Moses in the Desert

The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"

by Joseph F. Harwood.


To download the book in PDF format, visit our home page at


Moses had a zeal for his own people, the Israelites. At forty years of age “he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors” (Exodus 2:11), and he wanted to do something to help them. However, his rash and impulsive killing of an Egyptian who had beaten one of his fellow Hebrews was not at all what God had in mind for the deliverance of His people out of Egyptian bondage.


Because Moses tried to take matters into his own his hands, he was forced to flee to Midian, where he met the daughters of a priest of Midian. He married one of them, and God provided for him as he took care of his father-in-law’s sheep for the next forty years on the far side of the desert. It was here that God was preparing him for the task of leading, or shepherding, His people out of Egyptian bondage to a land of abundance that He had promised them.


Since Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was no doubt used to living a life of luxury and privilege. He would also have been used to the deference and respect of other Egyptians, because most of them would obviously want to avoid offending anyone associated with the king’s family. And since he was used to a certain amount of privilege and power, he may have felt that he had every right to take vengeance on the Egyptian overseer who was beating one of the Hebrew slaves, one of his own people, and he acted accordingly.


Our tendency as human beings is to bring our natural strengths to bear on any particular problem or obstacle that we may face. By natural strengths we mean whatever abilities, talents or resources that we may have at our disposal. This is the way that the natural man, or unregenerate man, approaches life. It makes complete sense to him to approach life in this way, and in fact he can understand nothing else.


Many times he is successful with his approach. He sees that his strengths and the resources and opportunities available to him are what enable him to excel above others and accomplish his goals, some of which others are not able to accomplish. The bigger picture however is that he is only fulfilling the destiny which God has chosen for him, and God has put all of these resources at his disposal to do just that.


Even as believers in Christ, our first tendency is often to approach our service for God with our natural strengths, or with the strength of our flesh. This is what Moses did when he killed the Egyptian.


He may have thought that God would be pleased with what he considered to be an act of loyalty and solidarity with his Hebrew brothers who were in bondage under the Egyptians. Though our natural tendency may be to use or own strengths in our service to God, we can see from the way that God has worked in the lives of many of His servants as recorded in the Scriptures that He actually brings us to the point where our own strengths, talents, and abilities are proven to be completely inadequate for the task at hand and the challenges to be faced.


Being raised in the household of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses enjoyed a position in life with a high degree of prestige, power, wealth and privilege, which had shaped him into a man who was accustomed to using his own strengths and resources to deal with the challenges and problems he faced. God however, for the next forty years (Acts 7:30, 31-36), would strip Moses of all of the wealth, power, position and prestige he had known before, making him a shepherd, a class of people whom the Egyptians looked down upon and despised (Genesis 46:33-34).


Since he had been raised in Egyptian culture, being a shepherd may have been very distasteful to him. Not only would he be made a shepherd, but he would not even be given his own sheep to tend; he would tend the flocks belonging to someone else, his father in law.


All of the losses, hardships, and indignities that Moses endured would be necessary in the sight of God in order to prepare him for the task of shepherding His people Israel and leading them out of Egyptian bondage. This deliverance would not be accomplished by the power of Moses or man, because no man was able to deliver from Pharaoh’s hand.


The deliverance would come by the power of God working through a man who would endure forty years of an obscure existence on the far side of the desert, where he was stripped of the dignity, prestige, wealth and privilege he had once known, and shaped into a vessel prepared for the task and service which God had assigned for him. The result of the sufferings and losses that Moses endured was that he was transformed into a man whom the Scriptures would later characterize in this way: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3).


This was the way that God chose to prepare Moses for the work that He had for him. God brought him from a place of wealth, position and privilege, where he was a man used to acting according to his own strengths and inclinations, to a place of obscurity where for decades he rose no further than the position of a shepherd tending someone else’s sheep.


After the forty years of preparation was finished, through long years of adversity on the far side of the desert of as God saw fit, the time had come for Moses to begin the work that God had determined he would do in His service. The Lord then appeared to Moses from the burning bush, calling him to the work and place of service that He had ordained for him, and for which He had prepared him.


It is interesting to note that Moses expressed reluctance and a sense of inadequacy to do what God was calling him to do, saying to the Lord that he had never been eloquent, and that he was “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). It is also interesting to note that others characterized the Apostle Paul in much the same way, as we read in 2 Corinthians 10:10. Paul knew that others had criticized him, mentioning his weak and unimpressive physical appearance and his plain spoken speech and lack of eloquence. God has no need of man’s eloquence, talents or abilities to accomplish His work.    


God is not impressed with the strength or abilities of man, as we see in Psalm 147:10-11, but He takes delight in those who fear Him, and who set their hopes upon His unfailing love and mercy. All that goes with worldly position and the praise of men is a hindrance in the lives of God’s people when it comes to being used in His service, bearing spiritual fruit that will last. These worldly things, along with man’s sense of self sufficiency and confidence in his own strengths, are among the things that must die in our lives in order that the fruit may be born, as Jesus taught in John 12:24-26.


And once again we recall another teaching of Jesus: “that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15). Jesus taught that those things which are highly esteemed and sought after among men: power, prestige, prominence, the pride of life, material wealth, worldly success and the praise of others  – all of the things which are held in high regard among men are detestable in the sight of God. These “detestable” things, as Jesus described them, are the very things that will be removed from our lives as we are being prepared for the work that God has for us, just as we have seen in the life of Moses. 



For related Bible studies, click on the links below: