Apart from Jesus Christ, no person in history has made such a deep or lasting impression on the world as Moses. Moses was the great lawgiver and emancipator of Israel. He is described in the book of Revelation as the servant of God, and he had a remarkable history. He was born to Jewish parents in a land that was not their own, where they were slaves. He was educated in the court of the mightiest empire of the day, one of the mightiest empires that has ever existed in history. He was heir to all of the wealth, prestige, and legendary pleasures of Egypt. And yet, when he was 40 years old, he elected to identify himself with his own oppressed race. He was driven out and had to flee from Egypt. After 40 years, he was called of God to go back and lead the people out. He stood up before Pharaoh and demanded in the name of God that Pharaoh let the people go. God did mighty miracles to deliver the people from Egypt. Having left Egypt, Moses then led them in the wilderness for 40 years to the very threshold of the Promised Land. That is a remarkable career. The exodus from Egypt is one of the great stories in history. The law, which contains the 10 commandments, is one of the great treasures of the world.
Now his story is told in the second, third, fourth and fifth books of the Pentateuch. “Pentateuch” is the word scholars give to the first five books of the Bible, and it means “the five scrolls.” Moses’ story is told beginning with the book of Exodus. He is the author of those books, as well as Genesis. He also wrote at least one psalm—Psalm 90—and he is mentioned throughout the Bible. In all, Moses is mentioned nearly 700 times in Scripture. In the Gospels alone he is mentioned 37 times. We find his name often on the lips of Jesus Christ, and Paul speaks of him often.
One English writer says about Moses, “Take him for all and all. Regard him not in one but in many aspects. Moses is the greatest character in history, sacred or profane.”1 I am a little leery of that statement. But listen to God’s own evaluation. At the very end of Deuteronomy, after his death, here is what we read: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to the whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34:10-12).
Now as important as his achievements are, the achievements of Moses are overshadowed in the Bible’s evaluation of him by his character. And I emphasize that as we begin because it’s his character that brings him down to us and makes this valuable. If we’re thinking only in terms of what Moses achieved—that is, becoming a deliverer who set a whole nation free and led them in the wilderness for all those years—which of us could hardly ever begin to dream of doing such a thing? It’s almost inconceivable today that anybody living in our age would be used of God in that way.
But if we think in terms of his character—that is, those aspects of his personality that God used as He used him in those great areas of leadership—then this becomes something very practical for us. Let me tell you some of the things the Bible has to say about him in terms of his character. Four traits stand out above others.
First of all, his faith; he is praised for his faith again and again. He seems never to have taken his eyes off God after God first met him at the burning bush. And so he went on from faith to faith, and because he went on from faith to faith he went on from strength to strength as well. Now that is the secret of leadership for Christians: faith in God. All of the great heroes of the Bible, those who are praised by the Scriptures themselves, are praised because of their faith. Apart from their faith they were quite normal people. They had faults as we do. They had shortcomings. They had doubts as we do, but because of their faith in God they became strong and were used by God in great ways. The author of Hebrews says that it was by faith alone that they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised. He says it was by faith that they shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames and escaped the edge of the sword, whose weakness was turned to strength and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. If you feel weak in faith, you have something to learn from Moses.
Here’s the second characteristic of Moses: he was a great man of prayer. We learn a lot about prayer from Moses. When he first came and God used him to lead the people out of Egypt and they were trapped at the Red Sea, as it would seem, with the water before them and the pursuing armies of the Pharaoh behind, Moses instinctively turned to God in prayer. Later in the wilderness, when the people rebelled, Moses turned to God in prayer. The greatest example of intercessory prayer in all the Bible, greater even in my judgment than Abraham’s great plea for Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, is Moses’ prayer for the people on the occasion of their disobedience in making the golden calf. We are going to study that in time as we get to it. There Moses actually offered to be sent to hell himself, if by his sacrifice he could save the people whom he loved. We learn a lot about prayer from Moses.
The third characteristic was meekness. So many people who become great or get into positions of authority lose humility right away. I have not known many famous people in the world, but I have known some. My experience is that generally they’re not such nice people. They are very much filled with themselves. They think they’re very important people, and you find yourself saying, “Oh my, I think I’ll go home and be with somebody who is really nice.” That didn’t happen to Moses. The greater he became, the more humble he became. The Bible says, “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). When you are thinking of leadership qualities, don’t forget humility. God puts it right up there at the top.
Fourth, Moses excelled in courage. Now he showed that on many occasions. Certainly he showed it in his ability to march up before Pharaoh as a Bedouin from the desert, a man who had been keeping the sheep, and stand before that mighty king in all of the splendor of ancient Egypt and say, “In the name of God Almighty, let my people go.” It took courage to do that, and he showed that courage throughout his life.
1Thomas Guthrie, Studies of Character from the Old Testament (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1872), 107.