Heritage Sabbath Sermon
October 20, 2001
Lest We Forget
by G. Ralph Thompson
"Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons" (Deut 4:9, KJV).
"Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day" (Deut. 8:11, KJV).
The First Forty Years
The life of Moses is divided into three periods of forty years each. He was the miracle baby of Amram and Jochebed, born at the time when there was a decree from Pharaoh to kill every male child born to Israelite slaves in Egypt. We are familiar with the story of how his parents defied Pharaoh's command by keeping his birth secret. By the time he was three months old, Jochebed could no longer hide him. She made a little water-tight boat of reeds, and put the baby in it. Committing her child to the care of God, she hid the little ark in the rushes along the river's edge. The baby's sister, Miriam, stayed nearby to see what would happen.
Soon Pharaoh's daughter, coming down to the river, heard a little baby's cry and discovered him. She knew at once that this was a Hebrew child. In her sympathy for the mother, she decided to adopt the beautiful baby and bring him up as her own. Miriam, casually looking on, offered to get a nurse for the child from among the Hebrews. His mother became that nurse, and for twelve precious years she had the opportunity to instill in Moses the knowledge of the true God. His mother taught him the folly and sin of idiolatry, and taught him to bow down and pray to the living God who made heaven and earththe God who alone could help him. In Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 244, we read, "How far reaching in its results was the influence of that one Hebrew woman, and she an exile and a slave! The whole future life of Moses, the great mission which he fulfilled as the leader of Israel, testifies to the importance of the work of the Christian mother. There is no other work that can equal this. To a very great extent, the mother holds in her own hands the destiny of her children. She is dealing with developing minds and characters, working not alone for time, but for eternity. She is sowing seed that will spring up and bear fruit, either for good or for evil. She has not to paint a form of beauty upon canvass or to chisel it from marble, but to impress upon a human soul the image of the divine."
So, until Moses was forty years of age he was the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter, heir to the Egyptian throne. He was trained in the wisdom of the Egyptiansin science, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, military strategy, philosophy, history and theology, law, economics, and architecture. "Moses was fitted to take pre-eminence among the great of the earth, to shine in the courts of its most glorious kingdom, and to sway the scepter of its power. His intellectual greatness distinguishes him above the great men of all ages. As historian, poet, philosopher, general of armies, and legislator, he stands without a peer. Yet with the world before him, he had the moral strength to refuse the flattering prospects of wealth and greatness and fame, 'choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season'" (Heb. 11:24, 26; Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 246).
Moses never forgot his roots; his mother's teaching continually reminded him of the true God. He was an Israelite, not an Egyptian, and he never became brain-washed by the Egyptian educational system so that he forgot his true background and the true God.
The Second Forty Years
The second forty-year period of his life began when one day he saw an Egyptian striking an Israelite. Immediately his Hebrew loyalty came to the forefront. The Egyptian was beating one of his kinsmen, and without stopping to think of the consequences he sprang forward and killed the Egyptian, burying him in the sand. He thought that this act would establish forever in the minds of his fellow Israelites that he indeed was on their side and considered them his people.
But how wrong he was! "For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them; but they understood not" (Acts 7:25). He did not realize how jealous they were of his living the life of a prince in the king's palace, while they had to work as slaves in the hot Egyptian sun.
Some while later he saw two Israelites fighting and went to make peace between them. The offender said to him, "Who made you a judge and a ruler over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?"
Moses was stunned to learn that his secret was widely known. It would not be long before word reached the palace that the heir to the Egyptian throne had killed an Egyptian to save an Israelite slave. If he were to be captured, he most certainly would be put to death as a traitor, for Pharaoh would consider this an act of treason.
Moses fled for his life, and thus began the second forty-year period of his life.
Eventually arriving in Midian, Moses began a new life there. It would take forty long years for him to unlearn all the principles of leadership he had learned in the University of Egypt. In the arduous University of Midian he would enroll in a post-graduate course in true leadership.
