Moses and the crucible of the call

I’ve begun a short series that aims to take a look at some of the crucible experiences that were part of the leadership journey of several biblical leaders. You can read about Joseph here and Moses’ exile experience here.

To stay with Moses a little longer, it’s worth considering his experience of God’s call. This was an unexpected experience that challenged what no doubt seemed like the settled course of Moses’ life and launched him in an entirely new direction (albeit entrusting him with a task that he seemed keen to take on forty years earlier).

Moses’ call – like that of, say, Isaiah, or Saul/Paul was dramatic (not that we should expect every call to happen in such a dramatic way). Although it was dramatic, its setting was the ordinary and everyday.

By this point in his life Moses seems settled in Midian. Like David who will follow him in later Jewish history, Moses is a shepherd. The sheep belong to his father in law, the somewhat mysterious Jethro. The day God appeared to him was probably quite like the day before and the day before that again. Who knows how many acacia bushes Moses had seen on fire as he led his sheep? Who knows how many similar shepherds had seen this particular bush but had paid no attention to it?

Moses noticed and he paid attention. What caught his eye was the fact that while the bush was on fire, it was not being burnt up. Once God had his attention he spoke, and Moses responded: ‘Here I am.’

There then follows an amazing dialogue between God, who is about to rescue the Hebrew people, and Moses, a very reluctant leader in the making. The dialogue works its way through five excuses/objections.

  1. Who am I? Moses sounds humble, but humility can be an apparently noble way of dodging a call! God’s answer is basically to say that the fact he will be with Moses is more important than what Moses thinks of himself.
  2. Who are you? God’s answer is that he will be what he will be. No limitations. No situations where he will not be everything the people need him to be.
  3. What about them? A reasonable objection since (40 years previously) they had not been inclined to listen to him.
  4. What about my speech impediment? To which God basically replies that if he calls someone to something, he will equip them with what they need for the task.
  5. Why not just send someone else? Bottom line: he doesn’t want to go.

Of course he ends up going and the rest is history.

And we are left to contemplate the crucible of his call experience and reflect on its implications for contemporary leaders.

In the introduction to his book, Moses and the Journey to Leadership, Norman Cohen writes that,

Moses’s life story reminds us of the one aspect that distinguishes him as a leader of others: His life is not his own.

This is something, he continues, that every leader has to accept. It’s true for Cohen because of the way Moses’ life is bound up with the the life and mission of the people he will lead. But I think the story of his call suggests that more fundamentally, a leader’s life is not his/her own because the call of God is not just a causal invitation for anyone who cares to volunteer: it is a gracious summons to be involved in his plan.

The conversation between God and Moses represents a laying bare of Moses’ fears (real or perceived) and weaknesses, along with God’s promise to meet Moses’ need at every step, and an eventual exposure of his reluctance to accept his assignment.

The exile years have resulted in Moses’ Midianite existence becoming Moses’ comfort zone in which the ambition to become a great leader has been replaced by a contentment to spend his days wandering around with the family sheep. Meeting God in a burning bush on the edge of the desert changes all that.

What to make of Reggie McNeal’s probing observation:

Only God knows how many would-be leaders turn away from the burning bush. Having decided their own destiny, they close themselves off from the call of God on their lives, or their preoccupation with themselves prevents them from being open to a mission larger than their own definition of possibilities… Not willing to risk or to explore a world than has something besides themselves at the center, they never make it onto God’s stage… They live out their lives in the desert of reserve status.

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