God’s Greatest Hits: Moses v. Satan

[ 6 ] Comments

by Paul

Years ago I worked as an academic adviser at the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Arts and Sciences.  As part of our training, we visited with each department in the college (and most others outside the college as well) so that we would be informed enough to advise our students who still in those days needed our approval to register for courses.

Greatest Hits

When we visited the Religious Studies department, I was interested to listen to their course offerings that satisfied general education requirements.  The woman who spoke to us told us about a course that was popular among Christian students on campus.  It was a survey course of the Bible, and she called it “God’s Greatest Hits,” though I’m sure the course title in the catalog was not so Learning Annex-esque.

I’ve thought about my own list of God’s Greatest Hits.  Of course my canon as a Latter-day Saint is larger than just the Bible (I can feel my Christian friends cringe at that sentence), though many of my favorite stories come from the Bible.

I was reminded recently of one of those greatest hits in another post this week, and the reminder came like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day (nod to the Temptations).

As a result of Joseph Smith’s work on the Bible, he produced what we now have as Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, and insight into Moses’ call and training as a prophet.  Moses has a grand vision of the world, its creation and its place in all of God’s creations, and Moses’ place in all of God’s creations.

After the vision, in true Book of Mormon fashion (though maybe the Book of Mormon is in Moses fashion), he collapsed.  It took several hours for him to recover from the spiritual experience of being in the presence of the Lord.  And instantly he got it:

Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I had never supposed.

burning bush

Moses, who had been #2 in Egypt, now understood his real place in the grand scheme of things.  Mortal.  Weak.  Powerless.  Nothing.

But he recognized that he had seen God, not with his natural eyes, but his spiritual eyes.  Compared with that spiritual strength, his natural strength was nothing.

In that moment of realization of his nothingness, Moses was suddenly visited by Satan who said,

Moses, son of man, worship me.

Bold move, Satan.  Catch Moses when he’s down.  Tempt him at the moment he gets that he is nothing.  In his moment of weakness.  In his natural frailty.

The reason this passage is in my list of God’s Greatest Hits is because of what comes next.   Even in his realization of his nothingness and the subsequent arrival of the adversary, Moses knew who he was.  It’s why these verses are such a great lesson to youth who often feel left out, left behind, and less than zero.  It’s a great lesson to adults who judge themselves too harshly in a perfection-driven culture.

Moses’ response?

Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?

Moses knew that man was nothing, but he knew he was God’s nothing.  It is the perfect balance between humility and strength: humility before God but strength in the knowledge of his heritage as a son of God.  His self-awareness was remarkable (mine is never quite so remarkable in my down moments), but based on the truth we all know: he and we are children of God, created in His image.

Moses continued:

Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God; for God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve.

Moses could tell the difference between the glory of God and the darkness of Satan.  I also can feel the difference between the spirit I feel in prayer, in the temple, during the sacrament, and the darkness of the adversary.  Like Moses, I can judge between Satan and God.

Moses reiterated that he would call only upon God, that he would follow God’s commandments, and then he commanded,

Depart hence, Satan.

But Satan did not depart.  He cried aloud that he was the only begotten.  And Moses was afraid.  But Moses continued to pray.  He continued to call upon his Father for help and support, and in the end he had the strength to call on Satan to depart again.  And Satan trembled, and Moses commanded him again, the last time in the name of the Only Begotten, to depart hence.

And Satan, with gnashing of teeth, departed.

Moses did several things that I try to remember:

  • He knew who he was, even in his exhaustion, his extremity, his moment of human weakness.  He knew he was a son of God.
  • He knew the difference between God and Satan.  The line is not blurred.  Satan is not a little bit evil or a little bit good.  Moses recognized the glory of God, and by contrast, the darkness of Satan.  It is entirely possible that had Moses not recognized the glory of God, he would not have discerned the darkness of Satan.
  • He continued to command Satan to leave.  Even though Satan did not leave the first time or the second, Moses kept at it.  He did not give up.  One might draw great significance from the fact that the final command to Satan was in the name of the Only Begotten, like an ordinance.  That may or may not be important.  But what is important to me is that Moses continued the battle until he won it.
  • Moses prayed for strength.  In his moment of fear, Moses turned back to God and sought His strength (and got it!).  He not only knew that he must give glory to God, but he did give glory to God in prayer, and he sought His divine help.

I have lately felt exhaustion.  I told a friend recently I feel like I’m being sucked dry by a vampire.  But even in my exhaustion, I know that I am a son of God and that He loves me.

I know the darkness I feel is not of God.  In my case, my depression may be the result of brain chemicals or the influence of the adversary or some combination of those things.  But it is not of God.  I know something of the glory of God (not like Moses knew it, but still I know), and I know the darkness I feel is not that.

I can continue to look for the adversary’s influences in my life and root them out, even as I explore medical means to alleviate my depression.  Like Moses, I can keep at it.  I can continue to inch forward, step by baby step.

And I can pray for strength.  I know I will find it, sometimes hidden in moments of conversation or reading or prayer, sometimes in fleeting sunshine or fleeting inspiration or energy.

