NOTES on Hebrews
11:23-26 (click here for study)
In verse 23, the writer of Hebrews moves out of the Genesis stories of the patriarchs and into Exodus and the story of Moses. By the time Moses was born, the Hebrews had become a major part of the population of Egypt.
"The Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous," says Exodus 1:7, "so that the land was filled with them."
They were not integrated, however, into Egyptian culture. They were construction slaves. "They built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly." (Exodus 1:11-14)
As the Hebrews increased in numbers, the Pharaoh became worried about them. In an attempt to limit their population growth, he talked to the Hebrew midwives and asked them to kill all the Hebrew boy babies they delivered. The midwives, however, "feared God" and let the babies live. When questioned by the Pharaoh they responded, "Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive." (Ex. 1:19)
Desperate, Pharaoh issued his final order, "Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live." (Ex. 1:22)
Into this setting of Hebrew proliferation and Egyptian anger, a boy was born to a family of the house of Levi. Amram and Jochabed are generally considered to be Moses' parents, but there is some disagreement about this assumption. While Exodus 6:20 states that Amram married his aunt Jochabed and produced Moses and Aaron, the genealogy in Genesis 46:11 has Amram's father being born before Jacob's move to Egypt. If this timing is accurate, it would have Moses being born at least 350 years after his grandfather. Consequently, there is some reason to suspect that Amram was not actually Moses' father but rather an ancestor farther back, much as the patriarchs named in Genesis 10 seem to have several generations of gaps left between them. (See text notes, NIV Study Bible, Exodus 6:20)
Regardless of the exact genealogy, however, a family from the house of Levi had a third child, a boy, during the time of Pharaoh's death edict. The boy was "a fine child", and his mother hid him for three months. Knowing she could not hide him longer, she attempted a bold rescue. Preparing a waterproof basket, she placed her baby in it and set him afloat among the reeds on the Nile River, sending her daughter Miriam to watch it from the bank. She placed him ON the Nile River instead of having him thrown INTO the river, and, as she certainly must have suspected would happen, the Pharaoh's daughter came to bathe and found the baby crying in his basket.
The princess felt sorry for the infant and guessed immediately that he was a Hebrew child. Miriam came forward and offered to get a Hebrew nurse for the baby, and the princess agreed.
"Take this baby and nurse him for me," she said, "and I will pay you for him." (Exodus 2:9)
The princess "named him Moses, saying, 'I drew him out of the water.' " (Ex. 2:10)
In spite of the Pharaoh's repeated attempts to destroy the Hebrews, he couldn't do it. His royal authority couldn't stop the midwives, Jochabed, and his own daughter from preserving the male babies born to the people he feared.
God's will is sovereign; no human plan can thwart what He wills.
Jewish legend says that the princess presented her adopted baby to her Pharaoh father who accepted him and declared him to be his heir. The legend further states that Moses became a great Egyptian general and defeated the Ethiopians and later married an Ethiopian princess. Whatever the truth may be about Moses being the heir and a general, he did grow up in the Egyptian court and undoubtedly received a royal education. In spite of his thorough "Egyptianizing", however, Moses never forgot who he really was.
When he was forty years old, "he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor." (Exodus 2:11) He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and thinking the Hebrews would wee him as a hero, he killed and hid the Egyptian. The next day he went to watch the Hebrews again, and he attempted to intervene in a fight between two Hebrew men.
The men, however, were not grateful. One asked him, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" (Exodus 2:14)
Moses had thought his act of murder had been a small, contained secret. He became afraid that instead of his act being quietly cherished as a covert act of defense, everyone now saw him as a violent man. The Hebrews had not, apparently, seen his intervention as protective of them. They perceived him as a threat. He was, after all, more Egyptian in their eyes than he was Hebrew. Instead of viewing him as a potential savior, they thought of him more as a potential traitor.
The Hebrew word for "judge" in v. 14 also means "deliverer" and can be translated "ruler". Those Hebrew slaves were prophetic in their sarcasm. They had no idea they would actually be under his leadership leaving the place of their suffering within a few years.
In his fright and horror at the possible implications of what he had done, Moses fled. He left the palace, left his political connections, left his wealth, and left his step-grandfather, the Pharaoh, who wanted to kill him for his indiscretion. He fled to the desert of Midian where he married Zipporah, the daughter of a priest of Midian. He spent the next 40 years losing his Egyptian identity as he shepherded sheep.
