Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
3. The Early Days Of Moses
From Adam to Christ there is none greater than Moses. He is one of the few characters of Scripture whose course is sketched from his infancy to his death. The fierce light of criticism has been turned upon him for generations, but he is still the most commanding figure of the ancient world. In character, in faith, in the unique position assigned him as the mediator of the old covenant, and in achievements, he stands first among the heroes of the Old Testament. All of God’s early dealings with Israel were transacted through Moses. He was a prophet, priest, and king in one person, and so united all the great and important functions which later were distributed among a plurality of persons. The history of such an one is worthy of the strictest attention, and his remarkable life deserves the closest study.
"The life of Moses presents a series of striking antitheses. He was the child of a slave, and the son of a queen. He was born in a hut, and lived in a palace. He inherited poverty, and enjoyed unlimited wealth. He was the leader of armies, and the keeper of flocks. He was the mightiest of warriors, and the meekest of men. He was educated in the court, and dwelt in the desert. He had the wisdom of Egypt, and the faith of a child. He was fitted for the city, and wandered in the wilderness. He was tempted with the pleasures of sin, and endured the hardships of virtue. He was backward in speech, and talked with God. He had the rod of a shepherd, and the power of the Infinite. He was a fugitive from Pharaoh, and an ambassador from heaven. He was the giver of the Law, and the forerunner of grace. He died alone on Mount Moab, and appeared with Christ in Judea. No man assisted at his funeral, yet God buried him" (Dr. I. M. Haldeman).
Exodus 2 furnishes us with a brief account of the infancy of Moses. The king of Egypt was determined to check the rapid growth of the Hebrew people. First, he had them placed under taskmasters, who were given orders to "afflict them with their burdens." But this measure failed entirely: "The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew." Next, the king gave orders to the Hebrew midwives that whenever a male Israelite was born, he should be killed. But once more the evil designs of Pharaoh came to nought. The mid-wives feared God, "and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive." Finally, we are told, "And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive" (1:22). It was during this time and under such conditions that the future deliverer of Abraham’s descendants was born.
"And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink" (Ex. 2:1-3). Much of a sentimental nature has been written on these verses. Commentators have reasoned that it was mother-love and the beauty of the child which caused Jochebed to act as she did. But this will not stand the test of Holy Writ. Scripture informs us that it was neither affection nor infatuation but faith which was the mainspring of action. Hebrews 11:23 declares, "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment." Faith "cometh by hearing" (Rom. 10:17): the parents of Moses must, therefore, have received a direct communication from God, informing them of what should happen and instructing them what to do. And they believed what God had told them and acted accordingly.
It was faith which saw that the child was "goodly" (in the sight of God), as it was faith which made them defy "the king’s commandment"—first by hiding the child, later in placing him in the ark of bulrushes. It is true that in this instance grace did not run counter to natural affection; nevertheless, it was not by feelings but "by faith" they acted. When commanded to do so, we are to obey God against our natural affections. Thus it was with Abraham when called to go out from the land of his birth and leave all his kindred behind; and so later, when called upon to offer up Isaac.
Should it be asked, Wherein is the faith of Moses’ parents to be seen? The answer is: In overcoming the fear of the king and in trusting God’s protection for the preservation of the child. And is not the strength of their faith evidenced by the selection of the place where the young child was put, after he could be no longer hid in the home? Surely the parents of Moses took him to the very last spot which carnal reasoning would have suggested. The mother laid him "in the flags by the river’s brink"! But that was the very place where the babies were drowned! Ah, is not that the last location we had chosen? Would not we have carried him as far away from the river as possible? It is to be noted that in Hebrews 11:23 the faith of both parents is spoken of, while that of the mother’s is singled out here in Exodus 2 but his father receives particular mention by Stephen in Acts 7:20. It is blessed to see this concurrence between them. Husband and wife should go hand in hand to the throne of grace and act together in every good work.
