The Forty Years of Moses – Acts 7:17-36


According to some people’s numerology the Biblical number 40 refers to testing, trial or probation. 40 comes up 146 times in the Bible, and many of those references do point to testings and trials. For example, the twelve spies reconnoitered Canaan for forty days, while Israel chewed their collective fingernails. Moses was forty days at the top of Sinai – twice – while Israel was down below cowering in terror. Elijah went forty days without food or water at Mount Horeb – I am considering that as another message in this series. Christ went without food for forty days during which time Satan tempted Him. But then He also appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, encouraging them for forty days. And Jonah preached repentance to Nineveh for forty days.

Interestingly, the life of Moses was divided into three equal parts – all forty years in length. I trust that most of you have a basic grasp of Moses’ biography, but let me refresh your memory. While Israel was in Egypt God was blessing them to the point of making the local government nervous. A law was passed that all new-born Israelite boys were to be slain. But when one of the daughters of Levi bore a son, she felt convinced it was God’s will that the child be saved, so she kept him hidden for three months and then set him out in a place where the daughter of Pharaoh might find him. In the providence of God, the plan worked perfectly, and the baby was taken into the royal palace. Not only that, the baby’s mother was tasked to care for the child, probably receiving royal wages. For the next few years, that boy, Moses, was given the best secular education possible in addition to the education of a son of Israel. In other words, he grew up knowing the promise of God to deliver Israel from her Egyptian bondage.

Stephen tells us that at the age of forty, Moses decided to visit his true brethren, Israel. “For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them.” He chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” He may have been thinking about ways in which he might deliver his people, when he saw an Egyptian taskmaster, beating an Hebrew, and he stepped in. Moses not only saved the life of the Israelite, but he killed the Egyptian, surreptitiously burying the body. When it became apparent that what he had done was known, he figured that his life was in danger under Egyptian law. While still retaining the idea that he would save his people from their bondage, he was forced to flee into the Midian desert.

Moses himself tells us about the next forty years of his life. While probably retaining plans to return to Egypt, he was distracted by a beautiful woman. He met and married one of the daughters of Jethro – the priest of Midian. Once married, children started to arrive along with the responsibilities that families create. There on the backside of the desert Moses settled down to a nondescript life of herding sheep and goats. For forty years, he learned to be satisfied with a mediocre life with its mediocre religion.

Moses’ second forty years began with religious dedication.

When I was a young Christian, teachers and preachers were telling me to dedicate myself – to “consecrate” my life to the service of the Lord. That act of dedication was supposed to be the beginning of a spectacular and phenomenal life. I was expected to live closer to the Lord; to give up the things of the world; to pray more; to learn the Bible and in the process become a successful Christian servant. It was suggested that when I slipped up, and it was a forgone conclusion that I would, then during the next revival meeting, I would need to re-dedicate my life to God. Rededications were common.

At age forty, while still in Egypt, Moses dedicated himself to the Lord with plans on delivering Israel from her bondage. He immediately jumped into the work as he understood it, believing that the rest of the world, especially Israel, would see it the same way. When his first attempt at service failed and he fled into the desert, there weren’t any Baptist preachers there telling him to rededicate himself to the Lord, and so he didn’t. Over time he simply fell into the malaise of something like a mediocre Christianity. In the back of his mind, he knew he was out of God’s place of service, but he didn’t know how to fix it. He was probably a very miserable saint, and a very poor witness of Christ to his family.

Ask yourself this question – what expectations do people have when they turn to Christ from their sins? Some of them may expect to see the end of temptation. After all, with the end of judgment for sin, perhaps we can expect the end of sin completely. Sadly, such is not the case. Some people are told that with salvation comes spiritual and physical prosperity. Some expect peace, but which definition of peace do they expect? We look at the Thessalonian saints discovering that with faith in Christ comes persecution. They may have had inner peace, but the outer variety was non-existent. Some people expect such things at the time of their salvation. Others think that some of these come as with some sort of second blessing. For some that second blessing arrives when they begin to totally consecrate themselves to the Lord.

What did Moses expect when at forty he dedicated himself to the omnipotent God? It appears that he anticipated success; he expected to be the one to deliver his brethren. He was looking forward to a victory parade all the way into the Promised Land. He expected the praise and love of the saints, when they saw how serious he was and ready to serve.

Despite “going forward” and consecrating his life to the Lord, in truth he was preparing to face God’s enemies in his own strength. So many young men I have known marched up to our pastors, telling him that we were dedicating our lives to fight Goliath. And joyfully they patted us on the back and gave us the armor of Saul to help us get the work done. They gave us sermons, commentaries, plans of evangelism and the details of organized religion. What we really needed was the Lord.

