Leadership Helpfuls from the Wilderness

Moses is one of the most famous Bible characters among Christians and non-Christians alike. Everyone has heard of Moses and most non-Christians can even quote the famous passage, “Pharaoh, let my people go”, even though they do not know the context and meaning of it. I think Moses deserves much more justice than just being remembered as the guy who told Pharaoh to let his people go. Moses was a great leader whom God chose to lead over a million Israelites out of slavery and eventually into the promised land that God had promised to give them.

As he heard from the mouth of God, he wrote down the Law of God which has been delivered to us and called the Pentateuch. Along with that (which is no small deal!), he managed land, farming, disputes, raised up leaders, judged cases, and many more things that we could hardly imagine. Moses has quite a resume. Where did His leadership training come from (other than from God Himself)? What did God use in Moses’ life to equip this humble slave of God to lead so many ignorant, forgetful, sluggish, and unbelieving people like us through the wilderness? What can we learn from Moses’ life in regards to leadership development (discipleship)?

In this blog, I’d like to unpack the life of Moses and identify principles and re-occurring patterns that God used to build into Moses the leadership that he displayed with the Israelites. For the sake of order, we’ll observe Moses’ life chronologically through the book of Exodus (which does not cover all of Moses’ life) and identify specific moments and principles as he is developing into the leader that God intends him to be.

Sovereign Beginnings
We learn in Exodus 2:1-10, that Moses’ mother and father were leaders by the fact that they knew when their son was born, that he was to be thrown into the Nile by the order of Pharaoh. Being leaders, Moses’ parents trusted God and hid Moses for three months, until they couldn’t hide him any longer. Then they wrapped him up, put him in a basket and floated him down the brutal Nile, in hopes of their sovereign God saving him.

Well, saved Moses was, because Pharaoh’s daughter was the one to find baby Moses in the river, which led to Moses being raised in the very house of Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world. I can just imagine as Moses learned of his story, his heritage, that it caused him to realize that God is going to use him and had great plans for him. Moses knew that he came from courageous blood.

I can see how God used Moses’ sovereign beginnings to help develop him to lead God’s people. We ought to never discount where we came from and where we are right now. We were given what was handed to us for us reason, and God desires to use your story to help shape other in unique ways.

Unintentional Training
By the time Moses is born, and then grows up and flees to the wilderness after murdering an Egyptian who is abusing an Israelite, Scripture only gives us two verses (2:10-11). Much can be assumed between those few lines. Moses assuredly observed the Egyptian’s way of living, judging, governing, planning, and care-taking (medically). He was given first hand training from the greatest nation on the earth in that day, and saw what kind of top-level leadership looked like, albeit, it was corrupt leadership. I am sure that God used those years to train and equip Moses to live, judge, govern, plan and take care of over a million Israelites in the wilderness for forty years. Moses’ years with Pharaoh are assumably some of the greatest years of training that Moses received to become one of the greatest leaders ever.

The lesson here for us is that we can learn from many different sources, even if we don’t think much of the source we have learned from. Whether we like it or not, we have learned a lot from our consumeristic culture, in regards of being fruitful and successful and aiding those who are in want. We would do well to learn more widely from those outside of our tribe, without fear of being “corrupted”.

Intentional Training    
As we pick back up in Exodus 2:11, we revisit Moses’ interaction with injustice, which was apparently built into him by God over the years of seeing how his own people were treated and used. This is where the real intentional training begins, and Moses fails in his anger management test. He can’t take the sight of his people being abused, so he kills an Egyptian guard, and is forced to flee to the desert (vv. 11-15). It is there in the desert where Moses finds a wife, gets a career of shepherding, and has children (vv. 16-22). There are redeemable aspects of living in a desert after all!

This is all leadership development fro Moses. I have been married for over thirteen years to Amy, we have four children and I have had a consistent full time job the whole time. God has used all of that in my life to develop leadership in to my life in countless ways, namely, I fail daily and am not all that. With Moses, he becomes a shepherd and God used those days as a shepherd in Moses’ life to have him put his skills to use in the wilderness.

