The Prince of Egypt:
When You’re Facing a Difficult Decision
Text: Numbers 11, Exodus 18
It was the hardest decision of my life.
Robin and I had served for twelve years as officers—ministers— in The Salvation Army,
and for not quite a year we had been pastoring a Salvation Army church in Youngstown, Ohio,
and had in that short time developed strong bonds of love with a great many of that church family. . .
And yet Robin and I both suspected that God was calling us elsewhere,
that he might be prompting me toward a change that might allow more time for a writing ministry, which he had already begun to bless.
But The Salvation Army had been our church for as long as we could remember;
we had never imagined being anything but Salvation Army officers,
and we couldn’t bear the thought of leaving
behind Doug, Stella,
Jason, Jodi, Ericka, Candi,
Enrique, Rayviana, Tamika—
all those wonderful people we loved so much
and who loved us right back.
The decision was so agonizing,
that Robin and I both became physically sick as we struggled to decide.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.
Maybe you’ve struggled through something far, far more serious than the decision we faced.
Maybe you’re wrestling with a tough choice or a difficult decision even now. . .
And you not only don’t know what to decide,
you’re not even sure HOW to decide,
how to even come to a decision.
You may be flummoxed, bewildered,
at your wit’s end.
You may be paralyzed with indecision.
you may just be more like a hungry teenager
standing in front of an open refrigerator, wondering, What do I want? What do I want?
Well, believe it or not, you’re not the first
to have that problem,
to face that dilemma. . .
In fact, as the dramatic monologue just a few moments ago illustrated for us,
several millenia ago
there was a man named Moses —
a man our sermon series here at OBF has focused on for the past five weeks now —
who faced some pretty tough decisions,
some pretty heavy loads. . .
And with the help of God’s word,
we’re going to draw some spiritual insight from
But before we do that, I’d invite you to pray with me:
thank you for the gracious
and life-changing gift of your Word,
Please— help me to handle it correctly,
help your people to hear it carefully,
and help us all to heed it completely.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Please turn in your Bibles to Numbers, chapter 11. . . If you’re like me, you have to think, let’s see, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, NUMBERS! And you breathe a sigh of relief that the preacher’s not preaching from Zephaniah, because that might take a little longer to find.
In the next fifteen or twenty minutes, I hope to draw some Biblical insights on decision making from this passage, as well as from Exodus 18 and just a little bit from Exodus 4.
That well-acted monologue by Mark Fitzgerald which we witnessed earlier gives you some of the background of this passage. The people of Israel, who had been miraculously delivered from slavery in Egypt, followed Moses in the wilderness and then started to complain. . .
And Moses came to realize that he had to do something; he had to make some decision.
AND THAT’S WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING,
at least for our purposes today,
because I want to point out to you seven things that Moses does—or learns—in this and other passages that will be helpful to anyone in this place today who be facing a difficult decision.
So, if you’ll look at Numbers 11, verses 10-13, you’ll see there the first insight from Moses’ experience, which is this: when facing a difficult decision. . . .
I Acknowledge the problem & define it clearly
Look at verse 10:
Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, `Give us meat to eat!’”
Moses had NO trouble acknowledging his problem: a bunch of rabble were creating malcontent in the camp!
If I’ve heard Josh McDowell say it once, I’ve heard him say it at least twenty or thirty times, and he’s actually quoting his father when he says,
“A problem well defined is half solved.”
So the first insight I would share with you from the experience of Moses is to acknowledge and identify the problem:
What is it, exactly, that you must decide?
What are your possible choices?
What are the consequences of NOT deciding?
Frankly, there are many people who cannot make a godly decision because they cannot
pinpoint—or admit—the real problem.
But if you can acknowledge the problem
and clearly define it,
then you’re ready for the second insight on decision-making from the Prince of Egypt:
II Admit Your Limitations
Look at what Moses says next, in verse 14:
I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.
Moses was quick to admit his limitations.
He knew that the burden was too heavy for him.
And that’s an important part of good, Biblical decision-making.
A few months ago, Jim Williams faced a tough decision. Without going into too much detail, he knew he had to confront one of his sisters about something she was planning to do that would affect the rest of the family. But he knew there was a very good chance that she would become angry and maybe even vengeful. So he struggled with the decision for awhile, but what eventually liberated him to make the decision was admitting his limitations. For him, that meant distinguishing between what was in his power and what was not.
For example, what he said to his sister —how he phrased things, for example—was in his power. But how she reacted was not in his power. Admitting that to himself opened the way for him to make the decision he needed to make.
Acknowledge the problem & clearly define it
Admit your limitations,
those are the first two steps to a godly decision. The next is:
III Accept Wise Counsel
First, of course, this involves seeking the counsel. . .
A. Of God
Look again at Numbers 11:14, and you’ll see that Moses cries out to God for direction. And though we do not live at Mt. Sinai, we do have the whole counsel of God in his Word, everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). In addition, many decisions become clearer as we submit to God and listen to him in prayer, which is exactly what Moses did in our text. But I would suggest also accepting wise counsel. . . .
B. Of others
Turn quickly to Exodus 18, where Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, visits the camp of the Israelites, and sees Moses trying to judge the people’s problems and disputes all by himself.
Jethro says, in verse 14, “What is this?” And when Moses answers, Jethro says, in v. 18:
The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. . . . [In verse 21] Select capable men from all the people--men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain--and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.
Way to go, Jethro! And way to go, Moses, too, because Moses accepted that wise counsel.
Of course, accepting the wise counsel of others doesn’t mean you always follow it, but you should always give it careful thought.
So, if you would make a difficult decision, bounce it off of God first, through prayer and the reading of his Word, and then if you still lack clarity, seek out the counsel of the godly men and women God has placed around you.
The next insight on decision-making from the Prince of Egypt:
IV Assess Your Resources
Let me point you to Exodus chapter 4, where, if you’ll recall, God has just appeared to Moses in a burning bush and commanded him to become the deliverer of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. But Moses is not just weighing the decision as chapter 4 opens, he’s trying to weasel his way out of it! Look at Exodus 4:1:
Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”
Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?"
"A staff," he replied.
If you read further on in that chapter you’ll learn that God assured the former Prince of Egypt that he would take Moses’ meager resources and work miracles with them.
That’s another important part of Biblical decision-making: answering the question,
“What is that in your hand?”
“What resources do you possess?”
“What assets —no matter how meager—might help make or execute a wise decision?”
And I would urge you not to be faithless or conservative here, at what resources God has already given to you;
it might be a tool or talent yet undiscovered,
or a strength you’ve never drawn upon;
it might be something you can buy or borrow
or someone you can trust.
When you’re facing a difficult decision,
how you answer the question,
“What is that in your hand?”
may mark the difference
between determination and hesitation,
between victory and defeat.
Bear with me just a few more moments as I mention the next insight on decision-making we can glean from Moses’ experience, and for that I must turn you back to Numbers 11, where God’s Word suggests step number 5, which is:
V Allow Others to Help
Notice what happens in verses 16 and 17 of Numbers 11:
The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Make them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.”
Does any of that sound familiar? Of course it does! It’s the same thing Jethro pointed out to Moses back in Exodus 18.
Sorta gives you the impression that Moses was hardheaded, doesn’t it? Sorta like some of us. . .
Reminds me a little bit of the joke,
“Why did the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years?”
Because Moses, typical man that he was, wouldn’t stop and ask directions.
Some of us find it very difficult to allow others to help, and yet a crucial part of Biblical decision-making is:
1) determining what only you can or should do, and
2) delegating as much as possible what is left.
That’s what Jethro did for Moses in Exodus 18:19, when he said, “You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. . . But you don’t have to judge every case yourself!”
That may be hard at times, but it’s Biblical leadership, folks, and it’s wise decision-making.
Sixth, I want you to look at Numbers 11:24-29 for a moment, as I point to the penultimate step in making wise decisions, and that is:
VI Act Accordingly
There comes a time when research must stop and action must begin;
There comes a time when meditation must give way to motion;
There comes a time to FISH or CUT BAIT. . .
And the three portions of Scripture we’ve referred to today reveal that once Moses had what he needed —
God’s clear direction,
the wise counsel of others, and
the available resources —
he jumped into action and plunged ahead, in faith.
In fact, there’s every reason to believe he learned this from God himself. Turn with me to Exodus 14. . . Exodus 14:15.
