The In-Between Years - Part 37

Series: The In-Between Years

May 17, 2021
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years - Part 37

Okay. So Stephen is standing before the ruling council of religious leaders, accused of blasphemy against Moses, the Law, and the Temple. Instead of answering the charges, he retells the Jews’ story through the lens of Jesus. He anchors it in the heroes of the faith beginning with Abraham and then Joseph and then Moses.

Last week we saw how the providence of God worked in Moses’ life as a baby. Instead of killing him, as pharaoh commanded, his parents put him in a basket and let it loose on the Nile river. He was found by none other than the pharaoh’s daughter, who was bathing. She payed Moses’ birth mom to nurse him and raise him till he was probably 5 - 8 years old. This week, we’ll see that same providence work in his life as an adult.

For forty years Moses lived like a prince in the pharaoh’s household while his parents and siblings and all the Israelites served as slaves. He was taught the unparalleled earthly wisdom of the Egyptians while the Hebrews were taught with a whip how to make bricks and mortar. He ate the finest foods while the descendants of Abraham — God’s people — were lucky to get bread . He enjoyed a life of wealth and luxury while his kin suffered poverty and humiliation. And then…

11 One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. Exodus 2:11 (ESV)

It’s important to note here he went to out to “his people.” He looked on their burdens and saw an Egyptian beating one of “his people.” One would think living in the safety and lavishness of a palace situated in the most powerful kingdom of the world at that time would have been enough to make a fellow forget who he was, if who he was was the opposite of that. But it didn’t. The faith his mom and dad planted in him those eight years at home took root and began to grow. He knew he wasn’t truly an Egyptian. The Hebrews were his people. 

He noticed their suffering and in some weird way I think he thought he could be their savior — on his terms mind you…

12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. Exodus 2:12 (ESV)

I have to stop here and try to get into his mind. In other words, I have to ask, “What was he thinking?” Maybe it was an impulse brought on by the passion he held for his people. Or Maybe he thought he could be a sort of secret super hero or something, using his position and power to help the Israelites. Regardless, this wasn’t the way. As much as the Egyptian deserved to die for treating God’s people like that, I cannot help but think that one day this same Moses will deliver commandments from God, one of which that says, “Do not kill.”

I’m guessing he thought word would get around among his people that they had an ally in pharaoh’s palace. The Hebrew prince was on their side. And folks would rejoice. Word got around alright, but it didn’t go as he planned…

13 When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” Exodus 2:13-14 (ESV)

Here he realizes two things. One, his people weren’t as receptive to his plan for saving them as he’d hoped. Two, he had made a big mistake. When an Egyptian royal kills an Egyptian officer to protect lowly slaves, word gets around. Sure enough…

15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well. Exodus 2:15 (ESV) 

Midian “was region of the Arabian peninsula east of the Reed Sea, settled by descendants of Abraham and his second wife, Keturah.” He went there, found a well, and sat down by it. That may have been intentional. In those days wells were the lifeblood of such an arid region. Linger at a well long enough and somebody is bound to show up.

16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. Exodus 2:16-17 (ESV) 

Note that he still has that savior complex. Much better, though, Moses, start small.

18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” Exodus 2:18-22 (ESV)

This had to have been a humbling experience for Moses. I’m sure life wasn’t like it was back at the palace, but I bet he realized one could do pretty well with the simple things. Moses settled down and in to his new life. He became a husband and then a father. You’ll see in a minute how he even begins a new profession as a shepherd himself, tending his father-in-law’s flocks. Time passed…

23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  Exodus 2:23 (ESV)

This went on for forty years. Forty years a prince living in a palace. Forty years a fugitive living in exile. What could be the purpose? Moses, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph was experiencing the providence of God first hand and it was about to all come together…

24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.  Exodus 2:2425 (ESV)

That’s a powerful verse packed with truth and comfort. God may very well let his people suffer, but he never forgets his promises. The laments of his children never go unheard. He sees their troubles. He knows. It was time to respond and get Abraham’s descendants back on track to becoming a great nation in their own land.

