Volume 9, Issue 5: Exegetica
Esteeming the Reproach of Christ - Hebrews 11:23-28
Moses was a great man of faith. The author of Hebrews describes his faith at length, a length second only to the description of the faith of Abraham earlier in this chapter. Why does he devote so many words about Moses in a letter he has written "in few words"? Consider these two reasons.
First, the exodus was an event of supreme historical and theological importance to the Hebrews, including the recipients of this epistle. By the hand of Moses, God redeemed them out of bondage in Egypt, gave them His law, and established them as His people. Moses was their covenant head, and as such the Jews considered themselves his disciples. An extensive treatise is certainly not unwarranted.
Second, the author is admonishing those readers who are in danger of apostatizing, who are being tempted to turn away from the reality of Christian faith and turn back to the shadows of Moses' law. But we see in this section that the lawgiver himself was of the faith of Christ. Moses kept the faith and recognized the shadows for what they were. Thus to turn toward the shadows of Moses' law would be to turn away from Moses. To be Moses' disciple, you must have Moses' faith; that is, you must be a Christian.
The author starts by commending the faith of Moses' parents. "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's command" (Heb. 11:23). Pharaoh, fearing the Hebrews, had ordered all the male children to be cast into the Nile. In faith and without fear, Moses' parents disobeyed him, seeing that Moses was "beautiful," as also did Pharaoh's daughter (Exod. 2:6) and God Himself (Acts 7:20). When his parents could hide the baby no longer, they entrusted his safety to God and placed him in the river (perhaps following the letter of Pharaoh's command, if not the spirit). He was found by Pharaoh's daughter, who raised him in the wisdom of the Egyptians to be mighty in word and deed (Acts 7:21-22). Thus God providentially protected Moses from the wrath of that tyrant (even as He later protected His own Son at His nativity).
"By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin" (Heb. 11:24-25). As he grew into manhood Moses enjoyed the privileges of an Egyptian prince: power, comfort, wealth, even perhaps (as Josephus records) a right to Pharaoh's throne. Yet Moses recognized these as the pleasures of sin, offered from the hand of him who ordered the slavery of the covenant people of God and the death of their sons, his brothers. "But when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel" (Acts 7:23, cf. Exod. 2:11). Moses saw their burdens under the Egyptian taskmasters, which he endured, though comparing his lot with theirs no doubt stung him to the heart. But when he saw an Egyptian beating one of his Hebrew brothers, he could bear it no longer, and killing the Egyptian he thought to deliver his people (see Acts 7:24-25). By this act he renounced his worldly inheritance, and chose "to suffer affliction with the people of God."
At this point we see Moses' faith manifested. He saw the great antithesis: on the one hand the best that the world had to offer, the passing pleasures of sin, and on the other hand the worst of the people of God, their affliction. And in faith he chose the latter, "esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward" (Heb. 11:26), a reward that, contrary to sin's pleasures, is eternal. Moses saw Christ's reproach in the affliction of Christ's people, His church of old. Forsaking the world he looked to the heavens, trusting God to fulfill His promises.
"By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27). When Moses escaped from Pharaoh after killing the Egyptian, he did not fear the wrath of the king, but he did fear that "this thing is known" (Exod. 2:14-15). He may have been alarmed that the delivery which he was attempting to bring about for the Hebrews was discovered before he could accomplish it. So he fled to Midian, trusting God to accomplish His will in His time. And after forty years He "who is invisible" appeared to Moses, sending him back to his birthplace to do by the power of God what he was unable to accomplish by the power of his own arm.
The Lord redeemed them by bringing the Egyptians to their knees. "Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord" (Exod. 12:12). Osiris and Min could not prevent Him from destroying their cattle and crops; Amon-Re could not prevent Him from darkening the sun. The Lord sent the firstborn of Egypt to Anubis, their jackal-headed god of death, but by the blood of the lamb he protected Moses and His people. "By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them" (Heb. 11:28). God had promised that "the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you" (Exod. 12:13). Moses believed this promise, and through his faith and the sprinkled blood of the Passover, he and his household were saved.