Leader's Preparation by God
Dr. Joe Temple

Training In God's School

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Exodus, chapter 3. We will find here something that I hope we will take as a very real lesson for our own lives. It is that it is possible to have a diploma from the most outstanding school, university, place of learning known to man, and still fail to learn the alphabet in God's school. It is necessary for every man to go through God's school of learning before he can be used to any great extent. We discover this in the last part of chapter 2 of the book of Exodus and on through the chapters at which we will look.

Moses spent forty years in God's school of training, forty years on the backside of the desert, forty years in the school of which Elijah attended later. In chapter 19 of the first book of Kings, we are told that Elijah needed some special training at the hands of God. Where was it that God took him? To Mount Horeb, in the wilderness, on the backside of the desert; and God taught Elijah some of the same lessons that He taught Moses, so that Elijah could become the leader of his people.

This was the same school that the Apostle Paul attended. You say, “I thought Paul attended the university and studied at the feet of Gamaliel.” He did, but when he found the Lord Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior, God took him into the desert of Arabia, to Mount Horeb, the very place where Moses had been, and kept him, not for forty years, but for fourteen years, in the backside of the desert while He taught him those lessons that stood him in good stead when he became an apostle born out of due time–an apostle to the Gentiles.

I might say by way of application that it does not matter whether your school is on the backside of the desert, at the foot of Horeb, or where it may be; if you amount to very much for God, you will have to enter His school of discipline. We may not always enjoy it, but we have to go through it.

Moses Learns Humility

Notice, then, verse 1 of chapter 3:

Exodus 3

1Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
2And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3And Moses said, I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
5And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
6Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

We will stop our reading there for a moment as we meditate upon what we have read, keeping in mind that perhaps the simplest title for these verses is “Moses' Final Examination.” This experience came at the close of the forty years. For forty years Moses had been on the backside of the desert, keeping Jethro's flock. Time would not enable us to go into all the things that Moses may have learned while he was keeping this flock on the backside of the desert, but there is one lesson that I know he learned. He learned the lesson of humility. He learned the lesson of self-abasement. He learned the lesson of completely yielding pride and pomp and ceremony.

In chapter 46 of the book of Genesis, verse 31, we find that a shepherd and sheep were an abomination to the Egyptians. Does it not seem rather paradoxical that God would cause the man whom He was preparing to deliver the children of Israel from the land of Egypt to be engaged in an occupation that was an offense to the Egyptians? Is it not strange that the man whose duty it was to stand in the court of Pharaoh and say to the king of Egypt, “Let my people go,” would stand there with a shepherd's crook in his hand and shepherd's clothes on this back–the very things that were an abomination to the Egyptians?

Now why? I think Moses had to learn that it is “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,” saith the Lord (Zechariah 4:6). I think Moses had to learn that God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (I Corinthians 1:27); God chooses not the noble things in great numbers, but the base things to accomplish His purpose.

You say, “Why?” The answer is a simple one, I think. God must have the glory in everything that He does; and if God should select that which is approved of man in every instance to do His work, then God would not have the glory. We would find ourselves talking about the man instead of about God.

I think I know another lesson that Moses learned while he was on the backside of the desert. Moses' school of discipline included not just his work with sheep, but the kind of family he had. Moses' wife was a trial to him. Moses' wife was rebellious and critical. She even called her husband a murderer, and she said she wished she never had seen him. But Moses lived with Zipporah in the face of all that; and by learning patience and longsuffering with a rebellious and critical woman, he was able to withstand the murmuring that he had to hear while he was leading the children of Israel in the wilderness.

Lessons of the Burning Bush

Moses learned many things on the backside of the desert, and God was going to examine him for his commission as the deliverer of the children of Israel. The first thing He had to do was to draw Moses' attention to Moses' unworthiness and God's holiness. We have presented to us the very familiar story of the burning bush. Look at verse 2 again:

Exodus 3

2And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush: and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.

As Moses was tending his flock, suddenly there attracted his attention a bush that seemed to be a flame of fire, but it was not consumed. Moses said, “I'm going to turn aside from this regular trail; I'm going by that burning bush. I want to see why the bush does not burn up.” When he got close enough to it, we read that the angel of the Lord appeared unto him. What angel was this? Was it Gabriel or one of the other angels? Oh, no; this angel was the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ made His appearances in the Old Testament under the name “the Angel of the Lord.” You find many such appearances in the Old Testament, and among theologians they are referred to as “theophanies.”