Ere passing from our notice of the faith of Amram and Jochebed there are two other points which deserve notice. Though faith vanquished fear, yet lawful means were used to overcome danger: the mother "hid" the child, and later, had recourse to the ark. It is not faith but fanaticism which deliberately courts danger. Faith never tempts God. Even Christ, though He knew full well of the Father’s will to preserve Him, yet withdrew from those who sought His life (Luke 4:30; John 8:59). It is not lack of faith to avoid danger by legitimate precautions. It is no want of trust to employ means, even when assured by God of the event (Acts 27:31). Christ never supplied by a miracle when ordinary means were to hand (Mark 5:43).
Another important truth which here receives illustration and exemplification is, that civil authorities are to be defied when their decrees are contrary to the expressed mind of God. The Word of God requires us to obey the laws of the land in which we live and exhorts us to be "subject unto the powers that be" (Rom. 13), and this, no matter how wise and just, or how foolish and unjust those laws appear to us. Yet, our obedience and submission to human authorities is plainly qualified. If a human government enacts a law and compliance with it by a saint would compel him to disobey some command or precept of God, then the human must be rejected for the Divine. The cases of Moses’ parents, of Daniel (6:7-11) and of the apostles (Acts 5:29), establishes this unequivocally. But if such rejection of human authority be necessitated, let it be performed not in the spirit of carnal defiance, but in the fear of God, and then the issue may safely be left with Him. It was "by faith" the parents of Moses "were not afraid of the king’s commandment." May Divine grace work in us "like precious faith" which overcomes all fear of man.
In the opening verses of our chapter we have a lovely picture of salvation. The infant Moses was placed on the brink of the river, the place of death—the last spot we had selected. It is so in salvation. Death is the wages of sin, and from this there can be no escape. Having flagrantly broken God’s holy law, justice demands the execution of its penalty. But is not this to close the door of hope against us, and seal our doom? Ah, it is just at this point that the Gospel announces God’s gracious provision and tells us (what we had never conceived for ourselves) that life comes to us through death. Though Moses was brought to the place of death, he was made secure in the ark. And this speaks to us of Christ (It is significant that the Hebrew word is used only here and in connection with the ark of Noah, which so clearly typified Christ) who went down into death for us. The righteousness of God made imperative the payment of sin’s awful wages, and so his spotless Son "died the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:15). Thus, in Christ our Substitute, we too have been in the place of death as was the infant Moses. And note that as it was "faith" which placed him there, it is faith which identifies us with Christ. Again; just as Moses was brought out of the place of death, so when Christ rose again, we rose with Him (Eph. 2:5,6). The typical picture may be followed still farther. In the merciful provision which the providence of God arranged for the infant Moses (Ex. 2:4) we have illustrated the tender care of our heavenly Father for every babe in Christ. And, later, in the entrance of Moses into the household and palace of Pharaoh, we have foreshadowed the "mansions" on high, which are now being prepared for us!
"And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children. Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter. Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child and nursed it" (Ex. 2:5-9). It was neither by chance nor accident that Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the river that day, for there are no accidents nor chance happenings in a world presided over by the living God. Whatsoever happens in time is but the outworking of His eternal decrees—"for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things" (Heb. 2:10). God is behind the scenes, ordering everything for His own glory; hence our smallest actions are controlled by Him. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). It is because that whatsoever happens in time is the outworking of God’s eternal decrees, that "all things are working together (the verb is in the present tense) for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose." Big doors often swing on small hinges. God not only directs the rise and fall of empires, but also rules the fall of a sparrow. It was God who put it into the heart of this Egyptian princess to go to the river to bathe, and to that particular spot where the ark lay amid the flags; as it was He who caused her to be moved with compassion (rather than with indignation at the defiance of her father’s authority) when she beheld the weeping child. And it was God who caused this daughter of the haughty monarch to yield submissively to the suggestion of Miriam, and made the princess willing for its own mother to care for the little child. Only here can the mind repose in unruffled peace. What a haven of rest is this—to know that "of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever" (Rom. 11:36).
