When we read the Old Testament account of the life of Moses, we recognize a concentration on some of the “larger” aspects of his life: the contest with Pharaoh involving the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the tables of the Law, etc. When we come to the thumbnail sketch of Moses’ life in the New Testament, the life is the same, but the focus and emphasis are slightly different. And so one-seventh of the “biography” is given to this statement: “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). Because Moses left Egypt twice, once when he went to Midian after having killed an Egyptian who had been fighting with an Israelite and finally when he led his people out of the land during the exodus, commentators are divided over which occasion is being referenced.
On the one hand, those who argue that the reference cannot be to Moses’ first departure cite Exodus: “And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known [that he had slain an Egyptian to save an Israelite]. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh” (2:14, 15). On this occasion, Moses is said to have “feared.” On the other hand, those who argue that the reference cannot be to the exodus cite the fact that (1) the chronology (see Heb. 11:23-29) would then be out of order, and (2) by the time of the exodus, Pharaoh urged the people to leave so that Moses had no cause to fear. Vine offers a third interpretation, which may be best. He suggests that when the writer of Hebrews speaks of Moses as forsaking Egypt, he has in mind neither the first nor the second physical departure, but that which fostered both: the determination in his heart not to be identified as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but as one of the despised Israelites.
Whether this is true or not, Vine’s observation is incisive regarding the determining course of Moses’ life and that of ours as well. Men look on outward things, but God looks on the heart. Men see the literal outward departures; God sees the inward faith that led to Moses’ decision to separate from what was easy and comfortable and identify with that that was difficult and despised. Moses “forsook” Egypt, not when he fled to the Midian desert, not when he led his people en masse through the Red Sea, but when he determined that he would be identified as one of God’s Israelites rather than as one of Pharaoh’s Egyptians.
Great external events turn on just such invisible decisions of faith. The mistake of many Christians is that they live in expectation of being swept up in some great event and leading some heroic act. They live happily, comfortably, conveniently in this world in the hope that some day a great heroic opportunity will overtake them. But the Christian life doesn’t work that way. It was a “little” personal and family decision that Moses made that wound up having international consequences and universal repercussions. What intimations of his future Moses might have had at the time he made his decision to forsake identification with Pharaoh, we can only guess. But we do know that it was only after Moses made this decision, and after he left Pharaoh’s household, and after he fled to the desert of Midian, and after he had become a humble and despised shepherd that God called him from the burning bush.
It does no violation to Scripture to recognize that Egypt is presented as typical of the world. As believers, we must be in the world, but we are not to be of the world. And God asks us to live accordingly. “Know ye not,” James asks (4:4), “that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” There are no small decisions in the life of a believer. The choices we make today as we go about our mundane affairs are either for or against God, according to His will or contrary to it. And they are charting the course of our own lives, of those of our loved ones, and perhaps many others of which we are totally unaware. Each decision is an act of faith or of disobedience; may we, like Moses, choose wisely. Some “little” choice may be the pivotal point—for good or ill—in our lives. Some “little” choice may vault us to be a hero—or a heel. The invisible God was more real and important to Moses than were Pharaoh, his court, and his army. What about us?
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