Learning Character from Characters: Moses, the Prince of Egypt


What can we learn from failure? The life of Moses provides an ideal window into how character is shaped when failure occurs.

Babe Ruth had hit 714 home runs during his baseball career and was playing one of his last major league games. The aging star was playing for the Boston Braves against the Cincinnati Reds. But he was no longer as agile as he had once been. He fumbled the ball and threw badly, and in one inning alone, his errors were responsible for five Cincinnati runs.

As the Babe walked off the field after the third out, booing and catcalls cascaded from the stands. Just then, a young boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field. With tears streaking his cheeks, he threw his arms around the legs of his hero. Ruth didn't hesitate. He picked up the boy, hugged him, and set him down on his feet with a playful pat on the head.

Suddenly the booing stopped. In fact, a hush fell over the entire park. In those brief moments, the crowd saw a different kind of hero: a man who in spite of a dismal day on the field could still care about a little boy. He was no longer being judged by his accomplishments--neither the past success nor the present failures--but by a completely different standard. Suddenly it was not his works that mattered, but a relationship.

-- Adapted from Alfred Kolatch in Guideposts, August 1974. Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.

Today, we want to focus on a different standard. We want to look at the issue of character. Our goal is to identify central character traits modeled in the life of God followers in the Bible that can be appropriated for us today. One of the great benefits of God’s Word is the many examples and models that we are able to observe as we see men and women in relationship with God throughout history.

Today, we’ll be looking at the life of Moses; seeking to understand who he was and how he came to be the person that we know from the Scriptures.

The Context:

Here are four snapshots of Moses life. Mind you, they are not running video, but they do give a caricature of his life and character:

Toward the end of Moses’ life, it was reported that “(…Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)”( Numbers 12:3). How did he get there? What happened to propel him towards humility? Moses was a man who had learned to grow from failure. But it was not always that way:

“At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action" (Acts 7:20-22).

But, alas, Moses parking place in the palace was not to be reserved for long. Soon even the key to the Executive Washroom would be gone

“Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’“But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us?Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons. After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai" ( Acts 7:25-30).

Moses, after spending 40 years in the desert became God’s man, not Egypt’s man.

Later, after 40 years in the wilderness as an unknown, Moses is now ready to be God’s man. It is here that his character is ready, yet even then, still being worked on..

"So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:10-14)

The Character Lessons

The Character Issue: What can we learn from failure? ? The life of Moses provides an ideal window into how character is shaped when failure occurs.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

  • Helen Keller, Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 4.:

Here are four central nuggets you can mine from the story of Moses; I encourage you to study these on your own as you examine his story recorded in Scripture.

  1. God’s grace is not achieved by human effort (Exodus 2:11-12): It is, after all, God’s working in and through us.
  2. God’s way has to be accomplished in God’s timing (Exodus 2:13-15). Rather than growing into God’s assignment, Moses took matters into his own hands; had a 40 year “time-out.”
  3. Hiding wrong does not erase it. It was Charles Reade, English novelist and dramatist, who wrote, "Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny." God acts and reveals things in the light. We want to keep our “stuff” hidden, but God has a way of making us deal with it and therefore fashioning even our “stuff” into tools that He can use for His glory.
  4. Spiritual leadership is God appointed, not self assumed. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves" (Romans 13:1-2).

Is failure then always bad? No, not in the long run. As the life of Moses attests, there can be some great changes if we learn from our failures. Today, let’s look at:

Three God-shaped changes that can result from failure:

  1.  A servant’s heart: “Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock" (Exodus 2:16-17).
  2. Willingness to be obscure: “When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” “And where is he?” he asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I have become an alien in a foreign land.” (Exodus 2:18-22)
  3. Patience to wait for God’s plan and God’s time: "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law" (Galatians 4:4).

Two Benefits of Failure:

  1. An obedient life: "Before I was afflicted I went astray,but now I obey your word" (Psalm 119:67).
  2.  A teachable spirit: "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees" (Psalm 119:7). 

There was a family in the San Francisco Bay area that grew up with that kind of commitment. The son's name was David Kraft. His father was a pastor, a godly pastor in the South Bay. David Kraft grew up with a father who constantly remembered God's faithfulness in the past so that David might trust in God in all of his tomorrows. David grew up in love with Jesus, and he felt the call of God into the pastoral ministry. He went to Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary.

David was a big, athletic young man. At the age of 32, he was six feet two inches tall and weighed two hundred pounds. He worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. That dear young man was diagnosed as having cancer. It wracked his body, and, over a period of time, he dropped from two hundred pounds in weight to eighty pounds.

When he was about ready to pass from this life into eternity, he asked his father to come into his hospital room. Lying there in the bed, he looked up and said, "Dad, do you remember when I was a little boy, how you used to just hold me in your arms close to your chest?" David's father nodded. Then David said, "Do you think, Dad, you could do that one more time? One last time?"

Again his father nodded. He bent down to pick up his 32-year-old six-foot two-inch, eighty-pound son, and held him close to his chest so the son's face was right next to the father's face. They were eyeball to eyeball. Tears were streaming down both faces. The son said simply to the father, "Thank you for building the kind of character into my life that can enable me to face even a moment like this."

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