Portraits Of The Patriarchs, Fearless Faith
Hebrews 11:23–27 23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.
Perhaps we should begin with a justification. Any time you speak about “fearless” faith or fearless believers we can have nightmares of self-help spirituality or a kind of moralism where we are “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps” as it were. But nothing of the sort is really found in Scripture. We understand first of all that faith itself is a gift of God (cf. Phil. 1.29; Eph. 2.8). In the context however, the theme of a fearless faith is clear. In verse 23 Moses’ parents are seen to be fearless in hiding their child Moses. In v. 27 Moses is said to not fear the king’s wrath. Also if we consider the crossing of the Red Sea an act of bravery then v.29 is also pointing us in the same direction. But in order for us to have fearless faith, it will require the three following things found in this passage.
Confidence In God's Calling
The confidence of God’s calling is seen in Moses’ parents as much as Moses himself. In fact, this is the focus on v.23, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.” The faith of Moses’ parents has two components meaning that their confidence in God’s calling was based on two things. First, it was based on their confidence in God’s redemptive purposes. This is seen in their willingness to hide Moses “because they saw he was a beautiful child” (διότι εἶδον ἀστεῖον τὸ παιδίον). Of course this has been the subject of considerable speculation and debate. In what sense does Moses’ beauty become the reason his parents hid him? And how does that imply God’s redemptive purposes? Would his parents left him to die had he been ugly? Well of course, we cannot imagine the last question to be taken too serious. We cannot imagine that Moses’ godly parents would have been so vain!
From the data regarding the traditional interpretation of the passage even among Jewish authors, there seems to be a consensus that Moses was given some sort of distinguishing feature in his looks that suggested that he was set apart for a divine unknown purpose. William Lane writes:
“The evidence indicates a well-established tradition of interpretation that found in the word ἀστεῖος an indication that the infant possessed a visible sign of God’s elective favor. According to v 23, Moses’ parents found in the extraordinary appearance of their son a basis for faith in the as yet unseen purposes of God; his unusual attractiveness was to them a visible sign that he enjoyed God’s favor and protection. Their readiness to risk their own lives to preserve the life of their son was the response of faith to a sense of vocation...” (William L. Lane, Hebrews 9–13, vol. 47B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 370).
This seems to be supported by the NT as well:
Acts 7:20 20 “It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home.
The fact that this detail on Moses’ life is being used in Hebrews supports the idea that what was perceived by his parents was prophetic in nature, supernatural, and having to do with God’s redemptive purposes for His people. By faith, Moses’ parents sensed God’s hand on this child and they were right. As Calvin put it, “‘There was some sort of mark of excellence to come, engraved on the boy, which gave promise of something out of the ordinary for him’.” (see, O’Brien, Hebrews. 429 n.196). Second, their faith was also based on the fact that they did not fear the king, “they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (οὐκ ἐφοβήθησαν τὸ διάταγμα τοῦ βασιλέως). They were so confident that their child served some divine purpose that they were willing to defy the king to their own detriment.
Contentment In Christ's Supremacy
We can also see the same fearless and indomitable faith at work in Moses’ life by his choice to be content with Christ’s supremacy over all things:
Hebrews 11:24–26 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
The life of Moses is absolutely extraordinary and he too like Abraham towers over the redemptive landscape as an example of a man and his God. Therefore, there are several components to Moses’ exemplary faith here that are valuable for us.
The Right View Of Himself
Moses, by faith, did not allow himself to forget his roots. The reasons this is important is because at some point in time as Moses discovered his true identity, he came to realize who his true brethren were, the Israelites (Ex. 2.11-13). To be “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (υἱὸς θυγατρὸς Φαραώ) carried with it inestimable privilege and power. For example this gave Moses access to a world class Egyptian education:
Acts 7:22 22 “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.
So long as Moses was willing to renounce his heritage he could keep his place of prominence in Egypt. But Moses “refused” (ἀρνέομαι). That means Moses was unwilling to give his consent to a false identity. This is the initial step in the progression of Moses faith. The term “to refuse” here also implies the idea of disdain (BDAG). Moses saw the affliction of his people, those worshipped the true and living God, and became disgusted with the Egyptian world. By God’s grace believers can all be said to be brought to this point. This is analogous to our conversion and our break with sin after we see the world for what it is (cf. 1John 2.15-17) and after we see the people of God for what they are (cf. 1 John 3.10). When God opens our eyes we come to a settled realization that the persecuted church of God is where we belong (cf. 1 Cor. 4.9-13), and the evil world system that reared us and educated us is oppressive towards our brethren (cf. Mt. 5.12; John 7.7; 15.19; 17.14; Gal. 1.4; 1 Pet. 4.4-5). Paul resonated so deeply with this:
1 Corinthians 4:9–10 9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor.
The Right View Of Sin
Personally Moses was unwilling to live a lie. He was awakened to the truth about himself but he was also awakened to the fact that the nation he did belonged to was currently under oppression. This meant that Moses would be forced to trust God to sustain him as he chose “ill-treatment with the people of God” (συγκακουχεῖσθαι τῷ λαῷ τοῦ θεοῦ) rather than to “enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (ἢ πρόσκαιρον ἔχειν ἁμαρτίας ἀπόλαυσιν).
What Moses did in his renouncing the fleeting pleasures of sin in Egypt is now to serve as an example for us to do the same today. But what is the principle at work here and how exactly did Moses do it. Notice that first of all there is a “choosing” here represented by the middle voice participle ‘to choose’ (ἑλόμενος). It is not only consciences but it is also personal choice. Moses himself chose rather to suffer “ill-treatment” than to continue in the “enjoyment” (ἀπόλαυσις) of the fleeting pleasures of sin. This choice was also informed. He knew that his sinful life in Egypt represented that which was “passing” (πρόσκαιρος) i.e. fleeting, temporal and transitory. The word that Hebrews uses here, “passing” points to the brevity of the enjoyment of sin. By rejecting the “passing pleasures of sin” Moses was looking for something that was lasting, namely the superior “riches” (πλοῦτον) of being identified with Christ and his people and the suffering that would bring.
Moses had the right view of sin because he understood that sin was not only an affront to God but also that it was temporal, it would only disappoint him, the joy would not last, and that means it would not satisfy him in the end. By faith, Moses was in pursuit of a superior joy. We should also point out the context of Moses’ joy, it was “with the people of God” (τῷ λαῷ τοῦ θεοῦ). With God’s people as opposed to Pharaoh’s house, the elite society that he had come from. He chose to identity with the lowly in order to have a superior joy. Piper considers this “the way of maximum joy, not the way of “fleeting pleasures” (John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Portland; OR: Multnomah) 132). Piper also says:
“Here we see the key to triumph of obedience or disobedience. The key is confidence that what Christ offers is better than the “fleeting pleasures of sin.” Moses looked to the reward of God’s promises, he weighed that against the reward of unrighteousness, and he rested satisfied in God. With that, the power of sin was broken and he was freed to love a rebellious people for forty years.” (John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Portland; OR: Multnomah, 1991) 255).
