God’s word testifies on Moses’ behalf that he is the “meekest” or “humblest” man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3). There are so many things to look at and learn from in his life, but amidst his obvious faith, boldness, etc. (though mixed with weakness), his testimony as being humble and meek always stands out to me.
This humility is emphasized in Numbers 12 during the time when Moses’ authority as the God-appointed leader of Israel was challenged (by his own brother and sister, no less). He did not defend himself or his authority, but left it entirely in God’s hands, who certainly did defend him.
Moses’ handling of that situation certainly merits our admiration and attention, but another episode in his life has caught my attention of late, and I believe that it too stems ultimately from his meekness and humility.
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. Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came to draw water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock. When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “Why have you come back so soon today?” 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.” 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.” (Exodus 2:15–20)
Now picture Moses here in this situation. He is just arrived as a stranger in a new land, fleeing for his life from the land of Egypt. While he probably was at the well because he needed water, he was likely also hoping to go somewhat unnoticed in his flight. He certainly was not wanting to draw large amounts of attention to himself and be at the center of controversy and uproar. Or so it seems to me, at least.
Nonetheless, when Moses sees these shepherd women being driven away by the shepherd men, his righteous indignation is aroused. He feels that he must arise and help these women who are being mistreated and abused by those who are simply stronger than they are. And so that is exactly what he does. He defends these who cannot defend themselves. He stands against the uncaring abuse of them by those who care nothing for gentleness and kindness.
This concern for the poor and oppressed ultimately characterizes the life of Moses, doesn’t it? We know that his great calling in life was to free the people of Israel from slavery and bring them into covenant with God, of course, but do we see how this all starts with his heartfelt concern for the oppressed? When he went out to see his people while living in Egypt, it was the sight of the Egyptian beating the Hebrew that aroused him to action. The next day it was the same concern for the oppressed that moved him to intervene between two Hebrews in a dispute.
While those interventions might be attributed to a simple feeling of connectedness with “his” people, how are we to explain his concern for these Midianite shepherdesses? Moses was characterized by a heartfelt compassion for those who were oppressed. And though the “Law of Moses” was in a truer sense God’s law and not his, I still find it very appropriate that he was the channel through which would come a law so full of emphasis on caring for the poor and needy. This was truly one of the great moral elements of the Mosaic Law.
And it remains as much as ever a part of Christian teaching and character today under the New Covenant. James tells us that “pure and undefiled religion” is “to visit orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). The context has changed from a society ruled by God’s law (Old Testament Israel), so we as Christians do not have the authority to control the rules of society according to the principles of mercy and compassion and care for the needy, but still we are to be active in caring for the oppressed in whatever way that we can.
And this does not necessarily mean doing grand things such as Moses did. That may be a part of God’s plan for you. He may have something great like that for you to undertake. But for most of us, we will simply be led to help and show compassion to individuals or families on a small scale who need someone to reach out and care for them. We ought to be on the lookout for such needs and do what we can to meet them. The sight of someone being taken advantage of because of their position of weakness ought to stir us up inside so that we must act on their behalf.
It amazes me that Moses could be attacked and opposed personally without feeling the need to defend himself, but at the same time he could not stand by idly and watch others receive abuse without doing something about it. This is where his humility and meekness shows itself. We are too often the exact opposite, aren’t we? We might feel badly for someone being mistreated, but not have the courage or gumption to do anything. But let someone take the same actions against us ourselves, and see if we don’t find the courage to stand up and defend our own rights. Not so with Moses. He cared for the other more than for himself, and this is the heart of true Christian character and Christlikeness.
Christ, too, was the meekest and gentlest of men. He was led to the slaughter silent as a lamb, though he knew exactly what was taking place. He never spoke up in his own defense while facing trial, reproach, slander, and death. But He was not slow to stand against the proud hypocrites who used their power to “devour widows’ houses” (Luke 20:47).
So how much do we care for the oppressed compared to our own rights when mistreated? That will tell us a lot about how much we have learned from Jesus, won’t it? Even as I write these words, I find the need to examine my own spirit in these matters. I imagine that you can understand that need as well.