The nineteenth century American evangelist D.L. Moody once described the life of Moses in this way: “Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; then he spent forty years on the backside of the desert realizing he was nobody; finally, he spent the last forty years of his life learning what God can do with a nobody.”
We may excuse Moody’s over-simplification as we realize the truth of his main point. The testimony of Scripture certainly shows us in Moses a man slowly coming to realize how to trust an all-powerful God.
We may naturally wonder whether God always chooses to accomplish his will through weak nobodies. Certainly, it seems like the kingdom of Christ would benefit from a major celebrity or athlete publicly professing Christ. The American Christian imagination runs wild at the thought of Lebron or Brady or Taylor Swift publicly joining our ranks.
However, as hard as it is for fame-obsessed people like us to imagine, God’s ways just don’t seem to be the same as ours’s when it comes to accomplishing his purposes. He never seems to put much value on worldly fame and fortune.
In fact, the biblical witness goes out of its way to make the opposite point. Moses was a lowly shepherd who had been rejected by his own people. David was a shepherd-boy who got passed over by Samuel in the line-up of Jesse’s sons. Jesus, God incarnate, came from a hick town that nothing good ever came from. None of these individuals were chosen for their cultural clout.
Paul explains the logic of God’s ways to us: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Did you catch that at the end? God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. If you think you are a somebody, you place yourself in opposition to God. God desires for his name alone to be exalted. He will have no competitors. It would be absurd for the creation to seek to rise above the Creator. Our pretensions to power in his presence are more futile than a five-year-old attempting to defeat a battleship with a bottle rocket.
But let’s get back to Moses. Moody astutely remarked that Moses had to learn he was a nobody. We don’t naturally resonate with that message. In fact, it may offend you now. Reaching the conclusion of nobodyness usually requires a long, painful process of suffering, rejection, dissatisfaction, and failure. Moses had to flee from the wealth of Egyptian royalty but was not even welcomed in by his enslaved kin. He literally wondered the desert for forty years.
But Moses learned. He learned that his own weaknesses could be overcome only via trust in the Lord of the universe. He learned the failure of insisting on his own way. He learned to meticulously obey what God had revealed. And God used Moses as an instrument to redeem his people. God gives grace to the humble.
Pharaoh shows us a different route. He, too, is confronted by his own weakness. He, too, encounters pain and failure. But he doesn’t learn. He insists, all the way to the bitter end, that he’s a somebody who can never be defeated. Insisting on his own way, he stubbornly refuses to let God’s people go. God opposes the proud. Pharaoh’s life ends in judgment.
What about you? Are you in the process of becoming a nobody or do you continue to hold onto the vain illusion that you’re a somebody? God’s ways remain the same. He doesn’t change. He will always oppose the proud and give grace to the humble. Jesus said it best: “Those who are well (somebodies) have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (nobodies). I have not come to call the righteous (somebodies) but sinners (nobodies) to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).