"In the school of self denial and hardship he was to learn patience, to temper his passions. Before he could govern wisely, he must be trained to obey. His own heart must be fully in harmony with God before he could teach the knowledge of His will to Israel. By his own experience he must be prepared to exercise a fatherly care over all who needed his help.
"Man would have dispensed with that long period of toil and obscurity, deeming it a great loss of time. But Infinite Wisdom called him who was to become the leader of His people, to spend forty years in the humble work of a shepherd. The habits of care-taking, of self- forgetfulness and tender solicitude for his flock, thus developed, would prepare him to become the compassionate, longsuffering shepherd of Israel. No advantage that human training or culture could bestow, could be a substitute for this experience" (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 247, 248).
In Midian, God directed Moses to find a home with Jethro, the priest and prince of Midian, who was a worshiper of the true God. Jethro had several daughters and after a time Moses married one of them. Her name was Zipporah.
So it was that in the service of his father-in-law he spent the next forty years as keeper of his flocks. It was there in Midian that God prepared Moses for the greatest undertaking of his lifeone that would involve the third forty-year period of his life.
In Midian, shut in by the mountains, alone with God and nature, Moses came into close contact with the God of heaven. It was there that Moses' pride and self sufficiency were swept away. He became patient, reverent, and humble. It was there in Midian, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that he wrote the book of Genesis, and, it is believed, the book of Job. In fact, the first five books of the Bible are attributed to Moses, as well as the moving and beautiful ninetieth Psalm.
The Third Forty Years
At the end of the second forty-year period, Moses received his call directly from God at the burning bush. He was to go back to Egypt and lead God's people out of bondage. The time for God to act had come. History was about to be changed by the voice of prophecy.
Moses hesitated at the call of God. He felt he was neither qualified nor ready for such an undertaking. This is evidence of the fact that indeed he had learned his lessons well in Midian. There was no self sufficiency within him; total dependence upon God would be necessary for a successful outcome of the plan.
Relying entirely upon God, Moses went back to Egypt and appeared before Pharaoh, requesting that the Israelites be freed from slavery. As Pharaoh mocked him for such an outrageous demand, Moses held out his rod and it became a serpent, a symbol of God's power over all of the might and so-called power of the false gods of Egypt.
Pharaoh would give his word to let the people go, then renege on his promise, making life even harder for the Hebrews. God sent plague after plague, but each time Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let the people go.
But finally, death stalked the land of Egypt. The last devastating plaguethe death of all the first-born, from the palace to the hovel, from the richest to the poorestwas poured out. In every household where the Egyptians dwelt there was the cry of death. At last Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelite slaves go. Numbering more than a million strong, they left the land of Egypt with joy and thanksgiving for their deliverance by the mighty God of heaven.
By the time the Israelites reached the Red Sea, Pharaoh had changed his mind, and he and the Egyptian armies came after them in full pursuit. Because of God's command, the Israelites had changed their route from south-easterly to south-westerly, from the shorter route to the longer one toward the Red Sea. But Pharaoh had mistaken this, thinking they were lost, and he was in fast pursuit, sure he would overtake them.
The fleeing Israelites were surrounded by the mountains, and with the Red Sea before them they were caught in a tight place. When they saw the pursuing host of the Egyptians, they were afraid. They turned on Moses and began to berate him, asking, "Why did you bring us out here to die?" How short is human memory! They had already forgotten their bondage, their hard life and cries to God for mercy and deliverance. Moses now understood why he had to go through the Midian experience. He now understood that blame would be laid at his feet. He now understood that leadership is hardship. Moses had no one to turn to but God. And God answered.
Moses said to the people, "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord." And the Lord said to Moses, "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward." And what fantastic miracles took place right before their eyes in a grand display of God's mighty power (Ex. 14:13- 41)!
Again God instructed Moses to use that shepherd's rod, to hold it over the waters of the Red Sea. As he did so, the waters parted, standing as a wall, holding back the surging sea, and a great wide highway appeared before their eyes. The host of Israel marched across on dry land while the waters stood as a dam on both sides of their highway.