It is in the wilderness where Moses learned to survive, to protect, to be patient, and long-suffering. What a plan! This couldn’t be any more perfect for Moses, being that he is about to shepherd humans in the wilderness and is going to need more patience and long-suffering than any other shepherd of sheep. Our time in the wilderness and in suffering often serve the same purpose. Maybe we need to stop complaining that we are in the wilderness, or the hot desert, and instead dig a well in the middle of it so that those who follow where we’ve been can have a place to be refreshed. This is after all why God leaves us here as believers…to love others and display the beauty and worth of Jesus, particularly in the hard time.

God’s Calling
The Bible says that Moses was eighty years old when he went into Egypt to rescue his people from Pharaoh (Ex. 7:7). In case you didn’t catch that, Moses is eighty years old before he walks into his calling and begins to be the effective leader that God intended him to be. That is eighty years of unintentional and intentional training that probably frustrated the heck out of Moses. Eighty years go by before God sees fit to confirm Moses’ calling to be the man who leads and delivers the Israelites from slavery.

Imagine with me the depression that must have sunk in to Moses’ heart. The failure that he must think he is. “I had it all, then my rage, my stupid rage brought this life to me!” From the house of Pharaoh to a shepherd, sleeping with wild animals. Little did Moses know, and little do we often know, that in the moments when we think God isn’t working, we can be assured He is.

Also, this clearly affirms the old saying that “God doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called.” God has equipped Moses for such a time as this and took His time doing it (humanly speaking). God comes to Moses through a bush that is burning, but not being consumed by the fire. It is there that God tells Moses that He has chosen him to be the voice of God that goes to Pharaoh and providentially delivers the Israelites so they will fulfill the destiny God has for them (Ex. 3:1-22), as well as deliver the Messiah to earth one beautiful day.

On the Job Training
Now Moses is all in! He hears the call, argues a little bit with God, but then realized that he can’t escape God’s calling to lead. Into Egypt Moses goes with his brother Aaron and they begin the treacherous and painful journey of witnessing a foolish leader resist God, resulting in extreme suffering and final defeat by the hands of God via the Red Sea (Ex. 4-14). As God used Moses to bring about all of the ten plagues on Egypt and leading the Israelites through the Red Sea, God was continuing to train him as he was on the job.

Moses had no power, or clue for that matter, of how God was going to deliver the Israelites. His role was to trust God at His word and do what He said. This on the job training was in the area of humble submission to a great and gracious God. This might be one of the most important aspects of Moses’ training. Learning to trust God and submit to Him, instead of relying on his own power and ability. All the training and equipping in the world would never allow Moses to pull off what God did. Without humble submission to God, Moses is not the leader we all know him to be, and the same goes for us.

This on the job training continues and Moses is called to speak on behalf of God over and over again to ungrateful, forgetful, and unbelieving Israelites. The people groan because they have no water. Moses speaks to God and God provides water (Ex. 15:22-27). The people groan and say it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than to die of hunger in the wilderness. So Moses speaks to the God again and God gives the people bread and bird to eat (Ex. 16:1-12). Again, the people groan because there is no water. Moses speaks to God and God gives them water (Ex. 17:1-7). The pattern that we are seeing here is that God instills leadership into Moses through Moses coming to God Himself.

Spiritual leaders must meet with God intimately if they are to grow into their roles God has for them. Moses models this out of necessity, which God often does for leaders. God often uses hardship, persecution and suffering to cause great desperation in the life of a leader, so that they run to God because there is nowhere else to turn. God knows the hearts of His people, and if too much comfort ensues, his people stop trusting in Him. God simply wants submission from us which leads to life, joy, power, fullness, beauty, freedom…I could go on and on. Until a seed dies, it cannot be sown into the ground to eventually come up out of death to bring a harvest.

Multiplying Leaders
We read this in Exodus 17:9-10: “So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.” Where did Joshua’s leadership come from? Scripture doesn’t tell us, but it seems safe to assume that Moses identified Joshua as a leader and invested in him. Enough so, that he entrusted him with the responsibility of choosing men to fight Amalek. Not only that, but Joshua seemingly obeyed Moses with no questions asked. God put people around Moses with abilities, and allowed Moses to invest in them and entrust them with tasks.

