Gateway to the Classics: Moses and the Exodus by Rev. J. Paterson Smyth
Moses and the Exodus by  Rev. J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson III

The Call of Moses

Read Exodus III. 4-17.

§ 1. Waiting

T HE scene is changed. Many years have elapsed. Instead of great Tanis, with its crowded streets, its palaces, its temples, and its great red statue of King Rameses, there is a lonely pasture land in the shadow of the mountains, and a quiet, thoughtful, grey-haired man walking over the pastures. What land? What man? Minding sheep instead of leading armies. What a change for Moses!

Does not it seem like a great waste of time that he should lose all those best years of his life in these lonely pastures when so much great work was waiting for him? Was it waste? Why not? God was training him and fitting him for his great future, accustoming him to the desert life in which Israel must live, teaching calmness and self-control, and drawing him nearer to Himself. Do you think Moses had any idea of this purpose of God in his banishment? I don't. I fancy he thought himself a failure and mistaken, and that if Israel was to be helped some one else must do it. He did not know that God was fitting him for his future. Don't you think he had much fitness already? A scholar, a warrior, a leader of men. Don't you think he was a good man already after his grand life decision? Yes, but not good enough. God wanted to make him far better, and truer, and nobler, to take all the pride and self-confidence out of him, and by all those years of thought and prayer and communing with God on the lonely pastures to make him one of the noblest men the world ever saw. If he had known, I think he would have been happier all those years. I think most of us would be happier in our sorrows if we knew that God was watching us and training us by them.

§ 2. The Presence of God

At last he learned the meaning of it all. Think of him on that memorable day of his life, walking up the lonely mountain, puzzling about the strange mystery of life, puzzling, perhaps, about the strong belief of Abraham, and Jacob, and Joseph as to the people's deliverance—wondering, perhaps, if his own rashness had thwarted God's good purposes for them. Ah, it was hard to understand. He could remember how eager he had been, how he had given up his great position for what seemed to him God's will for Israel, and now it seemed all a stupid waste of a life. It seemed all a mistake. It seemed that God did not want him after all.

And then, suddenly, as he was walking and thinking, a strange thing happened. What did he see? What was so strange about it? While Moses stood wondering what was revealed to him? That he was in God's presence. Did it frighten him? Had he been just as much in God's presence all the time before? What difference? Just that he did not know it. All the time of his babyhood and danger, all the time in the palace, all the time of that long contest in his heart as to whether he would go out from his high position to live among the slaves, God was about him, watching and helping. But just at this moment God withdrew the veil and let Moses know. That seems always the way. Not that God had just come to the place, but—? yes, that He had made His presence felt. Is it so now? I read once an old ghost story, in which the dead man used to come and sit invisible amongst his living friends. What a strange feeling it would give us—an invisible person sitting in this class and sometimes showing signs of his presence. Yet it is so always, in trouble, in temptation, in secret sin, in all life God is near, though he does not withdraw the veil now as He did at times long ago. Should not it make one solemn? and glad when we do good? and frightened when we do evil?

How surprised Moses was that all those forty years God had been near, reading all his thoughts. Had God been near the poor slaves, too, all that time? (read vv.  7, 8, 9). How wonderful it would seem to Moses! He thought God had forgotten them and himself, and now he hears God say, what? "I have seen the affliction, I have heard their cry, I know their sorrows, I am come down to deliver them." Oh, what a glad, blessed, wonderful world it would be if people could learn that lesson.

§ 3. The Call of Moses

Was Moses right forty years before in thinking that it was God who was prompting him to go and help the poor slaves? Where was he mistaken? I think the fit time was not come. He was not ready and they were not ready, and perhaps the Canaanites in Palestine were not ready yet for being cast out. God wanted to give them every chance (Genesis xv. 16). Whenever any prompting to do an unselfish, noble act comes to us, don't you think we may generally feel sure it is God who is prompting it, as in Moses' case? And to those who obey it continually do you think God reveals Himself as He did to Moses? Not in a burning bush or an angelic vision—but in the strong growing sense of His presence and His love.

What was God's commission to Moses? (v.  10). Was he very eager to go? He was no longer the eager young soldier of forty years ago who felt that he could do anything and conquer anybody, as he had conquered the Ethiopians. He had less belief in himself now. Is that bad for a man? Well, I think it generally is. A man who is very timid and diffident is not fit to be a leader. But in Moses' case I think it was good—why? Because, as I learn from his after-life, it prepared him to cast himself fully on God and to trust utterly and entirely in God's strength instead of his own. I don't think he could ever have got through that terrible after-experience in the wilderness but for his strong trust in God.

I think his hesitation was unreasonably excessive, but notice, it was not through any fear of danger, but lest he should injure the cause. What was his first excuse and God's reply? (vv.  11, 12). What a grand reply, full of hope and strength for him. All his terrible desert experience afterwards he had to rest on that and it never failed him. Will it fail us? When can we be sure of that promise? Whenever, like Moses, we are on the path of duty. What further encouragement did he get from God's name? His further excuse? (iv. 1). How was this answered? He would feel at once that God's power was behind him when he could do such miracles, and that if with a common rod God could enable him to do such things, God could surely use him, weak and unworthy and unfit as he was. That is the great comfort for every one who sees a plain duty before him. To see a plain duty is like a clear call from God and we must always trust God to see us through with it.

Now tell me Moses' last excuse and how it was answered? (iv. 10).

§ 4. Preparation for Egypt

So Moses returned to Jethro's encampment to prepare for his mission.

Do you think Moses would sleep much that night? What exciting thoughts—the old ambition of his youth come back to him—he was to be the leader and deliverer of Israel and he must go away at once on his mission to Pharaoh—and Aaron, the brother whom he had not seen for all these long years, was coming to meet him and be his comrade. But above all else would come one thought overtopping all the rest. What? The revelation that had come into his heart that day—that God was always near.


Verse  6. Compare our Lord's reference to this (Mark xii. 26) as a proof of Resurrection, "how in The Bush God spoke," i.e. in the Scripture section called "The Bush."

Verse  15. Point out that the word Loan in capital letters in Old Testament always represents the word Jehovah. Read this—"Jehovah, God of, etc."

Verse 22. Shall borrow,  a most mischievous translation, which has continually puzzled and disturbed Bible readers. The words mean ask, demand,  and there is no justification for the translation borrow.  The Israelites were to demand  as their right from the Egyptians, as some little remuneration for their long terrible work in Egypt, and the Egyptians in their terror after the death of the first born granted the demand.

Note. —In Rawlinson's Moses,  an interesting illustration of this history is given by means of an Old Egyptian writing, "The Story of Sanehat." Sanehat wanders from the Egyptian court and reaches Edom. The sheikh receives him, questions him, gives him his daughters in marriage. "Here," he says, "I passed many years, children were born to me, the sheikh was satisfied with me and loved me and made me chief of his children." Still he was always longing for Egypt; and by and by, when the way was open and the sheikh gave his consent, he returns to Pharaoh's court to be numbered among his councillors. The story interestingly exhibits the movements of a refugee from Pharaoh's court and the possibility of return after many years.

Questions for Lesson IV

Had God forgotten the poor slaves all this time?

Tell of God's call to Moses.

What did God tell him about his watching over the slaves?

Does God's call ever come to men now? How?

How did Moses feel about God's command to him?

Tell some of his excuses.

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