When the Lord Jesus Christ appeared as a baby in Bethlehem's manger, that was not the first time He came to earth. He had come to earth a number of times before, and this is one of the times. If you will notice verse 4, you will see that in the very middle of it God, Elohim, is named in conjunction with the Angel of the Lord; so we know that the Angel of the Lord was God Himself. Comparing Scripture with Scripture, we know that it was the second Person of the Godhead who appeared to Moses.

God's Shining Glory

Do you wonder why the bush did not burn? Do you wonder why it was not consumed? Well, many suggestions have been offered. Folk say, “God can do anything,” and that suffices. It would certainly satisfy me, but I really don't think that is the answer. I think we will find the answer by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Turn with me, please, to the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 33. You will find that Moses had come to the end of his life and was singing a song pronouncing a blessing upon all the children of Israel. We won't take the time to read everything he said, but notice the paragraph which begins with verse 13:

Deuteronomy 33

13And of Joseph he said, Blessed of the LORD be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath,
14And for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon,
15And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills,
16And for the precious things of the earth and fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush; let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren.

Notice this phrase, “the good will of him that dwelt in the bush.” Look at the word “bush.” There is only one other time that it is used in the Old Testament and that is in our story in Exodus. So the bush in Deuteronomy, chapter 33, is the bush that Moses saw burning on the backside of the desert. Look at the word “dwelt,” a translation of the Hebrew word which is also translated “Shekinah.” It is a word that is always used of the shining of the glory of God. Perhaps you have heard folk refer in teaching or in preaching to “the Shekinah glory of God.” I would suggest that what Moses saw on the backside of the desert was not a bush that burned with literal fire, but a bush that was enveloped with the very glory of God. The Lord Jesus Christ was standing in the midst of that bush, and the glory of God enveloped that bush as a flame of fire. Moses looked upon it as a burning bush, but the reason it was not consumed was that what he saw was not a bush on fire; he saw a bush enveloped with the glory of God.

This is not the only time this sort of thing has happened. You will remember that in chapter 17 of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus Christ took Peter, James and John up on the Mount of Transfiguration. There He was, with a body that looked just like theirs. But as they looked, His body was enveloped with the glory of God. The glory of God within shone out, His face became as bright as the sun, and He became translucent. You see, the glory of God was evident all around. What it was, was the human body of the Lord Jesus Christ being enveloped with the Shekinah glory, just as was this bush. The story continues in verse 4:

Exodus 3

4And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him from the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
5[Notice] And he said, Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

“Moses, take your shoes off. You are standing on holy ground.” People in the Orient, using that term very generally, take off their shoes when they enter into places that are considered sacred. They feel that holy ground must be treated as such. You say, perhaps. “Why don't we do the same thing? Why don't we take off our shoes when we enter into church buildings? Why don't we take off our shoes when we enter into a place that is considered sacred?” Don't misunderstand what I am about to say, but it is important to remember. The reason we do not is that our God does not dwell in buildings made with hands; He dwells in the holy temple of the heart. Though we should indicate respect for any building that is designated a sacred place, we are under no obligation to act in this fashion, because our Christ dwells not in buildings made with hands; He dwells in the hearts of men.

The only time the Lord Jesus Christ is in a building is when you or I or some other Christian is there. When we leave, He leaves. A church building is no more important than any other building. But we need to take off our shoes, not literally, but figuratively speaking, if we are to have fellowship with God.

Need for Cleansing

Turn with me, please, to the Gospel of John, chapter 13. The Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples were gathered in a room to eat supper. It was a rented room, so there were no guests and no servants to bring a basin of water and wash feet as was the custom of the day. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in verse 4, laid aside His garments and took a towel and girded Himself. In verse 5, He began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with a towel.

I have often wondered why no one but Peter said anything. Maybe they were not too concerned. But when He came to Peter, in verse 6, Peter said, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet? What do you mean, Lord, washing my feet? You ought not to be washing my feet!” In verse 7, the Lord said, “What I do thou knowest not now: but thou shalt know hereafter;” “You will know in a moment or two.” When He said, “Thou shalt know hereafter,” He was not thinking that when Peter should get to Heaven he would know. He just meant, “When we are through, you will know what I am doing.” Peter said, in verse 8:

John 13

8…Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

You see, Peter was trying to keep his place. Here was his Lord washing his feet, and he said, “You are my Lord; you are not going to wash my feet.” Jesus said, “If I don't wash your feet, you cannot have any part with Me.” I have always loved Peter for verse 9. He said:

John 13

9…Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.

