"By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible." Hebrews 11:27
Choose we must. We must always choose between Christ and Satan, between the service of the Lord and that of the devil, between Egypt and the people of God, between the things above and the things below. And this choice is inevitable. No compromise is possible. It is either God or mammon, Christ or Belial, the church or the world. And to choose for God and Christ is possible only by faith.
Moreover, once we make the choice we must act. Our conscious choosing and definite action are always inseparable. Faith in Christ and a spiritual walk are inseparably connected. Indeed, to express a preference for God and his cause and then to seek the things below is surely dishonest. How true this is of Moses! That faith and action are inseparably connected will also become plain as we dwell a few moments upon the incident in this particular word of God. Fact is, this is the thrust of this passage.
To which incident does this text refer? Moses left Egypt twice: he left Egypt when he fled to Midian, and he again left Egypt at the exodus. Which incident is meant here? The commentators are not in agreement; there is much to be said in favor of both explanations.
We do not accept the explanation which refers this incident to the exodus. It is true that weighty arguments can be brought forth in support of this view. Literally we read, not that he forsook Egypt, but that he left, departed out of Egypt. This would refer to the exodus, would it not? When Moses went to Midian he did not simply leave Egypt, but he fled out of it. Besides, and this is by far the weightier argument, we read here: "not fearing the wrath of the king." When he fled to Midian he was driven by fear—see Ex. 2:14–15. But here we read he forsook Egypt, "not fearing the wrath of the king." So, this text cannot refer to his flight to Midian; it must refer to the incident known as the exodus. However, we do not consider these arguments as weighty as those which can be marshaled in support of the view that the incident refers to his flight to Midian.
We accept the explanation which refers this incident to his flight to Midian. First, the text is personal. We read, not that he, Moses, led Israel out of Egypt, but that he forsook Egypt. Secondly, we read, "not fearing the wrath of the king." It is true that this expression is quoted in support of the view that the text refers to the exodus. But we will use this expression to show that the exodus is not meant here. There was no reason for Moses to fear the wrath of the king at the time of the exodus. Had not the king commanded Moses and the children of Israel to depart out of Egypt? Why, then, should we read that he forsook Egypt as not fearing the wrath of the king? He feared the wrath of the king when he fled to Midian. This expression does make sense, however, when the incident refers to Moses' flight to Midian. Thirdly, and this, we believe, is potent: there is the chronological argument. Notice, if you will, the chronological order of events in the life of Moses in the verses 23–29. All these events follow in chronological order. How strange it would be if verse 27 would refer to the exodus, whereas verse 28 speaks of the keeping of the passover and verse 29 refers to the passage through the Red Sea. Our text, therefore, chronologically, must refer to the time when Moses fled out of Egypt to Midian.
We know the incident. Moses, when forty years old, went to see his people. He witnessed the smiting of a Hebrew by an Egyptian, and he slew the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand. The next day he again went out to visit his people and this time two of his fellow Israelites were quarreling; he intervened; and then he learned that his killing of the Egyptian which he thought to be a secret was known, and that it would be known also to the king. This led Moses to flee to Midian. In the historical account in Exodus 2 we read that Moses feared. There we certainly receive the impression that he fled because he was afraid of the king. But in our text we read that he was moved by faith, not fearing the wrath of the king. On the one hand, we read that fear prompted his flight. On the other hand, in this text, we are told that faith prompted his flight. The question is: which is correct? We should not really, of course, express ourselves this way. Fact is, both are correct. The only question before us is: how can these expressions, in Exodus 2 and in the words of this text, be harmonized?
Its Spiritual Significance
Let us use an illustration. Let us picture to ourselves a child of God who, in prison for Jesus' sake, will be executed the following morning and suffer the most excruciating agonies. He is afraid of his coming torture. Of course! And yet, he fears not the wrath of his enemies but trusts in the Lord his God and is ready to suffer and die for him. To this we may add one thing. He is given an opportunity to escape. He flees for his life. On the one hand, he flees because he fears his death at the stake. On the other hand, however, we may also say that he believed and feared not because he was faithful to his Lord, even unto the end, never renouncing his faith in his Master.
