An important question about the nature of God was raised in a Bible study I am in last night. We are studying Exodus 2 and came to the scene where Moses kills an Egyptian who is abusing one of the Hebrew slaves. The question raised was, “Did God want Moses to kill that Egyptian?” Some argued yes, because it was necessary for the rest of Moses’ preparation to be a leader. Others said there are numerous stories in the Hebrew Scriptures where God tells people to kill someone. (Note: those stories were all written by the victors/killers who were interpreting God’s will from their perspective and likely to justify their actions. Jesus preached and lived a very different Gospel.)
I reject the puppeteer model of God’s control of our lives, and I do not believe it was God’s intention for Moses or anyone to kill another human being – sort of goes against the 6th commandment don’t you think? Rather I think God is more like a quarterback who has to call audibles and change the play a lot when circumstances require it. God takes our mistakes and makes the best of them, using them to teach us. In Moses’ case his homicidal outburst was the vehicle God used to get him out into the wilderness where God could work on him and get him ready for the work ahead.
Leslie Weatherhead’s great little book, The Will of God (based on a series of sermons he preached in London during World War II) is one of the best discussions of this topic ever. Weatherhead describes three dimensions of God’s will – God’s intentional will – what God really wants to happen; God’s circumstantial will – what God makes of the situation when human free will changes the game plan; and God’s ultimate will – what the eventual outcome is. In Moses’ case God’s intentional will would be a peaceful resolution of the conflict Moses witnessed and liberation of the enslaved Hebrews; God’s circumstantial will or Plan B was to use Moses’ escape into the wilderness as a time of spiritual formation and preparation, and God’s ultimate will was to empower Moses once he was ready to lead the liberation of God’s people. The ultimate result is the same as the original intention; it just took a different path and about 40 years to happen.
It took that long because Moses wasn’t ready. I heard Rev. James Forbes preach on the Exodus many years ago and still appreciate his insight into that issue. Forbes said we know Moses’ wasn’t ready for leadership when he killed the Egyptian. He had the motivation; he was angry about the suffering of his people, but he let his anger consume him. What God needed was the compassion for those who suffer, the passion for liberation, the fire in the belly, but the maturity not to let that passion consume him. Forbes said that’s part of the significance of burning bush story in Exodus 3 where Moses finally hears God’s call. The bush was burning but it was not consumed.
When that happens, our will is in harmony with God’s playbook, and God’s ultimate will is done. No one knew that better than Jesus who prayed the prayer we all must pray, “Not my will but thy will be done.” Amen.