Moses the Anarchist: Leadership Lessons From a Self-differentiated Rebel

The type of leader necessary to deliver people from a despot is an anarchist—an extremely charismatic, believable rebel.”   

– Dr. Nathaniel Wilson  [i]

To bring Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and into a radical, new identity as a free people, and finally to a nation of kings and priests, Moses (and the Hebrew people) must overcome the “paradigm effect.” That is, their perceptions will have to change to allow for new revelation to enter in upon their old ways of thinking. Those caught in a paradigm effect will be incapable of seeing anything that doesn’t “fit” into their worldview (i.e. their current way of doing things, what they know to be true, or the way things have always been done).

We too can experience the paradigm effect, which will lead to paradigm paralysis (inability or refusal to see things beyond the current models of thinking.). What we need are leaders like Moses, who because of his visionary experience with God, is able to lead the people forward despite the doubts and fears associated with paradigmatic conflict. Regardless of Pharaoh’s resistance, God’s leader stands for the new paradigm, and becomes the guiding strength for the entire movement.

Paradigm comes from the Greek paradeigma, meaning “model, pattern, example.” [ii] A paradigm is a set of rules and regulations (written or unwritten) that does two things:

(1) it establishes or defines boundaries

(2) it tells you how to behave inside the boundaries in order to be successful [iii]

Joel Barker, author of The Future Edge, says,

“Any data existing in the real world that does not fit your paradigm will have a difficult time getting through your filters.” [iv]

Tradition is a filter. Habits learned over time, and loyalties to particular methods or models, are filters. Being a man-pleaser for personal acceptance or promotion, is also a filter. A slave mentality is a filter. Each transition for the Hebrew people brings them through yet another paradigmatic shift fraught with challenges and perceived “contradictions.” What we experience will go through our “filters,” that is, what we have become accustomed to…our preconceived expectations. It is important to have leaders whose walk with God provides the filter through which life’s challenges can be understood and interpreted for the group. Without good leadership, old paradigms can become unbending absolutes which blind the eyes from having any clear vision and bind the feet from making forward progress.

Moses as the leader must go ahead of the people; he must ‘see’ beyond and understand the “paradigm effect.” He must anticipate change, and take decisive action based on revelation. The Hebrew people will fall into a deterministic fatalism if their leader does not act. Every challenge will seem like another setback. Life will be interpreted as one vicious cycle, fraught with unfair disadvantages outside the individual’s control. As the leader, Moses’ response to every challenge will either help strengthen or weaken the people along their journey. He (i.e. his leadership) is the immune system for the entire organism (i.e. the Hebrew people). How he responds to rogue cells and contaminating influences will determine the vitality of the whole. How he responds to the changing environment, both in Egypt and in the wilderness, will determine the morale of the people and their willingness to endure and move forward.

The visionary experience at the burning bush gave Moses an extraordinary sense of radical, newfound freedom. All the promises of God to Abraham and his progeny lay dormant for centuries (viz.“I will give you this land”). Now, what many thought may never come is suddenly breaking forth in unprecedented fashion. However, Pharaoh is still “god” in Egypt. Pharaoh’s paradigm must be crippled and brought down by God’s new, superior paradigm.

Plagues rock Egypt, the royal house is turned upside down, magicians are dumbfounded, and the orderly routine of slavery becomes total anarchy. Pharaoh loses the control he once had. His heart is hardened. He vacillates. He promises to do one thing, then does another. His sense of power is threatened, so he squeezes harder upon that which he thinks he still controls. As noted by Barker, “Paradigms too strongly held can lead to paradigm paralysis, a terminal disease of certainty.” [v] Pharaoh is bent on resistance to the very end. Change of any kind becomes an enemy; Moses, the man of God, the leader with visionary change, becomes a thorn in his side. The will of Pharaoh and of Egypt will not bend, however; it must be broken. Such systems do not simply move off the scene; they must be proven to be dead systems by a new and living way.

So it is with Sin. Jesus says, “Everyone who sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). The Devil will never willingly give up control. Sin’s control over the sinner will never simply let go. The bondage and power of sin must be overcome by a stronger, superior paradigm. This is exactly what happens.

