NOTES on Hebrews
11:27-28 (click here for study)
After Moses' miraculous rescue from the Pharaoh's death decree for Hebrew male babies, he grew up in the courts of Pharaoh as the princess's son. There could have been no doubt to the Pharaoh or the princess that Moses was a Hebrew. In the first place, no Egyptian family would have had to "hide" their baby in a small ark on the Nile, the very place where Hebrew babies were being drowned. When the princess found him floating among the reeds, she had to know he was a Hebrew baby. In the second place, Moses was a typical Jewish child, circumcised on the eighth day. That fact alone would have revealed his identity.
Moses' mother no doubt taught him during her few years as his "nurse" about his heritage and the promises of God to his ancestor Abraham. Moses knew who he was, and he knew he had been rescued from death. Moses' parents knew that God had told Abraham his descendants would be slaves for 400 years, and they must have known, along with the rest of their people, that the time for their deliverance was at hand. Undoubtedly Moses' family had a sense that Moses, spared and adopted by the Pharaoh's family, might be involved in their deliverance. Moses himself probably grew up certain he was chosen for a special role among the Hebrews.
According to Jewish tradition, Moses grew up as the crown prince of Egypt. He was trained to inherit his Egyptian grandfather's place on the throne. And yet Moses always remembered he was not an Egyptian. According to Stephen in his speech in Acts 7:23, Moses was forty years old when he went to "visit his fellow Israelites". He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, and in anger Moses killed the Egyptian. Also according to Stephen, Moses believed the Israelites would realize that God was using him to rescue them. (Acts 7:24) But his own conviction about God's assignment to him did not extend to the rest of the people.
The next day Moses went to the Israelite's place of hard labor again, and this time he saw two Hebrew men fighting. He tried to break up the fight, but the aggressor turned to him and said, "Who made you ruler and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" (Acts 7:28; Exodus 2:14)
Moses realized that the news of the Egyptian must have spread throughout the Israelite ranks overnight, and, according to Exodus 2:14, he was afraid. Pharaoh, says verse 15, tried to kill Moses when he heard of this debacle, but Moses fled to Midian. Hebrews 11:27, however, says Moses was not afraid of the king's anger.
While Moses fled to spare his life, it is likely that his fear was related to believing he had lost credibility and respect among his own Hebrew people. Moses believed he was to be their deliverer, and he perceived himself as their powerful "savior". He was a living miracle, saved from death as an infant and raised as the crown prince of Egypt. He saw himself as uniquely positioned and empowered to rescue his enslaved people.
Moses hadn't counted on the Hebrews resenting him. They didn't see him as one of themselves, blessed by God for their sakes. They saw him as an enemy, a traitor who had forfeited his heritage as a Hebrew and sold out as a privileged Egyptian, ready to flaunt his power over them. They were more than willing to report his crime and to make trouble for him.
The Hebrews, on the other hand, didn't see that although Moses botched his good intentions with his own arrogance, he did identify with them more than with his pagan family. He wanted them to accept him and his desire to help them.
In order to develop the humility, empathy, and faith necessary for Moses to save his people, he had to leave the luxury of the Pharaoh's court and live as a common person of no social importance. God had to strip him of his public identity and teach him his hidden, divinely assigned identity. Moses had to be weaned from a nearly 40-year habit of believing that his privilege, accomplishments, and resources would win him respect and loyalty. Moses had to learn that he was not going to be Israel's savior-God was. Any role he would play would be a role God would give him. Moses would not define or choose his position with Israel.
Moses could probably have returned to the palace and made amends with the Pharaoh. Instead, he fled. He left forever his whole life-the family that raised him, his inheritance and title, his friends-he left everything. The fact that he left was an act of faith on Moses' part. It was an act that said he was willing to leave his whole life behind in order to claim his true identity-Hebrew, descendant of Abraham, one of God's people. Even though the Israelites didn't claim him then, he knew he no longer wanted to be known as Pharaoh's grandson (Hebrews 11:24). He wanted to be a Hebrew, and he was willing to walk away from everything in order to embrace that truth even though it meant becoming an unknown commoner living in exile in a foreign land, hiding from both the Egyptians and the Israelites.
Moses could have become lost to history, but he retained faith in the God of his ancestors. He retained the knowledge of his miraculous rescue from death, and he had the knowledge of God's promises to Abraham including that the time for Israel's deliverance was near. After committing a crime worthy of death, Moses chose to renounce everything he knew and loved and cast his lot with his Hebrew identity and with his God. He left Egypt in shame-and by faith.
