The story of the call of Moses is notorious, and the scene at the burning bush remains one of the most astounding exchanges between a mortal and a divine figure as can be found in scripture. Which prompts the question:
How can anyone know if this conversation between Moses and God really took place?
The truth is that only Moses was there; there were no other witnesses. Am I suggesting that it didn’t happen? No. But we must understand that Moses may not actually be providing us with a courtroom dictation of the events, but more likely is teaching the process by which God revealed to him his mission and purpose…He is, after all, Moshe Rabbeinu, “Moses our Teacher”. The conversation with God recorded in this parsha may actually represent a synopsis of many years of Moses’s reflections upon how the LORD impressed His purposes upon him and showed him what he must do about them.
Whether the events here in Exodus happened literally as recorded, or were in fact meant to convey a picture of an extended period of time during which God impressed these ideas upon Moses, and during which time Moses wrestled with the implications, there are some important aspects of this scene in Exodus which can provide some meaningful and practical guidelines for anyone who feels that God has called them to a particular work or ministry, and this is what we will focus on over the next few minutes.
The first thing that we see is that Moses responds to the strange sight of the burning bush that is not consumed:
“When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Ex.3:4)
Excitedly, Moses investigates, only to hear this:
“Do not come near hear; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Ex.3:5)
This reveals the very first point of contact for understanding how God calls us to His purposes. Moses wasn’t looking for God in the bush; it merely had captured his imagination for the moment. But the instant he turned to where God was directing him, he was faced with the need to make personal changes.
A sure sign that you have been called by God to a vision or a mission is that you will be required to step into a higher level of holiness in order to approach it.
Key point #1 – You know you’ve been called because you feel compelled to make changes in your life as a result of what you’re being stirred about. Changes that others may not comprehend. God reveals His purposes to those who come before him with humility and reverence.
Your purpose or mission will not be revealed because you are fully rested, or because you daydream a lot, or because you’re really spiritually sensitive. It will be revealed after you turn yourself from your own path, or manner of life; after you repent, and after you take your shoes off.
What God tells Moses next is also critically important. One might think that God will address Moses personally in some way. But this is not at all what happens to Moses.
God ignores, for the moment, Moses himself, and instead turns Moses’s attention to that which God wants him to see:
“Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (Ex.3:9)
This must be understood.
There is nothing in these words of God (as Moses shares the story with us) which have anything whatsoever to do with Moses’s career ambitions, his place in the family business, his living arrangements, or even with the welfare of his wife and children. None of this is in view. God speaks about His people. He shares His burden with His servant.
Then, He reveals where Moses fits into this picture that is being revealed.
“Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Ex.3:10)
Now, this is an outrageous idea. God appears to a solitary outcast, in the middle of the desert, herding sheep for his father-in-law, and tells him that he must leave his life and (by himself, mind you) march into the court of the most powerful man on earth at the time and demand that he releases his entire workforce, against his will.
Is it any wonder that Moses doth protest?
Key point#2 – You’ll know you’ve been called to a mission because it does not seem to fit into your time schedule or the course of your life as it currently is, but you won’t be able to run from it’s call on your life regardless. It is always before you.
Moses displays for us his objections. The central protest that Moses is wrestling with here is that The God of Israel is not revered in Egypt. Pharaoh doesn’t care. And he has all the power and the money. This is what Moses is complaining about to God. To paraphrase the exchange into modern vernacular, it may read like this:
“Okay, so I have no financial backing here. So, by what authority am I supposed to boss this world leader around? Why would he listen to me?”
Put this way, would you react any differently? Doubtfully. But notice that Moses doesn’t run for his life. He stays and he perseveres through the doubts, even when it seems God is mad at him for asking so many nervy questions about the whole affair.
God doesn’t punish him for asking them either. On the contrary, he explains to Moses how things will transpire. Not in exquisite detail, but God acknowledges to Moses that it will be His own hand that will bring the deliverance, not Moses’s. This is important.
“So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.” (Ex.3:20)
This aspect is a vitally important factor in Moses’s ability to carry out the task at hand.
Key point #3 – If you are called by God to a mission, it will be immediately apparent that you don’t have what it takes to accomplish it. You will need God’s power throughout the process, or you won’t accomplish anything.
