“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.” (Hebrews 11: 24-28)
This is the story of Moses, retold from the perspective of some fifteen hundred years later. Something new had happened which had changed the shape of the old story and created a new way of seeing things.
And the”new way of seeing things” for the author of this letter was, of course, the fact of Christ. If Jesus was indeed The Messiah, the long-promised Rescuer of all those ancient prophecies, then the whole of Jewish history and purpose had to be reassessed. What about the lives of all those countless thousands of devout Jews looking forward to that promise? “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”
And so it was with the life of Moses himself. He was anticipating something as yet unseen. So what does the “life of faith” look like, from this new Christ-centred hermeneutic, in the life of Moses? The new story is interpolated into the ancient narrative. Moses regarded “disgrace for the sake of Christ” as better than a human success-story; and he pushed through “because he saw him who is invisible.” Even Passover is considered as something past (to be “kept”) rather than as future (to be inaugurated).
Was the writer historically confused (like that history essay I got back with the line: “The Romans advanced, with fixed bayonets”) or is there something significant here? I believe that he wasn’t (and that there is).
It is simply a recognition of the Lord of History, that God is beyond time. The revelation given to Moses in Exodus 3 was of a God who called Himself “I AM,” that He was, and is and is to come. In the light of this, it is not a stretch to understand past promise in the light of future fulfilment. It is God who initiates. It is God who sustains. It is God who completes. As Søren Kierkegaard put it: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
And so it is in our lives too. Hebrews 2:8,9 accepts that though right “now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour…” That is to say, we see the present in the light of the future.
Jesus endured the cross “for the sake of the joy set before him.” We too follow the route that he pioneered, understanding present suffering through future joy.
And yet we are people of our own day, with our own backgrounds, complicated histories and genetic make-up that influence our personal choices. Moses behaved just as his parents did. They “were not afraid of the king’s edict” and neither was he, but persevered, “not fearing the king’s anger.” We are influenced, but not programmed in our choosing. Mother Teresa made it a very practical point:“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
So Moses made a choice. He “refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” He aligned himself with the despised “People of God.” And “He chose to be ill-treated…” rather than to deny the call of God on his life.
And all this is the life of faith. This is what it looks like. No one gets it any easier. It’s still a perilous journeying into the unknown, on a wing and a prayer, answering a half-heard summons. Corrie Ten Boom, in a familiar quote, encouraged her listeners with the line: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” It’s a good, true word, but Hebrews 11 takes it further, to people like Moses who followed Christ without knowing him at all. What a mystery!
Jesus declares in John 8:56 that ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ It’s the same amazing picture of Old Testament faith, of people who didn’t receive the promises but “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”
Lord, we’re aware that we don’t have everything sewn up in our understanding. We’re conscious that we do not yet see everything under your feet and in submission to your lordship. But we see you, the Lord of our past, present and future. We trust an unknown future to a known God.
Teach us how to live today in the light of the eternal. Develop in us that insight that “sees the invisible” and trusts completely that all will be well.
In Jesus’ name.