The Prince of Egypt, The Servant of God: Sand In Your Shoes, Thorns In Your Side!
Numbers 11:1-9; 21:4-9
Come December, a wonderful movie will appear in theaters all over the country. It is an animated feature entitled, The Prince of Egypt, and it tells the Biblical story of Moses in a powerful and inspiring way. It is a move I hope you will make the effort to see. In order to prepare us for the experience of the movie, I am spending these weeks with you looking at how Moses, the Prince of Egypt, became Moses, the Servant of God …
My great friend, Lois Meadors, shared with me a little piece called “David Letterman’s Top Ten Things You Don’t Hear in Church.” You’re going to love this. Here they are:
10. Hey! It’s MY turn to sit on the front pew!
9. I was so enthralled I never noticed your sermon went over by 25 minutes.
8. Personally, I find witnessing much more enjoyable than golf
7. I’ve decided to give the church the $300 a month I used to send to TV evangelists.
6. I volunteer to be the permanent teacher for the Junior High Sunday School Class.
5. Forget the denominational minimum salary; let’s pay our pastor so he can live like we do.
4. I love it when we sing hymns I’ve never sung before.
3. Since we are all here, let’s start the worship service early.
2. Pastor, we’d like to send you to the Bible seminar in the Bahamas.
and the Number 1 thing never heard in church:
1. Nothing inspires me and strengthens my commitment like our annual stewardship campaign!
That’s a case of “humor with a message”—the message being that all too often the life of the church is marked by complaining and murmuring and grumbling. Of course, that’s nothing new for the people of God. It’s as old as the Exodus wanderings in the wilderness. Here Moses had risked his life to face down Pharaoh and gain freedom for the Israelites and yet they hadn’t been on the road to the Promised Land for more than a few weeks before they started complaining about their circumstances. They grumbled about not having fresh water to drink. The promise of milk and honey in the Promised Land was not enough to keep them from complaining about missing their Egyptian gruel. The more they wandered, the more they complained. They became self-centered and possessive of what they did have. They wouldn’t follow Moses’ instructions about giving thanks to God on the Sabbath. They wound up insulting God to His face by creating a golden calf to worship. Later, after years of experiencing God’s protective presence in the Sinai Desert, they started complaining again about the food and the water. Every time Moses turned around they were criticizing him and demanding that he take them back to Egypt. They were indeed what the Bible calls them—a stiff-necked, prickly people, who regularly frustrated both God and Moses.
Just think what Moses’ life must have been like during those “desert years.” Not long ago, I read about a man who walked across the United States, starting in California, ending in New York. At the end of his journey, someone asked him: “What was the hardest part of the trip, the biggest obstacle to overcome? Was it the desert or the mountains or the rivers?” The man replied: “None of those things. It was the sand in my shoes!” He was making the point that sometimes the biggest challenges are created by the smallest irritants. Well, as Moses led God’s people through all those years in the wilderness wanderings, I suspect that he would have said that his biggest problems were the unending desert that put sand in his shoes and those murmuring, complaining people who were like thorns in his side.
Often times the same is true for us. Most of us manage the major emergencies and challenges of life quite well, only to be worn to a frazzle by things which by comparison are small and insignificant. That’s why it’s good for us to be reminded of the way God worked with Moses to overcome a cluster of challenges forty years long and a whole wilderness wide. That’s part of the reason I’m so thrilled about the movie The Prince of Egypt. It is glorious proof that Hollywood can indeed produce something which is as ennobling and spiritually enriching as it is entertaining and economically successful. I am pushing this movie because it deserves to be pushed. In the movie, the fantastic telling of the story of Moses is enhanced by some wonderful music. Several of the songs, I predict, will be hits. In fact, I want to highlight two of those songs today because I believe they lead us to understand that God helps us to deal with even the most irritating difficulties of life, just as He helped Moses. Let me show you what I mean …
The problem with the people wandering in the wilderness was that they were giving out, so God worked through Moses to give them new courage.
One of the songs from The Prince of Egypt is entitled “Through Heaven’s Eyes.” Here are the words:
Should a man lose everything he owns,
Has he truly lost his worth?
Or is it the beginning
Of a new and brighter birth?
So how do you measure the worth of a man?
In wealth or size or strength”
In how much he gained or how much he gave?
The answer will come to him who tries
To look at his life through heaven’s eyes.
A single thread in a tapestry
Though its color brightly shine
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design
So how can you see what your life is worth
Or where your value lies
You can never see through the eyes of man,
Look at your life through heaven’s eyes.
Though Moses’ story as told in The Prince of Egypt does not picture the forty years of his life after the Exodus, those years were the most trying of them all. Surely Moses was tempted to wonder whether seeing life through heaven’s eyes was possible, especially since the people he was leading seemed to have eyes for nothing except food, water and their own personal comfort.
Of course, the people were ill-prepared for the rigors of the desert. The sand and the limestone became like an oven under the blistering sun. Food and water were in short supply. They were parched and famished. Their lips were blistered and their stomachs were cramped with hunger. They took potshots at Moses for taking them away from the fleshpots of Egypt, and their murmuring mounted in threatened mutiny. No more songs of praise for their deliverance from the “Red Sea”; now there was petulance mixed with panic. Fear of the future causes forgetfulness of past blessings. They were becoming restless and rebellious. They were giving in to their fears. Moses cried for the umpteenth time in his life: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” And God said that He would give them new courage by providing meat in the evening and bread in the morning. And it happened as God said it would.
