Moses the Fearful

We’ve been talking about Moses in a negative context, using him as a contra example, because it is in his flaws we can, if we will, recognize our own.  It is when we see his insufficiency we will recognize our own and, ultimately see the super-sufficiency, the over abundance of God.  So here’s the major premise:  Moses was a coward essentially all of his life.  Here’s the minor premise:  so are we.  Now Moses was not fearful in every situation, nobody is, but at the very end, on the cusp of complete victory, Moses was a no show.

Can you think of anything particularly fearful that Moses did?  I can think of a couple of big things like running away after he killed the Egyptian Overseer, or trying to talk God out of sending him to lead the Exodus.  There were also instances where he seemed fearless like protecting the daughters of Jethro at the well or standing while Pharaoh’s chariots rumbled up at the Red Sea but none of those are the incident I want to talk about.

 It seems to me that God’s purpose was not just to get the Hebrews out of Egypt, it was to make them his people in the land he was to give them.  So one of the major goals was that they possess the land of promise.  In Numbers 13 God instructs Moses to send out spies from each of the tribes into the land.  They are selected and in Numbers 13:17-20 Moses gives the spies instructions:

Go up through the Negev, and then go up into the hill country and see what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, few or many, and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or fortified cities, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether or not there are forests in it. And be brave, a and bring back some of the fruit of the land.

Do these instructions seem odd to you?  Picture a nervous boy trying to ask a girl out to the movies who says,”You wouldn’t want to go to the movies with me, would you?”  I’ve been this boy so don’t laugh.  But seriously, is Moses giving the spies an out in his instructions just like the nervous boy is giving the girl a way out?  With instructions like those is it any wonder the spies came back with the conclusions they did?

What am I talking about?  Lets look at the instructions in a little more detail:

  • Are the people strong are weak, few or many — Should this be a problem if the God who swallowed up Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea says he’s giving you the land?
  • Is the land good or bad/rich or poor– In Moses experience what was the nature of things God gave him and the Hebrews?  Did God give bad gifts?  If he was sending them into the land, would it be insufficient?
  • Are the cities camps or fortresses —  Again, they were not depending on their military prowess to win the land but God’s provision.

Now from a practical matter this is stuff you’d want to know, and its not so much that he asked, but how he asked the questions.  And, I think, the concerns about Moses courage are confirmed by what happened when the spies returned.

Upon their return the majority report from the spies was:

We are not able to go up against these people, because they are stronger than we are! Then they presented the Israelites with a discouraging a report of the land they had investigated, saying, The land that we passed through to investigate is a land that devours its inhabitants. All the people we saw there are of great stature. We even saw the Nephilim a there (the descendants of Anak came from the Nephilim), and we seemed liked grasshoppers both to ourselves and to them.

And here’s the sticking point:  Moses said nothing.  As God is about to accomplish arguably one of the final acts that would cement these people as His, Moses had nothing to say.  Why did he not rail at the people like he did when he found them worshiping the Golden Calf?  Caleb and Joshua were outspoken in urging the people to go into the land, but not a word from Moses is recorded.  We hear later from Moses when he pleads with God not to destroy the entire people, but why no word from him to the people?  What happened, why did Moses falter?  I can’t say for sure, but falter he did here and again at Meribah and it lead to God making a leadership change.

And what do we get out of all this because ultimately our objective is not to simply recount the shortcomings of Moses especially when we have plenty of our own we could be cataloging.  Here are some takeaways:

  1. Fear is not a sin.  Moses would have had to have been inhuman not to feel fear in some of the situations where he found himself.  Many of us would have borne up poorly if asked to do some of the same things.
  2. God knows our fears and loves us anyway.  God loved and provided for Moses and the Children of Israel despite their fears.
  3. If we are truly listening to God, he will provide us a way to overcome our fears.  He provided for Moses in returning to Egypt and in many other impossible circumstances.  How able is he to overcome our fears?
  4. There are consequences for having heard God’s call and failing to follow him through our fears.  God’s best for us is only revealed by following him where ever he leads.
  5. Following God through our fears does not mean there will not be hard times.  Caleb and Joshua were faithful to God and their faith in his promises shaped their lives, but they still wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  Our promise here is that everything will work out for our good, but in the meantime we might face that we won’t like or enjoy.

What is God calling us to do that makes us afraid?