The Prince of Egypt and Grad School

Most weekday mornings the past month or so I have met with a few others at 8am to read and reflect on the Bible for 30 minutes. In a spirit of lectio divina, we gather to open ourselves to chapters of the Word read aloud, beginning with Genesis 1, without doing word studies or cross referencing, pausing and reflecting after each section. It’s a way of soaking in the text that I desperately need and the company and consistency of others beside me help my fledgling discipline.

The past few days we have read about Moses in Exodus. He calls himself a sojourner in a foreign land and names his son after this part of his story. I am not sure if he’s referring to his adoption into the ruling Egyptian family that oppressed his people or his time in Midian, the place he found refuge in after killing an Egyptian and fleeing his father’s punishment. Whatever the case, his identity was complicated and to make matters worse, God met him while he was tending his father-in-law’s flock in the wilderness and told him to return to the place of his crime, to the place of his first identity crisis and the place of his people’s suffering. Moses didn’t seem to show any signs of being the right man for this job, other than knowing his way around the palace. He was non-confrontational, confused, and hated by both sides of the issue. It took God a couple of chapters in fact to talk Moses himself into it. GOD. Yeah. I don’t know what happened with Moses’ lack of confrontation there.

By the end of the bargaining, Moses emerged still not wanting to talk about the calling God had convinced him of but planning on obeying, I think. He tells his father-in-law a sketchy version. He also emerges with some extra help: a staff (which he already had), a hand (which he already had), and a brother (which he already had). The help comes in when God tells him how to use these things and designs them to accomplish the calling.

Reading the story again in broad strokes inspired me to watch The Prince of Egypt tonight. Watching it as an adult is a much more emotional experience than it was when I was a kid and saw it at the movie theater! I’m tearing up when Moses’ mom puts him in the basket, I’m crying at the burning bush scene when God is describing who He is and giving Moses this burden and this purpose. Yes, it’s animated. Why do you ask?

As I watched, I was so struck by how little Moses returned to his home and his enemy with. How sparse his tool belt was for this great calling and terrible situation. Yes, God promised deliverance but really?! A staff? The same one he’s used the past 40 years for SHEEP? That’s it, Lord? You want the guy to shift the entire plot of the whole Hebrew nation with something he’s been carrying around half of his life? I cannot imagine what Moses was thinking on the journey back to Egypt from Midian, his wife and kids and staff in tow.

At World Impact, and I suspect in many full-time ministry scenarios, we often have conversations about our missionaries pursuing graduate degrees and further qualifications for their work after encountering the needs and unique environment to which they have been called. It is a complicated conversation in which I have no black and white opinions (shocker, I know). It is difficult on one hand because an array of needs are real, education is physically accessible and legitimate, the Kingdom is important, and people, both staff and the ones asking for help, are obviously worth investing in. And we don’t know much. 🙂 On the other hand, there is a cost of time and money that can compete with the actual calling, our organizational goals, support raising and missional commitments. Also, as I found from my own program at Fuller, graduate education isn’t very reproducible and inevitably exposes you to a whole different community, culture, and set of responsibilities, all with their own demands, needs and appeal.  This is all oversimplified and forming an opinion about this subject is beside the point of this post. So stop it. 😉

In light of all this, Moses’ story is comforting to me. Whether God wanted Moses to eventually get an MDiv or not, He sent him with a staff, with a hand, and with a brother. Familiar things. Parts of Moses’ strange, twisted story, re-purposed for deliverance, for justice-making, for freedom. I know the impact on the Hebrew people but I am so interested in the impact on the man Moses. As a third-culture adult, was there something settling and affirming to him in God’s commissioning of three different things that represented so much of his life? A hand that used to be a part of the ruling family. A brother he was barely alike yet eternally connected to. A staff representing a life of shepherding and grounding. Did it lay to rest some of his identity questions so that he could face the impossible task ahead? Was there a sense that while he could not necessarily hang his hat or articulate everything about his past, God was giving him something he could hold on to in this vision and task?

Yahweh deals so patiently with Moses in Exodus 3 and 4. I think partly it’s because He knows and is deeply committed to relieving all the suffering of His people but in His fervor and urgency, He also doesn’t forget who Moses is. And out of love and care for him, He equips Moses  in simple and meaningful ways to get him moving, however slowly. I am enjoying this story anew because I feel sympathetic to Moses and it seems like God is too. It makes me praise God for His gentleness and resourcefulness.  I sense that one of the promises of Moses’ story for us today is that the Lord equips us for the task. And He may be unconventional in doing so. Deliverance will not be interrupted by our own doubts, failings and lack of qualifications because we are not the Deliverer.  With or without formal study (which can be great and has been a huge blessing in my own life), God calls us to be His people and participants.  I hope that as you face His call on your life and the big and small Egypts of His purpose, the story of Moses may offer you a background of grace and assurance as it does me. He has re-framed our story within His own; He will use the staff already in our hand.

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