by Mike McKinniss
Meanwhile Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God (Exo. 3:1).
There is a particular technique in devotional meditation on Scripture that encourages the reader to immerse himself in a biblical story. The idea is to read and re-read a narrative passage again and again and, in so doing, more and more deeply imagine oneself in the midst of the story.
It can be a powerful and insightful process, employing the imagination in such a way as to feel the weight of, say, Jesus’ parables, Elijah’s contest with the priests of Baal, or Paul’s harrowing shipwreck. What would I think if I were there? How would I respond?
Occasionally, the reader is encouraged to put herself in the dusty sandals of certain characters in the tale, to try to see the narrative through a biblical figure’s eyes.
There are some people in the Bible with whom I imagine it might be rather easy and natural to trade places. I can often see myself in the lives of the disciples, especially pre-Pentecost; consistently missing Jesus’ point is a forté of mine. Gideon’s shoes fit me perfectly; I could ask God for signs as a stall tactic in my sleep. And I may have been cut from the same cloth as Jonah; my natural direction in life is generally opposite the way God is pointing.
Rarely, however, do I dare put myself in the position of the Greats. Paul would no doubt dismiss me as a timid mouse of a man. I quiver in Elisha’s gaze. When I stand at my tallest, David towers over me.
Yet recently, I have dared to imagine my life in the model of Moses.
Yes, Moses: the man who looms over the entire Old Testament. Moses: the prophet who called down plagues, carried God’s Law and formed a nation from a ragtag league of slaves. Moses: the man called the most humble who ever lived. I can see myself in him.
That is, I can see myself in Moses at a particular time in his life.
Although Moses began his life in peril—he was quickly hidden as a newborn because Pharaoh had demanded the life of every Hebrew boy—he was taken into the household of Pharaoh himself and raised amidst royalty. Exodus doesn’t tell us much about Moses’ upbringing, but we can imagine that he must have had the finest clothes, food and education as Pharaoh’s own adopted grandson.
Some time later, in a rather rash moment, Moses killed an Egyptian who was lashing out against a fellow Hebrew. The deed was discovered and Moses was forced to flee the country, heading toward the wilderness to the east. He married into a foreign family and took on the job of herding his father-in-law’s sheep. Moses’ prospects had sunk low.
This is the point at which I find it easy to picture myself as Moses. Though I could never claim royalty, I have been many times brought low from what I had perceived as a higher plateau. Indeed, how often does this happen to us all? We achieve certain accolades, a certain standing, but then circumstances shift and we find we are quickly at the bottom of the pile.
Scripture does not say how long Moses lived in Jethro’s household, walking his sheep over every desolate hill and dale. Some suggest it may have been as long as thirty or forty years. The Bible only says it was a long time.
It must have felt even longer for poor Moses, thinking of the height from which he’d plummeted. The attendant questions come easily to mind: God, how could you have brought me to this terrible place? Oh, to think of where I had been just a few years ago! God, when will you ever save me from this damnation to anonymity?
Many of us long for breakthrough. The circumstances differ from one to another, but we each are desperate, at various times, for the Lord to emerge in our lowly state and rescue us. For Moses, I imagine it was a longing to return to some kind of prominence. For others, it is a health issue for which they have prayed relief, recognition in the workplace for years of hidden toil, rescue from an abusive relationship. Whatever the source of our trouble, we rightly recognize the Lord as our savior.
But when might he come to save? That is so often the plaguing question.
For Moses, his breakthrough began when he noticed a peculiar thing. Walking the flock of sheep near the mountain of Horeb, the Lord caught his attention in a remarkable way. God set fire to a bush, but refused to consume it. Finally, the Lord shows up! This is what Moses had been waiting for.
But Moses must also have done an important thing. In order to receive the breakthrough God had planned for Moses and the Hebrew people, Moses had to respond: “Moses thought: I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?” (Exo. 3:3).
Moses’ breakthrough came because God suddenly appeared but Moses would have missed it had his eyes not been open. Had Moses not been on the lookout for the Lord, and had he not been ready to respond, he may have trudged on past that burning bush, never turning aside.
Perhaps this is step one to breakthrough: Daily set expectations to see God. Moses did not know when God would appear to him, but he was ready when the Lord did reveal himself. So it may be with us. Whatever breakthrough we seek, we know the source will be our God. And though way may not know when the Lord will act, we can know that we’ll be ready to see him and respond when he does.