Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Humility Pt. 2

Today I am continuing with the theme I began yesterday about humility. Joseph was my first example, and I learned a great deal about trusting God in the middle of difficult situations, because when you are humble, you allow God to bless you.

The second person who really spoke to me of humility is Moses. He was born in Egypt to a Hebrew family about 400 years after Jacob brought his family there from Canaan to escape a famine. The Hebrew population had exploded, and the new pharaoh didn't remember the good that Joseph had done for the Egyptians so instead of viewing the people as welcome guests, they were seen as a threat. So Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrew people, and when the population continued to grow exponentially, he started ordering them to kill any baby boys.

Moses was born into the midst of this adversity. His family hid him for the first three months of his life, and then his mother put him in a basket of bulrushes on the Nile River. Pharaoh's daughter found the baby and decided to raise him as her own. Moses' sister, Miriam, had watched her little brother's discovery and offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. So Moses was returned to his family where he was cared for until he was weaned at which time he moved to the palace and was raised as a privileged child of nobility. He grew up with Pharaoh's children but must have known about his heritage because he eventually went to check out how the Hebrews were living. The investigation didn't go well, and he ended up fleeing for his life from Pharaoh and living in the mountains.

He lived out there for forty years, marrying a Midianite woman and having two sons with her. Then God appeared to him in a burning bush and ordered him to return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to "let His people go." I'm not going to repeat the rest of this well known story. Nearly everyone has seen the movie The Ten Commandments, and Moses is one of the popular stories in Sunday School.

It's not during that part of the story that I really noticed Moses' humility. While he does seem humble while asking God not to send him to free the Hebrews, I think his response was more about fear than it is about humility. Moses humility shows up during the instructions for building the Tabernacle. While Moses was up on Mount Sinai getting the ten commandments, he also received all of the other laws for eating, clothing, and living, plus a detailed set of instructions for the Tent of Meeting or Tabernacle. These make for some of the most boring reading in the entire Bible. Reading them in the Message Bible was tolerable, but try getting through them in the King James or Revised Standard versions and you just may give up on reading the Bible altogether!

That said, God had reasons for these rules. He wanted to set the Hebrews apart from other nations, to mark them as holy and belonging to him. Anyway, the orders for creating the Tabernacle include the construction of the building, the creation of the various implements, and the clothing for the priests. It's this last detail that really struck me about Moses.

Here's a summary of the priestly clothing: an Ephod made of gold with purple, blue, and scarlet material and an onyx stone on each shoulder with the name of the tribes inscribed on them; a breastpiece made similarly to the Ephod but covered with twelve different gemstones symbolizing the twelve tribes; a robe made of blue with a hem edged with pomegranates and gold bells; a blue turban with a gold seal marked: Holy to God; and linen underwear.

Those items are all for the priest Aaron, Moses' brother, to wear. Aaron's sons were to wear tunics, sashs, robes, and turbans that matched their fathers, and the clothing was to be passed down to each head priest. The details for this uniform takes up an entire chapter in Exodus.

Now I want you to take close notice of something. God gave these instructions to Moses who then relayed them to the Hebrews. And through all of these chapters, covering three books of the Bible, nowhere, anywhere, does Moses ask for anything for himself.

Moses is called a friend of God by the Lord himself. He speaks with God personally on a daily basis. He led over 1 million people out of Egypt and was their link to God. He could have become arrogant and proud. He easily could have slipped in a few details about creating a beautiful costume for him to wear showing his authority. He could have asked for a couple of beautiful wives or virgins to take care of his needs. He could have said that God ordered the Hebrews to give him a regular paycheck of gold and silver. He didn't do any of that. He stuck to just what God told him and never once used his power and influence to benefit himself.

At two different points during the Exodus, God threatened to wipe out all of the Hebrews and start over fresh with Moses. He offered to make Moses the new Abraham and create His nation from Moses' descendants, and both times Moses turned God down. He didn't want that role for himself; he loved his people and the Lord and wanted what would benefit them both.

Moses set the standard for God's prophets. As I read through the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and about Elijah and Elisha, I see that none of these men made themselves the center of worship. They didn't dress themselves in beautiful clothing. Isaiah went about naked for three years at God's command. That's a definite recipe for humility! True prophets didn't exalt themselves, only God. They didn't ask for money or wealth. They didn't make the worship of God all about them!

Compare them to the priests. Many of them were corrupt and worshiped however they people demanded. They changed their message to suit the people and to increase their own riches and power. This may not earn me any fans, but I believe that we need to hold anyone who calls himself/herself a prophet of God to this same standard. Nowhere in the Bible are any of the prophets wealthy nor do they ask the people for money in return for prayers. God's prophets were regularly killed for saying things the people didn't want to hear. They did crazy things like go naked for three years, lie on their side for one entire year, and refuse to mourn their dead wife. While I wouldn't want to see a prophet try to imitate those acts, the point is that prophets aren't known for their popularity. They are known for saying things that hurt, that cut to your soul, that convict you so hard that your heart aches and it makes you a little bit angry.

I believe that we should question anyone who says they are a prophet but is wealthy beyond words. Most of the Old Testament were incredibly humble. They didn't feel up to the task and often asked God to pick someone else, but God knew what he was doing. The men and women who gave His word to His people were more concerned about ensuring that God's Word rather than their own word be heard. While things have obviously changed a great deal in the last five thousand years, I don't think that God's expectations of his prophets has. What do you think?