A while back, I drove to Oklahoma to visit my friend, Tabitha. Until that trip, the longest I had ever driven was about five and a half hours. After getting stuck in rush hour traffic while driving through Oklahoma City, it ended up being a nine hour drive. One of the most unique parts of my drive came just after I crossed out of Nebraska and into Kansas. There was a sign that said, one lane ahead. I wondered, “How on earth is that going to work on a highway?” I soon came to a portable orange stoplight. The light was red and I stopped. Looking ahead, I saw that my lane was blocked off with traffic cones going diagonally across my lane toward the other lane. After one the diagonal line of traffic cones, there weren’t any more cones and the lane wasn’t blocked off further down the road.
Sitting at the light, I began to wonder where I was supposed to go. Since the road wasn’t blocked off after the diagonal line, could I get back into my lane after the cones, or did I have to stay in the wrong lane? I looked at my GPS, wishing it could direct me out of that area. Within a few minutes, a line of cars started to form behind me. I didn’t know where to go, and yet, if the light ever turned green, I would have to lead this long procession! I thought, “Should I pull over and let another car go first?” I did not want to lead!
My unwillingness to lead the procession of cars into the unknown reminded me of Moses. When I got home the following week, I decided to study Exodus 2-4. It’s incredible to think that Moses, a man who has gone down in history as a leader, the man the Hebraic law is named for, argued with God and begged God to send someone else! We all know the story of Moses–you’ve probably seen a movie, maybe two, about him. Yet, when we read of his encounter with God in Exodus 3 and 4, it’s obvious that he did not want to lead Hebrews out of Egypt. It’s not that he didn’t see the injustice, and he certainly didn’t disagree that something needed to be done. He had been raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but he was still aware of his people and their mistreatment. Exodus 2:11-14 says,
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 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?” 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.”
Even while he was living as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses saw the injustice and he wanted to do something about it. However, when he stepped in, things went horribly wrong. Not only had he killed a man, but the next day his authority was questioned by a Hebrew man, and his fatal run-in with the Egyptian was thrown in his face. So Moses fled to Midian and sat down by a well, only to see shepherds driving away the daughters of a priest of Midian as they were drawing water to “fill the troughs to water their father’s flocks” (Exodus 2:17). Moses rescues the daughters, gets invited to dinner by their father, and gets to marry one of them named Zipporah. Zipporah has a son, they name him Gershom (translation, “I have become an alien in a foreign land.”), and Moses becomes a shepherd. If we were watching a movie, we might want to fast forward because for the next forty years, Moses works as a shepherd. Day after day is spent with sheep. Nothing terribly exciting there, until one day, he sees a bush on fire, and “thought he bush was on fire it did not burn up.” (Exodus 3:2). From within the bush, God calls to Moses. God had seen what Moses had seen in Egypt. In Exodus 3:7-10, God says,
I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land…And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.
From this point on, Moses, starts trying to get God to see things his way. From Moses’ perspective, God had the wrong man. He’d tried before and failed. He felt entirely inadequate. Who was Moses that he should go? What was the name of the God who was sending him? What if they didn’t believe him? And besides, Moses wasn’t eloquent–he never had been, and he was “slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10). Eventually, Moses decides that God should just send someone else.
The problem here isn’t that Moses wasn’t good enough; the problem is that Moses overestimated his role. Have you ever felt like everyone is looking at you, noticing your flaws, and then talking about you? It’s called the “Spotlight Effect”. Psychology Today defines it as, “the tendency to think that more people notice something about you than they do….Basically, it is the result of egocentrism. We all are the center of our own universes.” Moses heard, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” and overestimated his role. He erroneously assumed that God’s plan was entirely dependent upon him. Moses had tried before and failed. Moses wasn’t up to the task. In reality, it wasn’t about Moses, it was about God. It wasn’t about what Moses could or couldn’t do; it was about what God was going to do.
This isn’t to say that Moses wasn’t the right man for the job, because he obviously was. He had been spared from death as a baby, raised in luxury, and educated. He had a heart for his people and their suffering. Even those boring years in Midian as a shepherd leading sheep had probably been useful in preparing him for leading the Israelites. God had prepared him, and Moses was the right man for the job. But it wasn’t about how well Moses could lead; it was about how well Moses could follow. It wasn’t about how well Moses could speak; it was about how well he could listen.
God replied to Moses’ question, “Who am I that I should got to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” by saying, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:11-12) When Moses informed God that he wasn’t eloquent and was slow of speech and tongue, God said, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak, and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:11-12). After Moses begs God just to send someone else, God says, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.” (Exodus 4:14, 15). God was sending Moses, and every step of the way, God affirmed that He was going to be there and He was going to help. God was going to lead, Moses needed to follow.
For the first time in my life, as I sat at the red light, I dreaded the moment that the light would change from red to green. After several minutes of dread, I saw a little red pickup truck driving toward me. My dread was replaced with relief as I read the sign on top of the truck. It said, “Pilot Car Follow Me” I wasn’t the leader after all–I was the follower.