Exodus 2: Lessons from Moses’ Life on Becoming a Servant Leader for God

Introduction: Exodus chapter 2, along with parts of Acts chapter 7 and Hebrews chapter 11, reveal portions of the first 40 years of Moses’ life. In the Bible, the number 40 is associated with testing. His first 40 years was a time of testing for both his family and for him. In the beginning, God tested his parents’ faith when they faced a death sentence by protecting Moses. During his first 40 years, God also tested Moses. He did this by transforming him from a pauper to a prince. He then tested Moses with the choice between his power and freeing his oppressed people. God then tested him again by transforming him from a prince to a pauper.

Exodus chapter 2 should be read on three levels. First, it is an account of Moses’ development into God’s appointed savior. Second, the account foreshadows Jesus’ rise as our appointed savior. Finally, Moses’ first 40 years reveals seven lessons for being a servant leader.

First, from the example of the faith of Moses’ parents in hiding him at risk of their own death and then placing him into an ark, God reveals that He wants you to also have faith in Him in order for Him to use you. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him. Second, from the example of Moses’ transformation from a poor slave into an Egyptian prince, He reveals that He can use you and transform you no matter what your background may be. Third, through Moses’ exile following his murder of an Egyptian, He reveals that He can use you when you act according to the Spirit and not the flesh. Fourth, also from the murder Moses committed, He reveals that He can use you when you repent no matter how serious your sins may be. Fifth, from Moses’ transformation from prince to a pauper, He reveals that He can use you when you leave behind the things of the world for Him. Sixth, from Moses’ life as a sojourner in Midian, He reveals that He can use you when you live in the world but not of the world. Finally, from the revelation of God’s compassion for His people suffering in bondage, He reveals that He wants you to be willing to help others who are still trapped in bondage.

1. God Can Use You When You Have Faith in Him. Ex. 2:1-3.

  • The faith of Moses’ parents in protecting him and placing him in an ark. Pharaoh conceived an evil plan to kill the Jewish boys. God, however, used his evil plan for good by raising up a slave boy who would one day be His instrument to save the Jews: “1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was beautiful, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.” (Ex. 2:1-3). Moses’ father was named Amram, and his mother was named Yocheved (Ex. 6:20). By faith, his parents risked their own death by nursing him for his first three months and then trusting God by placing him into an ark: “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict.” (Heb. 11:23). “It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured for three months in his father’s home.” (Acts 7:20). Here is a lesson for every believer: you must trust God no matter how hopeless things may seem.

Nicolas Poussin (1593/94 – 1665) “Moses abandoned” (painting 1628-1629)1

  • Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Yocheved complied with Pharaoh’s edict by putting Moses in the Nile. Yet, she trusted God that He would save Moses by placing him in an ark. Having faith is also a condition precedent to God’s willingness to use you: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). To gain victory over an impossible challenge, you must first relinquish control, just like Moses’ parents did by placing the ark in the Nile. Moses’ parents could never have known that, by placing him on an ark in the Nile, their son would become a prince and his mother would be paid to nurse him. You also cannot know what God will do when you take a leap of faith by trusting Him. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). Have you given up on someone or something because you feel that things are hopeless?

  • The foreshadow of the resurrection through the Holy Spirit. Like Moses’ ark, Noah’s ark was sealed with pitch and bitumen (Gen. 6:14). In the Bible, God provides parallel details like this when He wants readers to search for a deeper meaning. In this case, both stories deal with resurrection and deliverance. Noah resurrected the human race from certain extinction when God delivered his ark to safety. Moses was resurrected from his certain death when God delivered his ark to safety. For both Noah and Moses, their trip through the waters was a type of baptism. Both trips foreshadowed the resurrection from certain death that comes through the baptism of the living waters of the Holy Spirit. The Jewish nation later received its baptism when it crossed the Sea. Every person must be born again through the baptism of the Spirit for God to deliver them to eternal safety: “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:5). Jesus is the ark who will deliver you.