This surely applies to Moses. From a natural point of view, he was certainly afraid. He feared for his life, fled to Midian for self-preservation. Nevertheless, from a spiritual point of view, he feared not. In the first place, it was exactly because of his faith that he was now involved in his present difficulty. It was because of his faith that he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and also that he went out to visit his brethren, and which moved him to kill the Egyptian who was smiting his fellow Israelite. Secondly, had he not believed he surely could have pursued a different course. It was not necessary for him to flee to Midian to save his life. He could have gone to Pharaoh, told him he was sorry for what he had done, also that he wanted to be his daughter's son and that he would renounce all allegiance to Israel. Moses, however, persevered in his faith even until the end. He does not return to the palace of this king. He does not seek the favor of the king or of his daughter. He continues in the course he has chosen. Now, although he flees for his life because, naturally, he is afraid, yet he never for one moment considers to renounce his faith.
That Moses acted as he did by faith, as the evidence of things unseen and the substance of things hoped for, becomes all the more evident if we notice the circumstances under which it occurred. How high and strong was his faith as he went to visit his brethren! He had chosen for the cause of God and of his people, Israel. He had been instructed by his parents in all the knowledge of Jehovah and also in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. And he had surely weighed all the arguments, pro and con, for and against. And having made his definite choice for the people of God, he must have stood high and strong in his faith. How wonderful Israel must have seemed to him; how vain and worthless all the glories and treasures of Egypt! He must have felt that he stood at the pinnacle, was able to conquer every foe. That this is true of Moses is evident from his visit to his brethren. Notice what we read in Acts 7:25. He actually went because he would deliver his people! He felt himself capable of delivering them. This explains his slaying of the Egyptian! But Israel rejected him. They asked him who had made him a leader and prince over them. And they told him his killing of the Egyptian the day before was known. What a letdown. On the one hand, he had found two Israelites fighting each other. He had chosen for the afflictions of Israel to be one with the people of God. And now he discovers that this people are not even united among themselves. And, on the other hand, they even threaten to expose him. This is surely the implication of what they tell him, that his deed is known.
Let us apply this to ourselves. How high and lofty can be our state of mind when we definitely reveal our choice for God and for his Christ and cause. Then we know that our sins are forgiven us and we feel that we are strong, so strong that we can conquer every foe. Then there is no cloud in the sky. But then comes the letdown. We did not realize how weak we really are and how strong the enemy is and how powerful the temptations and enticements of the world can be. Our conception of sin within us and all around us was rather immature; the struggles and disappointments of life unknown to us. And then we tumble off our high perch and we fall into the depths, and things happen to us we never thought possible. How disappointed Moses was when he visited his brethren!
Now we understand all the more that Moses forsook Egypt by faith, O, there was also another way open to him and it must have tempted him. He could have returned to Pharaoh's house, as we have already said, and expressed his sorrow. Or, he could have turned his back upon his people, and said, perhaps to them, and surely to himself: what's the use! How disappointed he must have been in them; why should he cast his lot in with them? But Moses left Egypt by faith. It is now that his faith reaches its pinnacle. Until now he had believed, to be sure. But he had relied upon his people, that they would support him, that he and they together would carry on in this cause of the Lord. And they fail him. Now he stands alone. But does he succumb? No, he now trusts in God, in God alone, as seeing the invisible. Alone he must carry on. Alone? Yes, except with his God.
Does not the same truth apply to us? We will also experience life's bitter disappointments. Possibly we trusted in ourselves, in our own strength. The disappointments will be many. But the result of it all will be that we learn that God alone is our strength. His grace alone will become ever more sufficient. And this is the purpose of it all.
We read: "for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible." O, this does not simply mean that we know that there is a God. The devils also believe this and they shudder. God is invisible. He cannot be seen. No man can see him and live. What we see of God is God revealed, his face. And God's face, to us, is our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, to see him who is invisible means that we see him in Christ, as the God of our salvation.
This renders our believing and forsaking of Egypt possible. Moses might have thought, when Israel disowned him and he stood alone, that he was now really destitute, had lost everything. He had endured, as seeing the invisible God of his salvation; and he came to the wondrous discovery that, really, he had lost nothing. His trust was now solely upon his God. So, God being for him, all things were for him.
How wonderfully this applies to us! O, when we plunge into the depths, we may think: this is the end; what is the use? I cannot go on; it is all to no avail. And then we see God. Trusting in his precepts, forsaking the glories and honors of this world (only then can we see God), we see God. God says to us: you cannot go on, and you think it is no use? That is just fine. Look upon me. What is humanly impossible, what you cannot do, you need not do. Just believe in me, and you shall be saved.
This we all must learn.
This we will learn.
And the God of our salvation will surely care for us.
This article was written by Rev. Herman Veldman in the February 15, 1982 issue of the Standard Bearer.