"And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it" (v. 9). This whole incident of the Divine safeguarding of the infant life of Moses supplies a striking and blessed illustration of God’s preservation of His elect during their unregeneracy—a fact that few believers are as thankful over as they should be. We believe it is this which explains a point that has been a sore puzzle to many commentators in Jude 1:"Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called." The order of the verbs here is most significant. The "sanctification" by the Father manifestly speaks of our eternal election, when before the foundation of the world God, in His counsels, separated us from the mass of our fallen race, and appointed us to salvation. The "calling" evidently refers to that inward and invincible call which comes to each of God’s elect at the hour of their regeneration (Rom. 8:30), when the dead hear the voice of the Son of God and live (John 5:25). But observe that in Jude 1 it is said they are "preserved" in Jesus Christ, and "called." Clearly the reference is to temporal preservation prior to salvation. As the writer looks back to his unregenerate days he recalls with a shudder a number of occasions when he was in imminent peril, brought face to face with death. But even then, even while in his sins, he was (because in Christ by eternal election) miraculously preserved. What cause for gratitude and praise is this! Doubtless, each Christian reader will recall similar deliverances out of danger. It is this which Exodus 2:6-9 so beautifully illustrates. Even in his unregenerate days, as a babe, the Angel of the Lord encamped round about the infant Moses and delivered him!
"And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water" (v. 10) This is a striking illustration of Job 5:13—"He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong." Pharaoh proposed to "deal wisely" with the Israelites, and this, in order that they might not "get them up out of the land" (v. 10); and yet, in the end, God compels him to give board, lodging, and education, to the very man which accomplished the very thing that Pharaoh was trying to prevent! Thus was Pharaoh’s wisdom turned to foolishness, and Satan’s devices defeated.
There are two passages in the New Testament which throw light on the interval passed over between verses so and is in Exodus 2. In Acts 7:22 we read, "And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds." But his heart was not in these things. There was something which had a more powerful attraction for him than the honors and comforts of Egypt’s court. Doubtless his believing parents had acquainted him with the promises of Jehovah to his forefathers. That the time was not far distant when the Hebrews were to be delivered from their bondage and should journey to the land given to Abraham, Moses had heard, and hearing he believed. The result of his faith is described in Hebrews 11:24-26: "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward." Upon the character of his faith and this remarkable renunciation we can only comment briefly.
The first thing to be observed is the nature of his renunciation: he "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter." Josephus tells us that Pharaoh had no other children, and that his daughter, Thermutis, had no children of her own. So, most probably Moses would have succeeded to the throne. That some offer was made to Moses, after he had reached manhood, is clearly implied by the words "he refused." What he refused then was wealth, honors, power, and, most likely, a throne. Had he accepted, he could readily have mitigated the sufferings of His own people, and lightened their heavy burdens. But he "refused."
Second, note the character of his choice: he "chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." It was not that suffering was thrust upon him, but that he voluntarily elected it. It was not that there was no escape from it but he deliberately determined to throw in his lot with a despised and persecuted people. He preferred hardship to comfort, shame and reproach rather than fame and honor, afflictions rather than pleasures, the wilderness rather than the court. A remarkable choice was this, and mark it, this was the choice not of a child, but of a full-grown man; not of a fool, but of one skilled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.
Third, observe the satisfaction he enjoyed: "esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt." The place Moses volunteered to occupy was a hard one, in every respect the very opposite of that in which he had been reared. Yet Moses did not repine or murmur. So far from being dissatisfied with his bargain, he valued the "reproach" which it brought him. So far from complaining at the affliction, he prized it. He not only endured suffering, but he esteemed it as of more worth than the wealth of the greatest and richest country on earth. In this he puts many of us to shame!
