes as “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” What a beautiful picture of spiritual formation. As a new man and a new leader, Moses is able to shepherd God’s people through the liminality of their wilderness wanderings from Egypt to Canaan.