The man was surprisingly spry, considering his age. Some of the locals attributed this to the fact that he had a young wife and two young sons - he has stay young to take care of them, they said. Others considered it to be due to his oddly Egyptian manner of diet and exercise. Still others simply attributed it to his constant watchfulness as a shepherd, roaming far and wide over the Sinai peninsula.
Whatever the source of his youth, the man was on his way to Egypt. "Home to Egypt," he was no doubt thinking. It had been forty years since he was last there, and he was now twice the age he had been when he left.
Why had he been away so long? Why had he left the glories of Egypt for the backwaters, shepherd lifestyle in Midian? He was a murderer. He had killed a man and hidden the body, but the murder was not hidden and the Pharaoh had sought to bring justice upon his head.
Now that Pharaoh and all those who had sought justice were passed away. The man, Moses by name, had received news of this. He was even now traveling back to Egypt, walking along side his wife and children, whom he had placed on a donkey.
He hadn't made much of his life over the last forty years. Yes, he had managed to obtain a wife, but he not great possessions of his own and his primary job was the management of his father-in-law's sheep: sheep that he had perhaps given as dowry to his father-in-law for his wife, Zipporah.
Now, though he would have liked to be arriving in Egypt with a retinue of camels, Moses was arriving on foot, with his family on a single donkey. Poor Moses! When he left, he was a prince, having been raised in the royal household by Pharaoh's daughter. All that was behind him now.
Outwardly, Moses had little going for him. He remembered the Egyptian tongue, and he was an able-bodied shepherd, but he had no wealth, and no significant ties. His natural family were slaves: they might take him in, but they could only offer him a share in the bondage of Egypt.
There was something more, however. Moses was not simply going back to Egypt because the coast was clear, but because God himself had sent him. God had sent Moses on a mission to free his people from the slavery in which they were.
How was Moses to do this? Moses was to declare: "Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: and I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn."
But was this going to work? Where is the rigorous proof that the LORD (who could not even be seen) could carry out this threat against the king of the most powerful nation around? Moses could do a few miracles that would persuade his countrymen that he was God's spokesman, but Pharaoh had magicians who would simulate those miracles. Pharaoh was not going to refuse to obey the word of the LORD even after it cost him all the crops and cattle in the land.
No, it was not going to "work." Pharaoh was going to reject Moses' word and suffer the consequence. God was going to bring judgment on the Egyptians and kill their firstborn children.
But on the way to Egypt, after nearly dying because he had neglected to circumcise his own children, and after a tearful reunion withe his bother Aaron, Moses encountered a wandering man named Apatna who claimed the mula, or guardian, of knowledge. Mula Apatna listened with rapt attention to Moses' explanation of the plan and then scoffed.
"You expect him just to believe you because you say this is God's word?" Apatna asked, a look of disbelief patent on his weather-beaten face.
Moses was a little taken aback. "But it is the truth," he replied, "God himself revealed it to me." Moses had anticipated this sort of reaction from the Egyptians but not from someone like Apatna, who claimed to believe in God even before Moses had explained the situation. "Don't you believe that it is God's word?" he inquired.
"Oh, certainly - I believe that," said the mula, "but these Egyptians are not simply going to take your word for it. A proper defense (apologetic) has to be more than insisting that this is the word of the LORD." "That's just anti-intellectual fideism," Apatna added, when he saw that Moses was unconvinced.
Upon that, Moses quietly responded, "This is the approach God has given me, and I will follow it. I will declare the word of the LORD as boldly as I can before the Pharaoh, and I will even appeal to the miracles that I can do, but I will not be able to rigorously prove that this is the LORD's word. I can offer the truth, and I can offer evidence of this truth, but proof of the unseen is by faith."
With that Moses and Mula Apatna parted ways. Moses went to Egypt, and after 9 failures, eventually succeeded in securing the release of the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. He then led them through the desert for the next forty years of his life, leaving virtually all of those who originally believed his miracles (but not the LORD who empowered them) buried in the desert.
But Mula Apatna lived on, or perhaps it was simply a descendant by the same name, for we again find him along the banks of the river Chebar. He's talking with these folks who are prisoners of war and in particular to a priest named Ezekiel, the son of Buzi.
There he was making the same demands of Ezekiel that he (or his grandfather) had made of Moses, but Ezekiel just shook his head. God has told me, Ezekiel explained, "God said to me: Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them."
Ezekiel, like Moses, before him, rejected Mula Apatna's insistence that he needed something more than to declare the word of the LORD to be the word of the most high God. "No," insisted Ezekiel, "I will not concede to the skepticism of the Israelites. If they will not hear me, and if they will not believe, then that will be on their own head. But I will not depart from the way in which I have been told to present the word of God, simply because you label it in a pejorative way."
With that, Ezekiel continued on the path that lead him to be tortured with briers and thorns and to dwell among scorpions. By many standards he was not a big success, but what he spoke was true, and was believed by those who are the children of God, those who are the called according to his purpose.
Mula Apatna (or his line) disappeared before Jesus' coming, but had he been around, he would no doubt have been as disappointed with Simon Peter, a preacher who insisted that the gospel he preached was "the word of the Lord," but did not offer rigorous proof of this. Paul as well employed the same technique.
When he convinced the Jews, it was by the Scriptures (Acts 18:28).
When he exhorted Titus, he exhorted him to hold fast "the faithful word" that he had been taught, so that he could convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1:9).
Indeed, as Jude tells, when Michael the Archangel disputed with the devil over the body of Moses, the clinching argument was: "The Lord rebuke thee." Those skeptics who refuse to hear the word of the Lord "speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them!"
Yes, we cannot persuade everyone, and we cannot offer proof to the satisfaction of every hard-hearted and stiff-necked person. We cannot always please the Mula Apatna's that criticize the approach that we take when we follow those who preceded us in the faith. But there is no more sure foundation upon which to build one's house than that Rock which is Christ and on the revelation through the prophets, evangelists, and apostles of Christ, the Son of God,
To Whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory and honor both now and ever, even for ages of ages.