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Monday, June 11, 2012

Moses Trembled

Moses Trembled

Stephen stood before the accusing council of religious rulers, defending himself against charges of blasphemy and heresy. He had quickly traced the history of the nation of Israel, beginning with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph and Moses. He is at this point reminding the court of the great disappointment that Moses must have felt after forty years of sheepherding, exiled in fear of punishment by Egyptians after a failed attempt to deliver his people from oppression.

After forty lonely, lowly years of regret, God spoke to Moses.

"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. Then the Lord said to him, - Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 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 7:33-34 (ESV)

Moses was a believer. Although raised by a royal Egyptian family, Moses had learned of his people's heritage and he had joined with his ancestors in trusting the God Who Delivers, the God Who had promised His presence and a land of their own in Canaan.

Moses named his own children in memorial of God's promises: Gershom, "Refugee" and Eliezer, "God of Help". Moses believed that he was only a pilgrim, in a foreign land, waiting for God's deliverance.

But it had been so long now. All he could remember was the disappointing rejection he's experienced, rejected by his own people, threatened with imprisonment or worse, from his first attempt to act upon God's promise.

He was a believer, but disappointment and long years of boredom and tedium had made God seem far away.

Then God spoke, and Moses trembled.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What truths about God Himself are immediately seen in God's words to Moses? What truths revealed here could cause you yourself to tremble? What in you or around you tends to dilute the force of these truths, making genuine worship and trembling before God infrequent, or even non-existent?

TREMBLED: ginomai (to cause to be) and entromos (terrified); from tromos (a "trembling", quaking with fear); from treo (to "dread" or "terrify")

The burning bush did not terrify Moses...it amazed him and drew him closer. Moses saw nothing terrifying, he felt no pain or pressure. But Moses felt immediate dread and terror at the sound of God's voice. At the moment that Moses heard God's voice, he was filled with awareness of God's presence, and Moses identified the burning bush as a manifestation, not of nature, but of the Creator of nature, God Almighty.

And Moses trembled with terror.

Why? Why did Moses tremble? God had not threatened Moses. God made no accusations. God condemned nothing in the life and heart of Moses. For forty years Moses had lived quietly...the Bible records absolutely nothing sinful about his life in Midian. Perhaps he feared divine punishment for his early crime of killing a man in defense of another? Perhaps Moses saw his sin in failing to be the Deliverer of Israel, running from Pharaoh in fear rather than rousing the troops in faithful rebellion?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why did Moses fear God at that moment? Nothing new had been revealed about God that Moses did not already know, so why did Moses not fear God before this? Should genuine, trembling fear be a part of a Christian's worship experience? Should we reject emotions of fear, or welcome them?

The writer of the Book of Hebrews cites this same incident concerning Moses. Chapter 12 begins with an exhortation to combat weariness and faintheartedness by considering the life and ministry of Jesus on our behalf. Later in the chapter we are told to expect God's discipline and correction, but it will always be for our good. Finally, we are warned against allowing a root of bitterness to grow in our hearts by rejecting God's grace shown to us. Near the end of the chapter, the fear felt by Moses is contrasted with exhilarating happiness experienced when intimately near Jesus.

"So terrifying was the sight that Moses said, - I tremble with fear. - But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant." Hebrews 12:21-24 (ESV)

For Moses, the presence of God was terrifying. Power, judgement and imminent death were the overpowering expectations of Moses when confronted directly by God. Yet the writer of the Book of Hebrews contrasts the fear of Moses with the joy of Christians.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Why does the experience of Moses at this point seem so different from the experience of followers of Christ? With which experience do you most closely identify, looking at your younger life, compared to your life now? For you, what has made the difference?

Image provided by Kevin N. Murphy, archive.kevinnmurphy.com, Creative Commons License