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Moses The Great


It is not unusual for people to be called “the great.” More often than not, however, such are political and military leaders. Catherine the Great, Alexander the Great, and Frederick the Great come to mind. Religious leaders not so much, although some have dared to call Pope Gregory “the Great.” These men and women are deemed great because of their supposed impact on history.

The Bible also calls some personages great. King David testified that “The Lord is great.” (1 Chronicles 16:25) The angel Gabriel told the virgin Mary that her Son JESUS “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest.” (Luke 1:32) Even the Baptizer would “be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15), as an angel told his father, Zachariah. Jesus also later testified that “among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11)

That would include Moses, although who wouldn’t argue that he was special? He was not only God’s friend, speaking with God face-to-face, but as Stephen testified, “Moses was . . . mighty in words and deeds.” (Acts 7:22)

Indeed! Moses confronted Pharaoh and demanded the release of the children of Israel from their slavery. Moses led his people safely across the Red Sea and faithfully for forty years of desert wandering. Moses was buried by God Himself on Mount Nebo, and later appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yes, he was special, even great.

But we also remember how Moses murdered an Egyptian, how he fled the country, and became a herder of sheep in a foreign land for the next forty years of his life. What’s so great about that?

Here is where Hebrews 11 provides the divine commentary on that whole episode. “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer afflictions with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” (24-27)

Here, then, is what made Moses great in God’s eyes. It was the fact that Moses forsook his elite and princely position in Pharaoh’s court and chose instead to identify with God’s people—who at the time were ill-treated slaves. That decision cost him sin’s pleasures and Egypt’s treasures, but he gained a future with his people, a future involving the coming Messiah.

Thus Moses esteemed the suffering and reviling of Christ—Whom he already knew as his Savior—as his greatest honor and treasure, willing to be disgraced for Him. Moses didn’t need Egypt, nor did he fear its king. Rather, Moses prospered by seeing and having the invisible God at his side. By faith, he looked forward to the same heavenly reward as did Abraham, the father of all those who believe. And that decision, that reproach, that faith made Moses great.

Do we want to be great in God’s kingdom? It won’t happen by seeking power, riches or authority.

It can happen only by identifying with Christ, being willing to share in His reproach and suffering. For the Savior Himself “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Thus, those who would be great must become servants (Matthew 20:26). As Jesus further testified, those who keep His Word and proclaim it will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19). To such humble faith, obedience and service may we all aspire—even greatly.

David Fuerstenau is pastor of Holy Truth Lutheran Church in Ketchikan, Alaska.