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 Great Life Decision

Read Exodus II. 11-16.
Acts VII. 23-34.
Hebrews XI. 24-28.

§ 1. The Decision

R ECAPITULATE—GOD'S providence—Moses preserved—guarded—educated—trained—as a scholar—a leader—a warrior—unconsciously prepared for God's high purpose.

We follow on to see the result of all this training. The next glimpse we get of him is when he is a full-grown man—in high position, a prince of Egypt, perhaps a victorious general—with men bowing down to him as he drove through the streets and crying before his chariot, "Bow the knee." How old was he? (Acts vii. 23). When he was full forty years old, what happened? "It came into his heart, etc." Who put it into his heart? Do you think it had never before come into his heart? I am pretty sure it had. But oh! it was very hard to do it. He was but a man like us, and therefore right doing was often hard and painful. I have often wondered about him before he was forty years old—during his college days at Heliopolis, and his wars and his great military and social success, with all men bowing down before him—what of his old father, the slave Amram, in the brick-fields, and the little mother that had dared and suffered so much for him? What of Aaron and Miriam and all their relatives and friends who were working at the canals and at the store city of Pithom? Had the princess entirely cut off all communication? Did he know nothing of them? Had he forgotten them? Probably the old father and mother were dead. And, if so, was it possible—don't you think it might be possible, or even likely, that the brilliant young captain in the royal palace should be a little ashamed of his slave origin, and seek to hide it? And, if so, don't you think it likely that the God "from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed," in His constant discipline of the young man should have often made "it come into his heart" this duty he was shirking—just as He makes us think and feel pain in our conscience? Did you ever feel this when you were trying to escape doing something that you felt you ought to do. (Try to bring this home to the pupils.)  Marvellous, this constant discipline of God with us all. Never violently breaking down our will, but touching us, and troubling us, and kindly, patiently waiting for us to yield.

As he grew older, I think his conscience hurt him more, and I think, too, the conviction stole on him that God had given him his high position for the sake of his poor brethren (Acts vii. 25). Perhaps his mother had taught him that long ago. Of course we are only guessing about this struggle in Moses' heart. But if we are right, it is interesting to think that he was but a poor struggler after right, like ourselves, and that it was God's grace that helped him to conquer. It was not till he was forty years old that he grew ashamed of his meanness and went out like a true man to visit his poor brethren.

He knew that this meant breaking with all his high courtly life in the palace. Do you think it was easy? For this young captain had no doubt grand prospects before him and the ambition that belongs to genius and to youth, and the keen love of pleasure that young men have. Must he crush it all and take his place with these outcast slaves? Yes, said the voice of duty, the voice of God within him. "You must, or be no true man." And he did it. It took forty years to make him noble enough to do it; but it was done, and so the first great step in God's discipline of him was gained. "By faith he refused to be the son of Pharaoh's daughter, etc." (Hebrews xi. 24.)

"By faith." Some commentators say that Moses' faith meant his belief that the 400 years of God's prophecy to Abraham were nearly accomplished, and that God by his hand would deliver them. Maybe that was true too. But I think Moses' faith meant especially this—the faith of all true men in God's blessing and approval when with an honest and true heart they choose what seems to them the Right.

Remember whenever you have to choose between the Right and the Pleasant, that there are two sides of your nature engaged—the high noble side, with the Holy Spirit prompting it, and the low, mean side with the Devil behind it; and whenever you yield to the higher side you are following God's leading—God's plan for your life whether you can see it or not. I am sure Moses did not see all that depended on his choice. He did not know when he obeyed his higher impulses that he was unconsciously falling in with God's great plan for Israel. We each have our part too in God's great plan for helping the world, sometimes a very little part, and we cannot know what it will be. But we may be certain in all our struggles and decisions that every choice for the right is a stepping forward on God's life-path for us as surely as if God had given us a written chart of the path. Do you think Moses ever repented this life choice? Do you think you or anybody will ever repent choosing for God and Right?

§ 2. The Result

From Hebrews xi. it seems that the change in Moses' life was not from a mere chance killing of an Egyptian, but from a deliberate decision that he would renounce his palace life to champion the cause of the slaves. I think this renunciation came before he killed the Egyptian. I can imagine his relief when his decision was made; but also, I can imagine his pain at telling the kind princess, who had been as a mother to him, if she were still living. And I can picture the wonder in the palace, in the army, amongst his comrades, the young nobles of Egypt, that any man should be fool enough to make the great renunciation for the sake of a set of outcast slaves. Perhaps some few were noble enough to understand him. Most thought him mad. But whatever they thought, the prince, the warrior, the comrade, went out from among them forever—out from the palace of Pharaoh, perhaps to the slave huts in the brick-fields.

Should not you expect he would have been received with delight and gratitude and applause? Perhaps he expected it. Was he so received? I picture him day by day visiting his brethren on the plains of Tel es Maskouteh, raging in secret at the horrors which he saw. We know from the old writings and from the paintings on the tombs what the flogging of slaves was like. At last it grew beyond bearing. He saw a poor Hebrew being flogged, perhaps to death, in a lonely corner of the brick-fields, and in a moment his blood was up, and in the fierce hot rush of his anger he smote that Egyptian taskmaster dead to the ground. Do you think he was wrong? I do not think God would condemn fierce indignation against cruelty and oppression. Yet, perhaps, he was too hasty and passionate. It looks as if he needed the long training in Midian to teach calmness and self-control before he took on him the leading of that unruly, irritating host of Israel. Probably it deserved both praise and blame. At any rate, surely he thought, my brethren will be on my side. What happened next day when he interfered? Ah, yes; all his sympathy and self-sacrifice only called out their sneers and threats to inform on him. Slavery had so degraded them.

Don't you think it was a sore disappointment to Moses? Do you think God ought to have rewarded his nobleness better? But God's rewards for being good are not mere applause or gain, or glory of men. God rewards a man for being good by making him better still. And sometimes he can only do that by sorrow and pain and disappointment. And so God let this come to him that in his disappointment from men he might cling more to God, who never disappoints.

Perhaps, too, Moses did not yet see his own helplessness and the need of entire dependence on God for himself and for Israel. No doubt he knew that he was clever and capable, and that he had done a splendid thing in making his life decision. That was all true, but perhaps he needed some of the conceit about it taken out of him. I think I should if I had been in his place. He needed more training and refining to fit him for the great task before him. So what happened? Yes; he had to fly from his old friends of Egypt and his poor brethren of Israel, and go away into a lonely exile. He had to live all those years in Midian with a wife who, I think, never understood him. He had to feel even doubtful whether God was pleased with him and whether he had not done more harm than good.

Do you think it was hard? Did he feel it keenly? Would you feel it keenly? Of course he felt it. Look at the bitterness in the name of his first-born son (Exodus xviii. 3, 4), Gershom, "a stranger here." But it was God's blessed training all the time, and I think he began to know it before he named his second boy. What? "My God is a help."

So we must leave Moses to-day going through the hard, lonely, yet blessed training of God. And we learn from to-day's lesson, what? First, that the best thing in the whole world for any man is to choose right, even if he were never rewarded for it here. Second, that when loneliness, and sickness, and sorrow come to people they are not always an evil. This is often God's way of bestowing on them His very best.

Questions for Lesson III

How old was Moses when he thought of visiting his slave people?

Why did he kill the Egyptian slave-driver?

How did this change his whole life?

What do you know of his life in Midian?

Who were (1) Jethro, (2) Gershom, (3) Eliezer?

What do we learn from the names of Moses' sons?

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