I wonder if it occurred to Moses that his political connections might accomplish the will of God? That is the mind-set of a lot of modern Christians, but it is the Protestant approach to doing God’s will. It took part of Moses’ second forty years to burn this out of him. God had to teach him, “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.” Moses tried one of the Roman Catholic forms of evangelism kill the spiritual enemy. Did the idea of that method follow him into the wilderness and haunt him for a while? Will it take a war to deliver Israel from Egypt? He had been given the finest and most complete education available, from the secular to the religious. Had he thought his plan through? Now sitting on a rock watching Jethro’s sheep, he had time to reconsider his plans; maybe new plans were in order. Do you suppose that his schooling included elocution and speech lessons. Had he won debate contests and had he learned the art of verbal persuasion? He will stutter his way into Pharaoh’s throne room, but perhaps earlier, he was better skilled. Who is he going to persuade out here in the wilderness? At age sixty or at seventy what do you suppose were his plans to accomplish God’s will?

I won’t question the sincerity of Moses or of anyone who wishes to dedicate himself to the Lord. But the Lord is not interested in our willingness to give Him a hand, like some child offering to help his father overhaul the car’s transmission. Despite his forty years of age, Moses was not particularly mature – spiritually or otherwise. Many people never reach the state of maturity where they can see how much self and flesh is in the things they do for the Lord. Moses needed the heat of the desert and the blistering rays of the sun to burn the flesh out of his service

So twenty more years passed by, with a growing family and all the responsibilities that go with that. It took some time, but the former connections with Egypt were slowly broken and forgotten. What was going on in that country? Eventually he didn’t know or care. What had happened to his sister and brother, mother and father? Did he wonder? The plans and dreams he had, the youthful enthusiasm stirred by the revivalists were growing dim. Thirty, thirty-five more years had covered the road back to Egypt. Eventually he had no more dreams of returning. And besides, now he is too old. He was in the twilight of life. What church would ever call Moses as pastor now? After eighty years he had nothing left to offer Israel or God. Would the Lord ever raise up anyone to deliver Israel?

However they began, Moses’ second forty years ended with a very positive DEATH.

Moses died at the age of eighty. Despite the way some preach it, the burning bush is NOT a picture of a typical Baptist revival meeting. Emphasis on the word “typical.” Yes, the conviction of the Holy Spirit was there, and Moses went from that meeting into God’s work. But Jehovah was not in the bush begging for the man’s assistance as if the Lord was limited in some way without him. Let no one be so irreverent as to think we have anything to offer God – ever. “Jehovah” is the “I am ” – He is totally self-sufficient. No one can add anything to the arsenal of the Holy Spirit. The burning bush was no pep-rally. There was no reassurance given to Moses that he still had what it took to serve the Lord. There was no demand for his “rededication.”

Moses did everything he could to get out from under the call and conviction of God. He probably wanted to flee from that fire once he was aware of its fuel. He said, “The people won’t believe me. I am a wanted man, and have no respect in Pharaoh’s court.” Maybe his stuttering was a result of not having spoken Egyptian in forty years. He declared that had nothing left to offer Israel.

Actually, he had nothing to offer GOD. But that was exactly where the Lord wanted him to be. That is where he wants us to be.

With respect, and understanding the semantics involved, God is not interested in dedicated Christians.

Instead of DEDICATED Christians, He wants DEAD Christians. Not spiritually dead, of course, but dead to self and all its supposed strengths, wisdom and skill. Just as Christ could not save us until He died; we cannot properly serve Him until we die. It was a great Christ who could have come down from the cross, but it was a greater Christ who stay up there. Self must get out of the way if we are to serve God. That was the purpose of Moses’ second forty years. There is only one good place for self – on the cross – crucified. Until then self and the flesh will always be in the way to accomplishing the Lord’s will.

This is the difference between the carnal believer and the spiritual believer. The carnal man may, in fact, dedicate his life to Christ., bt because he is carnal he is unwilling to die to self. He retains different selfish or worldly things which he sometimes dedicates to the Lord’s service. That was the forty-year-old Moses. The Spiritual man knows the meaning of the Cross in his life. He knows to give up his wisdom, his perceptions, his talents to the Lord. He pins the wisdom, strength and plans of self to the cross and accepts the wisdom of God. That was the eighty-year-old Moses.

Some might think of Moses’ between forty and eighty as wasted years. There he is doing nothing for God, not even successfully teaching his family about Jehovah. But those years were NOT a waste. It was during that time the Lord tore down the useless OLD Moses in preparation for the new God-filled Moses. May the Lord give the same to each of us – without taking up so many years of our lives.