  • The foreshadow of Jesus in Moses’ birth. From Jewish interpretive texts, God also reveals two facts that foreshadow of Jesus’ birth from Moses’ birth: First, English translations state that Moses’ parents observed that Moses was either “beautiful” or “good” at birth (Ex. 2:2). Yet, being beautiful or good was not enough of a reason for Moses’ parents to believe that he was anointed by God. If that were enough, every parent would feel that his or child was anointed by God for greatness. Thus, we look to the original Hebrew, where the phase is translated: “She saw that he was good “ki tov.” This same word first appeared after God saw the light that He created and called it “good” “ki tov.” (Gen. 1:3-4). Based upon this similarity, some rabbis taught that God’s light filled Moses’ household at the time of his birth (Shemot Rabbah 1:20). We don’t know if this really happened. Yet, God provides this parallel account to reveal that Moses was anointed at birth. This foreshadowed the visible “glory of the Lord” at Jesus’ birth (Lk. 2:9). Second, this same verse suggests that Moses was immaculately conceived. Without reference to the father, God reveals: “The woman conceived and bore a son.” (Ex. 2:2). The Talmud states that Amram divorced Jochebed after they had Aaron and Miriam. Jochebed was three months pregnant with Moses before he returned to her (b. Sotah, Sechel Tov, Shemot 2:2). One group of Messianic Jews believes that modern day Jews have since disavowed these teachings because they foreshadow Mary’s immaculate conception: “All of these clues indicate that rabbinic tradition used to tell a legend about Moses being miraculously conceived . . .” This legend “may have fallen into disfavor in mainstream Judaism when the story of the Master’s conception began to circulate.” (First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club, Vol. 5, Depths of the Torah – Shemot, (2015) p. 357-8).

2. God Can Use You No Matter Where You Come From. Ex. 2:4-10.

  • God’s transformation of Moses from a pauper to a prince. Through the faith of Moses’ parents, God delivered Moses to Pharaoh’s home where He raised Moses to be a prince: “His sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for you?’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go ahead.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10 The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’” (Ex. 2:5-10). God did not send Moses to live in Pharaoh’s home to bring him comfort while his people suffered. Instead, God prepared him with the finest education in the ancient world to be His future law giver: “And after he had been set outside, Pharaoh's daughter took him away and nurtured him as her own son. Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.” (Acts 7:21-22). Again, there are lessons here for any believer. God can use you no matter who you are or where you have come from.

Paolo Veronese (1528 – 1588) “Moses Found” (painting 1580)2

God caused Moses to be raised within Pharaoh’s court as part of His greater plan3

  • God can use you no matter what your background may be. Moses had three strikes against him when it came to his background. First, he came from a despised nation of slaves. Second, he came from a family tribe that bore the shame and curse of their patriarch Levi for his prior sins in killing the people of Shekim (Gen. 49:5-7; Gen 34). Third, he was last in seniority within his family and carried a death sentence. If any person was to be selected from his family, the firstborn brother Aaron would have expected this honor. Thus, there was nothing about Moses’ background that made him special. Just like Moses, Samson, Samuel, David, and Jesus, all came from obscure parents without any importance in society. Likewise, in this account in Exodus, God also used five women, the weakest members of that society, to thwart Pharaoh. These included two midwives (Shiphrah and Puah), Moses’ mother (Yocheved), his older sister (Miriam), and Pharaoh’s daughter (whose name is unknown). The lesson is that God can use you no matter what your background may be. He uses the weak and humble to keep our worship and the glory focused on Him: “And My glory I will not give to another.” (Is. 48:11(b)). Are you using something in your background as an excuse for why you are not serving God?

  • Use your talents for His glory, not your own. Like Moses, every good and perfect gift in your life is from above. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (Jam. 1:7). “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Luke 12:48). Are you using the education, abilities, and wealth that God has given you for His glory? Or, are you using God’s gifts to hoard your own treasures?

3. God Can Use You When You Walk by the Spirit, Not the Flesh. Ex. 2:11-12.

  • Moses’ murder of an Egyptian. As an adult, God tested Moses’ heart by showing him the suffering of the Jews under his adopted household. Moses reacted in anger by killing an Egyptian: “11 Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” (Ex. 2:11-12). Before killing the Egyptian, Moses “looked this way and that.” (Ex. 2:12). Thus, Moses was not guilty of mere manslaughter, a death that accidently takes place in the heat of a fight. He was instead guilty of first degree murder. He would have been trained in lethal hand-to-hand combat. At age 40, he was still in his physical prime: “But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.” (Acts 7:22-23). Moses saw himself as leading a Jewish revolt, just like Barabbas did in Jesus’ day. God had to transform Moses before He could use him. There are lessons in servant leadership here for every believer.

Moses murdered an Egyptian4

Botticelli (1445 – 1510) “Scenes from the Life of Moses” (painting 1481-1482)5

  • Moses’ transformation into a servant leader for God. Although Moses failed to properly express his anger at the injustice he encountered, it was by faith that he choose to side with his oppressed people over the comfort of his life as an Egyptian prince: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.” (Heb. 11:24-26). According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Moses gave up the chance to become Pharaoh by siding with the Jews. Josephus maintains that Pharaoh had no male heirs at the time, and Moses had gained his trust by leading the Egyptian army to a victory in the war with the Ethiopians. The lesson is again to use God’s gifts for His glory, not for your own. Are you chasing after God’s rewards or the rewards from society around you?

  • Walk by the Spirit and not the flesh. God forgave Moses for his sins. Yet, he would have to wait another 40 years before God spoke to him again. Abraham also had to wait 13 years before he heard again from God after sleeping with his wife’s maidservant Hagar. Likewise, a believer must live with the consequences of sin. From Moses’ initial failure, God reveals that your motivation to serve Him is not enough to please God. You must also serve Him by walking according the Spirit, not the flesh: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,” (Ro. 8:6-7). Moses had a temper. This played out while he led the Jews in the wilderness. For example, at one point, God told Moses to “speak to the rock” to cause it to pour forth water (Nu. 20:8). The power to create from speech was a power that only God possessed (Gen. 1:1). Yet, Moses failed to draw out the water with the power God gave him. Moses instead called the Jews “rebels” out of anger (Nu. 20:10). Then, instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it with his rod, not just once but twice (Nu. 20:11). God then rebuked Moses (Nu. 20:12). When Moses acted through his temper, he walked according to his flesh. Are you seeking out God’s will and acting through the Spirit in all that you do? Are you confronting sin calmly or out of anger?

4. When You Repent, God Can Use You No Matter How Serious Your Sins. Ex. 2:13-14.

  • Moses’ remorse for his sins. After a fellow Jew exposed his sin, Moses became remorseful for his impetuous actions: “13 He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, “Why are you striking your companion?” 14 But he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.” (Ex. 2:13-14). Although Moses feared for his life, it was faith, not fear, that led him to the wilderness: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.” (Heb. 11:27). It is assumed that Moses repented to God. Yet, this is not expressly recorded. For any believer in Christ, God is faithful to forgive your sins no matter what they may be when you repent: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). After David sinned, he prayed: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.” (Ps. 32:5). Is there any hidden sin in your life that you need to repent of?

  • God’s mercy and grace in selecting a murder to be His lawgiver. In the modern world, Moses might be called a hypocrite for murdering an Egyptian and then later imploring the Jews to live by the Commandment against murder. As Pharaoh’s adopted son, Moses would most likely have also needed to have worshiped Egyptian gods to gain Pharaoh’s trust. Even his name suggested that he had dual loyalties in the beginning. In Hebrew, the name Moses meant “to draw out.” He was drawn out of the water. He also drew water from the rock to provide for his people. Yet, in Egyptian, the name “RaMoses” means the Egyptian god “Ra” “had a son.” To many Jews, these alleged dual allegiances would have disqualified him. Indeed, throughout the Jews’ trip in the wilderness, they constantly plotted and rebelled against Moses. Yet, to God, Moses was the perfect person to give the Law because he understood the importance of humility. Because he knew that he did nothing to deserve the honor of being God’s law giver, he was the humblest man alive (Nu. 12:3). Paul was also humbled by his murders of many Christians before becoming a convert. David was likewise humbled as well by his adultery and murder. God works through repentant sinners, not the proud or the self-righteous. “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matt: 23:12). “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” (Jam. 4:6). Is there any sin that is too great for God to forgive? Are you holding others down because of their sins?

A Hebrew confronted Moses for murdering an Egyptian6

  • The foreshadow of Jesus in Moses’ rejection. Commentator David Guzik observes that Moses’ early life and his rejection foreshadowed Jesus early life: “Both Moses and Jesus were: favored by God from birth, miraculously preserved in childhood, mighty in word and deed, offered deliverance to Israel, rejected with spite and rejected in their right to rule and judge over Israel. Like Jesus, Moses could not deliver when he lived in the places of glory. He had to come off the throne, away from the palace and into a humble place before he could deliver his people.” (David Guzik on Ex. 2).7

5. God Can Use You When Leave Your Worldly Things Behind. Ex. 2:15.

  • God’s transformation of Moses from prince to pauper. As part of God’s plan to prepare Moses, God used his murder to bring him into the wilderness where God could humble and empty him of the things of the world: “15 When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.” (Ex. 2:15). The well symbolized the living water that only Jesus can provide: “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14). There is again a lesson here for every believer.

