Few things can cripple people like fear. Fear makes people shrink back from doing the things they know they ought to do. Fear can also make us do things we know we ought not to do. Fear is not simply self-protective or self-preserving; fearful concern for the well-being and protection of those whom we love can cause us to worry, to lie awake at night, and even to do things that could be perceived as either very brave or very foolish. So what overcomes fear? The Bible offers a clear and potent solution—faith in the promises of God. “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king” (Heb. 11:27).
This verse stands in the middle of Hebrews 11 and in the middle of the author’s commentary on the life of Moses. It briefly reflects on the faith of Moses in the face of a very real and present danger (humanly speaking)—the king of Egypt. Moses was a man just like any other man; blood flowed in his veins just as it does in yours and mine. He was truly human and thus capable of knowing the reality of fear in the face of an imminent threat. What the verse says of Moses is striking for several reasons. First, Moses is described as “not being afraid of the anger of the king.” This catches our attention as it marks a clear contrast to an earlier point in the life of Moses when, after he killed an Egyptian and buried him in the sand, Moses fled to the land of Midian because he was afraid (Ex. 2:14, emphasis added). Moses had grown up as a son in Pharaoh’s house, but he was apparently not above the law. When he decided to intervene to save the life of the victimized Hebrew slave, he was making a conscious decision to identify with the sufferings of the enslaved people of God (Heb. 11:24). However, his passion took him a step too far—Moses killed a man. Realizing not only what he had done but that the deed was known, Moses fled to the wilderness. Fear drove Moses away.
The next scene of Moses’ life to which the author of Hebrews directs our attention introduces us to a new Moses: a Moses who is no longer afraid of the king of Egypt—in fact, a Moses who is no longer afraid to return to Egypt, the same land from which he fled. Moses knew that, humanly speaking, he was walking into the lions’ den. What made him unafraid to do so? Before answering that, we notice that the accent of Hebrews 11:27 falls not upon Moses’ return into Egypt but his departure from Egypt. Moses did indeed go again into Egypt, but what the author now refers to is the point of the exodus at which Moses begins to lead the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. If anyone had a good reason to be afraid (humanly speaking), it was Moses. Egypt had been no friend to Israelites, and the king of Egypt showed no love for them or for the God of Israel. Moses had every reason to envision that it would not be long before he had the wilderness in front of him and Pharaoh’s army behind him, with the people of Israel moving at a turtle’s pace in the middle. So again, why was Moses unafraid?
It is here that we see what Moses saw—the invisible. By faith, Moses “endured as seeing him who is invisible.” This well-chosen language is likely a combined commentary on two things. First, in Exodus 3, Moses saw the burning bush atop a mountain. From there, God spoke to Moses and commissioned him. Moses received his marching orders from a God whose voice Moses could hear but whom Moses could not truly see. At the moment, Moses began to follow the God who was present, sovereign, and invisible—the God of Israel. The second thing resting behind this verse is what Moses saw during the plagues. It is interesting that the author of Hebrews makes no reference to the plagues other than the climactic plague—the Passover (Heb. 11:28). Thus, the author of Hebrews basically takes us from the time Moses chose to identify with the people of Israel to the time Moses was leading the people of Israel out of Egypt—and doing so unafraid of the anger of the king.
Again, we ask the question, What changed Moses and made him unafraid? Moses saw God. He did not see Him visibly, but he saw Him fulfill His promises through the miracles (plagues) He performed. He saw a very proud and threatening Pharaoh slowly bend the knee before Him who is truly King of kings and Lord of lords—the God of Israel. He saw the magic and witchcraft of Egypt fall like toy soldiers before Jehovah Raffa, “the Lord our banner.” He saw a people who sat in darkness witness a great light—the light of the world. Moses may not have seen God in se (in His person), but he saw God in His work of salvation.
We have seen the same.
According to the author of Hebrews, we see God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled all that sweet, saving work that the ministry of Moses dramatically previewed. The ministry Moses began has been perfected in Jesus Christ, who is greater than Moses in every way (Heb. 3). This is because Jesus was the God who spoke to Moses in the flesh. Jesus was and is fully God and fully man. In the days of His pilgrimage on this earth, He was truly man, though sinless. He knew what it meant to live under the imminent threat of death, and not only did He perfectly and submissively obey His Father’s will, He also did so while looking to the reward He was earning for Himself and for us—heaven itself. Moses endured what he did in order to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt and into a land of rest; Jesus endured what He did in order to rescue us from our sins and bring us into that heavenly Zion that belongs to those who have saving faith in Him (Heb. 12).
How does the story of Moses’ faithful endurance benefit us, people who so often struggle with fear and often live as slaves to it? It is in seeing what Moses saw—our God who is present, sovereign yet invisible. And we see Him by looking to the finished work of Jesus Christ. We hear His voice speaking to us a sure word of promise in Scripture, which is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12). We do not have to see God in order to have faith sufficient to overcome our fears, but we do need to hear His assuring voice, which reminds us, as the Heidelberg Catechism so warmly states, that “we are not our own, but belong to him, body and soul.” It is true that few things can cripple us like fear; but it is even more true that nothing can strengthen and embolden us like faith in the promises of God.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on faith and was first published on August 30, 2019. Previous Post. Next Post.