February 6, 2011

The Exodus: A Pattern of Faith

The story of Moses and the exodus of the people of Israel is a powerful story that has been used throughout the ages to help people learn of the power of God (see for example 1 Nephi 4:2, Mosiah 27:16, Alma 5:6, 36:2, 60:20). We can similarly learn from these lessons of the Exodus, and in particular the development of faith that can be seen in the prophet Moses.

So why is this story so powerful and what was it that helped future generations have greater faith in the Savior? Let me suggest three reasons of which I will discuss through this post: 1) the story is a powerful model or type for how to increase our own faith in the Lord, 2) it helps us learn how to be released from our own forms of captivity and bondage, both physical and spiritual, and 3) it teaches us of several very powerful attributes of God.

Let’s first study the story a bit before we go into these powerful messages. We will start in Exodus 3-4 where Moses first receives his call to be the prophet to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He sees the burning bush and hears the voice of God declare His word to him. During this encounter, the Lord tells Moses five separate times that He will deliver Israel from bondage (vs. 8, 10, 12, 17, & 20). Moses is 80 years old at this time and has been now living as a shepherd for the last 40 years of his life. Moses is frightened and feels inadequate to the task. Several times he tries to come up with reasons why he should not be chosen as the Lord’s great prophet. He asks “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He is then told by the Lord that “Certainly I will be with thee!” (Exodus 4:11-12).

Next Moses complains that the people will not believe nor listen to him. The Lord then gives Moses two signs that he is to use to help convince the people of His power; first the ability to turn his staff into a serpent and then to cause his hand to be leprous and then clean. Then as if this was not enough, the Lord gives one more sign to Moses to help him have confidence in the Lord; He teaches him that he will have power to turn water into blood. Note how the Lord does not reprimand Moses for his lack of faith, but instead provides an opportunity for his faith to grow by showing him of His power.

Moses, next, tries his hand at claiming he is not eloquent with words and that he is slow of speech. The Lord tells Moses that He will be with his tongue and teach him what to say. Despite this reassurance, Moses requests that the Lord send another because of this weakness. In response the Lord provides Moses with a spokesman in his brother Aaron.

Notice that during this heavenly vision, the Lord provides for and compensates for the weaknesses of Moses in multiple ways. He not only provides two miracles for Moses to show the people, but even a third, just in case the first two don’t convince the people. He also not only states that He will teach Moses exactly what to say, but when Moses still fears because of his weakness, he is provided with a spokesman.

The next part of the story (4:27-31) shows that exactly what the Lord had stated comes to pass. He sees his brother (who agrees to assist him on this mission), and he speaks with the people and they believe. Each of these is not only a fulfillment of the words of the Lord, but a powerful message to Moses that the Lord knows all things and that he, Moses, must learn to rely upon the Lord (the Lord knows what He is talking about).

Finally after Moses has spoken with the people of Israel, he and Aaron go to Pharaoh to give him the word of the Lord (chapter 5). Moses is full of faith, believing that his people will now be released. However, the Pharaoh replies by saying: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” (5:2). He then tells Moses and Aaron that he will no longer give the people straw to make the bricks, yet will still require the same quotas as before. When the people heard this they asked what Moses had done and begin to murmur about his so called freeing from bondage, for he had not released them from bondage, but instead had increased their burdens.

Moses goes to the Lord and cries: “Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? Why is it that though hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered the people at all.” (5:22-23). Moses’ faith was supposedly strong and now it was weak. The Lord in response seeks to further develop his faith into a stronger faith that will be sufficient to lead the people for the next forty years; a faith that is not based on signs or miracles. In chapter 6 the Lord tells Moses three more times that He will deliver His people from bondage (6:1, 6 & 7). He also tells Moses five times that “I am the Lord” (6:2, 6, 7, 8 & 29). These words of reassurance don’t work for Moses though and he states that now if the people do not believe him, then how will Pharaoh believe him. In fact Moses states this three separate times during this interchange with the Lord (5:22-23, 12 & 30). The Lord, once again, compensates for the fears of Moses by telling him that He will provide miraculous signs to the Pharaoh so that he will be convinced of the Lord’s power. He also tells Moses that Pharaoh will harden his heart several times, and that he, Moses, is to have patience and believe that the Lord will prevail. Notice that this time Moses has no sign, but only the word of the Lord. Moses must now put his faith in the word, and not just a sign.

