A stranger in a strange land
Exhausted, the freedom fighter slumped by a well. He had taken a risk, initiating a violent coup. But now he’s a failed revolutionary without a friend in the world. A week earlier he had been a prince in the most powerful court on earth. Now, aged 40, he’s Egypt’s most wanted man.
Moses’ story to date has been an extraordinary tale of rags to riches. He was born a Hebrew – a member of Joseph’s race. But Joseph was now long dead and in the next 400 years there was a chillingly familiar progression. The Jews were first oppressed, then enslaved and finally the labour camps turned to genocide. Pharaoh had ordered all Israelite boys to be drowned at birth (Exodus 1:11, 22).
But this child was saved. Instead of being hurled into a watery grave, he was cast off by his mother in a miniature ark (Exodus 2:3) and “saved” out of water. And that’s what Moses means: “saved” (Exodus 2:10).
In an ironic twist, the child was saved by Pharaoh’s own daughter who then employed Moses’ birth-mother to raise him. His mother’s experience must have been a real death and resurrection. She had cast him off on the waters, received him back and was then paid to raise him! (Exodus 2:9)
By his natural mother he would have learnt the stories of Israel. Stories about Abraham and the promises to his seed. Stories of how Israel was destined to suffer in Egypt for 400 years. And that afterwards they’d be saved through a mighty work of God (Genesis 15:13-14).
By his adoptive family he was growing in the wealth and power of Egypt, learning their ancient wisdom and ways. (Acts 7:22)
By the age of 40 he was at the height of his physical and political powers.
And the reader is thinking – “I know how the story goes. Surely Moses will climb through the ranks of the Egyptian court and, through political cunning or military might, he will liberate his people as an inside job.”
Well, maybe that’s what Moses was thinking. But that plan goes horribly wrong.
In Exodus 2:11 he makes a ham-fisted attempt at liberation. One day he comes to the rescue of a fellow Israelite against his Egyptian slave master. Moses kills the Egyptian. In Acts chapter 7 we learn that this was meant to be the first act in an uprising of the slaves. But the Israelites aren’t on board with Moses at all (Exodus 2:14). The coup is well and truly botched, Pharaoh is alerted and Moses flees into the desert – on the run from the authorities, on the run from his own people.
And so he collapses by the well in wilderness country. As Acts 7 tells us, he lives out the next 40 years as an insignificant shepherd.
Can you imagine the regrets, day after day? If Moses was anything like me he’d be complaining, “How can this be used by God? Shepherding stupid creatures around the wilderness for 40 years? What possible good could this serve?”
Clearly Moses is feeling sidelined by life. When he has a son he calls him “Gershom” meaning “stranger”. He gives the reason in v22,
I have been a stranger in a strange land.
This is the context of God’s mighty deliverance. Exodus will be the story of God’s salvation. He doesn’t use a political insider or a popular freedom fighter. He uses a despised, octogenarian shepherd.
The leader through whom God will bring salvation is brought low – just as low as his battered people. But the depths are exactly where God loves to work.
As D.L. Moody, once commented:
“Moses spent 40 years thinking he was a somebody, 40 years realizing he was a nobody, then 40 years seeing what God can do with somebody who knows they’re a nobody.”