The rags to riches story is one of both immense tragedy and amazing triumph. The characters in these stories remind us that life can hand you a devastating blow at the onset of your birth. We're also reminded that even if people are born into adverse situations beyond their control, there is still a way to overcome that and be successful in life. Whether it's the young man born into a dysfunctional family; the mother addicted to opiates and gives her child up for adoption; or the married couple that has to close their business and liquidate all of their savings to pay for their child's cancer treatments, we have all seen people surrounded by a major event that changes everything. There are some who, despite their environment and circumstances, overcome them and push forward to success.
Moses is one of those rags-to-riches stories....sort of. His story begins before he was even born. Moses was born in a generation where the king of Egypt did not know Joseph and all he did for the nation. The Hebrews (Moses' nationality) were under massive oppression and they were multiplying. Pharaoh didn't like such a large population of non-Egyptians continuing to grow in numbers in his land, so he created a decree to have every son that is born Hebrew killed (Exodus 1:8-16). Moses' life was spared and he ends up (of all places) being raised in the house of Pharaoh by the king's daughter. He goes from being sentenced to death to being raised in the palace; that is a remarkable story indeed. Moses' story, as if caught in a matrix, goes back to rags and then takes a sharp turn and transitions from rags-to-eternal legacy.
From riches to murder, then exile to prophet, Moses couldn't escape his new path he was headed down because it was God who was now writing his script. YHWH finally makes his grand entrance, as he normally does, with a plot that Moses wasn't ready for.
Then He continued, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The Israelites’ cry for help has come to Me, and I have also seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you may lead My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
Thus began Moses' new story. He was now a prophet being used by God to free his people. Little did he know that would require everything in him to not quit as the Hebrews had become entitled, conditioned to oppression, and ungrateful for everything that God did to rescue them. Even after God used 10 plagues, including the death of every first born Egyptian son, and then buried Pharaoh and his army under the Red Sea they still had the audacity to complain about something. Moses, nonetheless, endured...and it had to be God inspired because the nonsense he dealt with from his own people was unprecedented at this point in scripture.
Moses mark of perfection was his long suffering. I don't think even long suffering can describe what Moses had to deal with, but it's the only word that I can think of that fits the description. Let's count the ways shall we?
Then Moses led Israel on from the Red Sea, and they went out to the Wilderness of Shur. They journeyed for three days in the wilderness without finding water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water at Marah because it was bitter—that is why it was named Marah. The people grumbled to Moses, “What are we going to drink?”
The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”
They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So the people complained to Moses, “Give us water to drink.” “Why are you complaining to me?” Moses replied to them. “Why are you testing the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you ever bring us out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
The Lord spoke to Moses: “Go down at once! For your people you brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, ‘Israel, this is your God,[c] who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’” The Lord also said to Moses: “I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people."
As we can see, the Hebrews became such a burden that God became irritated with their shenanigans. Moses, like no other before him, pressed on even when he wanted to 'bust some heads'. While growing old before his time dealing with his people, Moses obeyed God and introduced the 10 Commandments, laws about the Sabbath, Passover, and an entire encyclopedia's worth of customary laws for the Hebrews to conduct themselves as a nation. Moses was one of a kind indeed, but just like the Hebrews he too harbored a trait that God wouldn't stand for.
Moses' costly flaw was anger. Even though I think Moses had a right to be angry, his anger went unchecked at times and it cost him dearly. When the Hebrews complained yet again about not having any water Moses lost his composure, invoking God's most harsh punishment.
The Lord spoke to Moses, “Take the staff and assemble the community. You and your brother Aaron are to speak to the rock while they watch, and it will yield its water. You will bring out water for them from the rock and provide drink for the community and their livestock.” So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence just as He had commanded him. Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that a great amount of water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me to show My holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them.”
The one thing that Moses had dreamed of; the inspiration that kept him going was now forbidden. He could no longer enter into the promised land, after 40 years of long suffering and painful obedience, he would end up with nothing to show for it (physically). I'm sure that news came crashing down like a ton of bricks, and you can read more into how the consequences play out here.
Moses' life is one where we can all learn from. Some of us even relate to him. We see a man who was originally slated for death, blessed with opulence. He went into exile, and then became a prophet. He became a leader of a nation, yet was taken for granted by his own people. We also see that despite all you have done in the name of serving God, letting your anger run unchecked can cost you more than your willing to pay.