Yesterday morning and early afternoon I listened, as is my fashion these days, to the webcast from the Home Office in Cincinnati, and the speaker focused on what the Bible has to say about Moses. I have written a fair amount about Moses  and his importance in the Bible, but I thought that it would be worthwhile to use Moses as an example of the way that God tends to work with people. Throughout the Bible we can see a three-step process by which God prepares people to serve Him, and as the pattern appears over and over again, it is something well worth reflecting upon so that we can better understand why it is that God has seen it fit to work with mankind in such consistent ways. It so happens that Moses own life is a very classic example of this pattern and so an easy place for us to begin to unravel the pattern and ponder on its significance.
Moses life was, as recorded in scripture, 120 years in length from his birth and miraculous rescue by Pharaoh’s daughter in the Nile to his death on Mt. Nebo. Indeed, the life of Moses can be divided into three equal periods in terms of length. For the first 40 years of Moses’ life, he was a privileged member of the Egyptian elite. According to Josephus, during this period he was a successful military leader. This period of elite status drastically changed when Moses killed an Egyptian taskmaster in defense of his own people, at which point he went from a useful member of the Egyptian elite to a potential slave insurrection leader, at which point he sensibly fled to Midian. His next 40 years were spent as a shepherd in the wilderness in the area he would later revisit near Mt. Sinai, where he married and raised a family. At the age of 80 God drafted him into service where led the people of Israel through the wilderness and to the doorstep of the Promised Land. From this we see that Moses’ life had three equal periods: privileged background including a great deal of education, time in the wilderness to humble what could otherwise have been an insufferably proud person, and then loyal and faithful service to God and his people.
Moses’ experience is not an isolated example. Let us consider the experience of Joseph. For the first seventeen years of his life, Joseph was the pampered favorite son of Jacob, who was given dreams of grandeur that alienated him from his older brothers. At the age of 17 he was sold into slavery, and then imprisoned after refusing to commit adultery with his master’s wife but being accused of it anyway, serving loyally and ably even as a prisoner and eventually, in his 30’s, being raised to the position of second-in-command over Egypt where he ended up saving the lives of many through his dream interpretation and skills at logistics and supply chain management. Nor is Joseph’s experience unique or unusual. David grew up as the youngest child in an local elite family in Bethlehem and was privileged enough to write psalms and serve as both a military leader and elite courtier and son-in-law of King Saul and best friend of the heir to the throne in Jonathan. The envy and hostility of Saul drove David into the wilderness where he gained experience as a guerrilla fighter and Judean warlord until the death of Saul when he ruled over first Judah and then all of Israel. Again we see in both these people a pattern of early privilege, middle time in the wilderness, and later conspicuous service to God and man. Even Paul shares that same pattern, having a privileged background as a member of the Jewish elite learned in Tarsus and sitting at the feet of Gamaliel and even being a part of or associate of the elite Jewish Sanhedrin. When he converted to Christianity he lost his privileged status and spent some three years in the wilderness of Arabia before cooling his heels in Tarsus until the arrival of Barnabas began his service as the chief apostle to the Gentiles of the Roman world. Again we see the same three stages of elite beginnings, time in the wilderness, and godly service.
Why does this pattern exist? It is obvious enough that the end result of godly service is the proper goal that all believers should strive for. Those who possess conspicuous gifts and abilities desire to use those abilities and to benefit both in this life and in the world to come for having used their gifts in a godly fashion for the glory of God and serving His people. It is not particularly difficult for people to realize that they are gifted and talented people and for other people to recognize it as well, whether it is appreciated or resented or some measure of both. Frequently the possession of such conspicuous talents and abilities leads to a certain degree of privilege and elite status. Particularly talented and intelligent children in any reasonably sensible culture receive education in both a formal sense to train the mind and provide it with knowledge of history and texts and skills in communication and logical thinking and reasoning, and receive informal education on how institutions of church and state operate. This education frequently alienates such people from the experience of the common people whose cries and groans of exploitation rises to a just God whose justice does not sleep forever. Yet inevitably, the longing of people for justice to be served places the godly in a position of conflict with those who hold power but who have no particular longing for justice, and the inevitable result of the conflict between those who desire for right and those who base their rule on might is hostility and an alienation from those who are in power. And the inevitable result of being alienated from the common people one wishes to serve and the authorities who one has offended is time spent in a figurative or frequently literal wilderness, time that humbles the pride that comes from one’s elite background and education, and that also frequently provides useful and practical information that will be of greater use to God in sealing the integrity and character of His servant. And once that time in the wilderness is over, one can look back and see the good in that time.
Why are both aspects necessary though? It does appear that some knowledge and familiarity with elites is necessary to serve God in a conspicuous fashion. The possession of conspicuous talents and abilities first tends to draw the attention of institutions and authorities who are always in need of talented and hard-working people to serve the church and/or state. With that service to human institutions comes a fair amount of power early on as well as the development of those talents to necessary and useful ends. Yet it is also clear that should someone who is talented and gifted be completely co-opted by those authorities, they will eventually serve the corrupt interests of human authorities and not loyally and faithfully serve God and God’s people. At some point, because of the rebelliousness of humanity to God’s ways, the ways of God and the interests of mankind will diverge. Likewise, while it is important that the skills and talents of God’s servants be developed, which of necessity must occur in flawed institutions of church and state, it is also important that the character of those servants be refined so that they are able to serve God humbly and loyally and not serve their own interests. It appears that the training of gifts and abilities and the toughening and strengthening of character through the humbling experience of being isolated and obscure when one knows one could be doing much more and being far more important than one is do not tend to occur at the same time, but rather consecutively. And it is only once both the God-given talents and abilities of the servant and their character and integrity and humility have been refined that someone is capable of the service to God and God’s people that was intended from the beginning.
This ought to give us some pause. If we have lived a life where we have never spent time in the wilderness refining our character and where our divine fire for God’s justice has never offended someone in authority or led to some difficulties for ourselves, we are likely not being prepared for the sort of conspicuous service to God and God’s people that we might fancy for ourselves. Whatever our position in life, if our devotion to God’s ways and our offense towards wickedness has not drawn negative repercussions to ourselves, then we are simply not devoted enough to God’s ways to be the sorts of leaders that God wants for His people. Similarly, if we lack conspicuous gifts and abilities to begin with, and thus never become familiar with the ways of elites and never find ourselves useful to such elites at all, we are not being molded for conspicuous leadership either. To be sure, that is not necessarily a bad thing. There are many ways that one can be a less conspicuous servant of God doing the best that one can with modest talents and accomplishments that will receive praise and blessing from God. But if one is ambitious for the highest places of service, then it will be necessary to be considerably talented, to a point where it draws the attention of others, and it will also be necessary to be humbled and refined to the greatest extent lest those talents serve the adversary instead. Those whom God loves, He rebukes and chastens. And if we desire to be vessels of honor, we must be refined in a harsh fire that will strip away the less honorable aspects of our character. And it has always been thus.
 See, for example: