Moses, The Wisdom of the Egyptians and Modern Education

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Acts 7:20‑38

Moses, the Wisdom of The Egyptians

and Modern Education


ot all educated people are wise; not all wise people are educated.  The two concepts—education and wisdom—are not synonymous.  Though the Bible never discourages education, it does urge each of us to become ever more wise.  The tragedy is that for too many of our contemporaries, education has obscured the pursuit of knowledge.  One example of such confusing of the two terms is provided through a review of the life of Moses.  Stephen, a deacon of the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem, was the one presenting the account on that fateful day he stood before the Sanhedrin presenting a defence of his ministry and life.  Before that august tribunal the first martyr of the church spoke these words.

At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, “Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?” But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.” And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, “Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.”

This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?”—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.” This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.[1]

Stephen recognised, that Moses was well educated; but Moses’ education did not mean that he was prepared to serve God.  He lacked wisdom and he would sorely need that precious commodity before he would be able to serve God acceptably.  Join me in a study of Stephen’s words so that together we may learn to distinguish wisdom and education.

Moses Was Instructed in All the Wisdom of The Egyptians — The divine text simply states that Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.  Perhaps we aren’t inclined to give much weight to that statement—it does appear rather pedestrian—but the statement does serve to inform us that Moses had significant advantages.  He had received the finest education available.  Although we now know that much of what Moses learned was wrong, the education he received nevertheless provided him with great advantage … and also with great hindrance.

As is frequently true of citizens of powerful nations, the Egyptians were a proud people.  They possessed the finest educational system of the time.  They were the most technologically advanced nation in the world.  They were the sole super-power at that time.  They were conquerors of and rulers over many other nations.  The decisions made by Egyptian rulers had incredible impact on all surrounding nations.  Egyptian markets held sway over all commerce.  Egyptian armies caused other nations to tremble.  Egyptian textiles were the standard by which all fabrics were judged.  Egyptian technology was avidly sought after everywhere.  Egyptians could afford to be proud!  They were the ruling class!  Moses, despite every obstacle, received a world-class education.

You recall the story of how this came about.  Moses was born into a family of slaves … slaves who were horribly, brutally oppressed.  In fact the Egyptians had grown so virulent in their hatred of the Hebrews that an imperial edict had been issued that every male child was to be killed at birth.  Moses’ parents had concealed him for three months after his birth.  We can only imagine what great tension that must have created in the home.  Every time the baby hiccoughed the entire family must have jumped with fear.  Fearful that the crying of the child would disclose his existence and knowing that eventually the presence of a toddler would reveal their disobedience, they cast themselves upon God’s mercies and placed the child in a small basket that they had waterproofed with pitch and they set the basket adrift upon the waters of the Nile.

In a modern accounting we would likely say that it was most fortunate that Pharaoh’s daughter happened upon the basket and that it was fortuitous that Moses’ sister happened to be watching over the basket.  However, the text says, Moses was beautiful in God’s sight [Acts 7:20].  God was watching over the child for good.  Pharaoh’s daughter sent a servant to fetch the basket and when the cover was drawn back her heart was smitten by the beautiful child lying there.  She determined to raise the child in her own palace as her own son.  Miriam, no doubt anxious and concerned, leaped from her hiding place and offered to find a nurse for the infant.  Then, with the blessings of the princess, she hurried to bring Moses’ own mother of to serve as his nurse throughout his formative years.  Thus, Moses grew to manhood in the Pharaoh’s palace and was accorded the finest education imaginable.  The modern mind is inclined to say that it was all so accidental, so fraught with chance, but God was in every move, directing and controlling.

Dear people, your past may appear to be of no great consequence.  Perhaps it seems inconsequential or even inferior.  However, if you are a child of God you may be assured that God knows the paths you have taken.  He knows where you have been and He is well able to employ you in His great work.  It remains to be seen what God can do with that individual who is committed to His service and submitted to His rule.  My encouragement to you is to bring your past training to Him, offering yourself to Him, and see how He will use you.

Moses knew Egyptian thought processes.  He was conversant with all the contemporary concepts of science, of social intercourse, of jurisprudence.  Surely such knowledge would be a great advantage.  Moses knew that life arose spontaneously from the slime and the mud of the Nile.  Moses knew that once the petty jealousies of the gods were known, they were easily manipulated into doing the will of man.  Moses knew that the entire world was divided into inviolate classes and that rulers were obligated to carry the burden of their class as they oppressed the lesser peoples.  Moses’ education had taught him all this.  Despite all the blessings of his education, Moses was at the same time cursed with that same knowledge.

