© 2015 Lynn Abbott
My moment in the headlines didn’t turn out to be glamorous after all. Funny that. As a freelance journalist, I’ve written many people’s stories.
But I found myself on the other side of the interview when I was just 14. I actually owe my two paragraphs of fame to pests. Ants.
You see, living in Southern California presented its own set of domestic challenges. The summer’s heat drove the little buggers to find water. And so, ants overran my family’s kitchen sink.
I didn’t know what to do. Insecticide was not an option since both my father and I were extremely allergic to such chemicals.
I called Mom at work. Since Mom worked in local government, I hoped that she would be available to help me solve the kitchen crisis before it spread into other rooms of our home.
Fortunately for me, Mom answered her phone and I rattled off my tale of woe. Mom suggested an unorthodox solution: red pepper. It sounded rather dubious to me; however, I was desperate to rid our counters of those annoying pests.
What I didn’t know was that a reporter had overheard my mother’s suggestion. Apparently, he found our ant dilemma amusing. And my mother’s suggestion tickled him.
The next day, our local paper’s featured column, “The Prowler,” included a well-crafted and witty anecdote about me.
Ants. Not exactly what I’d like to be known for. Pest control certainly wasn’t on my bucket list.
Yet, there it was. How I faced those pesky little critters defined me in the local paper.
It seems Moses struggled with the small stuff, too.
Of course, most of us primarily associate Moses with the great plagues of Egypt, those spectacular demonstrations of God’s power confronting the principal Egyptian idols. Or we think of the parting of the Red Sea or the delivering of the Ten Commandments. However, when I stop to consider these events, they only comprise brief periods in Moses’ life.
For the most part, Moses slogged his way through life’s nitty-gritty. He shepherded smelly sheep in extreme desert heat. He led a pack of whiners. He listened to and judged mundane civic disputes.
He asked Yahweh to provide the basic survival needs of unappreciative people. His own sojourn in the Midian desert and later, his journey with God’s people through the uncharted wilderness occupied a sum total of 80 years.
Moses was well-acquainted with the chronic discomfort of the irritating pebbles that invade one’s sandals.
After all, he spent 40 years in the desert with people who would have tried the long-suffering of Job.
Problem was… Moses did not have Job’s patience.
That’s right. Moses had a hot temper.
Our introduction to a forty-something Moses highlights his flaw. But Moses deserves a little grace. After all, his upbringing did little to develop patience.
As the adopted grandson of Pharoah, he rarely had to wait for anything. His wish was court command.
In addition to his privileged position, Moses also held the most celebrated university diploma of his day. Moses decisions were generally well-informed.
Thus, with a decided air of confidence, forty-something Moses decided to investigate his own heritage. While strolling the streets of the Egyptian capital, Moses spied an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew. And rather than seeking God’s guidance, Moses relied on his own understanding.
His temper apparently got the best of him because he killed the Egyptian. He likely thought it would go unnoticed. The fate of a single slave or building supervisor counted but little in court. I doubt he ever stopped to consider how Abba might lead him.
The injustice simply angered him and he reacted. But killing an Egyptian to save a Hebrew slave didn’t go down well at court.
Thus, an impulsive, angry act defined Moses’s life for the next 40 years. When rumors began to spread, Moses ran. The grand courts of Egypt apparently would not serve as training ground for God’s service.
The daily desert grind, on the other hand, developed patience and humility. We meet a much transformed, albeit still imperfect, Moses in Exodus 3. When he encountered the burning bush, he was no longer the young, arrogant scholar. The comforts of court had been exchanged for a host of daily inconveniences and trials in the desert.
Moses had plenty of time to ponder his personal weaknesses. He no longer believed he could lead.
Yet, Abba shows us through Moses’ life that He isn’t looking for strong and independent leaders. Abba doesn’t require the perfectly, well-prepared.
Instead, God’s answer to Moses self-deprecation suggests that mundane obstacles had better prepared Moses for service than his prestigious Egyptian education. Moses would look to Abba for direction and strength even in the minutest details.
Yet, Moses still focused on his own credentials–“Who am I, that I should to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” The root difficulty was the same. When he assessed his own potential, he looked to his own strength or lack of it.
Moses’ experiences lead him to God-dependence rather than self-dependence (Numbers 12:3).
