Oholiab who?

It’s been several weeks since I started my study of Oholiab, and I’m a bit frustrated. I knew going into this that Oholiab was obscure, and I realized that there isn’t a whole lot in the Bible about the guy. But I’ve been surprised by just how difficult it is to answer even the most basic questions about this guy. For instance, the first question that I really wanted to answer was simply this: how did Moses and company recognize that God had indeed chosen Oholiab? I mean, I grasp that God pointed him out by name in the opening verses of Exodus 31, but what was it that convinced Moses that this wasn’t a fluke, a figment of his own imagination, wishful thinking, or a plain old mistake? And perhaps more importantly, what is it that can help me confirm who it is that God is calling to lead today?

To begin with, I think there are two important things to consider.

The first is Moses’ relationship with God. Simply put, while it wasn’t exactly unprecedented, Moses enjoyed an intimacy with God that few of us can boast. God actually approached Moses in the burning bush. He spoke audibly to Moses and empowered him to wield some pretty impressive wonders (e.g., the staff and hand things). He demonstrated His presence and power in undeniable ways (e.g., the plagues against Egypt, the pillar of cloud/fire, and the parting of the Red Sea). And He actually met with Moses on Mt. Sinai. Moses probably had more in-person time with God than just about anyone else in Scripture. And he saw as more wonders and miracles than just about anyone else, too.

So when God pointed out Oholiab, Moses trusted that God probably knew what He was talking about. He had, after all, seen God do much more impressive things than turn an unknown man into a leader.

i think the first key to knowing who God is calling to lead is fostering our own intimate relationship with Him. Obviously, there aren’t too many burning bushes or pillars of cloud/fire or burning mountains around, but we shouldn’t need those things anymore. We have two things Moses could only dream of having: the Bible and Jesus. So dig into the Word. Spend time studying God’s will and ways and communing with Him in prayer. Follow Jesus, His character and command, and rest in His presence always.

Why is this so important? Because it’s the only way you can be sure to discern His voice from all the others. And it’s the only way to have such rapport with Him that, when He speaks, you believe.

The second key to Moses’ ability to embrace the notion of Oholiab as a leader-in-development, I believe, is found in what Moses doesn’t say when God points him out. Namely, when God said, “Oh, and here’s Oholiab,” Moses didn’t say, “Oholiab who?”

This is a big deal because Oholiab was a nobody. God identified him, as we saw in a previous post, as Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. Dan was considered a tribe of traitors and idolaters. Ahisamach is utterly unknown in Scripture. And Oholiab emerges from the mists of history for just this scene. At the time God pointed him out, Oholiab was one of more than 600,000 men in Israel (Numbers 2). And that was just the number of men in the military. And remember, this is the same Moses who argued when God called him because he didn’t think he was the right guy to lead. If I had been in Moses’ shoes, I certainly would have asked, “Oholiab who?”

Unless I knew the guy.

But what are the chances that Moses knew Oholiab? I mean, Moses was the leader of the nation. He didn’t have time to hang out with every Israelite. He didn’t have time to get to know all the clan leaders. Moses probably recognized the tribe leaders, but I wonder if he even had a lot of time to spend with all of them. And yet, he seems to know immediately who Oholiab is.

How is that possible?

To be honest, I don’t know. But I have a theory: Oholiab was the guy who was always just there. More than that, he was the guy who, whenever Moses needed something done, was available to do it. Moses needed someone to run a message to the men of Issachar; Oholiab was ready to go. Moses needed someone to call the tribal leaders to a meeting; Oholiab volunteered. Moses needed someone to run back to the tent and grab his cell phone; Oholiab was already on his way. And that’s just it: Oholiab was there and available because he was already recognizing what needed to be done and taking responsibility to make it happen.

There was no job too small or inglorious for Oholiab. He wasn’t concerned about being in charge. He wasn’t interested in attention or prestige. Whatever needed to be done, Oholiab was willing and ready to do it.

I think Moses knew Oholiab as the guy who would do whatever was asked of him, and so when God said in Exodus 31:6, “I have also selected Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to be with him,” Moses nodded and responded, “Oholiab. Yeah.”

Now, I realize that this proposition flies in the face of the generally accepted notion that leaders are born and naturally rise to the top. But is it really that revolutionary? Moses himself was a fugitive wanted for murder. Abraham was a nobody in a strange land. How many of the judges had as their primary qualification a willingness to do whatever God asked? Saul was a head taller than his contemporaries, but he still considered himself the youngest member of the smallest clan of the smallest tribe. David was a shepherd; no king started out in the fields at night. Amos was a farmer. Peter, Andrew, James and John were subsistence fishermen.

Yes, I know. Contemporary church leadership gurus call the apostles entrepreneurs, but they inherited a family business that was just sufficient to supply their needs.

The point is, all of these leaders were ready and willing to do whatever they were called to do. And God chose them in spite of everything else they had been in life. Why?

Because God made mankind out of clay; He can make worshipers out of stones; and He will make leaders out of nobodies. The one qualification He’s looking for is a man or woman after His own heart, willing to do whatever He has for him/her to do.

And I dare say, those are more often the people cleaning toilets than occupying the corner offices.

But since it’s a lot easier to recognize those in the corner offices, the challenge I have is to be close enough to God to hear His still small voice point out someone else, and to recognize the person who is ready and willing to do whatever God asks.


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