Moses Assumed His Own People Would Recognise His Prowess — Contemporary accounts indicate that Moses was about forty years of age when he first acted in behalf of the enslaved Hebrew people.  In the preceding years he is reputed to have attained the rank of a general of the Egyptian army and was recognised as a military leader who had led the armies in victory against forces hostile to Egypt.  He was a de facto member of the royal family, accorded the privilege of a prince.  Thus, when Stephen stated, Moses … was mighty in his words and deeds [Acts 7:22], he referred to the benefits of his education and to the position that Moses enjoyed.

Moses was endued with a sense of special call.  Therefore, he determined that he would organise the enslaved people and lead them to freedom.  Stephen stated the matter in this fashion.  It came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel [Acts 7:23].  Moses wanted to do right!  A stirring statement occurs in Hebrews 11:24-26.  Consider the statement given us in those words.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.  This is phenomenal.  Moses was willing to forsake privilege to share disgrace with a nation of slaves.  This is exceptional at the very least.  Few people give up privilege to serve those who are nobody.

If God called you to the task of nation building and you were a noted military leader, wouldn’t you assume that God wanted to use your military prowess?  Should God call you to His service and you were well educated, wouldn’t you assume that God was in need of your great learning?  Moses clearly had a sense of call and appears to have determined that God needed him!  What a shock to Moses when he was rebuffed by one of the Hebrew men.  Stephen simply relates the incident with these words.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarrelling and tried to reconcile them, saying, “Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?” But the man who was wronging his neighbour thrust him aside, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” [Acts 7:25-28].

Moses, acting in the power of his flesh, killed an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew slave.  He buried the dead man and went about his business.  It was a small matter to such a powerful individual as Moses, and he thought the Hebrews would understand his concern for them.  He was stunned when he attempted to separate two Hebrews fighting one another only to have one of the men divulge knowledge of Moses’ murder.  Even more shocking to the great man were the actions and the query of the one who was mistreating the other, for he pushed Moses aside and said, Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? [Acts 7:27].

I well recall a humbling experience after I had completed studies leading to my doctorate.  A friend approached me, presumably to congratulate me, but he deflated me when he said, “Congratulations on your degree.  That and twenty-five cents will get you a ride on the bus.”  That tells you how long ago this happened!

My education did not awe my dad, he was still amused that I could not sharpen a ploughshare, fill a sickle nor forge weld iron.  My education did not particularly impress my wife—she wanted the lawn mowed.  One must maintain perspective.  I despise neither education nor earthly achievement, but I am compelled to remind you that it is you and not what you possess that God wants.  God may use your abilities, but God does not need your abilities.  God may use your station, but God does not need your position.  Underscore this one singular thought:  It is you and not what you possess that God desires.

Moses Was Set Aside Until Suited for The Lord’s Purpose — A moment ago I stated a most important principle which each of us will do well to remember.  Recall that principle at this time—It is you and not what you possess that God desires.  If we imagine that God wants our possessions or our abilities, we need but consider Moses after he attempted to perform God’s work in his own strength.  Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian [Acts 7:29].

Perhaps you will remember the stunning words found in Psalm 50:8-15.

Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;

your burnt offerings are continually before Me.

I will not accept a bull from your house

or goats from your folds.

For every beast of the forest is Mine,

the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know all the birds of the hills,

and all that moves in the field is Mine.

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and the fullness are mine.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls

or drink the blood of goats?

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,

and perform your vows to the Most High,

and call upon Me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.

That is humbling!  Paul, writing the Corinthian saints, was compelled to make the same point concerning their relationship to God. I seek not what is yours but you [2 Corinthians 12:14].  The same point is iterated in Jesus’ words, which are recorded in Luke 12:29-31.  Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

A worthy principle states that God does not deal in failure.  A quaint restatement says that God ain’t no junk dealer!  Though you may perhaps feel set aside for the moment, rest assured that God is always at work to bring to completion the work He began in you.  God has invested His very Self in each one called by His Name.  Refresh your mind to consider Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:3-6.  I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Take special note of that final clause: He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.

This is but an affirmation of Romans 8:28-30, which reads: we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The lesson I urge upon each of us today is to emphasise this truth in your life.  God may set you aside for a time despite your sense of call; but God will not forget that you are called.  Remember the promise of God—the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [Romans 11:29].  Did God call you to salvation?  He will complete what He has begun.  Has God called you to a particular service?  The process of the moment is but divine preparation for fulfilment.