There is one reason I love Peter perhaps more than anyone else in the Word of God, and that is that his heart was always tender toward the Lord. He made mistakes, he lost his temper, he got mad, he cursed, his heart was full of fear, he lied. A little girl pointed a finger at him and he did act awful about it; he even said he had never heard of Jesus. But when he came face-to-face with the realization that he might lose his fellowship with Jesus, when he came face-to-face with the realization that he might never have anything more to do with Jesus, he changed his mind right away. There was one thing he knew above everything else, and that was that Jesus Christ meant everything to him. He failed miserably, but when he came face-to-face with the thought, “I might lose Him; I might not be able to have fellowship with Him,” well, then he would die for it! That is why he said here, “Lord, don't stop at my feet.” Then in verse 10:

John 13

10…He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all [of you].
11For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.
12So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?

The lesson that we usually gain from this chapter is a lesson in humility, and we ought not to pass it over; but that is not the main lesson. The main lesson is that even after we are born again, after we have been washed all over, because we are walking along an earthly pathway, our feet will get dirty. There is no way in the world to avoid it, no way in the world to keep from being soiled and contaminated by our association with the world. Now when our feet get dirty we don't need to take a bath; all we need to do is to wash our feet.

Confession a Necessity

This is the New Testament counterpart to this Old Testament experience of Moses. Moses was to take off his shoes, which were symbolic of the dirt that he had accumulated on his journey, if he was to stand in the presence of God. You and I must wash our feet, spiritually speaking, if we are to maintain our fellowship with God. That is what John meant in I John, chapter 1, verse 9, when he said:

I John 1

9…he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John was talking about Christians, not sinners. Don't misunderstand what I am about to say; sometimes people do, but I want to make a point. If you are unsaved, you do not need to confess your sins. All you need to do is to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior. The moment you receive Him as your Savior, He forgives all your sins. “Well,” you say, “Am I not supposed to be sorry for my sins?” You are supposed to recognize that you are a sinner. All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If you don't recognize that, God cannot save you. If it will help you to recognize it to tell God how mean you are, well, go ahead and do it. Nowhere in the Bible is the sinner told to confess his sins; he is told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

But a Christian is told to confess his sins, because it is the only way we can maintain fellowship. If your feet are dirty, figuratively speaking, then you need to wash them. If your fellowship is to be maintained, if you want to do business with God, you will have to do it on holy ground; you will have to take off your shoes, figuratively speaking, because the ground on which you walk is holy ground.

Recognize God's Holiness

Let us go back to Exodus, chapter 3, and notice verse 6:

Exodus 3

6Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

If we had time to notice every instance when individuals met God, we would find in every case that they were afraid because they had a glimpse of the holiness of God. When they had a glimpse of the holiness of God, they were reminded of their own unworthiness. From time to time, I hear people say that God does not expect people to fear Him, but you cannot find that in the Bible. Oh, He does not want you to go hide in the corner and pull something over your head; He wants you to reverence Him. He wants you to realize that He is God and you are just an ordinary mortal. I don't want you ever to forget that.

Whenever I hear people talking about how good they are, whenever I hear people talking about how spiritual they are, whenever I hear people talking about how close to God they are, I may not say anything to them because I would not want to be rude; but I write it down in my little black book that they are not very close to God. The people who are close to God don't ever have a good opinion of themselves. The people who are close to God recognize their need. When God spoke in this fashion, Moses was afraid to look on God because he was aware of his own unworthiness. Look at verse 7:

Exodus 3

7And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
8And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites and the Jebusites.
9Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them.

Do you realize what we have been reading? We have been reading about a God who is so holy that when men visualize Him as He is, they fall on their faces before Him. We have been reading about a God who is so tender that not one of His children suffers without His knowing it. Not one of His children suffers without His entering into that suffering. In verse 7, He said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people, and I know their sorrows.” He knows. Sometimes when you are going through some particular trial, you may wonder whether He knows. You may wonder whether He know why He is letting you go through it. But remember this: He knows.