Fourth, mark the motive spring of his actions: "By faith Moses . . . refused . . . chose . . . esteemed." As another has said, "He must have heard from God that he was not to accept this high privilege. In as much as ‘faith cometh by hearing’, Moses must have heard! And, inasmuch as this ‘hearing cometh by the Word of God’, God must have spoken or communicated His will to Moses; for Moses heard, Moses believed, Moses obeyed. God had other counsels and purposes with regard to Moses. Moses must have been told that ‘God, by His hand, would deliver’ Israel from Egypt’s bondage. The ‘things to come’ had been revealed to him. The ‘things of Christ’ had been made known ‘in part’. He knew God. He knew that Jehovah had a people, and that they were in sore bondage in Egypt. He knew that they were to be delivered. How, then, could he accept the position of heir to Egypt’s throne?"
Finally, attend to the object set before him: "for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward." Moses must have "heard" of "the eternal weight of glory", and therefore he looked not at the "things that are seen." The pleasures of sin were of brief duration—only for a season but, in view of the eternity of the glory, the "affliction" seemed brief—but "for a moment," and therefore, "light." Moses, then, walked by faith and not by sight; he had his eyes on the invisible, not the tangible; he was occupied with the future rather than the present; and, consequently, it was an easy matter to exchange the palace for the wilderness, and the pleasures of sin for the reproach of Christ. May like precious faith be vouchsafed reader and writer.
Returning to the narrative we are next told, "And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he espied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand" (Ex. 2:11, 12). One of the features of Scripture which constantly impresses the writer is the absolute fidelity with which the lives of Bible heroes are described. Unlike so many human biographies, the characters of Scripture are painted in the colors of nature and truth. They are described as they actually were. An instance of this is before us here. Moses was truly a wonderful character, and endowed with no ordinary faith; yet, the Holy Spirit has not concealed his defects. Moses was in too big a hurry. He was running before the Lord. God’s time had not yet come to deliver Israel. Another forty years must yet run their weary course. But Moses waxed impatient and acted in the energy of the flesh. Some writers have sought to vindicate him, but the words "he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no man, he slew the Egyptian" make it evident that he was then walking by sight, rather than by faith; and the fact that we are told he "hid him in the sand" brings out his fear of being discovered. Thus we see that, like ourselves, Moses was one who offended in many things (James 3:2, R.V.).
"And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian" (2:13-15). This confirms our interpretation of the verses immediately preceding. Moses’ eye was not on God but on man, and the fear of man bringeth a snare. Apprehensive that Pharaoh might take vengeance upon him, he fled to Midian. And yet while this is true from the human side, we ought not to ignore the overruling Providence of God. The Lord’s time for delivering Israel had not yet arrived; and what is more to the point, the act of Moses was not at all in accord with the methods which He proposed to employ. Not by insurrection on their part, nor by a system of assassination, were the Hebrews to be delivered from the house of bondage. God, therefore, caused this deed of Moses (which he believed had passed unwitnessed) to become known, both to his own brethren and to the king. Thus did He teach a salutary lesson to this one who was yet to be employed as His servant. And is there not also a needed lesson here for us? When a servant of God is not permitted to perform a certain service for Him, on which his heart is set, it does not necessarily follow that this is due to some failure in the servant himself; it may be because God’s time for the proposed service is not ripe. Such was the case with David who, prompted only by an ardent desire for God’s glory, was not permitted to build Jehovah a "house"; yet in the end this "house" was built, though not by David or in David’s time.
"Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the trough to water their father’s flock. And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon today? And they said, an Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock. And he said unto his daughters, And where is he? Why is it that ye have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread. And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter" (2:16-21). Here again we may discern God working behind the scenes. That Moses should have "stood up" against those shepherds, single-handed, shows plainly that the Lord was on his side; and in thus befriending the daughters of Reuel, Moses was enabled to win the esteem of their father. The sequel shows how the Providence of God thus opened to Moses a home during his long exile from Egypt. Thus did God make all things work together for his good.