Moses in the Wilderness: On the Run

Editor’s note: In the post-pandemic era, sometimes it seems all of China is on the run. Modern Chinese have a lot in common with biblical Moses, who also lived a life on the run. God’s people may sometimes worry that God has forgotten them, but Moses’s story shows that God often uses wilderness seasons and a life on the run. People dislike the wilderness, but even in difficulty, God is still preparing his people.

This is the first of a three-part series, and will be continued in future weeks.


“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 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. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.”

Heb. 11:23-28

On the Run… By Faith

Two key words describe the choices Moses made in his life: “drift” and “run.”

Running[1] is a popular new term in recent years in China. As the proverb goes: “Trees die when they’re moved; humans die if they’re not moving.”[2] To run is to constantly move to a more comfortable place, or to constantly adjust one’s life direction so it will be more comfortable. “Drifting” is not as popular, because drifting implies a sense of aimlessness, wandering, and floatation. Most people choose “running,” because human nature leads us to prefer a life of comfort and ease over one of uncertainty.

People are always faced with choices. In every era and society, people hope to transition from a life of drifting to one of running. No one likes to drift.

To run is to constantly move to a more comfortable place, or to constantly adjust one’s life direction so it will be more comfortable.

Moses probably felt the same way. But this passage in Hebrews summarizes Moses’ life from birth to the first Passover. Moses’ life was extraordinary, and full of ups and downs. What significance did the wilderness hold for him? Why did God prepare for him a life in the wilderness?

Moses’ Life in the Wilderness

Moses’ life can be roughly divided into these stages: from the river of death (the Nile) to the palace; from the palace to the wilderness; and from the wilderness to Mount Horeb (the mountain of God).

The first three chapters of Exodus record the first 80 years of Moses’ life. The following chapters record his return to Egypt to lead his people, their crossing the sea of death (the Red Sea), their journey from the sea of death to Mount Sinai, their wanderings in the wilderness, and finally, their arrival at the edge of the Promised Land.


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What the Wilderness Is Like

Moses was born in one of Israel’s darkest and most difficult periods. Pharaoh had ordered that all the Jewish male infants should be killed and thrown into the Nile. Egypt had become a dangerous place for the Israelites. They were enslaved, and Pharaoh was attempting to wipe out their descendants. From the moment he was born, Moses faced profound darkness and wilderness.

People dislike wilderness, because it is full of uncertainty and lacks clear direction… Today’s China, from top to bottom, is facing a choice: where should we run?

It is not impossible to survive in the wilderness, but it is incredibly difficult. Water is scarce, vegetation is sparse. The wind and sand are harsh, the sun is scorching, and the land is arid. The wilderness lacks certainty, and a life in the wilderness is directionless, leaving people lost and uncertain.

How People Run

Over the pandemic years, maybe you got a taste of a sense of uncertainty, powerlessness, and despair. While living under three years of pandemic control measures, most people – no matter their faith – lived in a state of uncertainty and instability. People dislike wilderness, because it is full of uncertainty and lacks clear direction. Because of this, people choose to “run,” to escape. People want to change their luck and find a better situation.

Today’s China, from top to bottom, is facing a choice: where should we run? Due to global economic instability, finance, IT, and AI are no longer popular career choices. Instead, admission scores for political and legal schools in China are reaching new highs, because it is relatively easy to start a stable career after graduating from these schools. The number of people taking examinations to qualify as teachers have also reached new highs, because most people believe teaching is a relatively stable profession.

When facing a life in the wilderness, people want to run.

Moses’ Miraculous “Run”

Newborn Moses was born into the wilderness. In profound darkness, God miraculously opened a way for him. Moses experienced an incredible “run,” an almost meteoric rise.

When Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing by the river, she saw the basket among the reeds, discovering baby Moses and adopting him as her own son. The name Moses means “I drew him out of the water.” When she adopted him, Moses ran away from the river of death and entered the Egyptian palace. He went from a slave child destined for death to a prince of Egypt.

Although Pharaoh wanted to drown all the Israelite baby boys in the river, God allowed an Israelite boy to become a prince in the palace. Moses achieved the greatest upward mobility in life.

Where Are You Running?

Brothers and sisters: even in deepest darkness, God is still preparing his church. In the vastest wilderness, God is preparing redemption.

During the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, even as the Boxers besieged the legation quarter in Beijing, a baby named Wang Mingdao was born. In a time of great difficulty and turmoil, God prepared this infant, who would later become the banner of the Chinese church.

Brothers and sisters: even in deepest darkness, God is still preparing his church. In the vastest wilderness, God is preparing redemption.

As a baby, Moses “ran” from difficulty. When he entered the palace, people surely wondered how God would use this baby’s miraculous salvation. How would Prince Moses bless the Israelites?

Yet the palace was not the pinnacle of Moses’ life, but a true wilderness. God did not use Moses while in the palace. Eventually, after killing an Egyptian, Moses was forced to flee the palace. But his escape was not solely due to the Egyptian’s death.

Although the people expected God to use Moses through being a prince, while he was in the palace Moses made an incredible choice. He chose to run.

The author of Hebrews says: “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.”

 

[1] In the last few years, Chinese have begun to talk about “run philosophy,” advocating “running” away from China and the troubles endemic in the country. The phrase is based on the English word “run,” and is a way for Chinese to express their desires to leave China.

[2] “树挪死, 人挪活” or “Shu nuo si, ren nuo huo.”


Pastor Yang Xu (a pseudonym) and his wife live in Beijing, and have two children.

Pray for Chinese Christians to trust God whether they are running from a wilderness time or are currently in the wilderness.

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Further Reading

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Moses in the Wilderness: On the Run
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Chengdu: Relaxed, Comfortable, Leisurely
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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Good News for Enemies of God
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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