READ : Hebrews 11:23-28
He was the adopted son of an Egyptian princess, raised in wealth and luxury with every advantage, but he gave it all up for the life of a wilderness wanderer. That was Moses.
He was the adopted son of an Egyptian princess, destined to be a prince himself one day. He was raised in all the luxury and splendor of a royal household, enjoying every advantage of position and education. His life was secure, his prosperity assured. All the advantages and privileges his society could bestow would belong to him, and he would be pampered and protected all his days. But he gave it all up for the life of a wilderness wanderer. His name was Moses.
How could someone make that kind of sacrifice? The answer is: by faith. It was faith that made Moses choose God instead of the world, and life with the people of God instead of life as a member of the world’s wealthy and privileged class. Here is how the book of Hebrews explains it:
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the sake of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
(vv. 23-27, rsv)
FAITH DEFIES THE WORLD
The life of Moses illustrates two very important characteristics of faith. The first is this: Faith defies the world. Faith has the power to enable people to stand up to this world’s rulers and say no to their unjust demands. Moses was the great champion of his people, the man whom God sent to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. It was Moses’ task to appear before Pharaoh and deliver the Lord’s demand to “let my people go.” He engaged in a fierce contest of will with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, over the liberation of the people of Israel, a struggle that was at the same time a battle between God and the forces of evil. Moses needed great courage as he came again and again before Pharaoh to challenge his authority and demand what was right: freedom for the people of Israel. The secret of his courage was simply that Moses believed in God. But he really believed in God. He feared God more than any earthly ruler, he was convinced that God’s power was above all human authority, he was more concerned about obeying God than pleasing men.
The writer to the Hebrews traces this type of bold defiance all the way back to the faith of Moses’ parents. “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born,” we read, “. . .they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Heb. 11:23, niv). The book of Exodus in the Old Testament opens with the story of Moses’ birth. It was centuries after the time of Joseph, and Jacob’s family, the children of Israel, had grown from a small clan into a sizeable people, but they were a people without a homeland. They had continued all those centuries living in Egypt, and by now the days of Joseph were long forgotten. Now Egypt was ruled by a Pharaoh who, in the Bible’s words, “knew not Joseph.” This king’s problem was that he was ignorant of history. He did not know about the time when Joseph had saved all Egypt from a terrible famine. He was never told how one of his ancestors had welcomed the Israelites as honored guests and settled them in a territory of their own. This Pharaoh did not realize that Israel was God’s chosen people, and that God had a purpose for them that would eventually lead to salvation for all the nations and that he had been blessing Egypt all these years for Israel’s sake. Ignorance of the past can have serious consequences. Ignorance of God is even more terrible.
If Pharaoh had known any of this, the story might have been very different, but instead he made a typical political decision. When Pharaoh looked at the Hebrews, he saw only a growing threat. They were foreigners, illegal aliens who posed a threat to Egyptian sovereignty, so he stripped the Israelites of their freedom and made them part of the slave labor force that carried out Egypt’s vast building projects. Yet even this was not enough to allay Pharaoh’s fears. The Hebrews’ high birthrate made him uneasy (the whole story has a modern ring to it), so he passed a new edict decreeing that all male Hebrew babies should be drowned in the River Nile. It was the first time, incidentally, though tragically not the last, that history would see a campaign of systematic genocide directed against the Jewish people.
There were some, though, who defied the king’s new edict. Exodus tells about one Hebrew couple who saved their son’s life by hiding him in a basket that they floated among the reeds on the river’s edge. When Pharaoh’s daughter found the little baby Moses floating in his basket, and decided to adopt him as her own son, God honored the courage and faith of his parents by allowing them to care for him during his formative years.
Faith in God is what gives ordinary people the strength to do extraordinary things. Faith can allow people to defy the world and all its power. Moses’ parents weren’t revolutionaries or radicals. They did not engage in terrorism, but when the powers that were made an ungodly demand, they simply and quietly said “No, we will not obey it, we will not submit.” Do you know that moral courage is an even greater thing than physical courage? And it comes only from faith. Those who trust in God can learn not to be afraid of evil because they know that God holds ultimate power over all human rulers and states. “Don’t you know I can have you crucified?” Pilate asked Jesus when he tried him for his life. “You have no authority except what has been given to you,” Jesus calmly replied. Christians are not afraid of any human ruler because we fear a higher authority. We serve a greater king.