The next thing that happens is that God promises to empower Moses with the specific ability that will be required for him to carry out the task. And he also brings people around him who will provide needed support. But Moses must obey and face his fear and go before Pharaoh and, also, the leaders of Israel.
God didn’t need a hero. He needed a loyal servant. A messenger.
This parallel between Moses and Yeshua is very easy to miss in its subtlety. God empowered Yeshua in the same way that He empowered Moses. The miracles that Yeshua performed were through the power of God, not his own power. The Church likes to lift Yeshua up into the office of God Himself, and we forget that Yeshua himself told us that he could do nothing except by the power of his Father:
“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (Jn.5:30)
We should relate to the Master the way he taught us to. Moses understood full well where his power to perform miracles came from. Yeshua emulates and fulfills this same degree of transparency and humility. He does not take the credit for himself.
Moses was not going to receive any personal glory by being obedient to God in the mission. In fact, if he obeys, the result is going to be that many people who otherwise would have been favorable towards him will suddenly see him as a troublemaker and an instigator. This is because, when God moves in human affairs, it tends to “jam up” the human machinery. It breaks things. Reorders them.
Consider Paul, who experienced exactly this circumstance when he showed up in the synagogues uninvited:
“For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:5)
This leads to the next, critical aspect of the call and mission of God.
Key point#4 – You know you’ve been called by God to His purposes because the mission won’t have anything to offer your flesh. It will result in a spiritual victory, not an exercise in hubris. You’ll know you’ve been called because at times the call will be all you will have to keep you going. There will be nothing else. If you are doing it for yourself, you will quit.
Both Paul and the Master experienced this same dynamic, as well as the rest of the apostles. When Paul (along with Silas) preached the gospel in Macedonia, pain was the result:
“The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their clothes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.” (Acts 16:22)
But, like Moses, in spite of this reception, Paul performed miracles in the sight of the people, as we see recorded of his time in Ephesus:
“God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul…” (Acts 19:11)
Notice, that neither Moses, Yeshua or Paul ever declare that they do anything by their own power, but by the power of God.
You may notice a theme here; a consistent testimony of suffering and pain on the part of God’s called servants, at the hands of God’s enemies (and often from those who are purportedly His friends). How on earth can anyone expect to remain faithful if there is no human comfort or relief or even any glory to build the ego and the sense of personal edification?
Key point #5 – When you have a legitimate call and mission from God, your own suffering will turn to joy and will be a light burden, since in identification with God’s purposes, He transforms your heart to see His people from His perspective, not your own.
Consider what Paul shares concerning this:
“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” (2 Cor.4:17)
Therefore, what seems to others to be unbearable suffering and grief becomes, to the shaliach (sent one) of God, an act of service and a joyful time of fellowship with the Almighty. Your joy becomes the purposes of God being fulfilled.
“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil.4:12-13)
Paul, like Moses, was truly called of God, and this final aspect proves it beyond doubt. The Master supports this important truth:
“He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.” (Jn.10:12-13)
Finally, the story of the call and mission of Moses, when analyzed through the lens of personal application, must be viewed through the economy of scale.
You and I are not Moses, nor Paul, nor Yeshua. Perhaps we are simply called to start a teaching ministry, or run a soup kitchen, or even launch a business. All of these principles can and do apply, but the application of how they do so must be ramped down significantly to fit the scale of who we are in HaShem’s plans and purposes.
This is not to say that we lower our expectations or set our sights on a less noble goal than we are inspired to pursue. Rather, the point is that we should not become so enamored with our own sense of purpose that we dismiss the people around us and their needs, and the very real circumstances that God has allowed us to face.
Many well-meaning servants of God have failed to launch towards their purpose because they saw the vision but despised the day of small beginnings, and as a result, never developed the necessary character to be entrusted with the vision’s fulfillment.
Moses was an exiled man. An undershepherd who served under a man who was not even a Hebrew. He was alone in the desert, on the backside of the mountain of God. In this day of small beginnings, he received a vision that would forever change the course of history and the future of the people of God.
May we always be aware of who and where we are, yet never lose sight of where HaShem is bringing us. And, in your own journey of the pursuit of God’s purposes for your life, you may find yourself the inspiration to the people around you.