Abraham was a man of great faith, well known by the Jews as the father of the covenant. Moses was known by the Jewish people as the great giver of the law. The writer to the Hebrews in the chapter we consider exposes his readers to a different Moses than they had come to know. Moses was a man of faith just like Abraham. No reference is made in this account of Moses receiving the law at Mount Sinai. Our attention is drawn only to the faith of Moses. By faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. By faith he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. By faith he forsook Egypt. By faith he kept the Passover and so on. Moses was as great a man of faith as Abraham.
In our broadcast today we again consider this faith of Moses, but from a little different perspective than that of last week. You see, faith is not stagnant. Faith as an activity can be weak at times and stronger at times. Besides, a person can through the circumstances in life grow in his or her faith. God uses means to strengthen us in our faith. Yes, He gives us the means of grace in the church by which He strengthens the faith of His children. But sometimes He orders the events of our lives too, so that through these events our faith is strengthened. Such was the case with Moses. We read in Hebrews 11:27: “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.”
This short verse in Hebrews makes reference to a lengthy period of time in the life of Moses. It includes that period of time during which God prepared Moses for the role of delivering the nation of Israel from Egypt. Moses acted impetuously at the first when he attempted to deliver God’s people. He thought he was ready. He ran ahead of God. Now God trains him in the next 40 years of his life to meet the wrath of Pharaoh and not waver. While yet in Egypt in the courts of Pharaoh, Moses learned leadership skills. But he needed to learn more. This he learned in Midian and in the wilderness around Sinai.
I. Enduring Wrath
The verse we consider today does not refer to Moses’ initial forsaking of Egypt to flee to Midian, but to his second departure from Egypt at the time of the ten plagues. We conclude this for two reasons. First of all, the term “forsook” in our text literally means “left behind.” It makes reference, therefore, to Moses and Israel leaving Egypt never to return. Secondly, we are led to this conclusion because the writer to the Hebrews writes that by faith Moses left Egypt behind not fearing the wrath of the king. When Moses fled Egypt the first time, he feared the wrath or retribution of Pharaoh. Moses fled for his life from Egypt and from the wrath of the king. The verse we consider in our broadcast today, therefore, makes reference to Israel’s leaving the land of Egypt behind by the hand of Moses.
But neither can this verse stand by itself as a commentary on the departure of Israel from Egypt. We must learn how by faith Moses now stood without wavering before a powerful king whose fierce anger was leveled against him. Our text assumes that Moses had learned something from God between his initial forsaking of Egypt and the great deliverance of the nation of Israel by Moses’ hand some 40 years later. To understand what Moses learned during the 40 years in which he was gone from Egypt, we must turn to the scriptural account to find out what happened.
When Moses fled in fear from the face of Pharaoh, God led him to a distant land inhabited by the Midianites. This land lay far to the east of Egypt, on the opposite side of the Red Sea. If you have not yet done so, check out a map of the Red Sea. Egypt lay to the west of this sea, while the land of Midian lay to the east of it. Moses evidently fled far from Egypt to escape the long arm of Pharaoh’s wrath. While in Midian he met and lived with a priest of Midian who yet served Jehovah—a man named Jethro. This man had seven daughters. Moses married one of them, named Zipporah, and with her had two sons.
Now, all of this is interesting history, but what concerns us now is the occupation that Moses entered while living in Midian. We learn in Exodus 3:1 that Moses became a shepherd who cared for the flocks of Jethro. This may not strike us as an outstanding fact about Moses, but consider that God removed him from a position of royalty in the palace of Pharaoh to the position of a lowly shepherd of sheep—a life of solitude and hardship. Perhaps Moses had been given an education in leadership skills in the courts of Pharaoh, but that certainly was not enough to lead and guide a nation of people. Moses needed to learn patience and meekness—qualities he exhibited in large degree in delivering and leading through the wilderness a complaining, stiff-necked people. You see, God’s people are like sheep. The prophet Isaiah teaches us that as sheep we are prone to stray, to wander. Besides, sheep can have a mind of their own and stubbornly kick at the staff of a shepherd when he prods them to stay within the confines of the flock where there is safety under the watchful care of the shepherd.
This was true of the children of Israel, as it is true of you and me today. A shepherd of the sheep must exhibit patience in dealing with the sheep. He must exhibit bravery to stand between the sheep and those who would prey on them and fight off the enemies of the sheep. Moses, though he had faith, nevertheless needed to exercise his faith in patience, meekness, and brave endurance. These God taught Moses during the 40 years of leading sheep for Jethro.
