Moses in Midian

Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian.

Exodus 3:1

With anguish and confusion weighing upon his soul, Moses made his way toward the wilderness of Midian. He wandered almost aimlessly. His thoughts were not on the place to which he was going but upon all that he was leaving behind. Behind him were all of the privileges of his childhood. No longer would he know the luxuries of Pharaoh’s court, the schooling which he had enjoyed and mastered, the servants anxious to do his every bidding, the countless opportunities of influence and advancement. Behind him were all the dreams of his youth. More and more through his young life his mind had been dominated by plans of what he would do for the children of Israel. He had thought to unite himself with them. He had thought to lead them in a glorious demonstration of power. He had thought to be their savior. But now these dreams were all shattered and were being left behind. Behind him, and this hurt most of all, were being left the people of God. The Israelites were his brethren and the fellow objects of God’s promises. His heart had cried for them in their suffering, and his prayer had been for their deliverance. But now he was leaving the land, and they were being left behind in bondage. 

Quite conscious was Moses all of the time that he had made an irretraceable choice. He was not sorry that it had been made, but moment by moment he began to realize the more the greatness of the consequences. By fleeing the land he was acknowledging before everyone that he was guilty in the murder of the Egyptian taskmaster. It meant that a member of Pharaoh’s own household had taken the part of the Israelites over against the Egyptians. It was a personal disgrace to Pharaoh and surely aroused his greatest wrath. Pharaoh would have been willing, even anxious, to have Moses remain and deny the charges so as to spare the reputation of the royal court. But that would have implied a false denial on Moses’ part, and because he feared God Moses knew that the present course was best. 

Weary from pondering this all, Moses came to rest at the side of a well in Midian. Little did he realize how carefully the invisible hand of God’s providence was guiding him. While in Egypt Moses had been close to the people of God. Perhaps he had been allowed from time to time to return to the spiritual fellowship of his parents’ home. Now he was leaving this sphere of covenant fellowship to go, as it were, into banishment alone. But God would not leave one of His chosen vessels completely isolated from the communion of saints. In Midian there dwelt the descendants of Abraham through Keturah, a small remnant of which still remained .faithful to the faith of their father. Chief among them was Reuel, a friend of God as his name implied. He served in the capacity of priest to the faithful. It was toward the home of this man Reuel that Moses by the hand of God’s providence was being led. 

As Moses sat by the well, the daughters of Reuel approached to perform the daily task of watering their father’s flock. There follows a meeting which reminds us of the experiences of Eliezer and Jacob in Haran. There were also those in Midian who were antagonistic to Reuel and his household. It was their custom when Reuel’s daughter came to water the flock to drive them away, forcing them to wait until everyone else was finished. So did they also on this day when Moses sat watching. However, within Moses there was a heart of kindness such as is peculiar to the people of God, whether Rebecca, or Jacob, or Moses. He could not endure merely to look on amid such apparent rudeness and injustice. Although weary, he still presented an imposing figure as he approached the men. There was the dignity of one raised in the royal court. There was the confidence of one who understood full well what he was doing. There was the determination of one incensed with a feeling for, justice. With a few sharp and threatening words he sent the men scurrying away. Nor did his regal bearing prevent him from stooping to the menial task of filling the troughs with water. With dispatch the daughters of Reuel were soon on their way. Enthused, as only young girls can be, they related to their father how they had been saved by an Egyptian from the customary rudeness of the shepherds. Not wanting in hospitality and gratitude, Reuel quickly sent the girls again to invite the man to come to their home and stay. 

Surely it was not long before Reuel and Moses discovered the common ground that lay between them. They feared and worshipped the same God. Soon Moses discarded his courtly robes for the clothing of the field to engage in the duties of the household. Time went on and Moses was united in marriage with Zipporah, one of Reuel’s daughters. God had provided him with a place where he could dwell. In the household was the fear of God, and Moses could remain there without fear. 

Still, although Moses was supplied with the needed communion of saints, there was a facet of his spiritual life which neither Reuel nor Zipporah could share. They were descendants through Keturah and could not appreciate the central place which Israel and his children held in the covenant of God. They felt no special sympathy for the Israelites who labored in the bondage of Egypt. They had no strong desire for the day when the children oft Jacob would be delivered from the hand of Pharaoh. They did not see the need for Israel being returned to Canaan. But these were the things that dominated the mind of Moses. Moses tried to explain his concern to them but they could not seem to understand, and even resented the prominent place which Israel held in his heart and mind. Moses soon learned that this burden of his heart had to be borne alone. More and more he began to withdraw himself with the flock into the solitude of the wilderness there to commune with his God all alone. 