The Pearl of Great Price records this about Moses’ experience:

And now of this thing Moses bore record; but because of wickedness it is not had among the children of men.

How grateful I am of a restoration of all things so that I have this account of Moses’ struggle as a model for my own.

For your discussion:

  • Which of God’s Greatest Hits speak to you?
  • Are there other lessons for you in Moses’ struggle with Satan?

About Paul

Paul was a convert to the church with his parents and siblings when he was a child, and therefore has the great blessing of having some of his formative years in the church while still remembering his family’s conversion experience. He is the father of seven and husband to his lovely wife. He served an LDS mission in Germany and has lived in Latin America and twice in Asia for his employer; now he lives with his lovely wife and youngest two children in the Midwestern US. Prior to earning his MBA, Paul also earned degrees in English and Theatre History. He also blogs at A Latter-day Voice (see the link below -- in "Our Authors Elsewhere" section at the bottom of the page) where he writes, as he does here, of his own experience as a Latter-day Saint. He does not speak for the church but will speak in favor of it.

6 Responses to God’s Greatest Hits: Moses v. Satan

  1. Cheryl says:

    I think one of my most favorite of “God’s Greatest Hits” would be Luke 1:28-38 where Gabriel comes to Mary. It’s a wonderful passage, not simply because the mother of our Savior learns of her mission, but because of her reactions to the situation.

    When Gabriel tells her she is “highly favoured” and “blessed…among women,” she shows her natural humility by wondering, in her mind, what he means. And then after Gabriel tells her what’s going to happen, she doesn’t say, “well, that’s just crazy!” or “Wha!? Find someone else!” she simply asks a question of logistics: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” She wants to know how it’s possible because her mortal mind tells her it’s impossible. And after Gabriel explains it to her and gives her another example (Elisabeth), Mary says: “Behold the handmaid of The Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

    I love this because Mary showed amazing faith and strength. She was surprised and humbled she was chosen, she wanted to know how to go about doing her calling, and then she did it. There was no whining, no fear, no mourning of loss (although there could have been; we really don’t know). She accepted her call and she went forth and did it. And what a blessing that came!

    I want to be like her. I want to approach my callings from The Lord with the same faith and the same humility.

    • Paul says:

      I love this story, especially when paired with Zacharias’ experience. He asked almost the same question (how can we have a child when we are so old?), but it would seem he asked with a different attitude (or perhaps he, being older and wiser should not have needed the answer) because he was struck dumb. That pairing reinforces for me what you said of Mary’s faith and strength.

  2. Angie says:

    This passage of Moses has long been one of my favorites too, for all the reasons you mention. I think of it as a grand eternal “you are here” map (like the ones at the mall). Even though we are a small dot, we have a place. We are not lost to God. Being His, feeling that truth is something powerful to hold on dark days. I wrote in my scriptures in the margins of this passage a thought from (of all places) the movie Contact–‘The universe is so amazing and huge and we are so small and insignificant and rare and precious and we are not alone.’ I love the part at the beginning of v. 15 where Moses praises God because He didn’t withdraw His Spirit when He left. Moses held on, still praying until Satan left and God returned and revealed the entirety of earth and all its creations and, especially, His purpose to Moses.

    Another “hit” is the tiny line in John 11:25–“Jesus wept.” He wept, even though he knew that Lazarus would be alive and well in mere moments, with no more cause for sadness. He wept because he loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus and they were sad. I am often far too impatient with my children and their short sighted (in my opinion) woes. I’m trying to remember to mourn with those who mourn, not just tell them to buck up.

    • Paul says:

      I love the stories of the Savior’s compassion like this one. His compassion in 3 Nephi as he perceives the people just can’t learn any more and he wants to send them home, and then his compassion as he perceives they want him to stay and bless them as he blessed those in Jerusalem. That he acts on that compassion so regularly is so instructive, isn’t it?

      I need to remember your lesson, too: ” to mourn with those who mourn, not just tell them to buck up.”

  3. Bonnie says:

    Every day it’s a different passage, but today my mind has been on Moses standing at the Red Sea, sandals wet and an army bearing down. Earlier today I heard, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord,” so I went to those verses in Exodus 14 to remind myself of the conditions. I’ve been pondering how it was Moses who said those words, not the Lord, and he was telling the people that they must summon their faith and then the Lord would act. “Why are you asking me for help?” the Lord responded to Moses. “Lift up your rod, and this is what will happen.” For millennia that story has resonated with people who need saved, and yet the story couldn’t begin until Moses acted. God had a purpose in working with his prophet, very visibly. I am brought back over and over and over in my reading to the poignant words of the widow of Sarepta: “Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.” Interesting how often the Lord wants to work with us instead of merely for us.

    • Paul says:

      Bonnie, I’m glad you reminded me of that passage in Exodus, and that those were Moses’ words, not the Lord’s.

      There was a BYU student film of the story of the widow of Sarepta a few years ago that I still find so moving each time I watch it. Her willingness (or resignation) to follow the words of the prophet at such incredible cost to herself, and the blessing that follows, is remarkable. In a day when we seem to look for ways to excuse ourselves from heeding the teachings of a living prophet, she is a great example to me.

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