The Moses Snydrome

ulius Schnorr von Carolsfeld's (1794-1872) depiction of an Egyptian and a Hebrew fighting; Moses draws his sword to kill the Egyptian, making sure no one is watching.
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s (1794-1872) depiction of an Egyptian and a Hebrew fighting; Moses draws his sword to kill the Egyptian, making sure no one is watching.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Is there any limit to my power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!” – Numbers 11:23 (NLT)

It is common to name a condition after someone famous who exhibited the symptoms of that condition.  The debilitating disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease” for the baseball legend who suffered from its effects.  Men who are “vertically challenged” and seek to compensate for their height deficiency by exhibiting overly aggressive or domineering behavior are said to have a “Napoleon complex” referring to the 19th century diminutive French emperor.

Moses is known as the lawgiver and liberator of the Jewish people.  God used Moses as a conduit to bring about 10 plagues against the Egyptians to finally convince a stubborn Pharaoh to release the Hebrews from their captivity.  God wrought spectacular miracles through the staff of Moses including the parting of the Red Sea and bringing water forth from a rock.  It was through Moses that God delivered the Ten Commandments and a number of other laws that became the cornerstone for the Jewish people.  Moses led the Jews from captivity in Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised Land.   As if all this were not enough, Moses found time to put to write the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.  Yet for all his accomplishments, Moses remained humble.  Number 12:3 states, “Now Moses was more humble than any other person on earth.”

But Moses was not perfect.  A study of Moses’ life reveals that while often well intended Moses would at times take matters into his hands and not wait for God’s timing or rely on God’s power.  I have coined this tendency of Moses as the “Moses Syndrome.”  Scripture describes at least three outbreaks:

1.  Moses killed the Egyptian whom he observed beating a Hebrew slave (Exodus 2:11-12).  This rash act got Moses banished from Egypt.  Moses was in wittingly attempting   to be the premature deliverer of his people.

2.  Moses took it up himself to judge all matters of dispute among the Israelites. If even a fraction of the two million Jews who left Egypt as a part of the Exodus had disagreements, Moses would have been quite busy.  Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, observed court while it was session.  He advised Moses to appoint judges to hear the minor disputes with only the most serious cases reaching Moses (Exodus 18:13-23).  To his credit, Moses put Jethro’s advice into practice.

3.  The Israelites and their foreign companions began to complain about their “manna diet” and wistfully longed for the “good ole days” of Egypt when they had a more varied diet to eat (Numbers 11:4-6).  (It’s amazing the complainers forgot their “gourmet” diet came at the price of slavery.)  Moses had heard enough.  He cried out to God, “What did I do to deserve the burden of a people like this? (v.11). Once again, Moses assumed a burden that was not his to carry.  Even after God assures Moses meat will be provided, Moses questions him on his ability to do so. But Moses said, “There are 600,000 foot soldiers here with me, and yet you promise them meat for a whole month! Even if we butchered all our flocks and herds, would that satisfy them? Even if we caught all the fish in the sea, would that be enough?” (vv. 21-22).  God reminds Moses he has not suffered a power blackout, “Is there any limit to my power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!” (v. 23).  God answered Moses’s inquiry by causing a wind that brought quail from the sea and caused them to hover just above the ground where the Israelites could easily collect them (v. 31).

I must confess that I too often experience a flair-up of the Moses Syndrome.  I have a “Martha” temperament and not a “Mary” temperament.  (For more on this reference please read Luke 10:38-42). I have a tendency to take matters into my own hands, and to get ahead of God.  I can become easily overwhelmed by the visible circumstances, and forget about God’s invisible power.

As I’m writing this, the NFL draft in going on.  In football, a receiver who timidly goes across the middle of the field to make a catch is said to have “alligator arms.”  Instead of extending his arms to make a catch and possibly exposing himself to a vulnerable hit, the receiver with alligator arms “shortens” his arms by pulling them close to his body to brace for the hit.

In scripture the term “God’s arm” is synonymous with God’s power.  In the Hebrew language the question that God actually asks Moses in Numbers 11:11 is “has God’s arm grown too short?” We can take comfort that God’s arms always remain extended, ready and able to help in his children in our times of need (Hebrews 4:16).   God never gets a case of alligator arms.


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