The early years of Moses’ sojourn in Midian were hard and bitter years. Outwardly he seemed to have adapted himself to the quiet life of a herdsman, but inwardly his heart was often in turmoil. The royal robes of the court could be laid aside, but a man’s nature can not be shed like a garment. The dreams and ambitions of his youth had been many years in developing; they lingered with him still. As he guided Reuel’s sheep, he thought repeatedly of the greater flock which he had longed to lead along those same roads. With pent-up feelings approaching resentment, he questioned why it could not have been so. Had not he had the ability, the preparation, the qualifications to lead the people of God? And according to prophecy was not the time drawing nigh when Abraham’s seed should be delivered? Earnestly Moses sought for the answers. With a sorrow so great that it hurt, he thought on his rejection by the Israelites. Why had they refused to receive him as one of their brethren? Why had they defended the Egyptian over against him? Perhaps he had been a bit hasty. Maybe he should have been more careful. But was that sufficient reason for them to treat him as they did? Time and again Moses felt as though he should hasten back to Egypt to see if he could not establish himself again. Bui he could not. Pharaoh would seek for his life; and his brethren would not receive him. Those were to Moses years of banishment. He felt rejected on every side. A son was born to him and he named the child Gershom, “for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.” 

Slowly the years passed by, and with them Moses’ outlook made a change. His confidence began to waver and slowly to slip away. Amid the solitude of the wilderness the ability he had thought himself to possess did not seem quite so convincing. He had been mighty in word and in deed while attending the schools of Egypt; but was that sufficient to lead the people of God? A voice from the past which had long remained in the mind of Moses as an uncomfortable whisper began to grow into a loud, accusing roar, “Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?” Those had been the last words spoken to him in Egypt and for them he had never found an answer. Try as he might he could not escape their implication. How long did he try to forget them? How often did he try to resist their meaning? We of course do not know; but if we may deduce from our own experiences, the admission was hard in coming. But Moses was a child of God and the time of confession had to come. He had been an impostor. He had gone beyond his right. There was no more room for bitterness. There was no more room for resentment against others. If he was in banishment, it was only a banishment that was just. 

That was undoubtedly the time of Moses’ greatest anguish. His days were dark from the sorrow of sin; his nights were sleepless from the light of God’s holiness. He had learned to know himself as never before. He was a sinner. He had sinned, not so much against the Egyptian, nor against the Israelite, but against God. How presumptuous it had been for him to endeavor to establish himself as a leader in Israel; how foolish to think that he could save the people of God. It would have been just had God allowed him to die by Pharaoh’s sword. Salvation would come to Israel, but not by his hand; it would be solely by the hand of the Lord. Moses came in repentance to God, and there he found peace. Was it not in that day when his second son was born? He named the son Eliezer, “for the God of my father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.”

Forty years passed by in Midian, and Moses was a changed man. Gone was the refinement, the eloquence, the dignity of the court. In its place appeared a common man, almost crude after the manner of a shepherd. His clothes were poor, dirty, and torn from much wandering in the wilderness. His words were simple and few. Self-confidence had given way to timidity. The years had left their mark. The ambition and enthusiasm of youth had subsided into quietness and patience. He now was a man content to be a mere shepherd. To all appearances the advantages of Moses’ youth had been wasted. What good was all of his schooling and royal upbringing, out here in the barren wastes? Where in it all was the wisdom of God? 

Also inwardly there had come a change. Still there was the same faith and hope which had been with him from his youth. The instruction of his parents had not been forgotten. Still his love was with Israel in bondage. He longed for Israel’s deliverance; he prayed for it from day to day. But Moses himself no longer figured in these visions of deliverance. What could he possibly do, a mere sinner? It was a work that only God could perform. The dreams of his youth were but folly. The most for which he dared hope was that, if he lived, he might join himself to the people of God in their deliverance. If the grace of God would allow, he longed to go with Israel to the promised land. 

We look back over the ages, and at first glance we too are apt to dismiss the years in Midian as of little account, a marking of time, a mere waiting for the proper time. Yet for Moses those years were the most important of all. In Egypt he was taught of man, and that had its importance and value. But in Midian he was taught of God. Moses learned to know himself as a sinner. He learned patience and complete reliance upon God. 

—B.W.