Last time we looked at the Hebrews writer’s brief coverage of the faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. We saw that a common thread interconnecting these stories is the tradition of the birthright blessing among the ancient Hebrews. We saw that God often intervened in this tradition awarding a younger son the double-portion inheritance attached to the birthright. I also indulged in an extended rant against the so-called “prosperity gospel.” Finally, we took a look at the tribes of Israel founded by Jacob’s sons and the various lists of them found in the Word of God.
Hebrews 11:23-29 – The Great Hall of Faith – Part 7
The Hebrews writer continues now in this Great Hall of Faith chapter with the story of Moses. As with Abraham, the story of Moses is quite extensive. In fact Moses’ story takes up the greater part of four books of the Old Testament – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Moses himself was the writer of these books which, along with Genesis, make up the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament. Obviously, we will be unable to fully examine the whole story, so as we did with Abraham, we will go through the highlights mentioned by the Hebrews writer along with the associated Old Testament references.
As we alluded to last time, the story of Moses, the people’s exodus from captivity in Egypt, the forty-year wandering in the wilderness, and the giving (and breaking) of God’s Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai is a story of contrast between our earthly life in the flesh symbolized by Egypt, and our eternal life in God’s Spirit symbolized by the Land of Promise. Let’s keep that general theme in mind as we look at the highlights of Moses’ history the Hebrews writer mentions.
23By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.Hebrews 11:23 – NKJV
The story of Moses’ birth and subsequent adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter is found at the start of the book of Exodus. Recall that Jacob’s son Joseph had risen to prominence in the government of Egypt after his brothers sold him into slavery there. Years later, the family was reunited in Egypt, and Joseph asked Pharaoh to grant the seventy members of his family a choice dwelling area in the land of Goshen located in the fertile Nile delta. Before his death, Joseph prophesied that they would one day leave Egypt, and return to Canaan – the Land of Promise given by God to Abraham and his descendants.
1Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob: 2Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; 3Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; 4Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already). 6And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. 7But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.Exodus 1:1-7 – NKJV
While in Egypt, the nation of Israel grew to be several million people. Their population grew to the point that Pharaoh considered them a military and political threat to his power. The Israelites who had come to Egypt as honored relatives of Joseph – Pharaoh’s right-hand man – eventually became oppressed and enslaved in Egypt.
8Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9And he said to his people, “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; 10come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.”Exodus 1:8-10 – NKJV
Of course, none of these events came as any surprise to God. He had chosen Abraham from among all the people of the earth, blessed him and his descendants, promised them the land of Canaan, and prophesied that from this people His Savior – the Messiah Jesus – would come.
(God speaking to Abraham) “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”Genesis 22:18 – NKJV
But God needed to do some “bidnis” in the hearts of the Israelites to prepare the nation for the coming forth of the Messiah, and part of this upbringing was the oppression in Egypt. Finally, seeing that the Israelites prospered even under this oppression, Pharaoh decided to do a little “ethnic cleansing.” And with that we come to the story of Moses birth.
1:22So Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son who is born [among the Hebrews] you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.”
2:1And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi. 2So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months.Exodus 1:22 – 2:2 – NKJV
After hiding the infant Moses for as long as she could, his mother put him into a basket and placed it along the banks of the river. Pharaoh’s daughter found him there, and adopted him as her own. Thus Moses became a prince of Egypt – Pharaoh’s adoptive grandson.
But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank.Exodus 2:3 – NKJV
Aside – The Hebrew word תֵּבָה tebah translated “ark” in the KJV and NKJV renderings of this verse is the same word used for the ship that Noah built. Most other English translations render the word as “basket” or “papyrus basket.” Clearly it was not a huge ocean-going vessel like Noah’s. Also, it is not the same Hebrew word used in reference to the Ark of the Covenant first mentioned in Exodus 25:10. That word is אָרוֹן ‘arown – meaning a box or chest.
24By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.Hebrews 11:24-26 – NKJV
Much as it pains me to say so, the Hebrew’s writer is being a little disingenuous here by glossing over the details of Moses’ hurried departure from Egypt when he was forty years old as a fugitive from Egyptian justice.
11Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?”Exodus 2:11-15 – NKJV
14Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!” 15When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.
