Moses is such an incredible person to look at in the scriptures that though I lack commonality with him, I find myself drawn to his story. His narration brings you to the Red Sea parting, shepherding days, and how he handled leadership situations. Through all this, he drew near to the Lord and remained faithful to him, even after he knew that he would never see his greatest desire come to pass: Israel home and free in their land.
One aspect that recently caught my attention is how Moses worked with others. We don’t always think of him as a team player. For years, I thought of him as more of a visionary type who led from the top down, marching down the mountain with the two tablets in hand. Then there’s the story of him hiding his face behind a veil because of the glow or hiding in the mountainside, protected by the hand of God as the glory passed by. There’s also the first-person narrative of Deuteronomy, the one man retelling the story before the people of Israel who were to enter their inheritance as he was to pass into eternity. We think of the solitary man, but without closer reading, we might forget that there was a little more to it than that. Maybe Moses worked constantly and even well with other people.
The Surprising Ways Moses Valued Teamwork While Leading Israel
One of the first things that astounded me in this man’s life was how much he wanted to work with others. The first example is when he pleads with God not to send him before Pharaoh. Admittedly, this is not a decisive moment for him. Arguing with God is never a good idea. Despite this, it would seem that the Lord provided Aaron, who was already on his way over to meet Moses while the prophet was trying to get out of his responsibilities (Ex. 4). No matter how we interpret what happened, we realize Moses worked near a brother who was maybe a little too gifted at public speaking. It’s important to remember that he was in this situation because Moses insisted on it. At that moment, the roles were clearly defined in Exodus 4:30. Moses heard from the Lord and told it to Aaron. Aaron spoke to Pharaoh, and then Moses performed the signs. This is how ministry was done before the King of Egypt, but it was also a precursor to how Moses would lead the people of Israel.
Let’s take the example of Exodus 18. Moses receives his father-in-law, Jethro, and shows him all the beautiful things God is doing. Then, the next day, Jethro watches Moses in action. His father-in-law sees something that could potentially hurt Moses and the people. The man is doing too much. He was wearing himself out in matters he didn’t need to be involved in; today, we might call them warning signs of burnout or adrenal fatigue. From that day, the team grew into a cohesion of many people working together. It could be argued that this wasn’t Moses’ idea, which I would concede, but having been in a blinding tunnel of work that I couldn’t see out of, I also made many mistakes that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Jethro’s advice was needed and implemented willingly by Moses.
It seems Moses took the lesson to heart in Numbers 11. When the people’s complaints weighed him down, he cried to the Lord to alleviate his burden. The Lord responds by instructing him to name 70 elders to help. Everything seems to go well as the Lord fills the men with His Spirit until Joshua sees two men prophesying who were not chosen… I find Moses’ response to Joshua’s jealousy extremely revealing: “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them” (Nu. 11:29). It appears to me that Moses dreamed of a more considerable cohesion of God’s children working together through the power of the Holy Spirit, much like what Paul would develop later in 1 Corinthians 12-14.
Teamwork: Everyone Had a Place
In the book of Leviticus, we see in God’s design for the Children of Israel that everyone had a place. It’s true that Moses spent time alone with God and spoke to Him as one spoke with his friend, but Moses also shared ministry with other people. He didn’t build the utensils, provide the materials, physically slaughter the animals, carry the tabernacle on his shoulders, pick up the sword, and fight the enemies. Instead, he appointed artists and specific people for each task so that it could continue without him. He chose twelve spies and seventy elders and sent the soldiers into battle under the head of another man, Joshua. In the end, I would argue that Moses’ teamwork was so interwoven in the fabric of his ministry that we don’t even see it. It’s much like a political candidate whose name is on the billboard but who is supported by a well-coordinated team, without which it would all be impossible.
Not everything Moses did as a team ended well. We could point to the 12 spies as a crisis moment that ended horribly. And yet, two men remained faithful to the Lord and entered the promised land, while the other ten did not. Another less-than-brilliant moment comes to mind in Numbers 20. It was the moment when Moses, in anger, struck the rock rather than speak to it and misrepresented God before the people. Was Moses alone in this moment? In verses six through ten, we realize Aaron was with him. The Lord’s rebuke in verse twelve was to both brothers. Though Moses and Aaron were both accountable to God, that didn’t stop him from committing one of his most regrettable errors. We can’t forget that another mistake at the beginning of his public life came when he alone murdered the Egyptian he caught abusing one of the enslaved Hebrew people…
Serving Together in a Way that Brought Glory to God
Was Moses a team player? Let’s be prudent in using today’s terminology ripe with modern nuances foreign to his worldview and the biblical text. Moses was, after all, just a man, though incredibly blessed. He braved situations we will never have to see because of his unique calling. He had times of recluse, times of social gathering, and times of prayerful solitude. One of the best parts of his story is that it stops us from making him two-dimensional, with a title that fits our day’s hermeneutic. We can say that he loved Israel and that his policies enabled many people to serve together in a way that brought glory to God.
And in the thick of it, I’m encouraged to see a man who gave away power to others and worked actively to a continuing legacy that would far outlive his long life on earth.
In closing, my favorite scene of Moses collaborating with others is in Exodus 17:12. “But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other; his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.” As Joshua led the army into battle below, Moses watched and prayed. But he wasn’t alone. He had two men standing there with him, who at the right moment held up his hands, giving Moses and then Joshua the strength they needed spiritually. That is the sweet teamwork that inspires me most, one not too far from Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus when the Lord went to pray on the mountain with three of his disciples. It would appear from these passages that teamwork isn’t just for this world; maybe our collaboration here is just a preparation for something greater to come.