FAITH DENIES THE WORLD
Faith defies the world. It has the strength to say no to what is wrong, even when faced with the threat of punishment and death. At this very moment there are thousands of Christians, perhaps millions, throughout the world who are quietly defying the unjust demands of state power. Persecution of believers for their faith, including martyrdom, is very real today. But God is giving his people the strength to stand fast for him despite all threats.
Faith, though, also says no to the world in another sense: Faith denies the world. Faith means being able to choose the things of God in preference to all that the world values and considers important. Faith makes us identify with the people of God even if that means saying no to great things as human society defines them.
As a boy, Moses was taken to Pharaoh’s palace to be raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. We can scarcely imagine the splendor, wealth, and privilege of such a life. But one day Moses came unexpectedly to a crossroads in his life. It so often happens that way. You’ll be going along day after day, year after year, following your normal routine, and it seems like your life will always be the same. Then suddenly you turn a corner and find yourself confronting a crisis. You are forced to make a choice, almost before you realize what is happening. That is what happened with Moses on the day he stumbled upon an Egyptian brutally beating a Hebrew slave. Suddenly the issues were defined with stark clarity. Who was he really? An Egyptian or an Israelite? Where did he belong? In the palace or the slave quarters? Which life was his? The luxurious idleness of a prince or the hard service of the people of God? Moses made his choice that day when he said no to the world and yes to God.
Note clearly everything that Moses’ choice involved. It was a choice against worldly status (v. 24), worldly pleasure (v. 25), and worldly wealth (v. 26). “By faith Moses when he was grown up refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” Moses chose to surrender his status, his high social position. He gave up the life of a prince for that of a slave. He also said no to worldly pleasure. By faith Moses chose “rather to share ill treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (v. 25). Imagine that! Moses preferred to experience harsh treatment as one of God’s people rather than enjoying all the pleasures of an ungodly life. And of course, Moses denied himself the wealth of the world. “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than all the treasures of Egypt” (v. 26, niv). Imagine! How many people really believe that knowing and loving Jesus Christ, even though it brings the contempt of the world, is more valuable than all the wealth of the pharaohs?
To voluntarily identify with the lowest of the low, to give up an easy and comfortable life for a life of hardship, suffering and abuse, to turn your back on wealth and fame in order to become the follower of a crucified Messiah, to surrender all that the world considers important and valuable so that you can spend your life in the service of a God whom the world thinks is either irrelevant or nonexistent – none of that seems like a very smart thing to do. But Moses knew some things. He knew that the world’s values do not last. What he denied himself, says the Bible, was the fleeting pleasures of sin. Fame and wealth, beauty, youth, appetite and passion, none of them are permanent. Imagine standing in front of your little child. In one hand you hold a piece of candy, in the other, your heart of love. You carefully explain to the child that while the candy is more appealing and tastes sweet for a little while, it is not what he needs most. If he would only take what is in the other hand, he would find everything he needs and wants for his whole life long. That is how it is with us. The world offers many treasures and pleasures. But more than any of these, more even than the good gifts of creation, we need the Creator himself. Choosing to live for the values and pleasures of the world is like choosing candy instead of our Father’s love.
Moses made his choice to deny the world and cast his lot with the people of God because he believed in God “because he was looking ahead to his reward,” says the Bible, and “because he saw him who is invisible.” By faith he accepted the reality that physical eyes cannot see. And you realize, of course, that Moses didn’t actually give up anything or lose anything of real value when he said no to the world. “It is no sacrifice,” wrote the missionary martyr Jim Elliott, “to give up what you cannot keep in order to gain what you cannot lose.” The world’s values and pleasures are not only temporary; they are illusory. Only God is real and only God can satisfy us. Compared to him, nothing else matters. “The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied,” wrote Jonathan Edwards. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives or children or the company of earthly friends are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the ocean” (The Christian Pilgrim, Jonathan Edwards). That is the truth.