Once again, none of this was a surprise to God. We know in hindsight, that Moses became a great leader of the Israelite people, the one who led them out of their Egyptian bondage, and through their forty years of wandering in Sinai. It was Moses to whom God gave the Ten Commandments, and the Levitical Law. But just as God had to work within the hearts of the people to give them the desire to return to the Land of Promise, God also had to work within Moses’ heart to prepare him to lead the people. Moses hid out in Midian for forty years. While there, he married a Midianite woman – Zipporah – who bore him a son, Gershom. In fact, Moses had sort of “gone native” in Midian, living the quiet life of a herdsman there until the day that God spoke to him from a desert bush which seemed to be burning, but was not consumed by the fire. From the bush, God called on Moses to return to lead His chosen people out of Egypt into the Land of Promise – Canaan.
4So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”Exodus 3:4-10 – NKJV
And he said, “Here I am.”
5Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” 6Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.
7And the LORD said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. 9Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
Although the Hebrews writer doesn’t mention it, Moses didn’t exactly jump at the opportunity to lead his people out of bondage. In fact he made all sorts of excuses about his own inadequacy for the task. I suppose this was only natural since we know from Moses’ own writings that Moses was more humble than any other man on Earth (Numbers 12:3).
But seriously, Moses’ foot dragging finally made God quite angry (Exodus 4:14). There’s a lesson in this for all of us. The most important lesson to be found for us is set before us quite plainly in God’s response to Moses’ initial reticence. In Exodus 3:12, God reassured Moses that He Himself would certainly be with Moses in this mission. This is of course reminiscent of Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel.
18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.Matthew 28:18-20 – NKJV
The well-worn Christian aphorism is no less true by being perhaps a bit overworked – “God doesn’t call the prepared. He prepares the called.”
Eventually, as we know Moses did bow to God’s will and became a mighty leader of the people. The Hebrew’s writer’s comments about Moses’ calling in Hebrews 11:24-26 may be a bit of an embellishment to the story of Moses’ mission we find in Exodus, but it is clear that Moses did grow into his God-ordained role through God’s power and presence all along the way. Jesus reassures us that we can do the same. Furthermore, we know that Moses did receive his reward eventually.
1Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.Matthew 17:1-3 – NKJV
27By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them.Hebrews 11:27-28 – NKJV
As we have seen, when Moses first forsook Egypt, he did so with his tail between his legs. But after returning at the age of eighty, by God’s power and strength he had become a confident leader of the people capable of guiding the people through their forty-year wilderness journey. As the Hebrews writer states here in Hebrews 11:27, when Moses forsook Egypt the second time, he was fearless of anything Pharaoh might do to him, having seen the plagues God had visited upon the Egyptian people while keeping the Israelites under His protection. The Hebrews writer takes up the story with the final plague of death of the Egyptian firstborn that finally convinced Pharaoh to let the people go with Moses, and God’s inauguration of the Passover by which the Hebrew people were spared.
1Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2“This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. 3Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. 4And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. 5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. 7And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.
12“For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. 13Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
29And it came to pass at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. 30So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
31Then he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, “Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the LORD as you have said.Exodus 12:1-7,12-13,29-31 – NKJV
Of course, as were all the animal sacrifices ordained in God’s Law, the blood of the Passover lamb and its protection of the children of Israel from the death Angel in Egypt were mere foreshadowing of God’s provision of Jesus – the Lamb of God – by Whose blood we are also rescued from the death that mankind’s sin introduced into the world.
29By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.Hebrews 11:29 – NKJV
God’s miraculous rescue of the Israelites during their flight from Egypt is well known. The story itself is found in Exodus 14. There is no need to reiterate the entire story here. In a nutshell, after the Isrealites left Egypt, God once more hardened the heart of Pharaoh and sent his army to pursue them. They were trapped between the Red Sea and the pursuing Egyptian army. Using the staff of Moses through which He had already accomplished many miracles in Egypt, God parted the waters of the sea to allow the Israelites to pass through while God Himself held the Egyptians at bay behind them. Once the Israelites had passed through, God allowed the Egyptians to pass, but when they were in the midst of the sea, God allowed the waters to return to their place, inundating the Egyptian army while the Israelites passed safely into the wilderness of Sinai. But perhaps the most important aspect of this story is found in the closing verses of Exodus 14.