But there is more we learn from Exodus 3:1. We find that Moses led the sheep of Jethro in the wilderness around Mt. Horeb, another name for Mt. Sinai. This means that when later Moses led the nation of Israel through the wilderness to their camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai, he was completely familiar with this area. He knew where to lead God’s people. He knew where best to set up camp. He knew the prime location for Israel’s long stay at Sinai. In this way too God was preparing him.
Through these many hard years of preparation, God had molded and shaped his servant to face Pharaoh in Egypt. Moses’ faith had been honed by God in such a way that Moses stood before Pharaoh with no fear. He needed to be able to do this. God strengthened him to be able to meet this challenge. After 40 years, Moses returned to Egypt, entering into the very palace of Pharaoh himself—looking the king right in the eye—to place God’s demand before Pharaoh. No fear! God told Moses that He would harden the heart of Pharaoh, that he would not let the people go. In defiance of Jehovah’s demand through Moses, Pharaoh made the burdens of Israel the heavier.
God sent ten plagues upon Egypt. With each plague Pharaoh hardened his heart and in anger refused to allow the children of Israel to depart from Egypt. When Moses insisted that the entire nation of Israel be set free to leave Egypt after the ninth plague, we read the words of the fierce wrath of Pharaoh in Exodus 10:28: “Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die!” Moses replied immediately with these words in verse 29: “Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.” Mind you, Pharaoh was one of the most powerful kings in the world at that time. When he made a threat, he could have carried it out in a moment. But with Moses’ fearless answer the king quailed before him. God had said to Moses “I have made thee a god to Pharaoh!” Indeed, the king now feared Moses and Jehovah his God. Yet, in wrath Pharaoh pursued Moses into the wilderness. The nation of Israel was caught between the Red Sea and the armies of Pharaoh. But Moses had no fear. By faith Moses forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured.
Moses endured! The word “endure” means “to remain steadfast.” Through faith Moses waxed valiant. He returned to Pharaoh upon threat of his own death. In the end Moses stood before Pharaoh and said, “That’s right, Pharaoh, you will see my face no more! Israel will leave your land and you will perish!” Moses remained steadfast unto the end, and by faith was given the strength to lead an entire nation, over a million strong, out of Egypt and through the Red Sea! Was God leading Israel out of Egypt? He most certainly was. God went before this nation and led them out of the land. But let’s not forget the word of the psalmist in Psalm 77:20: “Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” Moses led Israel out of Egypt. And that which gave Moses the strength to do so is faith! By means of faith Moses endured and forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king.
II. Seeing God
But let us not fail to understand the motivation behind this faith of Moses. We learn in our text that “Moses endured as seeing him who is invisible!” Before returning to Egypt to deliver God’s people, Moses was given to see an astonishing scene while caring for his sheep in the wilderness. In the distance he saw a bush with a large flame of fire in the midst of it. But though the fire burned hotly within the bush, the bush remained intact—it was not consumed. Out of curiosity Moses said to himself, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight why the bush is not burnt.” In the midst of the fire the angel of Jehovah appeared to Moses. We are then told that God called to Moses out of that flame: “Moses, Moses!” Moses answered: “Here am I.” God then instructed Moses to take off his shoes, for he stood on holy ground. Moses by faith did not fear the wrath of Pharaoh, but in faith Moses did fear his God. He hid his face. He was afraid to look upon the God, who is a consuming fire in His holiness.
God had a purpose in speaking with Moses. Out of this fire God called Moses to perform his work in delivering Israel. When Moses forsook Egypt the first time, he was not prepared to deliver Israel. He was proud and impetuous. But his fleeing Egypt and his long stay in the wilderness with a flock of sheep taught Moses humility. God’s conversation with Moses was of great encouragement.
Moses was now assured through this appearance of God out of the flame of fire that this second time Moses would indeed forsake or “leave behind” Egypt with power. Not because Moses would be able to achieve this fantastic feat through his own arm of strength. But this time God was on his side. This time God would in His providence and in His great mercy toward His people so direct the events that Egypt would know that He was God and Israel was His people. The writer to the Hebrews does not mention the ten plagues. In the verses following he speaks of the last of these ten plagues, but the focus even in these verses is yet on the faith of Moses. Moses acted out of faith—a faith that set his eyes on God. With the confidence that God would go before him and deliver His own chosen people, Moses could now return to Egypt and face the wrath of the king.
