Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Lessons in Desert Humility

Went for a walk with N. this morning - my dear Romanian friend, who meets with us on Fridays when possible. We went Nordic walking a couple of times a week last year, and it was amazing how the hour would always rush by. Anyway, we have started again, what with the warmer weather and the need to get fitter.

It's incredible what times of fellowship we have, just walking. It makes me think that Yeshua must have had just such times with the gang who followed him around. They basically walked the length and breadth of Israel, probably several times. There was no other means of transport, unless you count donkeys, and no-one appears to have ridden one of those until Messiah rode into Jerusalem, or camels, and there's no record of any of those early Messiah-followers riding a camel either. So they just walked. They must have been jolly fit. Anyway, there's something about the pace of walking which fits sharing hearts.

One of the things that hit us, as we were talking about Moses and how long it took to get Egypt out of him, was that he is described as the most humble man who had ever lived. (I think Joshua must have added that bit - Moses would never have written it about himself). The process that changed him from Prince of Egypt to this condition must have been unbelievably hard. We're told in Genesis that the Egyptians abhorred shepherds and that Joseph's family found their new home in Goshen, distanced from the main Egyptian population, where they were given charge of Pharoah's flocks.

So for a Prince of Egypt, brought up at Pharoah's court, in all the wealth, luxury and status he was accustomed to, to be suddenly a fugitive from justice, a mere nobody in a FOREIGN country, Midian, forced to earn his keep by keeping smelly sheep, must have been a massive humiliation. And that for 40 YEARS.
How quickly we wish for our servitude to be over! Whatever hard times we are allowed to go through, thinking that we should be able to control our destiny, we champ at the bit, complain and grumble, or at the very least, wish it were yesterday already!

So there was Moses, sitting on a rock in the middle of the howling desert, while the sheep and goats picked their way between the rocks and stones, chewing the acacia branches and other scrubby plants, and he pondered his situation for year, after year, after year. No computer, no Facebook or Twitter, no radio, tv, no smart phone. How would we cope with enforced solitary confinement with only a few hundred stinking quadrupeds for company? Broiling day after freezing night, sheep and goats' milk for drink, desert plants, dates and the occasional tough shoulder of mutton to eat. He probably got back to Zipporah very seldom - so there was fairly little marital contact to speak of. After all, they only had two children. He must have been agonizingly lonely. He had ample reason, from a natural viewpoint, to grumble and complain.

I think it was there in the desert that God took the grumbles out of him. He had plenty of time to rethink his behaviour in Egypt. Perhaps he was thankful that he was still alive, after fleeing his murdered victim's avengers. But he was a prince, for goodness' sake. A prince, keeping sheep! What a come-down. Forty years of it. He probably spent a lot of time at first, shouting at God in frustration, wondering what on earth he was supposed to be doing with his life and if this was it? And there was apparently no answer for all that time.

I think he was learning to listen. All he could hear was the sound of bleating sheep and goats cropping the scrub, foxes barking by night, perhaps the roar of a distant lion (or not so distant), the constant zirruping of crickets, the wind, the thawing rocks cracking after a freeze. There was little to see for miles but craggy mountains and inhospitable terrain, the horizon shimmering under the midday sun which baked Moses' skin to dark brown leather, or at night, as he watched from a cave, staff in hand, the vast array of glistening stars marching hour by hour through their silent courses, perhaps the occasional comet streaking westwards over the Red Sea towards Egypt. He must often have thought of the home he had left, his royal foster-mother, the real mother, father, brother and sister he had come to realise were his own kin.

He must have learned that grumbling and being negative doesn't help. He learned to accept the weariness, loneliness, pain, hardship, simplicity and filth.  He came to a place of acceptance. He even came to appreciate the sheep and goats, silly things. He helped them give birth, protected the kids and lambs. Having led flocks for 40 years was the perfect preparation for leading mindless slaves, except that these were over two million grumbling mindless slaves.

God broke his servant there in the desert, taught him that he was a nobody, that all his gifting, reputation, calling, were of no use to God in a man who was still yearning for recognition and status in the eyes of others. He must have learned to look away from self to an all-powerful Creator, who cares for His creation; seen the beauty of the desert when his were the only eyes to watch the sun go down and the black shadows lengthening before every stone. At 80 years of age, he came to value silence and solitariness. It was then, when he had learned to listen in humility, that he was first called to speak.

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