Picture in your mind Moses standing before Pharaoh, demanding that he, "let my people go!" Picture Joseph becoming the ruler of Egypt, or picture David, a young shepherd boy, boldly facing down a warrior giant that no soldier or king would dare challenge. How were these great men of the Bible prepared for those pivotal moments? And how are we, as followers of Christ, similarly prepared?
As footstep followers of Christ, we know that we will suffer, and that suffering for righteousness' sake is part of our walk. Romans 8:18 says, "the suffering of this life is not worthy to be compared with the glory that will follow." It is often can be difficult to maintain that perspective when we are in the middle of painful experiences. In the broadest sense, we will not see the results of the struggles of this life until we are resurrected. As stated in 1 John 3:2, "what we will become has not yet been made known."
There are still ways that we can see the fruit of God's overruling in our lives. We can often look back on difficult experiences and realize they had been a blessing in disguise, challenges that prepared us for something later. We can also get a glimpse of the final results of our trials by looking at examples from scripture.
We will examine the methods God used to prepare some of the Old Testament heroes of faith, and His purpose for them. Each experience the individual went through was preparation for the work that needed to be accomplished. These stepping-stone experiences were crucial for their development, but in most cases they could not have possibly seen why they were necessary at the time. There is a consistent pattern of preparation followed by implementation in almost all of the in-depth accounts of these heroes of faith. This pattern lines up perfectly with the expectations of Jesus' true followers, called the Little Flock or the Church Class. Examining these stories through this lens can be helpful in our Christian walk.
God had a lofty purpose in mind for Moses. Not only was Moses destined to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt, he would also be tasked with establishing them as a nation, delivering the Law of God to them, and leading them across the wilderness to the Promised Land. This was quite a tall order, but God had arranged Moses' life to ensure that he was capable of carrying it out. Every step in the first 80 years of his life, from the moment of his birth up until his first meeting with God at the burning bush, brought exactly the circumstances and experiences necessary to prepare him for God's purposes.
Moses' Early Life
Moses was born at a time when Pharaoh had commanded that all newborn boys be killed. He was miraculously saved from this fate when his mother placed him in a basket in the Nile River. Pharaoh's daughter discovered him and decided to take him as her own. God also overruled that Moses' real mother would be his nurse, having an opportunity to influence his early childhood.
This chain of events accomplished multiple things. First, Moses was raised in the Egyptian royal house, and, as stated in Acts 7:22, he was "…educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." He no doubt learned crucial skills such as reading, writing, and philosophy, and gained knowledge of leadership through his observation of the royal court.
These skills would prove invaluable for leading the Israelites, delivering the Law, and writing the early books of the Bible. He likely would not have had access to any of this under normal circumstances as a slave.
Moses' Israelite Connection
Moses' connection to his people was maintained by the influence of his biological mother. Without this, none of the above would have mattered at all, because Moses would have had no desire to deliver Israel in the first place.
Even at this point in his life, Moses not only had a desire to rescue the Israelites, but believed that God would use him to do so. Why did he believe this? Let's look at a prophecy spoken to Abraham by God:
It is likely that Moses was aware of this prophecy. This was probably a hope all Israelites dearly held at that time. We can see why Moses would have believed that he could be the one to deliver Israel. The 400 years spoken of in the prophecy were nearly at an end, and he had miraculously been put in the right position to carry out God's will. So then, why was he unable to do so? Why did he have to flee into the wilderness for 40 years?
Apparently, the time was not yet right, but, in addition, Moses still needed more preparation, lessons to be learned, including humility.
But, wait—isn't Moses described in scripture as the most humble man on earth? Yes! In Numbers 12:3. But he may not have started that way. It could be that Moses saw that HE was in a position to deliver Israel, and HE believed that HE would fulfill the prophecy. He was sent to the wilderness to make it clear to him that God was the one doing the delivering. His privileged position in Egyptian society was stripped from him, ensuring that he could not leverage that to accomplish his goal. There would be no doubt from Moses or the Israelites that it was the power of God that freed Israel, and nothing else.
Moses' Wilderness Experience
Moses met his wife and started a family in the wilderness, and he became a shepherd for his father-in-law for the next 40 years. How was this experience preparing him to free Israel and lead them to the Promised Land?
Let's start with the easy one: his time as a shepherd was teaching him how to survive in the wilderness. It's easy to overlook the fact that most of the Israelites had probably never left Egypt. Though likely very skilled at manual labor, they were ill-prepared for trekking across a vast wilderness. During his time as a shepherd, Moses was learning how to be their guide. It's also worth noting that Moses was shepherding in the same general area in which the Exodus would begin. He was becoming familiar with the terrain through which he would soon lead a nation.
