Human Failure


Human Failure

November 9th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM

Exodus 2:11-22

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well. Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon to day? And they said, An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock. And he said unto his daughters, And where is he? why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread. And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Exodus 2:11-22

11-9-58    8:15 a.m.


You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the morning message at the early hour entitled Human Failure.  In our early morning services, we are following through the Old Testament the great characters through whom God shaped the destiny of His people, and we are now beginning in the life of Moses.  The passage of Scripture from which we speak this morning is in Exodus, the second chapter of Exodus, beginning at the eleventh verse:

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.

And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.

And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?

And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known.

Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses.  But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.

[Exodus 2:11-15]

Weary, discouraged, disappointed, frustrated, defeated; his first attempt at the deliverance of his people met with dismal, abject failure.  That is described for us in the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, the twenty-second and following verses:

And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.

And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel.

And seeing one of them suffering wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian:

For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.

[Acts 7:22-25]

That is a most unusual come to pass in the life of this splendid prince.  There has never been a more heroic thing, nor has there ever been a character decision of greater proportion than when this man Moses “Chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt . . .  By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible” [Hebrews 11:25-27].

How easy it would have been for Moses to rationalize his position.  Here he is, a prince, the heir apparent, and his brethren could use so powerful a friend at court.  He could have sent them money out of his own treasury.  He could have befriended them in many wonderful ways.  By and by, when he became the pharaoh himself, he could have delivered them with the signing of a decree.  The choice of Moses to step down from the highest throne in the world to be numbered among the abject slaves of his kingdom is a decision, is a heroism, beyond anything you will ever read in literature or in history.

But the great prompting that caused him to do it, to identify himself with his people, to offer himself as their great emancipator and deliverer, was at first the first trial that ended thus in human failure and disappointment; it was prompted by pity and human sympathy.  “He supposed that his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them, but they understood not” [Acts 7:25].  What Moses had done, was doing, was a result of the sympathy and pity in his heart for his people.

I can easily see that.  This distinguished courtier, a man of passion and of letters, a great man mighty in deeds, looks upon that long line of toiling slaves under the hot, almost equatorial sun, beating straight down from a blistering, burning sky of brass and iron, toiling in the stiff clay pits of Egypt under the whip and heavy lash of a cruel taskmaster; I can see how that man, looking upon those people, would have had emotions in his heart that were difficult to control.  I can imagine the mystery of the providence that he surveyed in his meditation and in his thoughts.  Could it be that he, the crown prince of the greatest kingdom in the earth, was bound to these toiling slaves by bonds of blood, and heritage, and ancestry, and family ties?  These are his people.

The very contrast between the splendor and luxury of his own life and the degradation and despair of the toiling Hebrews around him accentuated the feeling in his own heart.  I can easily see as he watched them toil, I can easily understand how he came to commiserate their tragic lot.  Burdened under an accumulation of sorrows, their agony and their tears not only came up unto God, but it touched his own soul and his own heart.  And I can easily see how that as the days passed that sympathy and that pity and that commiseration finally turns into wrath and indignation against the cruel oppressor.

As he went out upon a day and saw an Egyptian taskmaster with his great, heavy whip flogging one of those slaves, his brethren, and the quivering flesh of the slaves, cowering in blood before the heavy lash of the taskmaster, was more than the prince could longer take.  And lifting up his strong arm, he felled the taskmaster with one blow and buried him in the sand [Exodus 2:11-12].  Well, that’s not all bad.  Moses murdered a man to begin with.  He struck him and felled him and killed him with one blow.  It showed the dedication in his heart.  He never had to identify himself with the people of God.  It showed the strength of his will.  It showed the deep sympathy he had in his own soul for those crying and agonizing and burdened people.

But it takes more than human sympathy and it takes more than human pity to do what Moses someday had to do.  Just the emotion of pity and of sympathy would not suffice for the long, dreary years of the wilderness journey [Exodus 16:1-40:38].  Just the passion of compassion, sympathy, pity would not suffice to bear up under the reproaches of his own people.  Pity would never bring him to the place where he could say to God, “Blot my name out of the book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32].  No, it would take more than just the emotion of commiseration for an unhappy people ever to make him the great leader of the Exodus, and the teacher and lawgiver of the people.  He wasn’t ready.

