The objective of this lesson: to examine Moses' wilderness experience, and to gain insights from his wilderness experience.
Most Christians are familiar with the story of Moses. He was born at a time when the ruler of Egypt (pharaoh means king) both (1) feared the exploding Jewish population in Egypt and (2) felt no indebtedness to Joseph's past contributions to Egypt's survival (Exodus 1:8-14). The new king tried to control Israelite population growth through numerous means. First, he made slaves of them and made their existence miserable. Israelite population increased. Second, the king told Hebrew midwives to kill all male children at birth (Exodus 1:16). The midwives reverenced God above the king, refused to obey his orders, and the Israelite population continued to explode (Exodus 1:15-21). Third, the king ordered the Israelite families to drown their sons at birth (Exodus 1:22).
Note Pharaoh's [the king's] fear of the Israelite population explosion in Egypt and his solution to that population explosion. Ask students to consider our fears in similar situations--the African-American population explosion, or the Hispanic population explosion, or the Asian population explosion in this country. Use the American-Japanese internment in World War II or the American Muslim of today as examples.
Moses was born under the king's third edict, but Moses' family refused to drown him (Exodus 2:1,2). His mother hid him until she could successfully hide him no longer. Rather than kill him, she devised an ingenious, faith-filled method for presenting the baby to the king's daughter (Exodus 2:3-6). The result: Moses had his mother as a nurse in infancy, and later went to the king's palace as the son of the king's daughter (Exodus 2:7-10). Consequently, Moses grew up with a sense of who his people were [though the national environment was hostile toward Israelites], and grew up with the advantages of being in the king's family as that family ruled a powerful, advanced civilization.
Talk about the courage of Moses' parents. Remember they were slaves. Remember they had no "rights." Do include insights into the risk they took.
As a man, though he enjoyed incredible advantages, he knew he was an Israelite. As a man, he intervened privately to rescue an Israelite slave from the rage of an Egyptian by killing the Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-15). Shortly after he learned (1) his act was common knowledge among the Israelites and (2) at least some Israelites resented him. He immediately realized he was in grave danger. The king reacted by seeking Moses' death.
Have your class consider how simple and desirable it would have been for Moses to "forget" his origin. Also consider how easy it would be for slaves to resent a fellow Israelite living as Pharaoh's grandson.
The result of these events was Moses' first trip to the wilderness. Moses fled to the wilderness to escape the wrath of the king. There he married Zipporah, had children, and worked as a shepherd in the region that later was the wilderness through which the Israelites wandered. God commissioned Moses to return to Egypt in order to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. Moses did not wish to return to Egypt. He had no confidence in his leadership ability (Exodus 3:11). He feared the fact that Israel would not identify God as God (Exodus 3:13). He questioned his ability to be persuasive (Exodus 4:1). He insisted he was not an orator. [He was content to be a shepherd in the wilderness. Sheep he could lead; people he could not lead.]
Note the fact that Moses' first trip to the wilderness occurred by Moses' choice as a solution to Moses' problem. As noble as his act may have been, his first trip to the wilderness was made because Moses was thinking about Moses. He resisted God's instruction to return to Egypt by fearing some real problems and demonstrating his loss of self-confidence and self-image.
God insisted. God gave Moses no options. Moses answered God's call by leaving the wilderness and returning to Egypt.
God's insistence finally overrode Moses' hesitance. As will be evident, what happened at first was not what he expected to happen.
What Moses expected to occur when he returned to Egypt is unknown. What occurred greatly discouraged him. At first, Israelite leaders received him well (Exodus 4:29-31). Confidently, Moses appeared before Pharaoh telling him to release Israel (Exodus 5:1). Pharaoh resented Moses' request. He made the Israelites' lives more miserable (Exodus 5:2-9). When the Israelite foremen requested relief, Pharaoh refused their plea (Exodus 5:15-19). As the foremen left, they saw Moses and Aaron waiting to speak to Pharaoh (Exodus 5:20,21). Angry, resentful foremen said, "You made us stink before the Egyptian rulers! You put a sword in Pharaoh's hand to kill us!"
Moses' initial attempt to acquire Israel's release from Egypt confirmed Moses' fears. It was not as easy as Moses anticipated!
A deeply discouraged Moses said to God: "O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all" (Exodus 5:22,23).
At this moment, he felt he was right and God was mistaken at the burning bush.
Before God acted, Moses needed to learn a huge lesson: things would occur because God acted, not because Moses acted (Exodus 6:2-9). Israel's deliverance occurred because of God, not because of Moses. God's will, not Moses' expectations, determined Israel's future.
Moses needed to learn what all need to learn. The truth: we all prefer to trust our abilities. We want to "make it happen."
God acted powerfully (Exodus 6-12:36). Finally, Pharaoh asked Moses and Israel to leave (Exodus 12:31-33). The Egyptian people were so anxious for Israel to leave their country that they gave Israelites elaborate gifts to go (Exodus 12:35, 36).
The Egyptians wanted the Israelites to leave!
Where did Moses take this slave people? With God's guidance, Moses led them to the wilderness. Why? Even though God powerfully released them, they needed to learn to rely on God. They needed to learn to trust God rather than react to circumstances. Only when they learned to trust God would they not be discouraged (Exodus 13:17, 18).
Israel was taken to the wilderness to learn how to trust God, not to hide from the Egyptians or responsibility.
Wilderness experiences always demand the person or people in the wilderness trust God. This primarily is the wilderness question: "Will you trust God or will you react to circumstances?" Wilderness experiences force a decision. In the wilderness, you must decide who you are and what your life is about.
The primary purpose of a wilderness' experience is to increase one's ability to trust God. The purpose of the wilderness' experience is to strip away confidence in self and replace it with confidence in God. The wilderness offers great spiritual opportunity. In the wilderness one can grow closer to God or one can hide!
Wilderness experiences can be discouraging experiences. Moses was in the wilderness because he learned to trust God. Israel was in the wilderness because Moses led them there. On one occasion the people stood in the openings of their tents crying as they remembered the "wonderful food, especially the meat, we had in Egypt" (Numbers 11:4-9). Determining Israel's expectations as they left Egypt is speculation, but whatever their expectations were, the wilderness' experience was not it! Can you imagine hearing tens of thousands of people crying? Moses was distressed!
Emphasize the truth that wilderness' experiences are often discouraging. Following God is not an invitation to fun!
Moses said to God, "I cannot meet their expectations! I did not make Your promises to them! You are too hard on me! If You love me, let me die so I will not have to look at my wretchedness!" (Numbers 11:10-15) Instead of punishing Moses, God helped Moses.
Moses was certain God expected too much of him! He was exhausted! He felt it was all up to him! Note God's patience with a weary, depressed Moses--God did not respond with a "how dare you!"
The point: even when you trust God, wilderness experiences are not fun! Even though Moses trusted God, the crying Israelites made him miserable!
Often we are severely discouraged by other people--especially people '"who should know better!"
Thought and Discussion Questions
The discussion should include Pharaoh's fear of Egyptian vulnerability during wartime.
The discussion should include the vulnerability of Moses' parents.
When Moses failed in his first attempt, he was confident additional attempts would be meaningless and too risky.
He did not want Israel to be discouraged by war. [There was a faster way to Canaan, but it went through defined, protected areas.]
Those experiences demand a development of trust in God. Those experiences can be depressing, discouraging experiences. Examples should be take from Moses' leadership of Israel in the wilderness. Following God is not a dedication to having nothing but fun times!
Link to Student Guide Lesson 6
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