The land where Moses lived his next 40 years was Midian. It was named after Abraham's third son, Midian, and Moses married Zipporah, daughter of Reuel (Ex. 2:18), also called Jethro (Ex. 3:1), the priest of Midian. The name Reuel means "friend of God", and although the Midianites were not Israelites because God's promises were fulfilled through Isaac, not Abraham's other sons, they were still, as Abraham's descendants, most likely worshippers of the true God.
Abraham spent his next forty years doing work about as far removed from his royal upbringing as it was possible to find: he herded sheep. He continued to be acutely conscious that he was an alien in a foreign land, even naming his first son Gershom which sounds like the Hebrew term for "an alien there".
As he neared the end of his forty years of exile, Moses encountered God in a burning bush in the wilderness. God told Moses that he heard Israel's groaning beneath the weight of their slavery, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He informed Moses that he was choosing him, Moses, to be the one to negotiate with Pharaoh to release the Hebrews.
Forty years in the desert surrounded by sheep and the presence of God had done their work. Moses' confident arrogance that caused him to kill an Egyptian and to try to mediate between two fighting Hebrews was gone. It was so far gone, in fact, that Moses told God he couldn't do the job. Even when God insisted that he could and that He would go with him, Moses argued that he couldn't speak well.
"O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to our servant. I am slow of speech and tongue" (Exodus 4:10), and he begged God to send someone else.
"Then the Lord's anger burned against Moses and he said, 'What about your brother Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well.You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him." (Ex. 4:14-16)
Moses' arrogance was gone, but now God had to build Moses' trust and faith. As long as Moses had believed himself to be the answer to Israel's prayers, God couldn't use him. Now, emptied of himself, an alien, a shepherd, his royal education ignored and forgotten, Moses could finally receive God's presence in his life. Finally convinced he had no skills or ability of his own that would make him a successful deliverer, he could become a vessel through which God would glorify himself. God would give Moses a new identity.
Renewing the Covenant
Moses finally agreed to go back to Egypt. He took his wife and children and began the journey. On the way, however, "the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him." Moses had been so ambiguous about his identity when his children were born that he had not performed the covenant ritual on them: circumcision. He was Hebrew, but in many ways he was Egyptian, and in Midian he was an alien, not fitting in with the Midianites nor functioning as a Hebrew or an Egyptian. He was so unfocussed, in fact, that he named his first son "alien".
Now, with Moses on his way to do God's work, God insisted that he acknowledge his identity and the identity of his children. Yet it was not Moses who responded to God's anger at Moses' passive disobedience. Zipporah realized God was threatening Moses, and she took a flint knife and circumcised her young son.
"But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it. 'Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,' she said. So the Lord let him alone." (Ex. 4:25-26a)
Moses and Aaron did God's bidding, performing miracles in Pharaoh's court, asking the king to let Israel leave, invoking plagues upon Egypt because Pharaoh did not respond to their requests.
Then God told Moses he would deliver the final plague to the Egyptians: the death of their firstborn sons. He provided an escape clause, however, for the Hebrews. On the night God would pass through Egypt and kill the firstborn sons, the Israelites were to be gathered in their houses eating a special meal on their feet. They were to kill a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the lintel over the door and on the doorposts of their houses. They were to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread while standing up wearing clothes for travel.
At midnight God passed through Egypt and killed the firstborn son of every family in Egypt. He even killed the firstborn animals. "There was not a house without someone dead." (Exodus 12:30b) The Israelite sons, however, were spared because the Hebrews were in their homes under the blood.
"The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt," God had told Moses. (Exodus 12:13)
God himself killed the Egyptian firstborn. This is not the only time when God killed people who were his enemies. He killed 185,000 Assyrian men when that nation was threatening Israel. (Isaiah 37:36) God even killed Israelites when they rebelled. When Korah and his cohorts defied Moses and Aaron and asserted their "right" to act as priests, God killed them and their families by having the earth open and swallow them. When the Israelites grumbled against Moses after the death of Korah, accusing him of killing God's people, God caused a plague to break out among them. Moses and Aaron hurried to make atonement for them, carrying their censors among them. "Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah." (Exodus 16:42-49)
Much later, God told he prophet Jeremiah, "Do not pray for the well-being of this people [Israel]. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague." (Jeremiah 14:12)
God will not allow someone to sin successfully forever. When people persistently defy God, ultimately they incur his wrath. In fact, all humanity has inherited the wrath of God, our legacy from Adam and Eve's sin that separated our race from our Creator. We are born dead, enemies of God, doomed to destruction. (Ephesians 2:1-5) In his mercy, however, God provides a way for people to escape his wrath.