Could I pause there to say how often I see that identical thing?  Swept by a great emotion, sometimes it will be the moving of a great crowd at a missionary gathering, sometimes it will be under the fierce oratory of a great worldwide appeal, sometimes it will be the description of an appealing situation among the poor and the ignorant across the sea, and immediately down the aisles and crowding to the front are volunteers ready to throw themselves into the breach.  Then it is published in our papers, “Five hundred gave themselves for foreign missions volunteers, and three hundred gave themselves to be evangelists, preachers of the gospel.”  Then the tide recedes, and like a hull they are stranded high and dry on the shore.

No, it takes the discipline of a firm and set resolve, a dedication of life trained and taught by forty years in the desert [Acts 7:29-30], to do what this man had to do.  Just an emotion of pity, sympathy wouldn’t do.  So he failed [Exodus 2:11-12].

There is a second thing that I think of it.  It wasn’t God’s hour and God’s time.  I know that from a prophecy that the Lord God made to Abraham in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis:

And God said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years.

But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not full

[Genesis 15:13, 16].

It was up to the brim.  It was nearly to the lip of the cup, but it was not quite God’s time.  It lacked forty years [Acts 7:23, 30].

Now, there is another thing.  O Lord, how can we ever remember it?  To be premature in what we do is always to find frustration and failure.  One blow in God’s appointed time is worth more than a thousand premature blows—when God says, “This is the hour, this is the time, this is it.”  It was premature; Moses wasn’t ready, God wasn’t ready, and the Hebrews were not ready.  You’d think so, but when you begin to look at this carefully, may I point out to you something in the lives of those people?

Even after the appointed hour of God, and even after Moses had been sent down to deliver his people, and even after because of that announced deliverance [Exodus 3:7-10, 4:29-31], the pharaoh added to the tasks of the people and finally made them toil in making bricks without straw, and yet the tale of bricks were not in anywise decreased—find their own straw, make their own bricks [Exodus 5:7-8].  Even under the groaning of an increasingly heavy burden, when those people were delivered and were marching under the aegis of God for the Promised Land, do you remember what they did?

There, under the care and guidance and cloud of the Lord God Himself [Exodus 13:21, 40:36-38], they murmured against Moses and they murmured against God and they lusted for the fleshpots, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic in Egypt.  “Oh, would to God we were back there in Egypt!  Oh, would to God we were around the fleshpots in Egypt!  Oh would to God we had a bowl of that ingern soup filled with leeks and garlic!  Oh, oh, oh, the good times we had and the great times we had back there when we were serving the Egyptians!” [Numbers 11:4-5].

Why, that is the beatenest thing you could ever read of in your life!  And that is exactly like people are!  When God blesses us, and we’re not simply down and groaning and in the deepest necessity, we hardly recognize it, we hardly speak of it, we hardly mention it, we hardly appreciate it.

I think of America, O Lord, Lord, Lord!  Shall it be that before America turns and repents and gets right with God, shall we first be beat to our knees by lurid death falling from the sky and by an awful holocaust that shall bathe our country and our people in blood?  That’s what it took for these people.  And even then, and even then, they longed for the leeks and the onions and the garlic and the fleshpots of Egypt [Numbers 11:5].  Even after they had gone through that awful and deep trial, far beyond what they were going now, it was premature.

All right, another thing about Moses’ attempt at deliverance of his people; it was done in the pride of his own strength, his own will, and his own power:

And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and smote the oppressor:  For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not

[Acts 7:24-25].


Moses had every right, every natural right, to be persuaded that he could do that tremendous assignment.  All his life he had had his own way—a prince, an heir apparent.  At his slightest whim, obsequious servants and courtiers were on every side and every hand to obey him.  He was a man in the full-orbed strength of energy and of physical power.

If we have time a little later on, I want to speak of two evidences here of the tremendous physical power of this man Moses.  He was at the very bloom, at the very zenith and height and glory of physical manhood.  And according to Josephus and according to this passage in Acts, Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and in deeds [Acts 7:22].  According to Acts and according to Josephus, Moses had already carved out for himself a tremendous reputation and a great name.  And when he proposed to be the deliverer of his people, he had every personal reason to believe that, by his own strong arm, he would be able to bring it to pass.  Can you imagine, therefore, the indescribable rebuff, the sting of disappointment that he felt when he went out the second day to carry on his self-assigned task?  And instead of his brethren hailing him as their great emancipator and deliverer, he was rebuffed and insulted!  “Who made you that over us?  Who?  Just who?” [Exodus 2:14]. Some of these days he’ll do that by the power of God.  But right now he’s trying to do it by impulse, by an impetuous self-will.  Some of these days, this proud prince will be the meekest among men [Numbers 12:3].  But right now, he’s leaning unto his own understanding.  Some of these days that proud prince will fall before God and appeal the mercies of heaven and his own weakness and lack of strength [Exodus 17:4].  But right now he proposes to be the emancipator of his people by his own strong arm [Exodus 2:11-12].  He has in him the makings of a real saint.  But right now, he is the crown prince of the throne of Egypt, the heir apparent.  And he feels his own strength and his own personal power.  And God cannot use him, now [Exodus 2:13-15].

