Moses, the Great Leader
S O Moses grew up in the palace, treated as a prince instead of as a slave. He learned his lessons with the other boys of the palace, and was taught all that the wisest Egyptians could teach him. As he grew to be a man he learned also to be a soldier, and took rank as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. But deep down in his heart he never forgot his own people.
The poor Israelites were worse off now than ever. They were forced to work harder and harder, were beaten and ill-treated in a most cruel way, and there was no one to speak a good word for them. In vain Moses tried to help them. His interference only seemed to bring fresh trouble upon them, and they looked with suspicion on the grandly-dressed, royal-looking young man who came from the king's palace. How could he understand their misery?
Then a day came when Moses found one of the Egyptian taskmasters beating a poor Israelite most unmercifully, and the sight made him so angry that he rushed in to defend the slave, and dealt the cruel task master such a heavy blow that it killed him. The Israelites, instead of being grateful, only mistrusted him the more; and the next time he tried to help them they asked him if he meant to kill them as he had killed the Egyptian.
Moses knew at once then that the story had been whispered throughout the country, and that as soon as it reached Pharaoh's ears his life would not be safe. The only thing to be done was to escape to some distant land; and so, with sorrow and disappointment in his heart, he fled from the palace, leaving behind all the riches and honours he had enjoyed so long.
A very different kind of life began now for Moses. He had journeyed far into the desert, and joined company there with an Arab tribe, which wandered from place to place feeding their flocks, and instead of being a prince he now became a shepherd.
But God had more difficult work for him to do than feeding sheep; and ere long, out on the lonely hillside, the message came. He was to go back, he was to set himself to the task of freeing his people from Pharaoh's power, and to lead them out into the land of Canaan, where they would be no longer slaves but a free people.
At first, when Moses heard God's voice bidding him do all this, he thought it was an impossible task for him to attempt. Pharaoh would never listen to him. His own people would not trust him. He was not a great speaker, and he would most certainly fail. But God bade him do his best, and trust in the help that would be given him. Aaron, his brother, should be the spokesman, and God would work such wonders that both Pharaoh and the Israelites would be forced to listen to him.
Now Moses was a born leader of men, strong and fearless, and a splendid general, and above all he had now a firm faith that God's strong arm would fight for him. So he left his quiet life, and began the great work at God's command.
At first it seemed quite hopeless. Pharaoh refused to let his slaves go, even for a few days' journey into the wilderness. Time after time God sent terrible plagues on Pharaoh and all the land of Egypt. Punishment after punishment fell on them, and still they refused to allow the Israelites to leave the country. Then at last God sent the angel of death, and killed all the eldest sons in every house, so that the whole land was filled with mourning. A great wail went up from the palace and from the poorest dwellings, and Pharaoh was so terrified that he told Moses to lead the people away at once. They might take anything they liked with them, only they must go quickly.
So the great company of people set out with all their families, their wives and children, their flocks and herds, and the gifts which the Egyptians thrust into their hands in their eagerness to get rid of them. It was Moses, the great leader, who arranged everything, and guided them on their way, and brought them to the shores of the Red Sea.
But by that time Pharaoh began to recover from his terror, and to think he had made a mistake in letting the people go so easily. A great army was sent in hot haste after them; and the poor Israelites, looking back, could see the Egyptians coming towards them from behind, while in front stretched the wide waters of the Red Sea. What was to become of them? Of course it was the fault of their leader, they thought. He had only brought them here to be cut to pieces or drowned.
But Moses knew better. He knew that God would make a passage for them through the sea, so he ordered them to go forward. In fear and trembling they did as he bade them, and behold! God sent a strong wind which divided the water so that a passage appeared, and they walked over on dry land.
Behind them the army of Pharaoh swept on. The chariots were driven at full speed, the horsemen came thundering along. They too reached the passage that led across the water, but it was too late; the people had all reached the other side, and the sea had begun to flow back. The chariot wheels sunk in the wet sand, the horses began to flounder, and before long all the great army was swept away by the returning tide.
So the people were saved from the Egyptians. But there were still many other enemies to be faced, and for forty long years they journeyed, a tribe of wanderers, across the desert. Many were the battles they fought, and many were the troubles they suffered. Sometimes they had no food to eat, sometimes they almost died for want of water, and when anything went wrong it was always Moses whom they blamed.
But the great leader was very patient with them. Only once he was so angry with their murmuring that he was tempted to disobey God's direction; and then he sorrowfully knew that, as a punishment, he would not be allowed to lead them on into the Promised Land of Canaan. His work was nearly done, and others, he knew, would be able to finish what he had begun; but it must have been a sore grief to him. He was quite an old man now, but yet he showed no sign of age, and was as strong and full of courage as when he had been first called to do God's work.
And now the word had come that he must lay down his leadership. From the top of Mount Pisgah God would show him the Promised Land, and there he must die.
With strong, firm steps the great leader climbed the rocky mountain side, and from the top of the mount he saw the land of Canaan stretched out before him, that fair land so rich and fruitful, "flowing with milk and honey." The people, watching below, had seen him as he climbed higher and higher until he disappeared from their sight. Did they know, as they caught the last glimpse of his tall, straight figure, that their eyes would never look on him again, that he would never return to lead them and watch over them as he had so faithfully done until now?
Alone upon the mountain top he stood, as solitary and grand as those everlasting hills, ready to obey God's call; and then he "was not, for God took him."