At evening when the pangs of hunger were most intense, suddenly, a gigantic flock of quail flew into the desert directly toward them. Clearly, they had had to have been flying for miles and miles over desert wastes. When they landed, exhausted at the feet of the astonished Hebrews, they were easily caught and cooked over quickly-set small fires. Research into the migratory habits of quail in that part of the world makes the miracle of God’s provision all the more exciting. Each autumn the birds fly from central Europe to Turkey. There they prepare to cross the eastern Mediterranean to the North African coast. They cross the Mediterranean in a single flight at high speed. Consequently, they land completely drained of strength. They lie motionless for hours to recover. For years, Bedouins living near the coast harvested the easy prey. What’s so unusual here is that this time the birds kept flying out into the Sinai Desert, where they became the source of survival for the hungry Hebrews. The God who had created those quail in the first place pressed them to fly farther in order to be His blessing upon the Israelite people. Then when the people awoke the next morning, they were startled by another evidence of the Lord’s care. All over the ground was a frost-like substance with a slight yellowish tinge. The people cried out: “Manhul,” meaning “What is it?” The name “manna” was drawn from that. They discovered that it was edible, raw or boiled. And they discovered that they could knead it into dough and make it into cakes. The old Jewish rabbis even said that, amazingly enough, it took on a unique flavor agreeable to each person. The manna would be given each morning and they were never to gather up more than they needed for any given day. God would provide fresh grace every day and His provision gave them the courage not to give out.
A little more than a century ago, David Livingstone read some words about Africa, written by a man named Robert Moffat: “From where I stand I can see the smoke of ten thousand villages that have never heard of Christ.” On the strength of those words, God sent Livingstone to Africa as surely as He had sent Moses to Egypt. David Livingstone traveled 11,000 miles on foot through uncharted jungles. To spread God’s Word he suffered unbelievable hardships and privations. He was wracked by diseases, attacked by wild animals, menaced by hostile tribes—yet he marched on with his Bible and God kept providing. The difference he made for Christ in Africa is still being felt even today. Because his courage came from God, he wouldn’t and he couldn’t give out.
The desert part of Moses’ life is a pointed and personal unveiling of God’s commitment to His purpose in people. There are no deserts where God will leave us deserted. God is no distant deity. He is present with us. He meets us in life’s dark, dry and desolate places. He forgives us at life’s points of failure, compromise and sin. No matter how tough the challenge, He keeps calling us back to His will and plan for our lives. In The Prince of Egypt’s rendition of this timeless truth we are reminded that our real worth and value in life will be determined by looking at our lives through heaven’s eyes.
The other problem with the people in the wilderness was that they were giving up so God worked through Moses to give them new hope.
Another of the great songs from The Prince of Egypt is called “When You Believe.” Here are the words:
Many nights we’ve prayed
With no proof anyone could hear.
In our hearts a hopeful song
We barely understood.
Now we are not afraid
Although we know there’s much to fear
We were moving mountains
Long before we knew we could.
There can be miracles
When you believe.
Though hope is frail
It’s hard to kill.
Who knows what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe?
Somehow you will,
You will when you believe.
After long years of wilderness wanderings, the people began to lose hope. They wanted to give up. They had forgotten what can be achieved when you believe. Once again they directed fierce complaints against Moses and God. Evidently the day they picked to do that was not a very good day for God. Upon hearing the complaints, God immediately sent poisonous snakes among the complainers. People quickly responded, “Lord, we’ve been in the sun too long. We didn’t mean what we said. Please call off the snakes.” Moses prayed for the people and God told Moses to make a poisonous serpent of bronze and to put it on his staff and hold it up. Everyone who was bitten by a snake could look at it and live. You recognize, of course, that the serpent on the staff became the symbol for medicine and healing.
This just proves that God is in the business of saving people, not condemning them. The people following Moses could certainly have received condemnation from God and probably deserved it, but God didn’t condemn them. We are told in John’s Gospel that “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” And that refers, of course, to the fact that Jesus was to be lifted up to suffer and die on the cross. We who are followers of Christ certainly could have received condemnation from God—and we deserved it—but God does not condemn us. Instead He saves us. “God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Through Moses God took the poisonous snake, a symbol of death, and transformed it into a sign of health and preservation. Through Jesus God took the cross, another sign of death, and transformed it into a sign of salvation and hope. In other words, when in Jesus Christ we believe, the miracle of salvation is achieved. He is our hope, the hope of glory.
I am now in the 56th year of my life, the 31st year of my ministry and my 17th year in this pulpit. What I want to say to you is this: I came to know Jesus when I was just a boy.
I grew up eating and sleeping and breathing the things of Christ and His church. I have never known myself to be apart from Him in all of those years. I’ve had more than my share of sins and shortcomings, and I’ve found in Him only unconditional love and forgiving grace. I’ve spent some time—more time than some—in the wilderness experiences of pain and desolation, but I have found in Him only undiminished strength and unconquerable hope. That’s the Gospel I preach. And what drives me so that I can’t slow down even when some of you lovingly tell me to slow down—what burns like a fire in my bones and cannot be extinguished—is the desire that you should know Christ and believe Christ and live Christ in your life. So commit your life to Jesus Christ. For when you believe, no matter what happens in life, you will never give out and you will never give up because you will know that in Jesus Christ
We cannot lose.