The Israelites were not exempt from the death of their firstborn sons. They were residents of Egypt, and they were in the territory where God passed over and killed the firstborn. They did not merit God's favor. The only reason they did not experience death in their homes that night was that they obeyed God and put the blood of lambs on their door posts. It was not the Israelites' characters or chosen status that exempted them; it was their standing under the protection of the blood. When God saw the blood he passed over them. If they failed to display the blood, God killed their sons.
The Wrath of God
In spite of the claims of many who say God does not kill or bring destruction on the wicked, they bring it on themselves, the Bible is clear that God does mete out judgment. In fact, the Bible also makes it clear that God is the only one in the universe qualified to judge and to bring punishment.
"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Romans 12:19, Deut. 32:35)
"But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another." (Psalm 75:7)
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge" (2 Timothy 4:1)
"For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:30-31; Deut. 32:35-36)
"There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you-who are you to judge your neighbor?" (James 4:12)
"I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war." (Revelation 19:11)
God is the only judge in the universe. Jesus, our Lord, has earned the right to judge the earth. When people strip God of the power to judge and destroy, placing that power instead in the hands of humans themselves, they make themselves more powerful than God. If wicked people actually destroy themselves by removing themselves from God, then God is simply one out of several equal options. Humans have the ultimate power in the universe.
The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that God is the avenger. He is the one who judges and destroys the wicked.
One of Satan's seductive deceptions is that we don't have to fear God's power and the cleansing force of his eternal love. We can choose to live with him, or we can choose to live without him. Either way, says Satan, we choose what we want, and we don't need to fear God's wrath. His benign love will allow us to do whatever we want to ourselves. He will not hurt us, and he will not intervene if we hurt ourselves.
God's wrath is real, not merely a metaphor. John says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)
The expression for "wrath" in this text is a strong statement connoting God's active, permanent opposition to everything evil. It is not an expression of an outburst of rage, but of a just, long, deep, holy, permanent opposition to evil that cannot be changed.
In Romans 1:18-19, Paul says, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them."
John prophecies the day of God's wrath in Revelation: "They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?' " (Revelation 6:16-17)
"Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. 'He will rule them with an iron scepter.' He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords." (Revelation 19:16-17)
The wrath of God is both present and future. He is opposed to evil and rebellion now (see Romans 6:16-17), and in the future he will express the full range of his wrath when he destroys evil.
If not for the inexplicable wonder of Jesus' death and resurrection, none of us could escape God's wrath. But because Jesus died, we can claim his shed blood to protect us from the destruction of God's justice. We can accept his death and hide under his righteous blood, and God will spare us when he judges the wicked.
The Bible makes clear that those who believe and accept Jesus are spared the wrath of God. (see John 3:36) Paul expounds, "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" (Romans 5:9)
He says further, "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him." (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)
The Passover prefigured an event that has still to be fulfilled. When the Israelites escaped God's death sentence by staying inside the blood on the door posts, they were living a prophecy of God's people surviving the wrath of God by accepting the blood of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus.
Moses "persevered because he saw him who is invisible." (Heb. 11:27) He knew the prophecies of a coming Redeemer, but even more tangible to him was God's promise that Israel would be led out of bondage. Moses actually became the medium through whom God orchestrated Israel's escape. When he was growing up as a prince in Egypt, he did not know he would become a shepherd full of insecurities who would have to be trained by God to become a leader. Even though he underwent leadership training as the crown prince, he did not learn the qualities that made a leader God could use. It took humiliation and shame to drive Moses to see that his privileges and gifts could not accomplish God's work. God had to have a humble man empty of his own perverted sense of importance before he could train him to trust by faith.
Even though Moses did not have all the details of his coming Redeemer, he did learn to trust God. He believed his promises to the patriarchs and to him. He "saw" that God's people would escape Egypt under his leadership. He "saw" that God would send the Redeemer he promised. Moses learned to live by faith in the invisible God and his yet-unseen Son.
By faith Moses actually prefigured the Redeemer who was to come. Moses, a prince, gave up his royal title and became an insignificant shepherd. Like Jesus, his people did not recognize him as their redeemer. He led them out of slavery to evil people and wickedness into a life in which they answered to God. Instead of living by human rules, they now lived by God's rules. They argued with Moses, however, begging him to let them have the way of life they left.