Pharaoh ordered Moses’s execution for his crime in murdering an Egyptian8

  • To find your life, you must lose it. Like Moses, you must lose your worldly life to find your spiritual one: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:39; 16:25). “‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” (Lk. 9:23; Mk. 8:34). Paul later realized that his prior accomplishments were nothing compared to the value of his relationship with Christ: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Phil. 3:7; same, Heb. 13:13). Do you value the things of God or your wealth and worldly accomplishments?

6. God Can Use You When You Live in the World, but Not of the World. Ex. 2:16-22.

  • Moses’ training as a sojourner to be a servant leader. To prepare Moses to be the leader of a wandering nation, God had Moses live as a sojourner in a foreign land for the next 40 years of his life: “16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came to draw water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Then the shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock. 18 When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “Why have you come back so soon today?” 19 So they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Where is he then? Why is it that you have left the man behind? Invite him to have something to eat.” 21 Moses was willing to dwell with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses. 22 Then she gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” (Ex. 2:16-22). God transformed Moses from the second most powerful person in the ancient world into a lowly sheep herder. Moses must have felt that he had failed in his calling to save the Jews and gave his power for nothing. But it was only when Moses had given up on his own dreams of being the savior that God could make Moses into His servant leader.

Moses fled to Midian where he served as lowly shepherd for 40 years9

  • Moses’ training as a shepherd. If God felt it important to use the first 40 years of Moses’ life to teach him to think like a lawyer, he spent his second 40 years teaching him to think like a shepherd. God placed a special importance on this vocation in preparing His servant leaders. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses were all sheepherders. Jesus was the Good Shepherd (Jo. 10:11). He led the Jews in the wilderness as a shepherd: “You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (Ps. 77:20; 80:1). Believers need a leader with the care of a shepherd because believers “continually stray like sheep.” (1 Pet. 2:25). Without a strong shepherd, “the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mark 14:23(b)). This meant that Moses had to guide his sheep with his staff. He needed to closely watch them. He also needed to care for each one individually. He could not merely leave the gates open and hope the sheep would show up as many churches do today. Are you fellowshipping in a church with this kind of individual accountability?

  • Keep your heart focused on God. While living in a foreign land, Moses named his son “Gershom,” which meant “I have become an alien in a foreign land.” (Ex. 2:22). This suggested that Moses never regarded Midian (modern day Saudi Arabia) as his true home. He instead longed to be with God’s people. You also are a mere sojourner in this land. Thus, you should love the things of God, not this world (1 John 2:15; Jam. 4:4; John 15:19). Is your heart in this world or in the next?

  • The foreshadow of Jesus in Moses’ service to others. Isaac, Jacob, and Moses all found their brides by a well. Thus, God draws us to look for deeper symbolism through these parallels. While at the well, Moses cared for the gentiles and drew water for them. Jesus also cared for the gentiles. He also came to draw the waters of eternal life for them. Moses married a gentile Midianite named Zipporah. The Midianites were also descendants of Abraham, but through his concubine Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2). Their descendants were not allowed to stay in the Promised Land. Abraham sent them out of the Promised Land to prevent that line from intermarrying with the line of Isaac and Jacob. Jesus, however, has come to restore the Promised Land and to make it available to all the gentiles. He will also one day marry the Church, which will include gentiles.

7. God is Looking For You to Free Others Who Are Still in Bondage. Ex. 2:23-25.

  • God’s care for the oppression of His people. After He had prepared Moses to be His instrument of deliverance, God heard and acted upon the cries of His people for deliverance from their oppression: “23 Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. 24 So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” (Ex. 2:23-25). The word “remember” does not mean that God had forgotten the Jews. Instead, it meant that God turned His attention to them as their predicted 400-year captivity was coming to an end. He cannot forget His people any more than a nursing mother can forget her baby: “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” (Is. 49:15).