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Philip Shee—Singapore

The life of Moses has many precious lessons for modern-day Christians like us. Among the many highlights in his life, the mountains that Moses ascended represent critical turning points for him. These events can provide important insights for us as we navigate our own journey of faith and service. Over time, our life may become mundane, and our faith, lifeless and sterile. If this happens, we need to break away from the hustle and bustle of life and ascend the mountains, as Moses did. On higher ground, we can quieten down to reflect, re-align and rejuvenate, and to re-establish our ties with God.


Re-acquaintance with God

Horeb marked Moses’ re-acquaintance with God after forty years in the wilderness. As a young man in Egypt, Moses had been full of passion and ideals. He had a strong sense of mission and, on his own initiative, visited his own people, the Israelites. He courageously attempted to lead them, intervening when he witnessed two of them fighting. He even killed an Egyptian who was mistreating one of them. But despite his good intentions, the Israelites rejected him. In utter dejection and confusion, Moses withdrew to Midian, where he settled into a life of peace and contentment. He found himself a wife, became a father, and took on the job of tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law (Acts 7:22–29).

The turning point came forty years later, when Moses led his flock to the back of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire, in the midst of a bush. The burning bush[1] was somehow not consumed, which prompted Moses to take a closer look. It was then that God called him from within the bush. In the dialogue that followed, God corrected Moses’ misconception that God had deserted His people in Egypt. In fact, God had seen the oppression of His people, and had heard their cries. His grace had seen them through their trials in Egypt, and that was why they had not been annihilated, just as the bush was not consumed. On the contrary, the Israelites continued to grow in might and in number. God then revealed that He would send Moses to Egypt to deliver His people and lead them to the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex 3:1–10).

God’s Timeline Revealed

At this time, Moses was no longer the same young man full of energy, passion and ideals. He had settled down, and was content with a quiet and comfortable life. He was certainly not seeking any thrills, excitement or disruption to his current way of life. After all, he was already eighty years old. He had gone about his own business for the past forty years while God was silent.

It is no surprise that Moses was reluctant and raised a number of questions, but God had an answer for each one. This encounter at Horeb was to be the defining moment in Moses’ life—it was when he became re-acquainted with God. He now understood God’s grace, and how God had been with the Israelites throughout their suffering in Egypt. More importantly, Moses realized that the first forty years of his life in Egypt was to equip him with the best knowledge and wisdom of the leading civilization at that time. This provided the necessary training required to lead a nation.

The second forty years of his life, spent in Midian, was equally important. It was to cultivate his nature. During this period, alone in a vast expanse with only sheep for company, Moses learned meekness and humility. He learned to slow down, stay calm and operate in solitude. The rugged environment equipped him with the skills necessary for the subsequent wilderness journey, where he would endure criticisms and loneliness. With his previous impulsive character, he would not have been able to endure Israel’s repeated rebellions.

After eighty years of learning and cultivation, Moses was now ready for the final third of his life. This period was to be the fulfillment of his life’s purpose, the very reason God had placed him in the world. He had left Egypt with the mindset of a man who perceived himself as an undisputed leader, who “supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand” (Acts 7:25). He was confident with his fists, ever ready to fight and kill. He returned to Egypt forty years later with the mindset of “Who am I?” (Ex 3:11), feeling ill-equipped even to speak, let alone fight (Ex 4:10). Moses finally understood that this was God’s mission, not his own. It was God who would deliver His people through His power, not through Moses’ abilities. With this understanding, Moses now returned to Egypt with nothing but the “rod of God in his hand” (Ex 4:20).

Rediscovering Our Life’s Purpose

Moses’ meeting with God at Horeb leaves us with some key points for reflection. Our lives may become so routine that we operate on autopilot. We wake up, go to work or school, return home at the day’s end, and do exactly the same things before we retire to bed. Every weekend, we also have a routine: reading newspapers, grocery shopping, housework, taking an afternoon nap. Life is ordinary and monotonous. But we want no more and no less, as we view the status quo to be a blessing.

Like Moses, we were zealous when we were young. We had a strong sense of purpose and mission. However, as we approach middle age, the disappointment of failed ideals, the practicalities of life, and the commitments of career and family have worn us out. We are resigned to our unfulfilled lives, and are satisfied to relax into our comfort zone of inertia. At this point, like Moses, we need to ascend our Horeb. We need to rediscover our life’s purpose. Have we forgotten what we are meant to fulfill while we are still alive? Or do we feel that we can no longer do it? Moses was eighty when he found meaning in his life. He returned to his original mission, but with a renewed approach—not by his own might, or his own fist, but with the rod of God in his hand. Indeed, we need to take stock of our life and faith.

If we find ourselves being like Moses in Midian, just counting sheep every day, we really must climb Mount Horeb. We need to unleash the last burst of fire within us. In fact, Moses’ real value was proven in the last third of his life. The first eighty years merely prepared him for the final forty years of work. Today, what have we left undone in this world? Before we go and meet our Lord, should we not journey to Horeb? Should we not get out of our comfort zone and leave Midian? As Egypt symbolizes the world without God, we should return to Egypt and take God’s people out of it.