Moses’ Call was Finalised When He Learned to Rely on God — Perhaps you are just now thinking, “If God’s call is irrevocable, why am I set aside.”  It may seem that you have waited a long time, but you must apply the divine chronology.  Moses was set aside for forty years.  Since he had fled Egypt at the age of forty when we would say he was in the prime of life, who could expect anything of him when he was eighty?  The Lord said to him… I will send you back to Egypt.  The joke was on Moses since he had another forty years in which to serve God!

Recall that the Prophet Jeremiah once received a rather strange command.  The command he received and the lesson that he learned are of great benefit to us in the context of this message. The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done?” declares the Lord.  “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel” [Jeremiah 18:1-6].

The question each of us must answer is this—is God sovereign or not?  If God is sovereign, then we must each learn to humble ourselves under His mighty hand.  In fact, this is the command in 1 Peter 5:6 which leads to the great corollary in 1 Peter 5:7.  The promise has served to comfort so many saints throughout the ages.  Refresh your memory of God’s promise.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.  It is only as we humble ourselves before God, the sovereign of life, that we are able to experience His power and His might in our lives.  Since this is true, we are encouraged to cast all our anxiety on Him … because He cares for us.

Among our membership are some who think themselves too old to ever accomplish any great thing for the cause of Christ.  Such thinking cannot be true since God is eternal.  And since the eternal God is your dwelling place [and] underneath are the everlasting arms [Deuteronomy 33:27], you can confidently encourage yourself through recalling God’s promise through Isaiah.

Even to your old age I am he,

and to grey hairs I will carry you.

I have made, and I will bear;

I will carry and I will save.

[Isaiah 46:4]

In His time and according to His will, God permits each of us to fulfil His call.  Rest assured that He is in control and thus humble yourself before Him until He acts, knowing that He shall act.

Lessons to be Applied in the Life of Contemporary Believers —Throughout the message I have endeavoured to present great principles for a life pleasing to God.  At this point in our study of the Word, I am compelled to make specific application to each life.  The first application is that both education and ability must be validated through being offered to God for His use.  You will recall that I previously stated that it is you and not your possessions that God wants.  When we come to Him we must present our whole selves—including our attainments and possessions.

Someone may demure at this point believing that God gets everything and we get nothing.  Even were this true it would only be proper, because God is God and thus sovereign over all.  However, it is we who surrender to Him who receive the riches of glory itself, for while we are surrendering every claim to our own lives, God is richly giving His own life to us.  He does not hold back any good thing from us.  We are blessed with His love and His presence, we receive access to His throne where we always have an advocate defending us in our distress, we are given opportunity to be heard in prayer and we are confident before Him, and we are enriched in every way with veritable showers of blessing.  Truly has the Psalmist spoken:

No good thing does he withhold

from those who walk uprightly

[Psalm 84:11b].

Could God have given a richer gift than that which He has given?  Salvation is the gift of God, and you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich [2 Corinthians 8:9].  No wonder the Macedonians merited Paul’s commendation since they gave themselves first to the Lord [2 Corinthians 8:5].  Consequently, in inviting each worshipper to bring his gifts for the work of God, we seek not what is given but rather opportunity to enter into worship of the Living God together with the saints.  Determine to first give yourself, and then you can give of what you have received.  This is the reason we discourage outsiders from giving.  This leads into the exciting part of the matter: having given us the gift of salvation, God gives us His very Self.

There is a second application that I wish to make at this time.  Always bear in mind that neither education nor ability can be relied upon to the exclusion of God’s Spirit.  This statement is not advanced so as to discourage anyone from employing their education, their training or their abilities as they endeavour to glorify God.  Rather I make this statement in order to caution each of us that we must insure that our priorities are in order.  There is nothing wrong with obtaining the finest education possible.  However, we must ever remember that we are Christians first and professionals and tradesmen after.

I believe each of us who sing should endeavour to do so to the glory of God.  I do not expect that every vocalist will possess a trained voice, but that is no excuse to be sloppy in presenting music as an act of worship before the Lord.  We may not be trained, but we can practise so that we can ensure that we are as good as possible.  I do not expect every preacher to be polished and smooth, but each one can study hard and endeavour to make the presentation worthy of the Lord of Glory.  I do not expect that every individual can possess degrees from institutes of higher learning, but I do believe that each of us can make every effort to insure that the work we perform in daily life is the best effort possible and thus offered to the glory of God.

