“Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God. . . .” Hebrews 11:25
As a child, there were two stories from the Old Testament which distressed me a great deal. Neither of these stories seemed to have a very just or happy ending. And if there is one thing which every child looks for in a story, it is the just and happy ending. Good triumphs over evil; the hero is vindicated. A child will endure injustice throughout the entire story if only he can be sure that justice will prevail. However, both of the stories to which I am referring struck me as stories in which the retribution seemed far greater than the offense. And as I grew older, both of these stories instilled in me a chilling sense of the terrible holiness of God. Ours is not a God who winks at sin. Not any sin! No matter that you claim a record of lifetime obedience. Ours is a God who speaks His Word but once and who demands unswerving obedience.
The first story of which I am speaking is the story of Uzzah. You probably remember the account of Uzzah. He was the Israelite who, when the Ark of the Covenant was being returned to Jerusalem at David’s royal dictum, reached out his hand to steady it on the oxcart—and met with swift and sudden death at the hand of Jehovah right there beside the Ark. Even King David was afraid of the Lord that day.
This story really perturbed me! Here was a man who did not want to see God’s holy Ark topple off the cart into the dirt. Seemingly his intentions were good —at least Scripture gives no indication that his rash act was one of defiance or a deliberate flaunting of God’s commands. Rather his deed appeared to be an instinctive righting of something gone wrong. Sort of like a mother who will steady a hot pan with her bare hands —and sport a burned hand for months afterward. Reflexive. Instinctive. But had God not said that the Ark was never to be touched? Uzzah knew this, too.
The other story which always left me with a dreadful feeling deals directly with the man whom I have chosen to personify this particular fruit of the Holy Spirit. He is Moses. Here we have a man who spent his whole life in faithful service to God and the unthankful people whom he had been called to lead, only to be denied entrance to the physical land of Canaan at the end of his monumental life’s work. One little act. He struck the rock instead of speaking to it as God had instructed. Remembering, too, that on an earlier occasion, Moses had been instructed to hit the rock as the means to cause water to gush forth. But not in this instance. Once again retribution was swift and stiff. How this story bothered me! And even to this day after I spend weeks teaching young children about Moses —his patience, his longsuffering, his endurance of the wretched people whom he was called to lead —I always feel rather crestfallen to tell this story. One offense and he must hear, “Ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them’’ Numbers 20:12. Oh, I hasten to tell the children that Moses went to a far better Canaan when he died. Nevertheless, there is always the niggling feeling that God dealt unfairly with Moses. And then I am struck anew with the awesome truth that if Moses, he who talked to God face to face as a friend (Ex. 33:11), cannot presume upon God’s favor by a lifetime of singular faithfulness and service to Him, how much less can I!
To suffer long. To bear with another’s weaknesses and failings and sins for a long time. Truly, if this virtue is ever to reside within us it can only be a fruit of the Spirit. If we cannot even endure the imperfections of someone whom we love dearly and who loves us in return —how can we ever suffer long towards those who mean to do us harm, towards those who intentionally and maliciously vex us to the quick? And yet, Scripture is replete with exhortations to suffer long. How many times must I forgive my brother? Christ tells us we must ever and always forgive the same brother for the same offense. Who of himself can endure offense this long? Who of himself is able to be this longsuffering? Certainly, it will have to be a fruit of the Spirit.
Matthew 5 further instructs us that whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; if a man sue thee and take thy coat, then give him your cloak, too; and if someone compels you to go a mile, go with him two. Give, give, give. Be patient, be patient, be patient. Endure. Suffer long.
Such a man was Moses, youngest son of Amram and Jochebed. Moses did not begin his life by being a longsuffering man. No man ever has. It would be safer to say that Moses was the hastiest, the rashest, the least longsuffering of men. Like all the other divinely-instilled Christian virtues with which we are dealing in this series of articles, longsuffering takes a lifetime of grooming. Moses would be almost 80 years old before we can see evidence of his longsuffering. The experience of this gift in the Christian life takes years of refining, honing, polishing. . .and prayer. Like Moses, we are going to have to spend “forty years in the wilderness of Midian’’ to tame that quick tongue, to subdue that hot temper, to quell that vindictive spirit. Like Moses, we are going to have to spend hours with our faces in the dirt in holy communion with God in order to cultivate the gift of longsuffering. Only then, like Moses, will we have eyes to see and hearts to suffer long for the “recompense of the reward’’ Hebrews 11:26b.
