Saturday, May 22, 2021

Moses: The Great Servant

The world does not lack for political messiahs, nor for bitterness in those who have followed them. We recall images of fallen idols: Stalin’s portrait defaced, Lenin’s statue hoisted and dangling, Mao’s red book a glut on the market; the myth of Camelot darkened by scandal; Saddam Hussein being pulled from a hole in the ground; Osama Bin Laden hunted down in Pakistan.

Yet our age still seeks gurus, others to whom we may offer our loyalty and devotion. The letter to the Hebrews is addressed to Christians who were starting to look back to a leader more worthy than any Caesar. They were being urged back to Moses.

Who, indeed, could be compared to Moses? Educated in the court of Egypt, he spurned royal privilege to identify with slaves, his people. The blow that he struck for their liberation betrayed him. Moses the prince became Moses the exile, tending sheep in the desert.

Yet from a bush in the desert came the Voice that called Moses to true greatness. Moses was great because God humbled the prince to be a servant, indeed, the servant of Yahweh. When his own brother and sister later challenged his leadership, the LORD Himself declared, “My servant Moses … is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face.… Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:7–8).

Moses was unique in his role as mediator. He stretched the rod of God over Egypt, bringing judgment on their gods and plagues on the house of Pharaoh. He stretched his rod over the sea, and the waters parted to deliver Israel; he lifted his rod as an ensign in battle, and Israel prevailed over the treacherous attack of Amalek. At God’s command he used the rod in a way that has no parallel in the Old Testament (Exodus 17:1–7). Israel had rebelled in the desert because there was no water; they called for a trial, bringing suit (meribah). They wanted to court-martial Moses and execute him for leading them out of Egypt to perish by thirst. But it was God, not Moses, whom they wanted to put on trial (massah). The charge was covenant breaking. “Is the LORD among us or not?” they demanded. God is the just Judge; the case must be heard and a verdict rendered. God instructed Moses to go out before the people, taking with him the elders of Israel as witnesses, and the rod of judgment in his hand. Then God the Judge, who summons all to stand before Him, reversed positions. God stood before Moses in the prisoner’s dock to receive punishment, as though He were guilty (Deuteronomy 25:1–3). God, whose name is the Rock (32:4, 18), stood on the rock and commanded Moses to inflict the penalty, striking down on the very rock where God stood, and with which His name identified Him. God in symbol bore the blow that Israel deserved; the sentence was executed, and the water of life poured forth in the desert. What king could bear the rod of Moses?

Moses the mediator was also the great prophet. When Israel could not bear the voice of God speaking from Sinai, Moses alone climbed the mountain to face the fire of God’s presence and to receive from God’s hand His covenant in stone. The other prophets who followed Moses were like him (Deuteronomy 18:18), but God Himself pronounced the superiority of Moses.

Moses the mediator was the faithful intercessor. After Israel’s idolatry with the calf of gold, God threatened to destroy the rebels and to make a new nation from the family of Moses. But Moses stood before God to ask that his own name be blotted from God’s book of life if Israel must perish. He prayed that God would spare His people for the sake of His own name. His argument for God’s forgiveness and presence was found in God Himself. Moses begged to see the glory of God and to know the Angel of His presence. His prayer was answered; God’s glory passed by and Moses heard the name of God proclaimed, the God of covenant faithfulness and love. What priest in God’s house could compare with Moses, through whose intercession God consented to dwell in the midst of His people?

But Moses, the servant in God’s house, could not lead rebellious Israel into the land of promise (Hebrews 3:16). Because on a second occasion he struck the rock again instead of speaking to it, he must share the doom of the rebels (Numbers 14; 20:8–12; 27:14). God the Rock is not to bear the judgment twice. Moses mourned the brevity of life in the desert, under God’s wrath (Psalms 90:7–9). He prayed that God’s blessing might be shown to His servants, and His glory to their children (v. 16). Yet he could not lead his generation into that blessed rest.

From the peak of Pisgah, Moses looked toward the rest that remained for the people of God, rest that would be gained by a greater Joshua, God’s Servant and Son. The Rock of Moses was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Moses had counted disgrace for the sake of Christ of greater value than all the treasures of Egypt (Hebrews 11:26). He wrote of Him (John 5:46) and looked for the day when he would see His glory—as he did (in the land at last) on the Mount of Transfiguration.