We also see leadership multiply exponentially after a visit from Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. After Jethro bore witness to all that God had done through Moses, he sees Moses on the job and realizes that Moses has taken on way too much and is going to burn out. God sovereignly uses Jethro to not only preserve the health of Moses, but also to help Moses entrust more leadership to others, thus multiplying more leaders (Ex. 18:13-23). Moses listened to the advice of Jethro (he was teachable, which is necessary for every good leader) and chose able men and “made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” (Ex. 18:25).

Growing in Intimacy
God ramps up Moses’ training in Exodus 19-20. This is where God calls Moses to the top of Mount Sinai to see God for Himself, up close and personal. Every leader who is going to be used by God in significant ways must encounter God intimately (every believer for that matter). God knows this, and He also knows that it is time for Moses, and for His people. Moses meets with God, God delivers to Moses the Ten Commandments, and gives Moses a word to share with His people. God is drawing Moses to Himself. He is also entrusting Moses with more and more. This is leadership development.

God had not given Moses all this responsibility all at once. God graciously gave what Moses could handle, when he could handle it. When Moses came down from the mountain, he was instructed to instruct God’s people with all that God had told him; and Moses obeys. Moses delivers all the laws of God to the people for their good and for God’s glory (Ex. 20-23). As leaders, we ought not desire glory and fame more than we desire seeing God’s glory and loving His fame.

Moses as a Means of Grace to God’s People
As God has slowly entrusted Moses with more, He sees fit that it is time to dwell and speak to all of His people. God uses Moses and his leadership to build a house for God to dwell with His people and gives explicit directions so that His glory could dwell with man (Ex. 25-31). Moses was with God for forty days on the mountain as he received all these instructions, and this time it was so that Moses could come down the mountain and offer rich blessings to God’s people through what he has been entrusted with.

Moses is now doing ministry and it is also for others, not just himself. I am not saying that none of what Moses has done up until this point was meaningless, but I do believe that Moses graduated from the training part of leadership to the imparting part of leadership. Moses is in his sweet spot here, and he is blessing others more than he is being poured into as a leader at this point. As leaders, much of our service is for us in the beginning. Then after years of being shaped and humbled, we are turning the corner of being poured into, to being poured out as a drink offering, as the Apostle Paul said about himself.

As Moses comes down off the mountain, God had yet another surprise for him. After all the Lord has done for the Israelites, they forsake it all because they think Moses has been gone too long and they build an idol out of gold, thinking that it will lead them and protect them (Ex. 32). This eventually leads Moses to be the advocate for the people who infuriated him so much in the past. This time, it is God who is infuriated, and I believe that God uses this to build empathy into Moses for His people.

God tells Moses that He will no longer go with them into the promised land, but Moses intercedes for the Israelites (as God desired for him to do). Moses fights for those whom he has been given charge over, which is what good leaders do, and God afforded Moses the opportunity to do so. God hears Moses’ plea, and He relents (Ex. 33:12-17). This interaction between Moses and God leads to more worship of God. Moses is now the one asking God to show him His glory so that he may know Him more intimately, and God gladly does as Moses asks. (Ex. 33:18-19).

Moses continues on after this encounter, and begins to lead God’s people to build a tabernacle for God and they begin to gather all they need. Moses identifies craftsmen, asks for offerings, creates unity among the people, and serves as the chief architect and builder of this great tent for God to meet with His people. What a privilege as a leader, and what an opportunity that God gave to Moses to lead.

The Glory of the Lord
As Exodus comes to a close, we see that Moses successfully built the tabernacle that God had gave him instructions to build, along with all of the other elements that were to fill the tabernacle, including the ark of the covenant. The Lord God had used Moses in a mighty way over a long period of time, and now is allowing Moses to leave a legacy. The legacy Moses will leave is his faithful leadership of the Israelites out of slavery, delivering to God’s people the law by which they could live peaceably among one another and display to the nations that service under God’s rule is wonderful.

The book of Exodus tells us that God’s glory falls down on the tabernacle that the Israelites built and Moses could not enter it. This is a picture of God blessing Moses and showering Moses with Himself. This is what every leader needs. God’s glory to be revealed to them, thus giving them what they lack. Exodus clearly depicts Moses’ weakness and God’s strength; Moses’ inability and God’s ability. The glory of the Lord is what leaders labor for. It is at this point, that we begin to be truly effective and godly leaders. May God help us lead in all humility and submission Him.

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