The Gaining of Vision in the Desert
By Titus Chu
The Danger of Education Alone
The first stage of vision in our Christian experience according to the pattern set by Moses’ life is one of learning through education. This is a very dangerous period. We learn, but what we learn is not yet real to us. Without learning we don’t have a thing, but if all we have is learning, we might destroy ourselves. In the second stage, God’s government leads us into the real thing so that, in the third stage we can be one with God Himself.
I am Chinese, so I can say this. About fifty to a hundred years ago the Chinese were considered as a backward, uneducated race. Once when they were under threat of attack, they mounted fixed cannons set in concrete to defend the harbor. Because they were fixed, every time the cannons were fired, the cannon balls landed in the same spot. The attackers soon learned that as long as they went around those spots they were safe.
Today they are seen differently. The whole globe realizes that the Chinese are very smart and welcome them everywhere. They are technologically quite advanced. But often their learning gets them into trouble. Chinese business men sometimes go to other countries and use their advanced technology to take advantage of the local people and resources just like they do in China. They have learned a lot, but this very learning gets them into a lot of trouble.
When we are uneducated, we can live quite happily just loving the Lord because we think everything is as it ought to be. But if we want to advance and we want the Lord’s testimony to advance, we need to be educated. The trouble is that education brings in problems. The more we are educated, the more complicated our life becomes. Things are just not as comfortable. We always feel there’s something more. If we don’t participate in trainings and conferences, and if we don’t have a pursuing life, the church where we are has no hope. If we are only a group of people who say we love the Lord, that means nothing. In order to advance and build a strong testimony that expresses the Lord, we need a lot of education.
In the process, we are put in a very hard place. If we don’t understand what we are trying to learn, we despise ourselves. If we do understand, we are proud of ourselves. We either feel we have nothing or we have everything. Either way we are in trouble. This is why God has to take us through three stages. He must give us a good education, but that is only the first stage and He doesn’t stop there.
Knowing In Not the Same as Having
Moses was taught all that God had done through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He learned how God used Joseph to save all the children of Israel from famine and bring them into Egypt. He knew God’s promise to one day deliver them from Egypt and bring them back to the land promised them. Through this Moses knew that God was trustworthy, operative, and able to do all things. But there is danger here. We know from our own experience that it is easy to turn “I know” into “I have” and “I can do.” Instead of letting God initiate, Moses tried to force God’s hand by killing the Egyptian.
When we know so much, we think we have everything. It seems God need not do anything because we already know exactly what to do. This is when the Lord brings us into the second stage. He puts us into the desert where we can boast in nothing.
Encouraged by His Wife
When Moses arrived at the desert in Midian, he was still a powerful man. The first thing he did was to help the shepherd girls water their flock and then chase away those men bothering them (Exo. 2:16-17). He was a good fighter. When Jethro saw him, he quickly saw his value and gave Moses his daughter in marriage. Her name was Zipporah, which means “bird” (Strong, H6855). God is very humorous. It seems He was telling Moses to look at his wife whenever he felt depressed. She was a bird. He could fly high. He might be very bothered, but his wife was a bird. Through this God gave Moses much encouragement.
Moses no doubt began to tell his wife all he had learned about God leading the children of Israel into Egypt for four hundred years. He told her about all the miracles in his life, starting with his rescue from the river by Pharaoh’s daughter. He told her about all the education and training he had received.
Then his wife may have begun to ask him some good questions, such as “Why didn’t the children of Israel want you?” “Why did Pharaoh want to kill you?” “Did you really have to kill that Egyptian?” “What gave you the ground to go to the children of Israel and tell them what to do? How much time did you spend with them?” These were questions Moses might not have thought to ask himself as he counted his losses and pitied himself.
Moses knew God’s calling, promise, protection, and saving power, but each item was only a piece, not the whole picture. Like so many of us, he only knew in part. He knew what God had done and what He could do, but Moses did not know God Himself. In Egypt he had acted as though he had the whole thing, and then blamed others when it failed. When he finally settled in the desert, God gave him just the wife he needed to both encourage him and ask the right questions. Otherwise how could he live there for forty years and learn anything real?
Living in the desert like this, talking with his wife and father-in-law, Moses began to have a greater understanding of God. It was not just His calling, but there was something behind that calling. It was not just His promises, but there was something behind those promises. It was not just His protection, but there was something behind God’s protection. It was not just His blessings, but there was something behind every blessing. Eventually, Moses began to realize that God is more than just the sum of all the pieces. God is uniquely Himself.
Christians need to learn this. We cannot break God into a lot of pieces. If we call ourselves a certain kind of Christian or belong to a certain kind of church, that is only a piece of what God is after, not the totality.
No doubt there were times Moses would complain saying, “You know I used to ride a horse and had a little entourage that followed me. When I command others, they jumped. I knew how to speak and how to get things done. I was trained to be a good leader, but somehow everything got messed up.” At such times, the only person who could talk to him was his wife.
I can imagine her asking him, “If things were so good in Egypt, why did you leave?” He would answer, “I had to escaped for fear of my life.” Then she might answer “Why did you have to escape for your life?” After considering, he would have to say,”Because I was too rough.” “Why were you too rough?” “Because I had so much self confidence.” “Why did you have so much self confidence?” “Because I thought I was somebody special.” “Oh, somebody special! Now you’ve got it!” Moses was roasted like this for forty years. Eventually he came to know himself.
God Is a Wholesaler
At some point God began to give Moses some understanding. God is a wholesaler, not a retailer. God isn’t selling a lot of different items such as His calling, protection, promises, blessings, and such. He only has one item to sell, and that is Himself.
