An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Faith of Moses’ Parents
"By faith Moses when he was born, was hid three months of his parents." A considerable length of time elapsed between what is recorded in the preceding verse and what is here before us. That interval is bridged by what is found in Exodus 1. There we see a marked revolution taking place in the lot of the Hebrews. In the days of Joseph, the Egyptians had been kind, giving them the land of Goshen to dwell in. Then followed another dynasty, and a king arose who "knew not Joseph"—probably a foreigner who had conquered Egypt. This new monarch was a tyrant of the worst kind, who sorely oppressed the descendants of Abraham. So subject to drastic changes are the fortunes both of individuals and nations: hence the force of those words, "In the days of prosperity be joyful, in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him" (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
The policy of the new ruler of Egypt quickly became apparent: "And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: come on, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies" (Ex. 1:9, 10). Ah, but though "there are many devices in a man’s heart, nevertheless the counsel of the Lord that shall stand" (Prov. 19:21). So it proved here, for "the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" (Ex. 1:12). Yes, "the Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to naught: He maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations" (Ps. 33:10, 11).
Next, the king of Egypt gave orders to the midwives that every male child of the Hebrews should be slain at birth (Ex. 1:15, 16). But all the laws which men may make against the promises that God has given to His church, are doomed to certain failure. God had promised unto Abraham a numerous "seed" (Gen. 13:15), and had declared to Jacob, "fear not to go down into Egypt, for I will there make of thee a great nation" (Gen. 46:3); as well, then, might Pharaoh attempt to stop the sun from shining as prevent the growth of the children of Israel. Therefore do we read, "But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive" (Ex. 1:17).
Refusing to accept defeat, "Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river" (Ex. 1:22). Now that the execution of this barbarous edict had been entrusted unto his own people, no doubt Pharaoh imagined that success was fully assured for his evil design: yet it was at this very season that God brought to the birth the one who was to emancipate his suffering nation. "How blind are poor sinful mortals, in all their contrivances against the church of God. When they think all things secure, and that they shall not fail of their end, that their counsels are laid so deep as not to be blown upon, their power so uncontrollable and the way in which they are engaged so effectual, that God Himself can hardly deliver it out of their hands; He that sits on high laughs them to scorn, and with an Almighty facility lays provisions for the deliverance of His church, and for their ultimate ruin" (John Owen).
"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. 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" (Ex. 1:22 and 2:1, 2). Amram and Jochebed refused to be intimidated by the cruel commandment of the king, and acted as though no injunction had been issued by him. Were they reckless and foolish? No indeed, they took their orders from a far higher authority than any earthly potentate. The fear of the Lord was upon them, and therefore were they delivered from that fear of man which bringeth a snare. In covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, this godly couple from the tribe of Levi allowed not the wrath of man to disrupt their domestic happiness.
"By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents." "It is the faith of Moses’ parents that is here celebrated. But because it is mentioned principally to introduce the discourse of himself and his faith, and also that which is spoken belongs unto his honour; it is thus peculiarly expressed. He saith not ‘By faith the parents of Moses when he was born, hid him,’ but ‘By faith Moses, when he was born,was hid three months of his parents’; that is, by the faith of the parents who hid him" (John Owen). Ah, here is the explanation of the conduct of Amram and Jochebed: it was "by faith" they acted: it was a living, supernatural, spiritual faith which sustained their hearts in this crisis, and kept them "in perfect peace" (Isa. 26:3). Nothing will so quieten the mind and still its fears as a real trusting in the Lord of hosts.
The birth of Moses occurred during the very height and fury of the attack that was being made upon the infant males of the Hebrews. Herein we may discover a striking foreshadowment of the attempt which was made upon the life of the Christ-child, when, in his efforts to slay Him, Herod gave orders that all the children in Bethlehem and in all the coasts thereof from two years old and under, should be slain (Matthew 2:16). Many a typical representation of the principal events in the life of the Redeemer is to be found in the Old Testament, and at scores of points did Moses in particular prefigure the great Deliverer of His people. It is a deeply interesting line of study, which we commend to our readers, to go over the history of Moses and note down the many details in which he pictured the Lord Jesus.
"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." It seems clear from the final clause that Pharaoh had either given orders that the Hebrews should notify his officers whenever a male child was born unto them, or that they themselves should throw him into the river. Instead of complying with this atrocious enactment, the parents of Moses concealed their infant for three months, which supplies us with a clear example of "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). It is true that the Lord requires His people to "be in subjection unto the higher powers" (Rom. 13:1), but this holds good only so long as the "higher powers" (human governors) require the Christian to do nothing which God has forbidden, or prohibit nothing which God has commanded. The inferior authority must always give place before the superior. As this is a principle of great importance practically, and one concerning which confusion exists in some quarters, let us amplify a little.
Holy Scripture must never be made to contradict itself: one of its precepts must never be pressed so far as to nullify another; each one is to be interpreted and applied in harmony with the general analogy of faith, and in the light of the modifications which the Spirit Himself has given. For example; children are required to honor their parents, yet Ephesians 6:1 shows that their obedience is to be "in the Lord"; if a parent required something directly opposed unto Holy Writ, then he is not to be obeyed. Christian wives are required by God to submit themselves unto their husbands, and that, "in everything" (Eph. 5:24), obeying them (1 Pet. 3:6); nevertheless, their subjection is to be of the same character as that of the Church unto Christ (Eph. 5:24); and inasmuch as He never demands anything from the Church which is evil, so He does not require the wife to obey injunctions which are positively harmful—if a thoughtless husband should insist on that which would be highly injurious to his wife’s health, she is to refuse him. Submission does not mean slavery!
