When I arrived at our new church in 1998, I was reminded of the civil war that had ravaged Bosnia a couple of years earlier. I remembered pictures of desolate streets, ruined bridges, the haunted faces of people and thought, That is what this church is like. Their teacher had been a “spring without water.” Conflicts had decimated the elders. An intractable feud simmered. People left. Finances tanked. And I was afraid.
I read Scripture like a drowning man straining for a life preserver. Then God threw me Exodus 33. After the catastrophe of the golden calf, God told Moses that Israel would have to go on to the Promised Land without him. Moses erected a Tent of Meeting well outside the camp where he cried out to God:
You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favor with me.” If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex. 33:12-14)
God’s reply was sort of good news/bad news because the you is singular; God’s Presence would go with Moses and give Moses rest. So Moses, with whom God spoke as to a friend, pushed back:
If your Presence does not go [with us], do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?
And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (vs. 15-17)
Now there is a very good shepherd! What about Moses pleased God? It was the way he intervened for both the good of Israel and the honor of God. He was a holy negotiator, a mediator, foreshadowing “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” We, of course, do not become mediators of salvation for our people but, like Moses, we do mediate for them, not only when they sin but when they’re weak or confused, or when we see promise in them that they don’t see.
Another quality made Moses a familiar name in the courts of God. He tied his fortune and future to Israel, just as God himself had. No pastor ever led such a heartbreaking group of malcontents as Moses did, yet even when God offered to cut them loose and build a great nation from Moses, he wouldn’t have it. I suppose at one point or another most pastors get so fed up with at least some of the people they lead that they’re checking departure times on the next ship to Tarshish.
Don’t jump ship till God sends you the ticket. Like Pastor Moses, stand with and for your people even as you steadfastly hold high the glory of the Lord. Pray as Moses did; as Jesus does even now. “Remember, Lord, that these are your people! How will anyone know how special they are to you unless you preserve and bless them? How will anyone know we are Jesus’ disciples unless you stir up our love for one another?” To which the Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.