30So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses.Exodus 14:30-31 – NKJV
Jews down through the ages have taken a certain amount of pride in recounting this story. Immediately after the miracle took place, Moses composed a song about the event which is found in Exodus 15. Later, when Moses was about to die after leading the people through their forty-year wilderness wandering, he gathered them together to remind them of the miracle, and to admonish them to follow the LORD in all their ways (Deuteronomy 11:4). We know that the news of this miracle had passed to other peoples in the region by the time Joshua was preparing to attack the city of Jericho, because when Joshua sent spies into the city, the harlot Rahab who sheltered them and helped them escape the city told them that the citizens of the city had heard of the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, and that she therefore reasoned that the Israelites could not be defeated because God Himself contented for them (Joshua 2:10). After the Isrealites crossed over the Jordan without getting their feet wet, Joshua compared this miracle with the parting of the Red Sea he himself had witnessed forty years before (Joshua 4:23). Near the end of his life, when Joshua admonished the people to choose to follow the LORD rather than the false gods of the peoples whose lands they had conquered, he reminded them of God’s having rescued them from the Egyptian army (Joshua 24:6-7). In the book of Nehemiah, after Ezra the priest had read the book of the Law during the first Feast of Tabernacles following the Babylonian captivity, the Levites sang a song of praise to God which mentions God’s rescue of His chosen people by parting the Red Sea for them to pass through. The miracle of the Red Sea crossing is mentioned in six of the Psalms. Isaiah speaks of this miracle five times in his prophecy. Stephen the first Christian martyr also mentioned the story during his recounting of the history of the Jewish nation just before he was stoned to death under a false charge of blasphemy (Acts 7:36). Finally, the Hebrews writer reminds us of the story here in Hebrews 11:29.
But like so many of the examples we find listed here in Hebrews 11, the faith of the Israelites wasn’t exactly pristine following the Red Sea crossing. Scarcely a month later, they rebelled against the leadership of Moses despite the fact that they had all witnessed God’s miraculous plagues in Egypt by Moses’ hand, and God’s rescue from the Egyptian army by parting the Red Sea through the use of Moses’ staff.
2Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”Exodus 16:2-3 -NKJV
Of course the contentiousness, ingratitude, and unfaithfulness of the people culminated with their demand that Aaron make them gods (idols) to worship instead of the LORD – a crystal clear violation of the 1st and 2nd Commandments they had received by the hand of Moses mere weeks before. How quickly that fear of the LORD and faith in the leadership of Moses they had on the day God parted the Red Sea for them (Exodus 14:30-31) had evaporated. After Aaron molded the golden calf for them, these same people whom God had miraculously rescued from the Egyptian army by parting the Red Sea blasphemously proclaimed “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4). Small wonder, then that the LORD was so angry with them that He threatened to destroy them.
9And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! 10Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”Exodus 32:9-10 -NKJV
Exodus goes on to report that Moses pleaded with God on the people’s behalf, and so God turned away from his anger with them. But we know of course that God never intended to destroy them despite their dismal faithlessness. Since before creation, He had chosen Abraham from all the peoples of the world, through whose Seed – Jesus – He blesses all. In hindsight, we know that God did indeed fulfill the prophecy found in Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah (Genesis 49:10) to bring forth the King and Lawgiver through Judah’s line. Nevertheless, because of the Israelites’ lack of faith and trust in the LORD, out of the millions whom God miraculously rescued from the Egyptian army by His parting the Red Sea before them, only two – Caleb and Joshua – survived the forty-year wilderness wandering to cross over the Jordan and enter into the Land of Promise.
26And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27“How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. 28Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: 29The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. 30Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. 31But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised.Numbers 14:26-31 – NKJV
So once again we have one of the stories the Hebrews writer sets forth as an example of great faith turn out to be not such a great example of true faithfulness after all when one looks into the details. So what is the point, and what is the lesson that we may take away? It is simply that God is aware of our weaknesses and inability to follow Him perfectly in faith. After all, He created us and knows the very depths of our hearts. Yet despite all that, He loves us so much that He was willing to sacrifice Himself on the cross just to restore our relationship with Him which we tore apart though our sin.
7He made known His ways to Moses,Psalm 103:7-14 – NKJV
His acts to the children of Israel.
8The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
9He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
11For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13As a father pities his children,
So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
14For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
Next time we will continue examining the Hebrews writer’s exposition of the history of faith among the Hebrew people with the story of their conquest of Jericho, and a broad overview of their history in the time of the judges, kings, and prophets before the Babylonian captivity.