We are talking about comebacks, and how God is the God of comebacks. Last week we established that a setback is really a setup for a comeback. We know we need some comebacks in our country and world. Perhaps you are in need of a personal comeback right now. We’re looking at what leads to our setbacks so we don’t repeat them and we are learning what steps we might take in order to prepare for our comeback at the God-appointed time.
There is a cool story of a guy named Bernie Marcus. Bernie was the son of a poor Russian cabinetmaker in Newark, New Jersey. In 1978, he was fired from a do-it-yourself retail store called HANDY DAN. What do you do when you’ve been fired from HANDY DAN? Well, Bernie teamed up with a guy named Arthur Blank, and they decided to start their own business. They opened their first store in Atlanta, Georgia. It was called THE HOME DEPOT. Today, they have stores all over the world, and their annual income is in the billions. That’s a great comeback story!
Or how about Wilma Rudolph, who was the 20th of 22 children? She was born prematurely and her survival was doubtful. When she was 4, she contracted double pneumonia and scarlet fever, which left her with a paralyzed left leg. At age 9, she removed the metal leg brace she had been dependent on and began to walk without it. At age 13, she’d developed a rhythmic walk, which doctors said was a miracle. That same year she decided to become a runner. She entered a race and came in last. For the next few years, every race she entered, she came in last. Everyone told her to quit, but she kept on running. One day she actually won a race. And then another. From then on, she won every race she entered. Eventually, this little girl who was told she would never walk again went on to win three Olympic gold medals.
Moses was a guy in need of a Comeback. Actually, he needed a Comeback more than once. As Exodus 2:11 opens, we understand that Moses, born to a Jewish family, but raised in the palace by Pharaoh’s Egyptian daughter as an adopted son, never forgot who he was as a Jew. He had always known the story about how the Pharaoh tried to control the Jewish people and their growing population by ordering that the Hebrew baby boys would be killed as they were being born. Through a series of events, God spared Moses and allowed him to be raised in the palace, on the very property of the one who had actually ordered him and all other infant boys dead. Isn’t that stunning?
God protected Moses against a death order from an enemy and then turned things around to the place where the one who ordered Moses to be executed actually gave him a place to live, food to eat, an education and the finest things the palace would allow. Though he was raised in the Egyptian culture and with the privileges that came with it, Moses never forgot who he was. Maybe recognizing that he should have died with the other baby boys who were killed, but he hadn’t been, maybe that recognition, had given Moses a special sense of destiny and purpose.
I say that because as Exodus 2:11 begins we read:11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor.
He knew he was watching his people work as slaves. Their labor was more than hard. They were treated harshly by their Egyptian taskmasters. Moses was angered by their condition, and what he saw next really infuriated him.
He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. 12 Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
I don’t think Moses knew at this point that he had been born to be the one who would help deliver Israel out of Egyptian captivity, but he obviously had the heart of a deliverer. He was moved with compassion when he saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating one of his fellow people, and he was going to take action.
I wonder how many times Moses replayed that day in his mind, the day he became a murderer, the day he let his anger get the best of him. I wonder if he had been a hothead in other settings, if he had been an impulsive slave to his feelings leading up to this moment. I would say it is likely given the extreme action that he took.
I wonder if he questioned what he could have done differently. Wouldn’t there have been some steps he could have taken between doing nothing and murder? Mind you, Moses would have had some status. He had grown up in the palace as a son of the then Pharaoh’s daughter. He wasn’t a nobody. He had some clout. People recognized him as part of the royal family. The Pharaoh at that time would have been someone who Moses had grown up with or at least grown up around. Couldn’t he have talked with him about his observations regarding the way the slaves were being treated? At the minimum, couldn’t he have shouted out to the Egyptian who was beating his fellow Hebrew and say, “Hey, Knock it off?” Wouldn’t the Egyptian have recognized him as an adopted “son” of the Pharaoh and quit what he was doing at Moses’ command? Wouldn’t Moses’s status have been enough to cause the guy pause?
Even though it happened quickly, Moses knew that what he was going to do was wrong. We know that because verse 12 tells us he looked around to make sure no one was watching, to make sure he could get away with murder. He killed the guy and hid him in the sand, I guess to try to cover up what had happened. How effective was it going to be to hide a body in sand? I mean, wouldn’t the shape of the guy’s body create lots of bumps and lumps on the surface of the sand? Did Moses really think he could hide what he had done?
Remember last week we didn’t just talk about Peter’s Comeback, but we analyzed what led to his setback. Understanding the steps that lead to failure is important to help us not repeat those moments.
1. Moses’ failure began with unchecked anger. It would anger me to see someone beating someone else. The injustice of something like that would certainly infuriate me, so we can understand why Moses felt the way he felt. Listen, feeling the way we feel isn’t wrong, but allowing our feelings to dictate our actions will result in failure almost every time. Sometimes we need to take a breath. Sometimes we need to find others to help us with a situation. Sometimes we need to pray through and think through what the best way forward would be. Moses acted immediately and impulsively out of emotion. Our emotions may be indicators that something is wrong or something needs to happen, that’s true. But when our emotions prompt us that action is necessary, we need to act on those emotions wisely, thoughtfully, carefully, prayerfully and not impulsively.