So very often during times of difficulty I have heard distraught saints quote Zechariah: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts [Zechariah 4:6].  The quoting of the verse presents an issue of significance in this context.  Though we are quite prepared to rely upon God’s Spirit in the day of distress and in the time of trial, we seem reluctant to seek Him as we perform any of the so-called routine tasks of the day.  Surely God expects us to seek Him and rely upon His grace and power day-by-day!

What would it be were each of us today to resolve that we would enter the marketplace tomorrow determined to glorify God through our words and our actions?  What would it be were each of us to consciously determine that we should prayerfully consider each duty performed, asking the Father how that duty ought to be carried out?  Though we know our responsibilities so well that for the most part we act without conscious thought, what if we were to surrender each part of life to God’s reign?  I have no doubt that revival would come to us individually and corporately and our world would be forever affected for good and to the glory of God.

In a bygone era, preachers spoke frequently of the need for believers to be Spirit-filled.  Such preaching seems foreign to our ears today.  We can prove that the Spirit indwells us through appeal to an analytical lexicon, but for all our deductive reasoning we are unable to demonstrate the presence of the Spirit through lives submitted to God!  The world waits to see in this generation one man, one woman, one individual, who is fully submitted to God.  The world has yet to see that one person who is Spirit-filled.  Would that among us there was one individual willing to say, “God willing, by His grace I will be that one person.”

There is yet this third and final point of application I must press to your hearts.  It is that education and every human attainment is transient; divine wisdom alone is permanent.  Many of the “facts” of science that I was taught during graduate study were largely out of date by the time I completed my studies (scientific “facts” are incredibly fluid).  The facts of the applied sciences are dated within a matter of a few years.  Psychologists have the choice of a variety of models of the human mind and of the approach to treatment of emotional and personal conflict are equally varied.  Sociologists have a spectrum of models for explaining relationships between individuals and for explaining relationships between peoples.

Not forty years ago, homosexuality was a psychological “illness.”  Today, it is those who refuse to accept homosexuality as normal that are psychologically maladjusted.  Once, sociologists thought that the ideal family consisted of a father, a mother and the children produced by that union.  Today, those same sociologists are hard-pressed to define what a family is.  The definition is fluid.  The boundaries are constantly moving.  Two men, or two women, or a group of men and women, are equally valid models for a family.  One can only wonder at what novel “facts” the applied sciences will create in the immediate future.

My father was a skilled blacksmith; he performed veritable miracles with iron.  I have a mule shoe over the mantle of our fireplace that he made.  My brother has the forge tools that my dad crafted with his own hands.  Such skills are rare today and for the most part on display only in museums.  Even in museums there will be found but few people able to forge weld broken metal or skilled in the repair of pot metal.  Skills, abilities, knowledge … all alike are transient, confined to time.  It is divine wisdom alone that is permanent, and it should be our goal to demonstrate wisdom.  This is the reason the wise man admonished:

Get wisdom; get insight;

do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.

Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;

love her, and she will guard you.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.

and whatever you get, get insight

[Proverbs 4:5-7].

Perhaps you recall the biting words James wrote concerning true wisdom?  In James 3:17 we are given a complete description of divine wisdom: the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  This is the wisdom I would that all of us possessed and displayed; and this is the wisdom that we must endeavour to demonstrate as individuals and as a community of faith.

Permit me to draw the message to a conclusion through appeal to your heart and to your will.  You who listen to me are for the most part Christians, believers in the Risen Son of God.  What are you doing with your life of eternal consequence?  What great work has engaged your attention demanding that you give your very heart and mind and soul to attaining that goal?

Consider this challenge.  Have you given yourself without reservation to the Master?  Is there an area of your life that you have attempted to reserve from Him and over which you attempt to maintain control?  Determine that by God’s grace you will this day release every claim over your life and cease depending upon personal station, ability or attainment.  Determine that this day you will offer to Him all over which He has made you an administrator to His glory.

Again, may I challenge each of us to consider whether we will be that one individual the world waits to see, that one individual who is fully yielded to the Spirit of God in this generation.  Review the work you perform daily and ask how God could make a difference were He in control.  This is nothing less than a plea for us to endeavour to become Spirit-filled men and women and to demonstrate His presence through lives controlled by Him.  Who will do it now?

There is this final appeal to you who listen and have yet to acknowledge Christ as Lord.  As I have pleaded with believers to insure that they are not attempting to keep some area of life from God’s mastery, so I plead with you to surrender your life to Him that He may master you.  Hear the Word of the Lord.  If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [Romans 10:9-13].


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.  Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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