Why did God wait to speak to Moses at the burning bush? What made that the appropriate time, rather than when he was a younger man? Moses was considered the son of the Pharaoh, trained in leadership. It seems that would have made him the ideal man to free his people. He killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating an Israelite. (Ex 2:11-12) That should have shown God that he was willing to stand up for the oppressed. Why not then? (Well, maybe because his people still thought of Moses as the son of Pharaoh, not as one of them (Ex 2:14).) A short time later, Moses stood up to a gang of bullies who were trying to keep the daughters of Reuel Jethro from watering their sheep. Now here is a man who has shown his leadership, his concern for his fellow man, and his strength. Why does God wait another forty years to call him to lead his people out of bondage?
The rabbis have pondered this question for centuries. One story that has been passed down says that during the time Moses served as a shepherd, one of his sheep wandered away. He chased the sheep, brought it back to the flock, and then carried it home. This, they say, is when God knew Moses was the man to lead Israel. What does saving a sheep have to do with being a leader? Why now and not earlier?
Perhaps we should look at what God said about another shepherd. In 1 Samuel 16, God is preparing to anoint a new king in Saul’s place. Samuel goes to the house of Jesse to choose the new king. He saw that the oldest, Eliab, was a likely candidate, tall and strong and good looking. But in verse 7 God rebuked Samuel with these words: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” He eventually chose the youngest son, David the shepherd.
While we think that Moses’ upbringing, royal position, moral and physical strength should have made him a suitable leader, God looks at more than that. God wants a man who not only cares for his brother, but even for a stupid sheep. All the good and noble characteristics are insufficient in God’s eyes if one is not also careful in his stewardship of God’s creation. Moses was a suitable leader because he was accountable, both to his employer and to God, for one sheep gone astray. If God was going to give him responsibility, he wanted to know that he could also handle accountability.
Moses, the first prophet of God, spoke of another who was to come. “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me.” (Deut 18:15) This prophet, the Messiah, was to be like Moses.
Jesus the Messiah told a story to show that the least person in the kingdom of heaven was like a little child. He compared God, and himself, to a shepherd who, having a hundred sheep, leaves the ninety-nine in safety to bring back the one that had wandered away, and rejoiced in doing it. (Matt 18:12-13) Jesus probably knew the story about Moses, and even that the rabbis of his time were saying that was what made God choose Moses as a leader. So when he took this story and applied it to himself, he was saying in essence that he was the “Moses to come.”
In Luke 15:4-7 Jesus applied the story to himself again, but also by extension to anyone who brings a sinner back to God. Guess what. That means you and me. Do you want God to look at you like he looked at Moses? Are you a fit leader in God’s eyes? Jesus says you are, if you will leave the safety of your comfort zone, and go get the sheep that was lost.