O Lord, isn’t that the strangest thing?

And lest I be exalted overmuch by the abundance of the revelations, there was given unto me a stake in the flesh to buffet me.  Thrice, I besought the Lord to take it away, But He said, My strength, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness

 [2 Corinthians 12:7-9]


Not till he, discouraged, sat by the well, crushed and broken and disappointed and rebuffed [Exodus 2:15], and not till after forty years of trial and training in the wilderness [Acts 7:29-30], was he able to be God’s man to deliver God’s people.

I think about us in that.  And don’t you see it all the time?  I think of my own ministry and my own frustration and my own disappointment—young fellow, still have a streak of it in me: impetuous, driven, trying to do the work of the Lord, bare your arm, make a tremendous trial, the enthusiasm of youth, persuaded that the enemy will reel under your blows.  After you’ve struck a lick or two, at the first breath of human disapproval, you’re crushed, you’re defeated.  And you go and hide your face from the scene of discomfiture, all blue, all discouraged because the people have not received you and do not follow you as their great emancipator and deliverer.  Man of vision reaching up for higher things, then at the first little rebuff, at the first little word of disapproval, all of you cave in, all of you, me, cave in, want to go away and hide, sit down discouraged on a well, just like Moses [Exodus 2:15].  No, God has to put in a man stuff; even though it’s stern, made out of iron!  Yet, when you look at it, it’s meekness, and humility, and dependence on God, and crying unto the Lord.  Isn’t that a strange thing?

I must hasten.  I have one more thing to say.  In this first attempt to deliver his people, now you look at him.  In his first attempt to deliver his people, he had an ear and he had an eye for what other people were saying and what other people were doing.  Look at him.  And he went out unto his brethren, and he looked this way and that way, then he did what he had dedicated his heart to try to do, after he looked this way and he looked that way [Exodus 2:12].  Isn’t that something?  Here you are dedicated to God, serving the Lord, following Jesus, and you’ve got your eye and your ear, “What are they saying and what are they doing?”  You are not bold and fearless to face lions when what you’re doing is dependent upon what you see this way and what you hear that way.

Why, I think of Simon Peter before a little maid, a little girl.  “Are you not one of His disciples?”

“No sir, I am not.”

“Well, you sure talk like it,” she said.

And Simon Peter said, “So you think I talk like Him, well, listen to this.”  And he swore and cussed a blue streak.  But the Bible says he cursed and swore that he never heard of Him.  He did that before a little maid.  What they say! [Mark 14:66-71].  But when the enduement of the Lord God fell upon him, that same Simon Peter stood up at the great feast of the Jews when there were thousands around, and the men who had so fearlessly crucified our Lord, and he stood there bold as a lion and avowed his commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 2:14-41].

As long as what you are doing for God is dependent upon what they say here and what they do there, you’re not following God.  You’re not God’s man yet.  You’re listening to the whispers.  You’re following the judgments of men.  You’re like Moses, who looked this way and that way [Exodus 2:12].  But there will come a time when Moses won’t look this way, nor will he look that way, nor will he heed what others are saying.  He’s got the power of the Lord God upon him now.  He’s God’s man, at God’s hour to deliver God’s people to God’s heritage and Promised Land [Exodus 3:7-10].

And that’s where we’re going to pick him up, after the trial in the wilderness, after the teaching of the Lord God.  The Lord Himself will appear to him and that prince, so ably trained for his work, now on his knees looking up in weakness to heaven, this great, good man, humble, meek, unostentatious: all the praise and glory to God.  He will be usable now [Exodus 3:10-22].  The Lord can make of him His great lawgiver and emancipator—but first, the years of trial and waiting and teaching in the deserts.  His time will come, but the next time, it will be God’s time.

Now we sing our song, and while we sing it, somebody you give his heart to the Lord, put his life in the church by confession of faith, or by letter, however God shall say the word and lead the way, would you come on the first note of the first stanza?  While we stand and sing.


Exodus 2:11-22


Moses’ impulse of sympathy and pity – turned to indignation against

Premature sympathetic actions

Pride of human strength

Moses apprehensive of the judgment of others