Moses lived one hundred and twenty years, his life being divided into three parts of forty years each. The first two parts (80 years) were occupied with the training of intellect and development of character so important to prepare him for the great work which would comprise his last forty years. Each of these periods was necessary so that Moses could attain unto the maturity which would enable him to become God’s mouthpiece—zealous, yet tempered; assertive to do God’s will, all the while patiently enduring the affliction of God’s people.
The first forty years finds Moses being instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22). Much of it was undoubtedly the sheerest folly, but much of it was essential for the position of leadership he must assume and the nation which he would found. The philosophers, the mathematicians, the astronomers, the scholars, and the wise men of Egypt would do all in their power to make Moses their own — because oh, how heady is learning and knowledge —but the instruction which he had received during those first four or five years on his mother Jochebed’s lap would be strong enough for him to refute Egypt’s lures and lusts, so that Hebrews 11:24 can say, “By faith, Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. . . .’’
After Moses’ impetuous act of killing the Egyptian taskmaster who was maltreating a fellow Hebrew, he decisively renounced Egypt with its enticement of earthly success and its intoxicating prospects of fame and fortune, and set out on the long forty-year path of self-denial, reproach, and longsuffering. And so, he is guided to Midian where he has more to learn, his forty-year education in Egypt yet incomplete.
By his act of leaving Egypt, Moses separates himself from the world of sin; in Midian, he must learn the painful separation from his sinful self. Now, in exile, in the solitude of the desert sand and in the companionship of mountain slopes, he must be educated in divine virtues. He must be completely drained of self-will, self-reliance, self-energy, and self-interest in order to become a willing vessel, a fit instrument for God. A man trained to head up the Egyptian empire must now keep sheep for a living! It must have seemed to Moses as if his life were a failure.
Only after this second period of forty years is the man of God ready, God making His appearance to Moses in the burning bush calling him to. the work of his life on that eventful day on Horeb. No, Moses does not think that he is ready or capable of this work and gives God several good reasons why he should not go to Pharaoh; nevertheless, he has been disciplined to be a man of unfailing patience, meek, fit to free his groaning kinsmen.
By Moses’ hand the plagues fell fast and furiously upon Egypt and its inhabitants. He whose nature by this time was gentle and tender and meek, he who would rather pray for the cessation of a plague than for its advent, invoked plague upon plague over Egypt. And although God had given his brother Aaron to Moses for an eloquent spokesman, by the seventh plague Aaron is completely dropped out of sight and Moses exclusively is given the instruction from heaven which crippled Egypt, bringing this proud land to the very precipice of total destruction. The man who had fled Egypt in fear and furtiveness now bestrides its portals as a king.
All Israel had witnessed the power of the plagues and the mighty arm of Jehovah through His servant Moses, yet the people had already turned on Moses, that is on God, at the Red Sea, so that Psalm 106:7 says, “Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even the Red Sea.”
Then Moses stretched forth his arm, and God sent a strong east wind which divided the waters, and the people of Israel walked through the midst of the Red Sea with unmoistened foot and on dry sandals. But Pharaoh and the mighty Egyptian army were swept beneath its stormy waters forever.
With the song of deliverance still on their lips,
I will sing unto the Lord,
for He hath triumphed gloriously:
The horse and the rider
hath He thrown into the sea.
Who is like unto Thee, O Lord,
fearful in praises, doing wonders?
Thou in Thy mercy
hast led forth Thy people,
the children of Israel were only three days into the wilderness, and finding no water they murmured. And when they tasted the waters of Marah they were bitterly disappointed and mutinied, hurling all their complaints at Moses. But Moses cried unto the Lord. He did not rebuke the people nor threaten to lay down his holy office — although by this time he must have begun to detect that he was up against a seething mass of rebels, and that the whole burden and responsibility for this pilgrimage lay on his shoulders, he who had never wanted to stand before Pharaoh or lead this people in the first place.
Short of sight, short of memory, short of faith, yet knowing full well the abundant resources of Jehovah’s storehouse and the matchless strength of His right arm, it is only a few weeks later and the people murmur against Moses, demanding food. Moses, their longsuffering leader, points out to them that they are not murmuring against him, but against God (Exodus 16:7 &8).
And so, God fed them with the Wonder Bread —Manna. For a time the people were content and Moses was their successful and admired leader. But then they came to Rephidim, and in their displeasure at the lack of water they threaten to stone Moses. And again, with water nowhere in sight, Moses cried unto the Lord, “What shall I do. …?’’ And Jehovah, here as longsuffering and patient as His servant Moses, does not chide or reproach the people, but gives Moses orders to strike the rock and water shall come out of it. “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” I Corinthians 10:4.