And in fact, throughout Moses’ journey, God demonstrated again and again that He wanted to be involved in every aspect of human life. The beauty of the Ten Commandments is not legalism but the demonstration of God’s profound interest in the intricacies of our daily lives…
God loves us and cares about even the smallest details of our days. Moses knew this well.
Even so, his self-sufficiency occasionally resurfaced.
As for most of us, the tipping point was not a result of a catastrophic event. For Moses, life’s daily difficulties simply accumulated.
The mundane horde kept Moses on the defensive year after year. And Moses caught the blame for every new difficulty.
First, the people complained about water rationing; then, they grumbled about the bland diet. But more than that, they ironically tried his patience with their impatience.
While Moses communed with Yahweh on Mount Sinai, the people grew weary. “Where is Moses when there is trouble?” they may have asked.
Looking for an immediate solution to their daily difficulties, they cast the golden calf. In this way, the people returned to idolatry (Exodus 32).
Upon his descent from the mountain, Moses may have sputtered, “Can’t I leave you alone for even a little while?”
No vacay for Mo. Drip, drip, drip… the grumbling and obstacles grew.
Even Moses’ brother Aaron and sister Miriam could not be trusted. They began to undermine his leadership, (Numbers 12:1-3).
Had I been in Moses’ sandals, I truly would have longed for the promised rest. How far is Canaan? Are we there yet, Abba?
Moses’s spirits probably soared as they entered the land’s outskirts. Finally, peace was within reach. Facing Pharoah had certainly been easier than leading God’s disgruntled people.
Unfortunately for Moses, the people’s ongoing rebellion would result in 40 more years in the wilderness.
It amazes me that Moses held his temper for so very long.
Had I been in his place, the people’s refusal to enter Canaan certainly would have been the tipping point. I don’t know if the Canaan fiasco pushed Moses to the brink. But undoubtedly, Moses’ patience wore thin.
Not surprisingly, Moses took his eyes off the great “I AM.” And once more, the one-time Prince of Egypt acted decisively.
Moses’ day began with more whiny people. Never mind that those same Israelites had disobeyed God and refused to enter the Promised Land. They blamed God, Moses and Aaron for all their trouble.
Moses initially handled things well. He and Aaron prayed. However, the strain of persistent trials had become Moses’ focus. Like so many of us, he may have rehearsed his frustrations even as he prayed.
And Moses snapped.
When he stood before the people, his temper flashed. Rather than speaking to the rock as Yahweh had instructed, Moses hit the rock with his staff.
He lost focus and disobeyed.
It seems such a small event. But let’s face it. It’s the small stuff that most often tests our character. In fact, God highly prizes our faithfulness in the face of small stuff, (Matthew 15:21).
Yeah, Moses blew it. But in His grace, God nevertheless caused water to flow from the rock. I find hope in the fact that Abba did not abandon Moses in that moment of weakness.
God had chosen Moses to lead a stubborn people. And our great High Priest understands our weaknesses. The Israelites had certainly tested Abba’s patience again and again (Numbers 14:11-24).
Thus, despite Moses’ disobedience, Abba did not remove His blessing. God actually confirmed Moses’ calling by miraculously supplying water.
Even so, there is generally fall-out when we lose our God-focus. Moses, the servant of God who had confronted Pharoah and parted the Red Sea, would not enter the Land of Promise.
Obviously, the little stuff is the big stuff. And an angry impulsive decision ultimately limited Moses’ dreams.
While Moses had learned to depend on Abba in the desert, the accumulation of trouble sometimes pushed him beyond what he could personally handle. And in the heat of the moment, Moses forgot that it was not up to him to make things work.
It’s easy to forget God’s promise when pests incessantly plague our days.
James, however, reminds us: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish it work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything,” (James 1:2,3).
Consider it joy? Quite honestly, I’d rather skip the trials. Persevering through the small stuff is tough.
For this reason, when I observed ants crawling all over my peony buds this past Spring, I simply thanked Abba that those pesky ants were occupied outside. Better the peonies than my kitchen sink.
But as I thought about it, I realized those peonies mirror my life. I have heard gardener’s tales lauding ants as a necessary aid in the peony blooming process.
True or not, it certainly makes me think.
After all, James notes the connection between trials and mature perseverance.
Indeed. I suspect that it all might work like ants and peonies. Those little irritants may yet serve a beautiful purpose.
And in time, our blossom will open… Mature. Complete. Not lacking anything.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you…” ~Psalm 84:5a