Get ready, this is big…

1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” Exodus 3:1-3 (ESV)

Talk about just minding your own business one day and getting blind sided the next! Moses gave up on his quest to save the Hebrews. He had accepted his new life as shepherd with a family and all. And then boom, he made the mistake of turning aside to check out a burning bush…

4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:4-5 (ESV)

*** HUSH ****

We should not be able to read this without a holy hush overcoming us. Even in the text of a Bible written in English thousands of years after the event, we can still sense the awe and mouth-shutting wonder of this moment when the God of glory appeared to Abraham. Some have surmised that up until this Moses’ faith had been only head wise, that it’s here we observe his conversion experience…

6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:6-11 (ESV)

Note what doesn’t happen here. Moses does not say, “Well, it’s about time. That’s what I was trying to do forty years. I’m the man let’s go.” I think he would have that said that forty years ago. Instead he says, “Uh, you got the wrong guy.” Why? He had been humbled. God had to get the pride and self sufficiency out of him, he had to tear him down, if you will, before he could build him up into the man through whom he’d deliver his people. Hear me brothers and sisters, God can never effectively use a proud heart.

12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” 13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” ’ 18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”  Exodus 3:12-22 (ESV)

It’s about to get real, ya’ll!

Even though our focus is how this relates to Stephen’s message, I can’t help but share from Tim Keller two principles Moses’ time of exile and conversion story teaches us.[1]

“The first principle is you’re never of any use to God until you feel absolutely useless in general.” God can’t do a thing with you until you come to the end of yourself.

“The second principle is like unto it, or pretty linked, and that is, God’s timing virtually never is the same as ours.” Moses thought he was ready to become Israel’s savior at 40, when he was in the prime of his life both physically/mentally but also situationally. Nope. I’m sure the Israelites too thought things had gone on long enough at 100 or 200 or even 300 years, but, nope, God’s timing was much later. He’s never early and he’s never late but he’s always brilliant in his timing.

Now we can wind this down and look at how Stephen summarizes all this in his message to the council…

23 “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25 He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ 27 But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons. 30 “Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. 33 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’  Acts 7:23–34 (ESV)

Conclusion: So we’ve covered another section of Stephen’s message to the council, the longest sermon recorded in the Bible. And we’ve taken the time to investigate its background in the OT, which is good if you ask me. I’ll close with the words of NT Wright from his commentary on Acts… 

Stephen has been accused of going soft on Moses and his law; very well, he will go back to the story of Moses and see what it says. He tells the story of Moses so as to highlight three things in particular.

First, Moses was raised up by God, and trained in such a way that, through a strange providence, he became exactly the right leader for God’s people. The new king (Egyptian kings had the title ‘Pharaoh’) over Egypt had taken it into his head to oppress the resident Hebrew population, the descendants of Jacob. Part of the deal was that male Hebrew children were to be killed off, to stop the population getting too numerous. But, though Moses’ parents had to abandon him because of this edict, he was rescued by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter herself, and brought up as her son. As a result, he was educated in the wisdom of the Egyptians, which was already legendary in Old Testament times (see 1 Kings 4:30; Isaiah 19:11). God, in other words, had planned for Moses to be just the man he needed for what he had in mind.

Second, Moses became the rejected rescuer. Realizing his own ancestry, despite his upbringing in Pharaoh’s court, Moses set about trying to make things better for his kinsfolk. It was a disastrous failure, but that’s not what Stephen is drawing attention to. Rather, he highlights the fact that here was this man, sent by God to deliver the people (albeit not yet ready to do so properly), being rejected by the very people he was supposed to be rescuing. ‘Who made you a ruler or a judge over us?’ asked the Hebrew man whom Moses had been rebuking.

But, third, Moses was the one to whom, and through whom, ‘the God of glory’, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, revealed himself in a fresh way. We have already seen a reference to the same passage that Stephen is referring to (Exodus 3) in a speech of Peter (Acts 3:13). Part of the point here, as always in early Christian explanation before fellow Jews, is that the God they have come to know in and through Jesus is not a different God from the one made known to their ancestors, but precisely the same one doing precisely the same thing, that is, rescuing his people in fulfilment of his ancient promises. And now, at the burning bush, as Moses is serving long years as a shepherd on behalf of his father-in-law, far away from Egypt and the people he is supposed to be rescuing, God addresses him again. Heaven and earth come together in a moment of vision, and neither Moses, Israel nor the world are ever the same again.[2]

And now we are ready to see what happens next both in Stephen’s message and the story of Israel, and we’ll do that…. Nope not next time. When I get back from vacation.

Let me leave you with this. Keller says that we learn form the burning bush encounter “you’re never of any use to God until you feel absolutely useless in general.” God can’t do a thing with you until you come to the end of yourself. That’s how it works if you want to be used by God, but it’s also how it works if you want to know God, if you want to be saved, to become a Christian. That’s part of the gospel. Coming to the end of yourself is the same thing as repentance. It’s also the same thing as realizing you need to be saved.

And when you realize you need saving the only thing you can do is call for help… 

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)

[1] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[2] Wright, T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (pp. 113–114). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

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