I’ve written a few emails in my time that I never sent. I’ve rehearsed a few speeches in my house that I have never given. I have. There have been moments when I had to do something with my feelings, in order to get them out, in order to put them in perspective, in other to take authority over my feelings so that my actions didn’t wind up assassinating someone’s value and worth, so that I didn’t pulverize someone with my angry words. Church, we have got to get a handle on our emotional selves if we are going to sustain the kind of peaceful and joyful life God has called us to live. If we allow our feelings to become our boss, we are going to be a walking time bomb, always exploding on people wherever we go.
- Moses’ failure continued with a calculated decision to do what he knew was wrong. There is no doubt that Moses knew what he was about to do was wrong. Listen, if you have to look around and sneak around to make sure no one sees what you do when you are doing it, and then you have to cover up what you did to make sure no one finds out, you have no business doing whatever it is you are doing. Moses knew he had gone to far and had done the wrong thing.
Let’s read on in the text:13 The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” 14 The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”
So the day after Moses murdered the Egyptian, he saw two of his fellow Jews going at it. I guess he became an instant judge because verse 13 says he asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” I don’t know how he discerned that one was in the wrong and that one was a victim? I mean, if you walk outside of your home and you see two people engaged in a fight, how are you going to know who started it? Just sayin’.
Well, after questioning the man, he learned that what he had done the previous day had been seen. He hadn’t gotten away with anything, and someone who obviously witnessed the conversation went to Pharaoh and told him that Moses had been the one to murder the Egyptian who was either presumed missing or who had been found buried in the sand by that time. Pharaoh didn’t have any tolerance for people who tried to usurp his authority and take matters into their own hands, and verse 15 tells us:
15 When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.
Moses fled. Is that what often happens after a failure? We try to flee. We seek to run away. We don’t want to stay and “face the music?” We can certainly understand why Moses took off. Pharaoh didn’t have any tolerance for failure. Moses wasn’t going to be able to recover where he was. He wasn’t going to be able to have a comeback without removing himself from the place of failure. There had to be a physical separation, some personal refining and there had to be some time pass in order for Moses to have a comeback.
I do think it is interesting that verse 15 tells us he sat down by a well. I really don’t think that is a random extra detail. A well represents a place of refreshing, doesn’t it? Maybe Moses wasn’t consciously trying to refresh himself or initiate his Comeback, but God, in His Sovereign plan was at work. You see, I believe God led Moses to that well, and I believe it because God had a plan to use Moses, and Moses’ failure, his uncontrolled emotion and his inferior judgment didn’t change that God wanted to use him. Aren’t you glad to hear that this morning? Aren’t you glad that our impetuous, impulsive, emotionally-charged and even immoral and calculated mistakes don’t make God want to wash His hands of us? Instead, friends, God wants to get us to the well. God wants to lead us to a place of refreshing, and the sooner we get there, the better. I love that. Here, in the desert of Midian, God was going to initiative Moses’ Comeback.
But in that moment, Moses had to face some facts. He had to face the fact that he had gone from being a Prince in the palace, a real somebody, to being a nobody in the desert. Nobody cared that he was a Prince in the desert of Midian. What goes through a person’s mind when their setback, when their failure comes with the price tag of having their identity stripped? Some of you know what I’m talking about. Pastor Jed’s online devotion this week on our church FB talked about folks whose identity has been wrapped up in their job, but now they are out of work. That sudden change can jolt someone into an identity crisis in a hurry, can’t it? Moses was surely asking himself, “Who am I now?” “Who am I without servants and the comforts of palace life?” “Who am I on my own, away from the people who raised me and away from the people who gave me life?” “Who am I?” Do you think he heard Satan whisper, “You’re a failure. That’s who you are.” I can’t say, but I imagine the thoughts that ran through his mind weren’t positive and encouraging.
I’m sure he expected his failure to have the final say. Moses couldn’t go back. Pharaoh wanted him dead. What do you do when you have had a setback and you feel as if you can’t ever go back to the life you once knew? What if your failure creates a new reality for you and your new reality is desert life? How would Moses live? What would he do to support himself? Moses was all alone, but only for a short minute. Verse 16: 16 Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. 18 When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” 19 They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 “And where is he?” he asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” 21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.
One of the first thoughts we can be tempted to have on the heels of failure is that we are no longer good for anything. I love that on the heels of failure, God gave Moses an immediate opportunity to be a hero, a rescuer. Oh, it was small, but it was another sign of Comeback. He became the “Knight in Shining Armor,” rescuing Jethro’s daughters from the rude and aggressive shepherds. He also watered their flock and apparently in record time because their dad wanted to know how they had finished their chores so quickly. Moses was being refreshed, wasn’t he? He was being reminded that he still had a purpose. He still had value. He could still make a contribution. He was still a leader. His ability to recognize injustice was valuable. It was a quality that God would tap again in the future.