Moses had likely learned valuable leadership skills during his time in Pharaoh's household. He learned a different sort of leadership skill during his time as a shepherd, the skill of leading a large, unruly group from one place to another. He learned how to keep track of a large number of people and how to keep them organized. Shepherding a flock of sheep was certainly a far cry from shepherding a nation of people, but this experience was a stepping stone to the next.
The Burning Bush
At this point, it is 80 years into Moses' life and he hasn't even begun the most monumental tasks set before him. However, every day of those 80 years was time well spent on God's part. Moses did not know how God was shaping him, and he likely even believed that he had been rejected by God for half of that time. Even so, he did not lose his reverence for God or turn away from his godly principals.
Joseph experienced great hardship when he was sold as a slave by his own brothers, falsely accused of a crime, and thrown into prison.
God intended that Joseph would become the ruler of Egypt and that he would prepare the land for a 7-year long famine. This would not only save the people of Egypt, but also the people of all the surrounding lands, including Jacob and his sons.
Joseph's Challenge of Location
The first matter of preparation was simply one of location. Joseph needed to be in Egypt to accomplish God's task, but he lived in Canaan, and had no reason to travel there on his own accord. The solution?—God gave Joseph dreams that would make his brothers jealous so that they would sell him into slavery. Now there were likely kinder ways that God could have brought Joseph to Egypt, but none of those ways would have accomplished the preparatory experiences that Joseph would need in order to be successful. This experience was also a lesson for Joseph's brothers, men who were the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, God's chosen people. They were clearly in sore need of character development of their own. God is the ultimate multi-tasker.
Joseph himself understood why events had to play out this way.
So, Joseph was sold into slavery for a greater purpose that neither he nor his brothers could foresee. There is no doubt that he suffered because of this, but the scriptures give no indication that his faith ever wavered.
Joseph's Experience in Egypt
Joseph was eventually sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials. Potiphar put him in charge of his entire household. This was a stepping stone experience for Joseph. He would one day need to rule over an entire nation. God was shaping his abilities so that he would be prepared for the task when it finally came. After Joseph was falsely accused by Potiphar's wife and thrown in prison, he was again put in charge of running the prison. Likely being much larger than Potiphar's household, and certainly filled with people that would be far less cooperative, the prison was an escalation of this learning experience, another stepping stone to the ultimate goal.
He was 30 years old when he entered Pharaoh's service. Joseph's experiences were difficult, painful, and terrifying, but it all made him stronger in the Lord and led to his eventual exultation.
Let's look at David's experience with Goliath. David defeated Goliath thanks to the power of God, but in this case it was the overruling power of God that ensured that David had the proper experiences to prepare him for his battle with Goliath, rather than any direct miraculous intervention.
Goliath was an imposing threat, as expressed in 1 Samuel 17:4. The passage states that his height was six cubits and a span, or about 9 ½ feet. No soldier could hope to defeat him in conventional single combat. David, however, was able to slay him with ease. There was no direct miraculous intervention by God for this battle, only David's skill and faith-born confidence. The intervention came in the form of God's preparation of David for this day.
A conventional soldier faces an enemy of roughly equal size and ability. This is what they are trained for, and this is what they expect. When faced with a foe much bigger and stronger, the Israelite soldiers were out of their depth. David, on the other hand, had only ever faced bigger and stronger foes, so he was perfectly equipped to handle this challenge. Now, to poke holes in this argument, there were likely many other shepherds among the ranks of the Israelites who had had similar experiences to David in dealing with wild animals, but this only serves to illustrate that faith is the most crucial component to any servant of God. If David had lacked faith in the Lord, his experiences would have meant nothing, because even with the skills necessary, he would have been paralyzed with fear like all of the other Israelites.
We have seen how God dealt with some of the heroes of faith in the Old Testament, and how He prepared them for His holy purposes. Does this line up with how He deals with the Church, His true followers? We know that God does not change (Malachi 3:6), so it is reasonable to assume that His methods would be similar when dealing with individuals, whether in this age or the last. But assumption is never a good practice, so let's take a look at the scriptures on the matter.
Remember James 1:2-4, which says that many trials test our faith, produce perseverance, and through perseverance make us whole and complete, lacking nothing.
These scriptures are exemplified in the accounts of the above examples. God's methods for individual preparation have remained largely the same from one age to the next.
God gave each of the faithful Old Testament characters the experiences necessary to prepare them for a specific future work. The methods used to prepare them are comparable to how the Lord deals with the Church now.
When examining these scriptural accounts, we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of the faithful one from the Old Testament being examined. It's easy to look at the final results of these experiences and forget that these individuals had no idea to where they would lead. They didn't know what God had in store for them. This should strengthen our faith during very difficult trials, and help us to maintain hope. We know that God is working out our suffering for a greater good. We have seen the results of His work in the lives of the great men and women of the Bible, so we can be even more assured that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
God worked tirelessly in the lives of people He called friends,
how much more will He do for those he calls children?