Pharaoh and his host plunged in behind them, still certain that they would capture the Hebrews and return them to Egypt. By the time the last human beings and animals of Israel set foot on the other side on dry ground, the Egyptian host had progressed to the middle of the sea. Again, under God's command, Moses stretched his rod over the sea, and with the roar of a thousand hurricanes the waters came roiling back together again. The Egyptian army, including Pharaoh, along with all their horses and chariots, were trapped in the middle of the raging sea and destroyed. The people of Israel broke forth into mighty singingsongs of victory and deliverance.
It would seem that after seeing this marvelous display of God's power and saving grace on their behalf, there would be no more murmuring or doubting on the part of the Israelites. But this was not the case. Time and time again the patience of Mosesand of God was tested to the limit. Moses patiently filled the role of father to the people until one day, in total exhaustion and exasperation, he was pushed so far that he was tempted into disobeying God's command.
Once again, the water supply was exhausted, and the demands of the people seemed especially grievous. The first time the people had complained of thirst, God had told Moses to strike the rock, and pure, refreshing water gushed out.
Moses Strikes the Rock
When a similar crisis arose a second time, God told Moses to "Speak to the rock." But Moses had heard so much whining and complaining from these people, so much ungrateful grumbling against God, that in anger toward them he lost his temper and disobeyed God's command. He struck the rock instead of speaking to it, thus spoiling the symbol and disobeying God.
Nevertheless, God honored Moses by letting the water cascade from the stone. But He told him that because he had disobeyed His command, he would not be able to go over into the land of Canaan. God knew how desperately Moses wanted to enter the Promised Land, but He could not let his disobedience go unnoticed. God is particular. "All who profess godliness are under the most sacred obligation to guard the spirit, and to exercise self control under the greatest provocation. The burdens placed upon Moses were very great; few men will ever be so severely tried as he was; yet this was not allowed to excuse his sin. God has made ample provision for His people; and if they rely upon His strength they will never become the sport of circumstances. The strongest temptation cannot excuse sin. However great the pressure brought to bear upon the soul, transgression is our own act. It is not in the power of earth or hell to compel anyone to do evil. Satan attacks us at our weak points, but we need not be overcome. However severe or unexpected the assault, God has provided help for us and in His strength we may conquer" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 421).
Moses continued to lead the people of Israel during this third forty-year period of his life right up to the borders of the land of Canaanknowing that he would never have the privilege of entering that land with them.
Moses' Last Cautions and Admonitions
After serving God and his people so faithfully Moses, now 120 years old, was near the end of his life. He pleaded with God to let him go over into the Promised Land, but God said to him, "Don't even talk to me about it. You will not go over." God had forgiven Moses that one sin, but His judgment was that Moses could not be permitted to go over into the Promised Land.
So Moses gathered all the children of Israel together and reviewed God's leadership. He rehearsed the history of Israel's deliverance from Egypt until that moment (Deut. 4-6; Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 462-468). He reminded the Israelites that they were not chosen because of their number or because they were better than other people (Deut. 7:7-9). He closed his admonitions with these words, "I am now giving you the choice between life and death, between God's blessing and God's curse, and I call heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Choose life. Love the Lord your God, obey him and be faithful to him, and then you and your descendants will live long in the land that he promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Deut. 30:19, 20).
In spite of all the warnings and admonitions that Moses had left with them, still Israel's obedience was fitful and wavering. Even so, God continued to work marvelously for them under the continued leadership of Joshua, the judges, and the kings that followed. Many were the repeated admonitions for them to serve God, change their rebellious spirit and forget not the commandments and the statutes and the teachings that they had received in the past. Whenever they repented, God blessed them. When they strayed away, He allowed them to become victims of the oppressors. God's prophets brought them messages of reproof and rebuke and encouragement. Sometimes they listened, but most times they did not.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, summed up the situation in these words: "Ye stiffed- necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it" (Acts 7:51-53). This is a harsh, blunt assessment of the situation for which Stephen gave his life as the reaction of the crowd became violent at his words.