There is a bank that deals only with gold. All they do is buy and sell gold. Such a bank is a gold wholesaler. They don’t sell a lot of different things as would a retailer. But if we have their gold, we have all the other things. God is such a divine gold bank, a divine gold wholesaler who deals in nothing else. We come to him for so many things, but He says He only sells divine gold. The gold we buy from Him will meet all out need because that gold is Christ Himself. Christ includes all His calling, protection, promises, and blessings.
We as Christians start out like Moses. We learn so much, but we think of God as though He was a retailer with a grand department store full of different kinds of merchandise. Christ is one item, salvation is another. Suffering is a third item, resurrection a fourth, and ascension a fifth. If we go this way, we will run out of numbers trying to count all the items in this divine department store. Then one day we find ourselves in the desert. It is here that our eyes are opened.
As he was talking about these things with his wife, Moses was eventually brought into a profound realization. He began to know and understand God. God did not give him an overcomer’s life in Egypt and a defeated one in the desert. God is a wholesaler who only has one thing to give—Himself.
The Lord as Our Dwelling Place
This is why Moses wrote the prayer found in Psalm 90, which begins, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations” (v. 1). Moses was a shepherd and lived in a little hut just like any other shepherd. He lived very simply. Yet from his prayer we see that Moses knew the Lord not only as his dwelling place, but as “our dwelling place in all generations.” This would include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The Lord was their dwelling place as they each passed through their trials. He was the dwelling place of the children of Israel as they lived in slavery over four hundred years in Egypt. And He was Moses’ dwelling place both in Egypt and in the desert of Midian.
Moses had the revelation that from generation to generation the Lord had been their dwelling place no matter if they were in victory or failure. The Lord never left them and He never changed. In fact, their condition didn’t even matter as long as He was their dwelling place. Moses saw that such a dwelling place was the Lord’s will and desire. Because of this, Moses was very restful.
We may feel that our Christian life and service has not been very victorious. But, like Peter, we have a clear vision that He is the Christ, and that He will build His church (Matt. 16: 16-18). This commitment, Christ and the church, has never changed, and it does not depend on our victory. It does not matter if we live in an Egyptian palace or a shepherd’s hut as long as we live in Him as our habitation.
The Lord always reminds us that He has been “our dwelling place in all generations.” Once we see something so grand, we begin to realize that all the trials and failures we go through don’t mean anything. Only if we drop our vision of Christ and the church do we suffer loss. Nothing should discourage us from running the race to the end.
Because we see that the Lord is our dwelling place in all generations, many things don’t bother us anymore. We no longer strive in our service to the Lord. We have such rest because Christ is our unique center.
Numbering Our Days
Moses’ vision advanced in his hardship. He wrote, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years” (Psa. 90:10). Based on this, he must have been around seventy or a little older when he wrote this. Then he quickly added, “So teach us to number our days” (v. 12). Those who think their days are about over don’t say things like this. But even though Moses thought his life had run its course, he prayed that the Lord would teach him to number his days that he might “present to You a heart of wisdom” (v. 12).
Moses was so clear with God and with himself. He wanted every day to count. He was no longer the great man he had been in Egypt. If he tried to kill an Egyptian at this advanced age, the Egyptian would instead kill him. If he were to go to the children of Israel to try to save them now, they would ask who he thought he was. He had no status or reputation. All his rich education was seemingly for nothing. He had no army, riches, or strength. All he had was sheep, yet he was so clear.
Resting in God
Moses wrote that the Lord has been “our dwelling place in all generations” (v. 1) not because he was looking forward to a nice place to live, but because he realized that God as our dwelling place was already there. Do we see the church built up today? No. Do we still believe the church will be built up? Yes! If Jesus said “I will build My church,” then He will build His church. Do we believe this? If so, it will save us from a lot of grief. We may see so much that needs to be done, but if we also see that God is our dwelling place in all generations, it no longer matters who He uses to do it. Christ is building His church and we can just be restful in Him.
I can imagine what might have gone through Moses’ mind when he turned eighty. According to his prayer in Psalm 90, that was all a man could expect to live. He probably felt his life was over and told the Lord, “I don’t know why you saved me from the water as a baby. It doesn’t even make sense now. Did You do it just so I could shepherd these sheep? I don’t know why you gave me all those spiritual teachings through my parents. My life would have been so much easier without knowing so much. I don’t know why you gave me so much training in Egypt to become a great speaker, leader, and administrator. Eventually it all came to nothing.” At this point the Lord would have reminded him of his prayer, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.” With this simple word, all that bothered Moses would have vanished.
The Greater Vision
Moses received a different kind of education in the desert. Outwardly, he was so well educated in Pharaoh’s house. Inwardly, he became so firm concerning the Lord through his experiences in the wilderness. The vision he had while in Egypt was necessary, but academic. The vision he gained in the desert was also necessary, but so much greater.
I know a brother who gave himself to serve the Lord as a young man. One day when he was much older, he murmured to me how, if only he had taken a job after graduating from his university, he would have achieved great things and had social status. Then he said something interesting: “But the candle still has time left to burn.” In other words, in his mind his labor for the Lord had accomplished little, but he still had time to do something in the world to gain the status he desired. This man never had a vision. He never realized that the Lord is our dwelling place in all generations.
What we see outwardly isn’t real. We may feel defeated. We may think that everything is gone. We may even question if God is real. But the Lord has been our dwelling place in all generations. We live in time, but the Lord lives with our generation and all the generations that follow.
God is after Christ. God desires the built up church. God wants Christ to be dispensed as life into people. God desires to see the church become the testimony of Christ. We might ask who is doing all this? God would answer that He is. He is “our dwelling place in all generations.”