Thus, the Lord sets the stage for the growth of Moses’ faith by giving him a foundation to build on (the earlier signs, promises and fulfillments) and now time wherein his faith can develop.

So what do we learn from the story about Moses and about his conversion process to a stronger faith in the Lord?

First, the Lord will always reassure us of His power if we ask. The Lord will always provide enough assurance to us so that we can know that we will succeed if we trust in Him.

Second, the Lord will always compensate for our weaknesses and failings if we ask of the Lord. He has stated that He will make our weaknesses strong if we will but come unto Him. This may be through tutoring us in how to speak, or providing us with the assistance of friends and family, but He will provide.

Third, God will always provide enough signs or evidence to help establish our faith if we ask. These signs may be the still small voice speaking to our minds and hearts, it may be a friend who provides needed words or council, or it may be the changing of a staff into a serpent. Whatever it is, the Lord will provide just enough so that we may plant the seed of faith. Additionally, God will not only provide enough, but extra. He will not just provide two signs that He exists, He will provide a third and more, just as He did with Moses. In fact all of God’s creations testify of Him.

Forth, once the Lord has acted to help establish our faith, He will allow the element of time to take its effect on us. Like a seed that takes several days to finally push its way toward the sun, our faith often may seem dormant and unchanging, yet we must continue to believe. We must continue to believe in the growth of the plant, despite the fact that we cannot actually watch it grow. We can only see this growth after several days. We can only see the growth when we compare our seed of faith to previous days when we can see the difference in size.

Fifth, in addition to time, the Lord will always try our newly planted faith. The people may turn against us, or the Pharaoh may increase the labors of the people, or we may not see how the promises He has made can possibly be fulfilled. However, though our faith will be tried, the Lord will always provide moments of light, like the ten plagues, that strengthened the faith of Moses as he continued to learn of the awesome power of the Lord. It took ten tries for Moses to succeed in fulfilling the words of the Lord, but he was never left alone. The Lord was with him every step of the way.

Sixth, we learn of the emphasis God puts on freeing His people from bondage. He will do whatever it takes to free us; even if it means slaying the first born of Egypt or even slaying His own Firstborn to redeem us from the captivity of sin and death!

Lastly, we learn two powerful attributes of God. God is patient. He will always listen to us vent, complain, speak of our imperfections, and inadequacies. During this He will at times chastise us (as He did with Moses on a few occasions), but most of the time (as we see with Moses), He will just listen, be patient, and then provide comfort. We also learn that the Lord will always express confidence in us despite our weaknesses. In fact it is because of our weaknesses that He sees so much potential! If we were perfect, what would our potential be? There would be none! God loves the challenge of helping us grow, in fact, it is His passion; He thrives on it!

In time, Moses became perhaps the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. In time his faith was unshaken, and the people saw in him great power. I believe this power came from this conversion process (of course supplemented by a life of experiences), AND Moses’ willingness to act. Moses not only asked the Lord for help, but then he did as the Lord had commanded. In fact, Moses was willing to do some very difficult tasks, some of which many people thought were impossible. He did not just believe, he did.

The Lord is all knowing, and thus He knows exactly how to build and edify our faith. Our own plan of faith may not match exactly that of Moses, but we can know the Savior is in charge. He knows what processes to use to help our small seed of faith grow into a beautiful life giving tree. Our part is that we must place trust in Jesus Christ and believe in His ability to mold us, and then act.

To have true faith, we must know in whom we have faith. If we don’t know the true awesome power of God, we won’t seek to have this truly enabling faith. To know what God can do, we must learn of what He has done in the past; this is why studying the story of the Exodus can help us increase our own faith. Let us, like Moses, submit to the Lord our will, and allow the Master Carpenter to shape our lives in to a work of art fit for His kingdom.

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