A Picture of Our Deliverer

Someone may say, “I don't like to complain to God about my trials.” These Israelites cried to God by reason of their oppression; and because they cried to God, God said:

Exodus 3

8And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, to bring them up out of that land unto a good land…

Many are the miniature pictures of the Gospel that are found scattered throughout the Bible. It is interesting to look for them as you read the Word of God. Here is one of the miniature pictures of the Gospel, because just as certainly as the Israelites were oppressed by reason of their bondage and were utterly helpless to do anything about their condition, the human race has been oppressed in the bondage of sin and is utterly helpless to do anything about it. If there is one person who can save himself, and I say this reverently, then the death of the Lord Jesus Christ was the biggest waste this world has ever known. If one person could save himself, Jesus did not need to die, but no one can.

The Lord saw the whole human race in the bondage of sin, and what do we read? God said, “I am come down to deliver the Israelites.” The Lord Jesus Christ said the same thing in regard to you and me. He came down from Heaven's glory to earth's darkness for the purpose of deliverance. There was no other way that we could be delivered.

I am glad for the third part of this. A lot of people don't believe it, and many more don't know it. Did you notice what God said? “I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land flowing with milk and honey.” As we have pointed out before, the promised land is a picture of the Christian life before we ever get to Heaven. But there is a broader sense in which we can think of it as a picture of Heaven and it is in that sense that I want to think about it here. Just as certainly as that the Lord Jesus Christ came down to deliver men from the oppression and bondage of sin, He came down to bring them into that good land we call Heaven. That is why I have the assurance of my salvation.

I have the assurance of my salvation not because of anything I am, but because I have been delivered from sin. I know that. And I know that if I have been delivered from sin, I shall also be brought into that good land, and I am not worried about it. I believe that He which hath begun a good work in me will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Look at verse 10. Addressing Moses now, God said:

Exodus 3

10Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.

What a tremendous manifestation of grace! God said, “I am come down to deliver my people and to bring them out of the land of Egypt to a good land,” and in the very next breath He said to an ordinary man, “Come now, and I will send thee, and thou shalt bring forth my people out of Egypt.” Do you realize that God has committed to you and to me the deliverance of people from sin? He said He does it, but He turns it over to us.

Our Part In God's Plan for Deliverance

Turn, please, to II Corinthians, chapter 5, and notice a New Testament commentary on this very thing we are talking about. As God said He came down to the land of Egypt for the purpose of delivering the people from the land, Christ came down to this earth for the purpose of delivering men from sin and injustice. Just as God turned that deliverance over to Moses, Christ has turned that deliverance over to you and to me:

II Corinthians 5

18All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ [that is God's part; notice what He says] , and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
19To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them…

That is God's part again. It is God that did it. Notice the last statement:

II Corinthians 5

19…and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

God did it, but He placed the responsibility upon our shoulders so that the apostle could say:

II Corinthians 5

20Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.

God did it, but we do it. That leaves us with a very solemn thought: If we fail, it won't be done. That is a tremendous thing. If we fail, it won't be done. God saw the oppression of the children of Israel in the land of Egypt. God heard their cries. God said, “I am come down to deliver them.” But if God could not have found a human instrument, it would not have been done.

I am not going to argue at any time or discuss all the ifs and ands and whys and wherefores. All I know is that the Bible tells us that God has limited Himself to human instrumentality, and if we don't do it, it won't be done.

Responsibility of God's Servant

Moses tried to squirm out of his responsibility. Moses did not want the job, and is that not strange? Forty years ago he tried to take it, but now he did not want it. You know the reason: He had a new set of values. Don't be too hard on Moses. Just remember that those forty years on the backside of the desert gave him a sense of values that made him fearful to take the job.

I hope you won't misunderstand what I am about to say, but I make a personal reference for the sake of emphasis. I hear of young men who choose the ministry as a vocation. They say it is as good a profession as another, and on and on and on. They have not spent any time on the backside of the desert. I say to you that if God would let me do anything else but preach, I would never preach again. If God would let me do anything else than what I am doing, I would never present myself again as a minister. It is an awesome task.

I can understand why Moses said, “Lord, I don't want to do it.” I have young men come to me repeatedly to talk about entering the ministry, and I don't rejoice with them. I say, “Son, if there is anything else in the world that you can do, don't minister.” So don't be too hard on Moses. Forty years on the backside of the desert had made him realize the responsibilities of the deliverer–his responsibilities as a messenger and a servant of God. If he could get out of it, he was going to get out of it.


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