Moses stepped into the gilded chamber of Pharaoh, the religious/political leader of the greatest nation in the world, Egypt. This shasu (Egyptian for “wandering nomad”), this gnarly, smelly man, demanded in perfect court Egyptian that his people be set free to worship in the wilderness. Thus began a contest of wills, of kingdoms, of supernatural powers. As the contest progressed, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to fake one or two of God’s signs, but they could not duplicate the work God had done in Moses. Nor did they want to.
Ever met someone with fake humility? Put it in quotes—it was “humility,” not humility. “Humility” draws attention to itself and tries to manipulate people, for it is a contrived effort driven by fear of man and envy of the truly humble. It is not the same thing as humility.
With so many people claiming to be Christians when they clearly are not, and with churches filled with people playing the cultural Christian, thus being forced to fake one of the key areas of maturity—humility—you would think we would be experts in distinguishing the real and the false. But since humility is something we are rather than something we do, Western Christians have little interest in thinking about this virtue, let alone writing about it. We should make it our duty to reflect on true humility so that we can better detect the fake in those under our care and, primarily, ourselves. Moses will be our guide on this part of the journey.
Three key events in Moses’ life shaped him, making him into the meekest man on the face of the earth (Num. 12:3). His birth and subsequent adoption, his flight from Egypt, and his death atop Mount Nebo just short of the Promised Land were crushing blows. All three were humiliating, but just because something is humiliating doesn’t mean it necessarily leads to growth in humility.
Pharaoh is an example. In the midst of Pharaoh’s overwhelming, crushing defeat, Moses says, “ ‘Thus says the LORD God of the Hebrews: “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” ’ ” (Ex. 10:3). Pharaoh had to make a decision at each miraculous humiliation, and he chose to suffer in proud arrogance rather than with a humble heart. By contrast, Moses found grace to walk through all of the key points of suffering in his life with his head bowed before God, from whom all things flow. Moses chose humility.
Beginning in Humility
There is a particular humiliation that comes with adoption, and some handle it better than others. Before you jump to conclusions, I was adopted and have no regrets. But others seem to look at the experience with shame: “I was abandoned by my parents!” Still, I’ll guess that most were not placed in the Nile Adoption Agency, floated down a crocodile-infested river in what we might call, in political parlance, a “dangerous adoption scheme.”
Moses could take no pride in his beginning. His life was saved, but he was stripped of his heritage. He might have gloried in his education, but imagine the torment of being the only shasu in the royal school. Rather than being raised a man of obvious intellect and strength among his own people, he was brought up as a shasu-boy, an abandoned son, in a pagan court that did not acknowledge his God or his people except in derision.