Israel rejected the Messiah when He came to them (Matt. 27:25). They expected Him to come as a mighty prince to break the power of the Romans, as a great conqueror like the lion of the tribe of Judah. They expected Him to reign as a mighty world king and to make Judea an earthly paradise. The Messiah who came did not fit their preconceived notions.
But while the Jewish people as a nation rejected the Messiah, yet a remnant will be saved from out of the Jewish nation (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 380; John 1:12, Rom. 11:5, 6). Today salvation is open for both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 18:5, 6; 13:46, 47), so that all can become the children of God, the Israel of God (Gal. 3:26-29).
Warnings of Moses
The warnings of Moses apply to God's people today. Just as God chose Moses to be His prophetic leader of the Exodus movement from Egypt to Canaan, so we believe that the Advent movement has been called out by God to lead a people from spiritual Egypt to heavenly Canaan. Our Fundamental Belief Number 17, on the gift of prophecy, states: "One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. As the Lord's messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction and correction. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested . (Joel 2:28, 29, Acts 2:14-21, Heb.1:1-3, Rev. 12:17; 19:10.)"
The Gift of Prophecy
The gift of prophecy was extant in the New Testament church, for our Lord had promised it (Matt. 23:34, Luke 11:49). God had promised to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. The apostles accepted this (Acts 2:17, 18), and Peter declared it to be so in his sermon on the day of Pentecost.
There were prophets in the early church. Acts 11:27 says, "And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch." Also, Acts 13:1 states, "There were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers," and it lists some of them. And again in Acts 15:32 we are told that "Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them."
So the presence of prophets in the New Testament church was an established fact. This gift was to remain in the church until the coming of Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:6-8, "Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." So it is a mark of identity in the remnant church and is a gift associated with God's commandment-keeping people. (Rev. 12:17; 19:10.)
In the book 101 Questions, Robert W. Olson makes the following points: "In Revelation 19:10 the angel is quoted as saying to John , 'I am . . . of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus.' This phrase is parallel to, 'I am . . . of thy brethren the prophets' in Rev. 22:9. In other words, one who had the testimony of Jesus had the prophetic gift. The term 'spirit of prophecy,' as used in Rev. 19:10, must then apply to anyone who had the prophetic gift, including the angel, John, and John's brethren.
"Adventists believe that Ellen White had the 'spirit of prophecy' and commonly use the term as a title, applying to her writings. In the strictest Biblical sense, however , the phrase 'spirit of prophecy' applies to the ministry and teachings of all the prophets, both ancient and modern.
"According to Rev. 12:17, the remnant church was to have 'the testimony of Jesus Christ.' This phrase, in English as in Greek, can mean either testimony about Christ or testimony from Christ. Since all Christian groups talk about Christ this could hardly be a distinguishing feature of God's true church in the last days. However, to have divine communications from Christa renewal of the prophetic giftwould quite easily identify the true remnant from other church groups.
"Seventh-day Adventists hold that the phrase 'the testimony of Jesus' in Rev. 12:17 is a reference to the gift of prophecy as seen in the ministry of Ellen G. White. This interpretation is in harmony with the meaning of the phrase in Rev. 1:2 and 1:9" (101 Questions on the Sanctuary and on Ellen White, pp. 36, 37).
This gift therefore also acts as a test of truth (Isaiah 8:20).
The Blessings of the Spirit of Prophecy
a. It gives spiritual eyesight, thus preventing spiritual blindness (1 Sam. 3:1, 2; 28:6; Prov. 29:18).
b. When heeded it brings prosperity (2 Chron. 20:20). It gives practical counsels for Christian living (Deut. 1-33, and E. G. White books on Biblical themes).
How did Ellen White see her role? Here is what she says. "I have had no claims to make, only that I am instructed that I am the Lord's messenger; that He called me in my youth to be His messenger, to receive His word, and to give a clear and decided message in the name of the Lord Jesus.