Like Jesus, Moses delivered a completely new order of reality to the Israelites. Under God's direction, he established the law and sacrifices that made Israel a nation. He defined their role as God's people and administered the Old Covenant to them. He taught them the Law and explained the righteousness God expected of his people. He established the necessity of blood sacrifices to atone for sin and a mediating priesthood to represent the people to God. Moses taught Israel that their deeds and sacrifices did not permanently set them right with God, but their obedience was necessary in order for them to have an ongoing relationship with God.
Like Jesus, Moses often acted as intercessor between Israel and God, begging God to kill him and spare the people when they incurred His wrath.
Like Jesus, Moses established a new covenant. Under his leadership God redeemed His people and taught them how to represent Him and to worship Him. Israel became a nation and functioned as God's people under Moses.
Unlike Jesus, however, Moses could not permanently save his people. Unlike Jesus, he could not ultimately lead them into their Promised Land. Unlike Jesus, he was not God. Unlike Jesus, Moses could not give Israel a new birth.
Moses was a savior, and he was the leader of Israel. Jesus, however, was The Savior, and he is head of the church. He is the firstborn from the dead, redeeming forever all the dead-redeeming forever all humanity.
Like God called Moses, God calls all of us to face the truth. We all have personae we develop. We visualize ourselves having certain gifts and strengths, and we imagine we are especially suited for certain kinds of work and service, not to mention respect and position. Our talents determine who we are as natural men and women, and our desires lead us to create certain fantasies about ourselves which we try to pass off as truth.
What we inherit from our parents, however, is not our sole definition. God has plans and futures for us which we cannot see nor imagine. We cannot realize His plans for us, though, unless we submit our hearts to his love and forgiveness and accept the new birth of the indwelling Holy Spirit. When we accept the new reality God gives us, we begin to face the truth in ourselves. The Holy Spirit brings us face to face with the ways in which we have deceived ourselves and others, and he convicts us of the need to "come clean".
As we begin to let go of our desperately held self-defenses and identities, Jesus begins to redefine us. His Spirit begins to bring repressed parts of our hearts and minds to life, and as we make amends and admit the truth, we discover that God is gifting us in ways which have nothing to do with our natural talents or training. God is truly making new people out of us! Love is transforming us, and God Himself is equipping us to do things he brings into our lives.
Like Moses, we have to be willing to walk away from absolutely everything we know and love in order to identify with Jesus alone. We have to be willing to enter the wilderness. We usually see the wilderness looming on the horizon before we put our feet onto its sands, and we rationalize with ourselves, trying to find good reasons not to enter it-trying to find workable ways to go around instead of through it.
When we tell God we accept Him, however, He never leaves us alone until we're willing to go into that wilderness with Him. God does not promise us that anything we have will be waiting for us on the other side, but He does promise never to leave us as we walk through the danger.
The miracle of the wilderness, though, is that we discover the love of Jesus is enough. We discover that the wilderness does not consume us; Jesus himself protects us from the dangers and threats to our existence. His love holds us together and reveals the freedom of allowing him to reveal truth. In the wilderness we begin to lose our façades, and we begin to know that we are essentially nothing without His love. We begin to see that who we thought we were was an illusion; the truth lies in identifying with Him. We also begin to see how we have been deceived by others.
As we begin to emerge with God from the other side of the wilderness, we find that the truth God reveals to us also leads us to work he wants us to do. Often we find him calling and equipping us to do things for which we never trained
Like Moses, we discover that God's desire is to glorify himself through us, and our work becomes His work; our power is His love. We may do things we dreamed of doing, but we do them differently than we ever expected we would. We may find God leading us to do things we never dreamed of doing, and because He is in us, He equips us to do those things.
God is calling you to trust him. Jesus is asking you to be willing to leave behind every loyalty and façade you've cherished. He is calling you to walk in the light.
God's call to us is always a call to truth. Whatever the cost, God leads us relentlessly toward knowing and being known.
When we choose to trust God, the wilderness which threatens to consume us becomes a spiritual womb from which God births us into a new identity in Him. He is faithful to walk through the pain and fear with us. He is consistent in holding us together with His love.
We cannot possibly see how things will look on the other side before we choose to walk into the desert of truth and integrity. If we avoid the desert, however, we deepen our compromise, and we never experience the freedom that is the gift of truth.
Take the risk. Trust Jesus to lead you where He wants you to go. Trust Him to love you and stay with you no matter what you experience. You will discover that God's faithfulness surpasses anything else you've ever experienced.
You will discover that Jesus is your great reward.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised July 1, 2001.