What Moses saw with his eyes in that burning bush explains in part what our text states that Moses endured as seeing Him who is invisible. God is invisible. He cannot be seen with the eyes. He is Spirit. We learn in John 1:18 that no man has seen God at any time. Moses was able to see God’s glory and His holiness in that burning bush, but God was invisible to his earthly physical eyes. He saw a flame of God’s holiness and heard the voice of God, but he did not see God. But Moses did see someone in that flame of fire. As we mentioned, Moses saw the angel of Jehovah in that bush. We spoke of this particular angel of Jehovah when considering Jacob. This is the same angel that walked with the three friends of Daniel in the furnace of fire.
This angel now appears to Moses in that bush as well. Through Him, we learn, God spoke to Moses, which means, of course, that this angel was divine. He was Himself God. But what distinguishes this angel of Jehovah from God Himself is that He was visible to the eye. This means that we have here in this bush an earthly manifestation of the Son of God—a prefiguration of Jesus Christ Himself. The only begotten Son, the eternal Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity declares God to us. He was in the bosom of the Father from eternity. That divine Son of God was made flesh and dwelt among us. And what we behold in His face is the very glory of God. Moses was able to see that in this angel of Jehovah. With his eyes he saw the glory of God in the face of this angel of Jehovah—and he feared. God spoke to him through this angel. How can anyone claim that the faith of God’s saints did not point them in hope to their coming Messiah? Faith is the substance, the conviction, of things hoped for.
This incident of the burning bush explains, as we said, in part what the writer to the Hebrews explains to us in the verse we consider. Moses endured the wrath of Pharaoh as seeing Him who is invisible. Faith is sight—not earthly sight with these physical eyes, but spiritual sight. Faith sees things and knows things that are not visible to those who are yet lost in unbelief. It is given to us by God’s grace to see the things of the kingdom of heaven. To them it is not given. Faith is the evidence of things not seen.
Let me try to illustrate that. Do you believe that the Bible is the actual Word of God Himself? Yes! Of course! That is obvious to us! Ask the unbeliever that question and he may fumble around in answering that question or he will be bold enough to say, “Of course not! It is a compilation of the writings of men of ancient culture. Some of what it teaches is true but certainly not because it is somehow divinely inspired!” We believe that the Bible is true because God, by His grace and through His Spirit, reveals that to us. With the eyes of faith, we see clearly this truth. Others are blinded to it. The same is true with every cardinal truth of Scripture. Creation, salvation in Christ alone, the final resurrection, the final judgment, and so on—all truths that are seen only with the eyes of faith.
Well, this is what the verse we consider today teaches us. Moses went to Pharaoh with this confidence: he would leave Egypt and take with him the entire nation of Israel, over a million strong. Moses feared God. This meant he did not fear the wrath of the king! He boldly spoke to Pharaoh because he believed God was on his side. From a human point of view, when not viewed with the eyes of faith, his task was impossible! Who would know the outcome? But Moses knew the outcome. God would deliver His people.
The application of this Word of God to us is obvious. We could apply it all along. Christ comes. He will deliver us from the Egypt of this world. The land of Canaan awaits us. God will take us there by way of our death, which we certainly believe is true. Death for us is merely a passageway into heaven. We believe that. That is why we do not fear death. But the heavenly Canaan awaits the church of Christ at the end of time, when Christ will usher in a new heavens and earth. That too we believe. We see it with the eyes of faith! We are bold, we are confident that God will bring us there. In that confidence we can face the wrath of this wicked world and endure. By faith we today persevere. Why? Because “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor.” He is the one who fulfills all of God’s promises to us.
III. Leaving Egypt
By faith Moses now forsook Egypt, that is, he left Egypt behind never to return. God made known His power throughout the earth by sending ten plagues that destroyed the land of Egypt. He made His love for His people known through the earth by parting the waters of the Red Sea so His people could pass over safely. In that sea God drowned the obstinate Pharaoh and his army. God led His people out of Egypt by the faith and arm of Moses His servant. A consideration of these events awaits our study of the verses in the coming broadcasts. Truly, God’s people live by faith and not by sight. The things that are seen with the eyes will all disappear. But that which we see with the eyes of faith, fellow believers, these things will never disappear. By faith we forsake this world and things below and look for our eternal inheritance in the heavens.