This verse occurs in the account of the Exodus when Moses has led the Hebrews out of Egypt and they stand on the edge of the sea, with Pharoah’s army marching after them. And the Hebrews start to complain and Moses gives a little speech to reassure them. And then look at what God says in verse 15:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”
The Living Bible put it:
“Quit praying and get the people moving!”
Moses may not have felt ready, but the time for decision had come.
And sometimes when that time comes, if we’ve acknowledged the problem and
admitted our limitations
and accepted wise counsel of God and others
and assessed our resources
and allowed others to help where possible,
and yet the “right” decision still isn’t clear.
At such times, you know what I do?
I make my best guess. . .
I make my best guess. . . knowing that a sovereign God will not be surprised or stymied by my choice.
A month or two ago I was talking to a good friend on the phone who was just paralyzed with indecision, and had been that way for some time. And I asked her, “Whatever decision you make, do you think God will forsake you?” She said no.
I asked, “Whatever decision you make, do you think God will by handcuffed by your decision?” She said no.
I asked, “Whatever decision you make, do you think God is still capable of getting you — especially when you’re submitted and willing to do his will — where he wants you to go?” She said yes.
Because sometimes God puts difficult decisions in our paths because he wants to get us to make a particular decision, one way or the other,
but ALWAYS when he puts a difficult decision in our paths he wants us to trust him whatever may come. . .
Which brings me to the final insight I want to share with you today, and that is, once you
acknowledge the problem,
admit your limitations,
accept wise counsel of God and others
assess your resources
allow others to help where possible,
and act accordingly,
all that’s left is this:
VII Abandon all else to God’s care and wisdom
Notice what happens in Numbers 11, verses 26-30. Remember that Moses had assembled seventy men whom God empowered with his Spirit. Now follow along in your Bibles from verse 26 as I read aloud:
However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp."
Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since youth, spoke up and said, "Moses, my lord, stop them!"
But Moses replied, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"
Do you see what happened?
Moses acted according to his limitations,
the available resources,
and the availability of others,
and then when he had done that, Joshua comes to him and says, “Yo, Mo! There’s two guys over here who are stealing your idea!”
And Moses says, “That’s not my problem. The decision has been made according to what God gave me, and it’s his prerogative to change or limit or multiply the results.”
In fact, that’s somewhat similar to Robin and my experience when we wondered if we were making a wise decision to leave a meaningful ministry and a thriving church to step into the unknown.
I remember reaching the point of abandonment when I said to Robin, “The only way I can do this is if you agree, that if six months or a year or two years pass and we realize that this was a terrible mistake, that we would tuck our tails between our legs and admit to anyone and everyone that we’d blown it, we’d failed.
She didn’t hesitate. She agreed that she was willing to fail and to appear as a failure in the eyes of others.
When she said yes, a peace and a freedom descended on both of us as we surrendered all concern for the results of our decision to our sovereign, loving God. . . And, of course, since that time, God has confirmed his will in that situation in many wonderful ways.
But at the time, once we made the decision, we had to consciously, willfully leave the results — good or bad — to him.
I wonder if there’s anyone in here today,
this Lord’s day,
who is facing some decision even right now.
It may be one of those major decisions —
what to major in,
what job to take,
who to marry,
or whether to marry. . .
Or it may be a seemingly lesser decision, but one that’s giving you fits nonetheless,
maybe something that involves a friendship,
or a decision to take up or lay down a responsibility,
or a family concern,
or a spiritual decision.
Whatever it may be, I want to make a suggestion. We don’t do this all the time at OBF, but as we enter a time of worship together,
I’m going to invite you,
if you feel God speaking to your heart,
if you’re moved to respond,
if you would like to come apart to pray,
either alone or with someone else,
to seek God’s help,
to begin the process of making a godly decision,
I invite you to come to the front of this sanctuary, and stand
or kneel here for prayer. . . .
If you would like someone to pray with you,
I invite you to stand or kneel here to my left,
and an elder or other brother or sister in Christ will come alongside you to talk and to pray;
if you would prefer to pray alone, undisturbed,
then I invite you stand or kneel in the area here to my right,
where you’ll be able to focus your prayer and concentrate on God without interruption or distraction.
But whatever your need,
whatever decision you face,
I would urge you not simply to seek God’s input
but submit to his guidance
and apply the wisdom of his sufficient Word
to your circumstances today.
Let’s pray, and you feel free to come even as I lead us: