Moses, The Prophet Paul, The Apostle
Moses the prophet and Paul the apostle are the two towering, stellar personalities of human history. No son of Adam’s race, however noble, however brilliant, however benevolent, however powerful, whether warrior or physician, philosopher or scribe, king or scientist, influenced the world for good and nudged it Heavenward as did these two men.
A study of history and theology will clearly and without fear of contradiction substantiate such an all-encompassing statement.
The crucible out of which both men were forged is amazingly parallel. And to the spiritually discerning, the unmistakable signature of the Master Potter is indelibly etched upon their lives.
Both men had the touch of the sovereign God upon them from infancy. At a time when Pharaoh of Egypt had decreed that all male Jewish children be slain, the parents of Moses, sensing that he was a goodly” or “proper” child (Ex. 2:2; Acts 7:20; Heb. 11:23), built an ark of bulrushes and slime and pitch and placed it in the Nile River, and the infant was preserved. And the Apostle Paul, defending his apostleship when writing to the church of Galatia, declared that God had separated him from his mother’s womb to proclaim the gospel (Gal. 1:15-16).
Both men were highly educated. Moses, having been adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter, was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22). Paul’s parents were Roman citizens and evidently wealthy. Paul was, therefore, afforded the opportunity to study under Gamaliel, the foremost Jewish scribe and teacher of his day (Acts 5:34; 22:3).
Both men participated in murder. Of Moses it is said, “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he observed an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand” (Ex. 2:11-12). And Dr. Luke wrote concerning Paul, “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice. Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul [Paul] was consenting unto his death…” (Acts 7:59-8:1). Neither man could ever forget the rock from which he was hewn. Perhaps — just perhaps — this prepared both men to more deeply appreciate both the law of God which condemns murder of which Moses wrote and the grace of God which found a way to forgive it of which Paul wrote.
Both men had a desert experience. Of Moses it has been suggested that he spent forty years in the courts of Egypt trying to become somebody, forty years in the desert finding out he was nobody, and finally forty years becoming somebody for God as he led the children of Israel through the wilderness (Acts 7:23, 30, 42). Following Paul’s conversion experience, he went into the Arabian desert for three years before going up to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and others of the first century church leaders (Gai. 1:16-18). The solitude of the desert was the place where the eternal God himself would train these two men for service.
Both men had a direct and dramatic life-transforming encounter with the God of their forefathers. Moses saw a bush that burned and was not consumed. The sanctity of the occasion was startling — out of the midst of the bush came the voice of God: “.. .Moses, Moses….put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex. 3:4-5). The burning bush which Moses beheld needed no hot flame to reduce it quickly into a heap of white ashes. In all probability the region was arid and dry; the bush scorched and withered; its leaves dead and limp; its branches dry and sapless. The tapping flames could have made speedy work of such a bush, but the thorn was not consumed. No branch, twig or leaf was even scorched or singed. One need not, therefore, wonder why Moses said, “… I will now turn aside and see this great sight … “ (Ex. 3:3). Paul was on the Damascus road with letters in his hand to have Hebrew Christians thrown into prison for their faith. But along the way there was a blinding light and from Heaven a voice inquiring, “. . . Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4). By the end of that confrontation, Saul of Tarsus, who would become Paul the apostle, inquired, “… Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?. . .” (Acts 9:6).
Both men had a thorn in the flesh. Moses had a speech impediment — he stuttered and tried unsuccessfully to use this as an excuse to avoid responsibility as God’s spokesman to both Pharaoh and the children of Israel (Ex. 4:10-13). Paul had an eye problem. On three separate occasions he besought the Lord to cure him. The lovingly divine answer was, “… My grace is sufficient for thee …” (2 Cor. 12:9). As the desert would give occasion for training, the physical infirmity would teach dependence.
Both men forsook earthly pleasure, power and acclaim. Had Moses chosen to stay in the courts of Pharaoh, he would have enjoyed the “pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:25). And none should diminish in their thinking the fact that sin can bring temporal, temporary pleasure. Paul for his part was firmly entrenched in the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel. Few knowledgeable men doubt that with his brilliance, logic, character and unstoppable drive, he would have reached the highest echelon of Jewish religious and political influence (Gal. 1:13-14) with its attendant power and privilege.
