God’s Greatest Hits: Moses v. Satan
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?