(Years later, other Israelite men became angry with Moses and questioned his right to lead. "You have gone too far!" Korah, Dathan, and Abiram exclaimed to him. "The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly?" (Numbers 16:3) Moses became angry and called to God to punish them. God confirmed Moses' leadership by causing the ground to open and to swallow Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, their wives, their children and belongings.)
Although he lived as long in Midian as he had lived in Egypt, Moses always felt like an alien there. (Ex. 2:21-22) His time in Midian, however, was coming to an end.
One day Moses saw a bush burning in the desert, but the plant was not being consumed. God spoke to him from the flames and revealed to him that he was God's chosen leader to bring the Hebrews out of Israel. Forty years later the fearful Hebrew slave's sarcastic prophecy was coming true. But Moses was a different person then.
Hebrews 11:26 says, "He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward."
Moses did not know any details about Christ. He knew the prophecies that God would bless the descendants of Abraham, and he knew that God would be their defender and liberator. He knew he wanted his identity to be with the people of God instead of with the Egyptians or Midianites, and he knew he wanted to inherit God's blessing. He had no idea at first that he would be a type of Christ to the people with whom he identified.
Moses fled Egypt without looking back because he didn't want to spend his life identified as an Egyptian. Moses gave up power, wealth, and prestige. His leaving Egypt and living in Midian as an alien was an act of faith for Moses. He knew he was not and could never be Egyptian; he was one of God's people. He was willing to leave in order to make his life reflect his intention. Even though Moses couldn't see God's plan in advance, his leaving without looking back was an act of integrity even though it was precipitated by a crime.
After herding sheep for forty years, Moses had lost his arrogance and his messiah complex. When God spoke to him in the desert, Moses tried to talk God out of sending him as God's spokesman to Egypt. Even after he assured Moses that He would be with him, Moses insisted that he couldn't speak well.
"Then the Lord's anger burned against Moses," says Exodus 4:14. God agreed that Aaron could go with Moses and speak for him, but Moses would be telling Aaron the words from God that he was to speak.
Before Moses was ready to do the work God had for him, he had to be humbled. His early training was essential; he needed to have the education, the training in leadership, the understanding of the pagan nations' world views in order to lead his unruly flock through and into enemy territory. But Moses could not be an effective shepherd of God's flock unless he got over seeing himself as the answer to their needs. He had to see that his expertise and providential circumstances did not qualify him to lead a nation.
The only thing that qualified Moses to lead was God's call and his faith in God. Until he lost his sense of being personally qualified, God could not use him as a leader. He needed to be a shepherd, not a prince, in order to care for the ragtag group he would be leading out of Egypt. He needed to trust God, not himself, in order to care for the Israelites.
Moses' life was symbolic in ways he never knew. From the beginning he reflected and foreshadowed themes of God's deliverance and salvation. His Nile "voyage" in his tiny ark reflected God saving Noah during the flood and starting over with Noah as the patriarch of a new beginning. His deliverance from the death decree in Egypt also foreshadowed Israel's eventual escape from Egypt during the plague of death to the firstborn.
His early life as an Egyptian also made Moses a significant part of a tradition of God's people being nurtured and sheltered in Egypt. Moses, who would eventually lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage, was himself a son of Egypt. He, the eventual deliverer, foreshadowed Jesus, the final Redeemer, who also found refuge in Egypt. Moses was the first redeemer called out of Egypt.
"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:13-15)
Moses' forty years in the desert prefigured Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness before commencing his ministry. Both Jesus and Moses had to exercise their complete reliance on God before they could minister to the needy masses.
Additionally, Moses' desert training prefigured that of John the Baptist and the apostle Paul, both of whom spent their pre-ministry time in the wilderness. Paul spent three years in Arabia after meeting the risen Lord on the Damascus Road.
Further, Hebrews 13:13 calls us to go to Jesus "outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore." When Moses left Egypt for Midian, he suffered "outside the camp". He divested himself of his Egyptian identity and became willing to do God's will. We, too, must leave behind any identity we have and follow only Jesus.
In many ways Moses' early life prefigures the early life of Jesus. He was saved from a king's decree of death to male babies by finding refuge in Egypt. He was a prince-the adopted grandson of the Egyptian Pharaoh-who gave up his position in order to become one of his own people. Jesus was the Son of God, and he gave up his position in order to become one of his people, his own creations.