The Right View Of Persecution
Moses’s view of persecution was much like that taught by Jesus in His beatitudes. He understood that in being mistreated and choosing rather to suffer “the reproach of Christ” (τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν τοῦ Χριστοῦ) Moses was actually blessed. This is exactly what it would have meant for Moses to identity with the Jewish people at this time. It was total disparagement. It was a complete disgrace for one who had formerly strolled through the palaces of Pharaoh to make his home among slaves. He had come to a point where poverty of spirit meant that he had inherited a kingdom greater than any kingdom that could be contrived by man in this world:
Matthew 5:3 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:10–12 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The natural theological question we might ask is how or in what sense does Moses in the OT consider “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (μείζονα πλοῦτον ἡγησάμενος τῶν Αἰγύπτου θησαυρῶν τὸν ὀνειδισμὸν τοῦ Χριστοῦ)? Surely if you had spoken to Moses he would not have probably stated it those terms. But by virtue of preferring the eschatological hope of Israel to both the “passing pleasures of sin” (ἢ πρόσκαιρον... ἁμαρτίας ἀπόλαυσιν) and the “treasures of Egypt” (τῶν Αἰγύπτου θησαυρῶν) Moses had the same Messianic hope that Israel did. This is supported by the key word, “reward” (μισθαποδοσία). This forms a crucial link in the letter between Moses the audience. Like Moses who was “looking to the reward” (ἀπέβλεπεν γὰρ εἰς τὴν μισθαποδοσίαν), the Hebrews were also being exhorted to look to the same eschatological reward:
Hebrews 10:35–36 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
By faith Moses was looking past the fleeting pleasures of sin, past the temporal ease that Egypt may have provided, past the status of prominence among the world’s elite, past the affliction of his people, and past the threats of earthly powers. The essence of Moses’ faith means that for the genuine believer, the supremacy of Jesus Christ is what is truly lasting, truly satisfying and truly rewarding (cf. John 7.37-39). And just like Moses, the true believer will be intent on this reward without being ultimately deterred by Egypt but will go on to the preserving of the soul (10.39).
Hebrews makes the connection to Christ because wherever the suffering of God’s people is found, there Christ himself is being persecuted. When we are reproached Christ is reproached, when we are maligned He is maligned, when we are reproached, Christ himself is being insulted (cf. Is. 63.9; Acts 9.4; Col. 1.24). Because Israel, as God’s “son” (cf. Ex. 4.22) and “anointed” servant (cf. Ps. 89.49-51) prefigures and typifies the suffering of Christ, Moses was typologically suffering the very reproaches of Christ. Later in the letter the author of Hebrews will call all believers to be prepared to bear this same reproach even as Moses did:
Hebrews 13:12–13 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.
Convinced Of God's Presence
Finally, Moses’ faith was also fearless because he was convinced of God’s presence. As part of persecution, Moses was satisfied in trusting in the power of the One who was present with him though “unseen” (ἀόρατος). Moses’ act of leaving Egypt is one massive act of faith. This again enabled Moses to do two things that are profitable for us. First, it caused him to be brave, “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king” (Πίστει κατέλιπεν Αἴγυπτον μὴ φοβηθεὶς τὸν θυμὸν τοῦ βασιλέως). The wrath of king, the Pharaoh, is seen throught the Exodus event. During the plagues, the encounters with Pharaoh, and the challenges that faced the Israelites when they left Egypt and where pursued by thier enemeis at the Red Sea. Hebrews is going to deal with that account directly as evidence of Moses’ fearless obedience (11.29). Becuase Moses trusted, he called others to do the same:
Exodus 14:13–14 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. 14 “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”
Second, it caused him to “endure” (καρτερέω). Being convinced of God’s presence made it possible for Moses to endure every trial that he would face the rest of his life. From the threats of the king (Ex. 10.28-29), to his own sense of inadequacy (Ex. 4.10ff.), to the incredible trials he would face in the wilderness with a recalcitrant people (Ex. 2.14; cf. Acts 7.25). By faith, Moses saw the unseen One. Of course Moses was privy to God’s theophanies, but when God did not show any external signs of himself, which was most of his life, Moses knew by faith that God was with him.
Exodus 4:15 15 “You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do.
Exodus 4:12 12 “Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.”
Exodus 4:15 15 “You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do.
We have the same promise for the same purpose. God promises to be with His church corporately and God promises to be with us individually for the same purpose of causing us to grow in our endurance:
Matthew 28:19–20 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
John 14:18 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
The book of Hebrews binds the OT and NT experience of God’s presence together by referring back to the promise of the people of old who had this assurance. The point is that we too would have it in our own day:
Hebrews 13:5–6 5 Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” 6 so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”
Like Moses, are faith enables us to rise above fear and anxiety. Isaiah’s words to Israel are ever comforting to God’s people everywhere:
Isaiah 41:10 10 ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’