Oh Church, sometimes when we need a Comeback, God will work with us in small, seemingly insignificant ways. Many Comebacks will start with baby steps. Sometimes He will give us a small, unimpressive assignment like scaring off some shepherds and watering some sheep, but listen, don’t you discount those small, quiet moments because they are moments of preparation for greater things. The well and the watering of that flock was all setting the stage for Moses’ comeback.
Not only was Moses refreshed in his calling at the well, but Moses got a wife! Things were looking up for Moses. Moses was no longer alone. Moses acquired in-laws and a new home. On the heels of Moses’ setback, God was providing for him. He and his wife had a son. They later had a second son. It wasn’t the life he had before, but God was blessing Moses, even in the desert. Even though he may not have been where he wanted to be, there was still blessing to experience. Can you grab hold of that this morning? Even though we might not be where we want to be right now in the midst of this crazy pandemic or because of some personal setback, there are still blessings to receive and a recognition that God is preparing us for greater things ahead.
Listen, before God could add to Moses’ life what Moses needed in order to be the leader of the Jewish nation, he had to remove some things from Moses’ life. Namely, he had to remove Moses entirely from the situation in order to refine some things in Moses. Moses needed to be defined not by the Egyptian culture, not by his Hebrew birth, not by palace living, but he needed to become God’s man. I’m guessing marriage was good for Moses. Taking a wife and having to live day in and day out with consideration for someone else, having kids and having to assume a parental role whereby he learned that people and circumstances don’t change overnight…that they take time was good for Moses. Kids don’t come out of the womb knowing everything they have to know. They have to be taken by the hand and taught. Wouldn’t all of that be preparation for someone who was to become the pastoral leader of an entire nation? Haven’t those of us who are parents done some growing up because of the lives that have been entrusted to us?
Do you know what Moses named his sons? His first son was named, Gershom which means “a stranger there.” Moses knew he was a fish out of water in Midian. He was where he was because of his personal failure, but it wouldn’t be his forever home. What is so interesting to me is what he named his second son, Eliezer, which means, “God is my helper.” Do you a progression? He went from saying, “I don’t belong here” to saying, “Even in a strange place, even in a foreign land, even in the midst of unwanted circumstances and on the heels of personal failure, I have learned to trust in God! He is my helper. He is the One who can bless and prepare me in the desert to do great things for His glory.”
And what could be better preparation to be a Shepherd to the people of Israel than becoming a shepherd of sheep? Moses had gone from busy palace life to a quiet life with a flock of sheep. He was being humbled. He was being stilled. He was becoming a servant. And he spent 40 years in the Midian desert which were preparation for the next 40 years that he would spend shepherding the Israelites in their desert wanderings on their way to the Promised Land.
God refreshed Moses at the well.
God reminded him that he still had purpose and value.
God refined Moses in his role as a husband, father, and shepherd.
Moses didn’t know it, but God was preparing him for a Comeback.
And while God was preparing Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery, He was preparing the Israelites to be led by Moses. Things were getting worse for them, and because of their circumstances, the Israelites started to cry out to God for help. They groaned in their slavery for deliverance. Listen, anything that turns a person’s heart to God and causes them to reach for Him is good and becomes a catalyst for their deliverance. What good would it do for God to send Moses to deliver the people if when he got there, they wouldn’t follow him? I’m guessing many Jewish people viewed Moses as a traitor. They knew he was one of them, yet he had lived as a son of the Pharaoh. They watched him thrive and have the finest life could offer while they were subjected to hard labor. Moses had been living it up in the palace. They had no life. And when his life had been threatened, he was able to run away. There was no escape for them. Would they really be ready to trust him as their leader? They had to want out so badly that they would be willing to follow whoever God would send. So, as God was readying Moses to lead, God was readying His people to follow.
And verse 23 says that Pharaoh died. Don’t miss that. In order for us to have a Comeback, sometimes there are some things that have to die. Some things that have to be moved out of our path. The Pharaoh that was trying to kill Moses, died during Moses’ time in the desert of Midian. Moses didn’t know it, but God was opening up the way for Moses to go back and actually negotiate with a new Pharaoh for the liberation of his people.
This morning, do you need to be REFRESHED? There is a well you can get to. Jesus said He has Living Water to give. He offers you a way you can be renewed and renew your identity in Him.
Do you need to be REMINDED of your purpose and value? God isn’t finished with you. You still have a contribution to make. You matter, and you are not alone in the desert.
Will you allow God to do His REFINING work in your life? God wants to ready you for something and while He works in your life, He will be at work in the lives of the people you are supposed to impact when His appointed time for your Comeback comes. And while you give Him full access to your heart, He will bring blessings and reminders of His goodness to you so that you keep persevering and keep walking toward your COMEBACK.