Moses spent extended time in the desert prior to taking on the work God assigned him. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Neither Moses nor Jesus had characteristics that made people flock to them as their leader. When they took on their assigned roles, their personal charisma is not what compelled people. Their loyalty to God and his commands is what people found compelling. Neither Moses nor Jesus did his own will. They did the will of God.
God's call to each of us is to come out of the comfortable, familiar ruts of behavior we are in and to walk into truth. Sometimes what God calls us to leave is something to which he originally led us. His leading in our lives is never static. As our relationships with him deepen, he often changes his assignments to us.
God arranged for Moses to be rescued by Pharaoh's daughter and to become an Egyptian prince. Part of his preparation for Moses to become the redeemer of Israel was that he know intimately the culture, superstitions, and practices of the life God was calling them to leave. It was also part of God's plan that Moses be highly educated and trained in defense and in the nuances of Egyptian politics. When Moses would finally lead Israel out of Egypt, no one would be able to say that he led an uprising because he was dissatisfied with his life as a slave. Quite the contrary, Egyptians would consider him not a malcontent but a traitor. He had experienced the best Egypt offered, and he had rejected it.
Further, when Moses became manipulative and tried to present himself to Israel as their redeemer, he botched the job and drew their resentment instead of their gratitude. God had to humble Moses before he could be fit to lead His people. While the background understanding that Moses had was essential for his eventual role, it was equally essential that he learn to trust only God, not his own prowess and power. His privilege did not exempt him from accountability. His background did not make him God's leader.
When God calls us to a new assignment, often that new post is a place of insignificance. Sometimes God calls us to a time of faith and deep preparation. We may not have any idea that the thankless, unnoticed place of drudgery we have in life is actually God's specific plan for us. God puts all of us in positions where we must learn to give him Lordship instead of trying to maintain control ourselves.
Sometimes God doesn't call us out of our milieu when we begin to follow him. Sometimes he asks us to stay right where we are and take him with us. Taking Jesus with us into the environment in which we've been functioning as the lord of our lives is often more difficult than being called to something new. When we become new and filled with the Holy Spirit, we cannot be the same as we were. People will misunderstand. We become targets of spiritual attack; circumstances seem to conspire against us to force us to abandon our new faith and trust and to function without the love of Jesus being our primary motivation.
Sometimes God calls us out of our environment long enough to teach us how to live by trusting him, and then he sends us back. He asks us to face the awkwardness of returning to a place we left, but not just to returning. He asks us to take our new-found peace and faith with us and to be accountable to Him as we start over, new people in an old place.
Sometimes God does call us into a completely new place. He asks that we walk away from every social, political, and professional prop on which we've depended and begin to lean only on him. He asks us to allow him to give us a new identity, sometimes an identity quite different from the one we thought we were making for ourselves.
God's call to us is to walk into truth. That might mean righting wrongs, living for him instead of ourselves, giving grace where we used to give criticism. Walking into truth is the hardest things any of us is ever called to do. It means giving up our facades. It means being accountable. It means allowing God to redefine our understanding of reality and seeing ourselves as part of His eternity, not as lords of our own time. Walking into truth means learning to be vulnerable to Love, the eternal, seminal force that created the universe and gives us a new heart. It means learning not to run from pain and loss. It means allowing ourselves to bear his love to others, to accept his forgiveness in the deepest wounds of our soul, to be willing to be hurt by others.
God asks us to leave behind everything we've used to maintain control. He asks us to open ourselves to disgrace and discipline. He asks us to receive his acceptance and forgiveness, and he asks us to allow him to show us truth in our lives.
God's love convicts us of our compromise, and it heals us of our self-serving.
God is asking you to be willing to go into the wilderness for his sake. He asks you to be willing to suffer embarrassment and misunderstanding-disgrace-for his sake. He asks you to accept his life in place of your-for his sake.
Jesus redeems everything we bring to him. When we are born again, our lives are no longer our own. They belong to him.
Jesus asks you to trust him and to live by faith as he leads you on paths you might never have taken on your own. He asks you to experience his rest as life's pressures increase and threaten to overwhelm you. He asks you to be willing to let Himself be your reward.
Praise God for loving us beyond our understanding. Praise Jesus for giving us redemption and a place in his kingdom. Praise the Holy Spirit for filling our hearts with love, even in the face of suffering
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised July 1, 2001.