Both men were theologians. Moses during his distinguished ministry wore many hats. But preeminently he is remembered as the lawgiver who received from God on Mount Sinai and gave to the children of Israel the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. In a broader scope, however, the five books which he penned under divine inspiration — Genesis to Deuteronomy — are to this very hour called the Torah or The Law. And as Moses was the greatest contributor to the Old Testament, Paul was to the New Testament. Paul’s ministry and writing were in perfect harmony with Moses, but Paul emphasized the other side of the coin. As Moses revealed the law of God, Paul in his epistles to the Romans and Galatians gives the clearest and fullest revelation of the grace of God.
Both men represented God before the major powers and leaders of their day. Moses stood before Pharaoh of Egypt and boldly declared as God’s spokesman, “Let my people go.” Clearly, there was no timidity here, but only the confidence of one speaking by divine authority. And Paul, who was on trial for his faith, as a Roman citizen appealed to Caesar. Concerning that event he would say, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel. So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places” (Phil. 1:12-13).
Both men were Jews. Is it not significant that the two men who most influenced human history for good were sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Moses was from the tribe of Levi and Paul from the tribe of Benjamin. But is this not simply a further evidence of our Lord’s statement, “…salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22)?
Both men were willing to die for their people. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he found that the children of Israel had fallen into the grievous sin of idolatry. They were worshiping a golden calf which they had fashioned in his absence. The nation was in grave danger,of judgment and total annihilation by God. But Moses interceded and said. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin —, and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Ex. 32:32). In effect Moses was saying, “If in your wrath you are going to kill all this people, then begin with me — blot me out of the book of life.” And is it not truly an amazing parallel that the great Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:1-3)? In context, Paul had just finished saying that nothing could separate the true believer from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39). But if it were possible, he would be willing to be separated from God forever if his brethren — the Jewish people — could be saved. And this from the very man who had been caught up into the third Heaven and knew more perhaps than any other of the glory and bliss of spending eternity with Christ. How tragically ironic that this man who, along with Moses, evidenced the pinnacle of sacrificial love and devotion to his Jewish brethren, has up to this very moment been disinherited by them and placed “outside the camp.” But one day — and that day is fast approaching — Israel will fully realize that Paul the apostle ranks alongside Moses as one of her two greatest sons.
Both men were servants of God. Had I been called upon to write the epitaph of Moses, human nature being what it is, I would have written something like, “Moses, the Lord’s miracle worker, is dead,” or “Moses, the Lord’s statesman, is dead,” or “Moses, the Lord’s general, is dead,” or “Moses, the Lord’s prophet, is dead,” or “Moses, the Lord’s lawgiver, is dead.” But when God himself wrote the epitaph of Moses, He said, “Moses, my servant, is dead…” (Josh. 1:2). As a matter of fact, five times in Joshua chapter one. God refers to Moses as His servant (Josh. 1:1, 2, 7, 13, 15). The setting is intriguing. Moses had died. And now God is presenting to Joshua the mantle as successor to Moses. For Joshua, the thought of filling the shoes of Moses must have been awesome, and so God reminds Joshua that He is not looking for a miracle worker, or a statesman, or a general, or a prophet, or a lawgiver — what He was looking for was a man who, like Moses, was willing to be a servant. And once again the words of the great Apostle Paul come to mind as he begins his great epistle to the Romans: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ…” (Rom. 1:1). Had I been describing Paul, I am certain that I would have written, “Paul, the theologian,” or “Paul, the missionary statesman,” or “Paul, the church builder.” But when he described himself, it was “Paul, a servant [or bond slave] of Jesus Christ.. ..” Like Moses, his life was consumed with the desire to spend and be spent in the service of his sovereign Lord. His first words after conversion were, “ . . . Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?.. .” (Acts 9:6), and among his final words were, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Is it not strangely intriguing and amazingly informative to reflect on the fact that most men spend their lives trying to gain power, prestige and position, but the two men who more than any other affected human history were both servants — servants of El Elyon, the Most High God?
Perhaps we all do well to ponder anew the words of the psalmist, “… I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Ps. 84:10).
God is not looking for great men but simple men who are willing to be faithful servants. Of such stuff were Moses and Paul made. And they literally changed dramatically the course of history.
How about you and me? Are we willing — really willing, with total abandon, to jettison our own preconceived dreams, hopes and goads to become servants of the sovereign Lord of the universe? Logic argues for it, love invites it, and a purposeful life demands it.