"Early in my youth I was asked several times, Are you a prophet? I have ever responded, I am the Lord's messenger. I know that many have called me a prophet, but I have made no claim to this title. My Saviour declared me to be His messenger. 'Your work,' He instructed me, 'is to bear My word. Strange things will arise, and in your youth I set you apart to bear the message to the erring ones, to carry the word before unbelievers, and with pen and voice to reprove from the Word actions that are not right. Exhort from the Word. I will make My Word open to you. It shall not be as a strange language. In the true eloquence of simplicity, with voice and pen, the messages that I give shall be heard from one who has never learned in the schools. My Spirit and My power shall be with you.
"'Be not afraid of man, for My shield shall protect you. It is not you that speaketh. It is the Lord that giveth the messages of warning and reproof. Never deviate from the truth under any circumstances. Give the light I shall give you. The messages for these last days shall be written in books, and shall stand immortalized, to testify against those who have once rejoiced in the light, but who have been led to give it up because of the seductive influences of evil.'
"Why have I not claimed to be a prophet? Because in these days many who boldly claim that they are prophets are a reproach to the cause of Christ; and because my work includes much more than the word 'prophet' signifies" (Selected Messages,book 1, p. 32, italics supplied).
For seventy long years God used Ellen G. White as His messenger to the Advent Movement as He had used Moses as His messenger to the Exodus Movement. In the final analysis, the Israelites failed to heed the warnings. Let us not do the same.
LEST WE FORGET
"By a prophet the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved" (Hosea 12:13). What would have happened to the Seventh-day Adventist church without the guidance of Ellen G. White? It is safe to say that without her guidance as the messenger from the Lord to the remnant church, the Seventh-day Adventist church, as we know it now, would not exist.
In his book, Messenger of the Lord, Herbert E. Douglass quotes Dr. Jack Provonsha as saying that "Without Ellen White there would be no Seventh-day Adventist church today." In reviewing the Adventist movement from its beginning, Provonsha asserted, "They had their Bible. But they had in large measure that other ingredient for a religious movement's vitalitythe sense that they had been called by God and that He was in their movement! Had He not vouchsafed His presence with the gift of prophetic guidance? That made all the difference. Without such a sense at the beginning, there would not now even be a Seventh-day Adventist church, at least one that made a great deal of difference to the world. The obvious corollary to this is that if that sense is ever lost, the church, even if it continues to exist institutionally, may no longer count where and in the way that it is supposed to count" (Messenger of the Lord, p. 538).
Dr. Provonsha then wrote, "I have quoted liberally from Ellen G. White. I make no apology for this. She is my 'spiritual mother.' She has also been absolutely central to the life and thought of Adventism" (ibid.).
Douglass continues: "Telling the story of the birth of Israel as a nation is impossible without reviewing the work of Moses, its prophet. How would one explain the Exodus without Moses? Or Mount Sinai? Or why Israel had to wander in the wilderness for forty years? So it is impossible to tell the story of the Seventh-day Adventist movement without interweaving Ellen White's ministry in the affirmation of Biblical doctrine, in the building of a church organization strong enough to support a world church, and in the Moses-like messages of reproof and courage that helped to shape the character of the church. Without her today it is probable that the Adventist Church would be only a footnote in some history book of various religious groups in the nineteenth century" (ibid.).
As Moses pleaded with the children of Israel to heed the counsels and admonitions of the Lord, so we plead with our peoplechurch members, institutional leaders, denominational leaders on all levelsto pay heed to the Word of God and to the counsels that God has been pleased to give us through the writings of Ellen G. White, His messenger. We thank God for this gift that seeks to get us ready for the coming of the Lord, for "We have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history" (Life Sketches, p. 196; Testimonies to Ministers, p. 31).
Elder G. Ralph Thompson currently serves as Field Representative for the Ellen G. White Estate. He has served in a variety of positions in the church, including the last 20 years as secretary of the General Conference.
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