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)


If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Jesus was and is the only one who can usher in a new, living way (a new paradigm!) in the face of sin. The kingdom of God coming in upon us is such a paradigm, new and superior. This is why Moses, the Deliverer, the rebel, is the premier type of Christ’s leadership in the Old Testament. Moses stood against the highest power in the earth, and refused to negotiate. Absolute freedom. Nothing less.

Moses as a leader is first an anarchist. He rebels against Pharaoh and the entire slave system. No negotiation is possible (e.g. “there shall not an hoof be left behind”). Borrowing from Edwin Friedman, author of A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, “This is not a matter of technique; it’s a matter of taking a stand … what counts is the leader’s presence and being.” [vi] If Moses does not emanate faith and commanding leadership, the people will not have confidence to leave Egypt or continue with him in the wilderness. His presence affects the emotional processes of the people. Thus, “the leader’s job is to understand his or her self.” [vii] The impression we give others is often more important then the words we say or the things we do. Whether or not others “get on board” will be greatly influenced by how they perceive the leader. We must become the embodiment of the vision—and the type of leader that others believe in.

Moses is not a negotiator, he is a revolutionary leader with a mission; he is 100% involved in the present moment, while not neglecting future concerns. Dr. Wilson explains the mindset of such a leader: he is “always in the immediate, and … perpetually in the future.” “Remember the future,” cries the visionary leader who understands the past, sees the future, and is anchored in the present. [viii] Total capitulation to Moses’ demands (really The Lord’s demands) is the only possible end for Pharaoh. Absolute freedom for the Hebrews. There are no options, no alternatives. As Moses remains steadfast, others will have hope and continue to believe in his mission.

This form of rebellion as a leadership-style is biblical, for it is specific, clearly articulated, and temporary. “Moses has to completely submerge himself in the act of rebellion to dislodge the long-held powers of Egypt …the situation demands the whole man—body, soul, intellect, emotions, volition, and spirit. [ix] “Freedom without identity (which slaves do not have) is anarchy.” [x] Anarchy is necessary to upset the long-established Egyptian paradigm of slavery and usher in the new order.

Nevertheless, rebellion and anarchy will not sustain the Hebrews. Anarchy provides no real sense of national identity, togetherness, or destiny. It lacks the ability to provide substantial meaning. Focus is on the present—throw down the chains, escape oppression, be free! But to progress into the truest, most complete sense of liberty, they must move beyond the paradigm of anarchy into a paradigm of equality and national identity. Equality and national identity only exist within a paradigm of structured leadership.

Once rebellion and anarchy have replaced slavery, freedom belongs to the Hebrew people, who can now make their own choices. But as Wildavsky notes, “Once they make choices, the people are accountable for their actions.” [xi] Moses the leader has to embody their newfound freedom, take personal responsibility, and model for all the nation his own acceptance of the Covenant and obedience to the God’s Law. The same “self-differentiation” that was required of Moses to lead as a rebel will distinguish him as a nationalist.

As we learn from Moses, leaders must “separate themselves from the surrounding emotional climate so that they can break through the barriers that are keeping everyone from ‘going the other way.’” [xii] This is self-differentiation. As long as the leader is emotionally and spiritually on par with their peers, he or she will be unable to “see beyond” and have the where-with-all to lead the group where they have never been. The self-differentiated leader has been transformed by the calling, the vision, and the mission of God—these are what lead and guide the leader, making the leader able to lead and guide others.



[i] Nathaniel Wilson, “Vision, Change, and the People,” Selected Reading, from AST Course Vision: Knowing Through Seeing, 8.

[ii] Joel Barker, The Future Edge (New York: William Morrow, 1992), 9.

[iii] Ibid., 10.

[iv] Ibid., 9.

[v] Ibid., 79.

[vi] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Church Publishing, Inc. 2007), 9, 17.

[vii] Ibid., 194.

[viii] Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader (New York and Jerusalem: Shalom Press, 2005), 115.

[ix] Wilson, 11.

[x] Ibid., 12.

[xi] Wildavsky, 63.

[xii] Friedman, 33.


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