Oh, there was no end to it. Moses, in addition to the grave responsibilities of leading some two million people, had to endure their constant murmurings and perpetual grievances. Envy, insolence, ingratitude, and even open revolt always lay close to the surface. Manna was not sufficient for these wayfarers, but they must have meat. And God gave them their meat, but how quickly did their delightful feast turn into dreadful funeral.
But the repeated outbreak of these murmurers all along the route through the wilderness only brings to prominence the sympathetic ear, the patience, the longsuffering of this great man of God. When the people complained to him, he went straight to God. When it seemed likely that the whole nation must perish for their sin, he besought God and turned the imminent destruction away. Twice for 40 days in their interest he stayed on Mount Sinai. When God desired to kill them all and make a new nation from the loins of Moses, he pleaded with God to remember His covenant mercies and that He not give the Egyptians reason to mock the promises of God.
How longsuffering he was towards this stiff-necked and recalcitrant people! On one occasion, weighed down and almost broken by the burden of his office, he prayed to God and said:
“Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?
Have I conceived all this people? Have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?” Numbers 11:11 & 12
Nevertheless, Moses endured under great provocation. The longsuffering of Moses reached its noblest note in Exodus 32:32 where God, seeing the blatant idolatry of the people while He is yet inscribing His hatred of it on stone, gives Moses the opportunity to break with them once and for all. And although Moses’ anger waxed hot against their sin, yet he had the deepest Christ-like compassion for the people willing to atone for their sin. What a price he was willing to pay for the ungrateful, idolatrous people! “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin: and if not, blot me, I pay thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” How the heart of God must have yearned towards this longsuffering servant, whose proposal so vividly anticipated that other future scene.
The personal blow which Moses endured at the mouth of his own brother and sister when they challenged his leadership, the bitter disappointment he felt when the children of Israel decided to make a new captain and enter Canaan without him (Had the people so soon forgotten his intercession for them on the mountain, his tender devotion for them?), the conspiracy led by Korah (“We are all holy. . .) he left it all in the hands of God. He himself was willing to be trampled on, to bear aspersion, to endure reproach. He himself was eager to stay the leprosy, to atone for the people, to stop the plague with a censer. Generously, selflessly, chivalrously he suffered long for the people and the glory of God’s Great Name.
And so, we come to the end of the recorded deeds of Moses. He is now very old. But his step is firm and sure; he is still energetic and strong; his eyes are yet glinty and keen; his understanding is incisive and penetrating. He has but one consuming goal in life, and that is to enter Canaan, to enjoy, after all these long and toilsome years, its promised milk and honey, and to bask in its rest. There he stands on the very threshold of realizing his life’s ambition. And then it happened. In anger he struck the rock, at long last giving full vent to his fury, even calling God’s chosen people REBELS. After a lifetime of exemplary patience, long-suffering, and intercessory work, he reverted to his old ways of impatience, anger, and an unruly spirit. God would have none of it. Not even from His own chosen friend. Moses had not sanctified God in the eyes of the people. The penalty? He would not enter Canaan.
And so, we find Moses, God’s faithful servant and friend, pleading with God to let him set foot on Canaan’s rich and lovely ground, until finally God becomes wroth with him and says, “Speak no more unto me of this matter’’ Deuteronomy 3:26.
So, what do we have here for our example and edification? How fitting is Scripture in all its pictures and applications! Moses represented the law, and the law being weak (Romans 8:3), is not able to bring us into glory. It will take the true Joshua, Jesus the Saviour, to lead us over the Jordan. However, we have in Moses the Old Testament prototype of Christ, albeit, an imperfect one. There is only One who perfectly bears long with us, who never strikes out in sudden anger, who intercedes for His people day and night, ceaselessly! What a faultless Mediator! What a perfect Saviour! I can live and die happily knowing that Jesus suffers long, that is, forever, for me. Oh, to be like Him!
“Whoever intends to enter married life should do so in faith and in God’s name. He should pray to God that it may prosper as according to His will and that marriage may not be treated as a matter of fun and folly. It is a hazardous matter and as serious as anything on earth can be. Therefore we should not rush into it as the world does, in keeping with its frivolousness and wantonness and in pursuit of its pleasure; but before taking this step we should consult God so that we may lead our marriage life to His glory. Those who do not go about it in this way may certainly thank God if it turns out well. If it turns out badly, they should not be surprised; for they did not begin it in the name of God and did not ask for His blessing.” -Martin Luther