Later, after Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Amalekites attacked them at Rephidim. In response, Moses instructed Joshua to lead some able-bodied men into battle, while he would climb the mountain at Rephidim to intercede in prayer. He did not go alone; he took Aaron and Hur with him.

Victory through Teamwork and Unity

This incident at Rephidim presents some precious teachings for our service to the Lord. As Moses led the people through the wilderness, he could decide when to lead from the front, and when to support from behind. He knew where he could complement and add value to whatever the Israelites needed to do at the time. He was not at the front line battling the Amalekites. But he was able to provide critical contributions away from the limelight. As we can see, whenever Moses lifted his hands, Israel prevailed, and whenever he became tired and dropped his hands, the Amalekites prevailed. But Moses recognized his limitations, and had brought Aaron and Hur with him to the mountain so that they could support him (Ex 17:8–13).

As we serve the Lord, we must learn the lesson of Moses ascending the mountain at Rephidim. There is no room for individual ego or heroic exploits in the ministry of the Lord. Victory is not the result of any one person, but that of teamwork, with each playing his role. Moses on the mountain might not have been visible to those fighting, and yet his presence was absolutely critical to the battle. Aaron and Hur were even less prominent, but their supporting roles were equally critical. There are certain areas for which we are best equipped, and hence, each of us needs to find the spot in the Lord’s battle where we can contribute our utmost. After all, we are all fighting for one common purpose.


In Exodus 19:20, the Bible records the incident of Moses ascending Mount Sinai at the instruction of God. The next few chapters record the close communion Moses enjoyed with God, as he directly received the Ten Commandments and many other instructions. These formed the foundation of his understanding of the truth, and the basis of his teachings to the people. When he left the mountain, after interacting with God, Moses’ face shone (Ex 34:35). He was clearly spiritually uplifted.

Having Communion with God

In our journey of faith, we must find time to have close communion with God. We seem very busy in this modern world, and we often lament that there are not enough hours in the day, yet we can, somehow, still find time for other things—be it to read the newspapers, log on to social media, or check messages and surf the net with our smartphones.

But as Christians, do we dedicate any time each day for a quiet moment with God in prayer and Bible reading? And particularly on Sabbath days, do we have close communion with God? In fact, if we have the heart to draw near to God, finding time is not that difficult. We might find it difficult to spend forty consecutive days communing with God, like Moses did. But if we can devote a specific time each day to get on our knees, and calm ourselves to reflect on God’s words and our lives, we will surely be spiritually uplifted. It will make all the difference in our lives.


Mount Nebo was the final mountain Moses ascended. From that vantage point, God showed him the entire promised land, which He had sworn to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was God’s special concession to Moses, who was not allowed to enter the land because he had previously disobeyed God. Instead of commanding water to come out of the rock, Moses had struck the rock twice and rebuked the people in anger. As a result, God punished Moses by prohibiting him from crossing the river into the promised land (Num 20:1–12). Moses pleaded with God but was rejected. Instead, God instructed him to go up to the top of Pisgah (Deut 3:23–26).

On one hand, it seems that God was very harsh. Moses had made one mistake, and yet was denied his lifelong dream of crossing the river into the promised land. But God had His reasons. In His righteousness, God requires a price to be paid for sin and disobedience. And yet, while Moses could not cross the river, God had special grace and love in store for him.

Moses’ Final Moments with God

As we read the account of Moses’ final moments (Deut 34:1–7), we cannot help but feel touched by God’s personal send-off for His faithful servant. No one else was there apart from Moses and his God. On this mountain, God showed Moses a panoramic view of the entire promised land. This special concession God made for Moses was a far superior experience to crossing the river. At the crossing, Moses would have only been able to see a limited area of the land. He would have had to travel and battle for a number of years before he could see the land in its entirety. But from the vantage point of Mount Nebo, his eyes were able to savour the whole land. God’s grace had preserved Moses so that, at 120 years of age, his eyes were not dim and his body was full of vigour. He did not die in pain or sickness. He had simply finished his mission and fulfilled his purpose on earth, and it was time for God to take him back. Even more touchingly, only God knows the location of Moses’ grave, because He buried him personally. This was the final private moment Moses spent with God. Who else on earth could have that privilege?

All of us will reach the end of our lives one day. When that time comes, will we, like Moses, ascend Mount Nebo? Will God be there with us? Will we have the privilege of reflecting with God on the completion of our mission and the fulfilment of our purpose? Will our promised land be in sight? We may have a list of things we want to do before we die—places to visit, things to see, experiences to savour. But when we get to our final moment, do all these things really matter? We should learn from Moses on Nebo. In our final moment, nothing else really matters other than having God right there by our side. What a blessing it would be for God to acknowledge that we have fulfilled our purpose on earth, and finally welcome us into His eternal rest.

[1] The burning bush signified the suffering of the people. God speaking from the midst of the burning bush reinforced His message to Moses, which is that He had been with His people all along.