Now the same modification we have pointed out above obtains in connection with the exhortations of Romans 13:1-7. In proof, let us cite a clear example to the point from either Testament. In Daniel 3 we find that the king of Babylon—the head of the "powers that be"—erected an image unto himself, and demanded that on a given signal, all must "fall down and worship" the same (verse 5). But the three Hebrew captives declared, "Be it known unto thee O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (verse 18); and the Lord vindicated their non-compliance. In Acts 4 we see Peter and John arrested by the Jewish "powers," who, "Commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (verse 18). Did the apostles submit to this ordinance? No, instead they said, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye" (verse 19). As Romans 13:4 declares, the magistrate is "the minister of God to thee for good": should he require that which the Word condemns as evil, he is not to be obeyed.
And what was it that enabled the parents of Moses to act so boldly and set at naught the royal edict? Our text furnishes clear answer: it was "by faith" they acted. Had they been destitute of faith, most probably the "king’s commandment" would have filled them with dismay, and in order that their own lives should be spared, would have promptly informed his officers of the birth of Moses. But instead of so notifying the Egyptians, they concealed the fact, and though by preserving the child they followed a course which was highly hazardous to sense, yet under God it became the path of security. Thus, the particular aspect of our theme which here receives illustration is the courage and boldness of faith: faith overcoming the fear of man. That brings before us another characteristic of this heavenly grace, one which evidences its excellency, and one which should move us to pray daily for an increase of the same.
Faith is a spiritual grace which enables its possessor to look away from human terrors, and to confide in an unseen God. It declares, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Ps. 27:1). True it is that this faith is not always in exercise, yea, more often is its bright shining overcast by the clouds of unbelief, and eclipsed by the murky dust which Satan raises in the soul. We say, "this faith," for there are thousands of professing Christians all around us who boast that their faith is constantly in exercise, and that they are rarely if ever tormented by doubts or filled with alarms. Ah, reader, the "faith" of such people is not "the faith of God’s elect" (Titus 1:1), entirely dependent upon the renewing power of the Holy Spirit; no, it is but a natural faith in the bare letter of Scripture, which by an act of their own will they can call into exercise whenever they please. But unto such the many "Fear nots" of God’s Word have no application! But when the dew of Heaven falls upon the regenerated heart, its language is, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee" (Ps. 56:3).
Great indeed is the power of a God-given and God-sustained faith: not only to produce outward works, but to affect the workings of the soul within. This is something which is not sufficiently considered these days, when attention is confined almost exclusively to "visible results." Faith regulates the affections: it curbs impetuosity and works patience, it chases away gloom and brings peace and joy, it subdues carnal fears and produces courage. Moreover, faith not only sustains the hearts under severe trials, performs difficult duties, but (as the sequel here shows) obtains important benefits. How pertinent, then, was this particular case unto those to whom this Epistle was first sent! How well was it calculated to encourage the sorely-tried and wavering Hebrews to remain faithful to Christ and to trust God with the issue and outcome!
"By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents." Probably two things are included in these words: first, that they concealed all tidings of his birth; second, that they hid him in some part of the house. No doubt their diligence was accomplished by fervent cries to God, and the putting forth of a daily trust in Him. The fact that it was "by faith" that they "hid" him, shows that real spiritual faith is cautious and wary, and not reckless and presumptuous. Though faith overcomes carnal fear, yet it does not disdain the use of lawful means for overcoming danger. It is fanaticism, and not faith, which tempts God. To needlessly expose ourselves unto danger is sinful. Faith is no enemy unto lawful means as Acts 27:31 plainly enough shows.
It is to be observed that the words of our text go beyond Exodus 2:2, where the preserving of Moses is attributed unto his mother. As both the parents were engaged in the hazard, both had a hand in the work; no doubt Amram took the lead in advice and contriving, and Jochebed in the actual execution. As the parents have a joint interest in their children, both should share in the care and training of them, each seeking to help the other. Where there is an agreement between husband and wife in faith and in the fear of God, it makes way for a blessed success in their duties. When difficult tasks confront husbands and wives, it is their wisdom to apply themselves unto that part and phase of it which each is best suited for. "It is a happy thing where yoke-fellows draw together in the yoke of faith, as the heirs of the grace of God; and where they do this in a religious concern for the good of their children, to preserve them not only from those who would destroy their lives, but corrupt their minds" (Matthew Henry).
The "three months" teaches us that the parents of Moses persevered in that which they began well. They were prudent from the hour of his birth, and they maintained their vigilance. It is no use to shut the stable-door when the horse is gone. Care in preventing danger is to be continued as long as the danger is threatened. Some, perhaps, may ask, Would it be right for the people of God today to give shelter to one of His saints or servants who was being unjustly hounded by "the power that be"? Surely; it is always the duty of love to shield others from harm. But suppose the hidden one is being inquired-after by the authorities, may they still be concealed? Yes, if it is done without the impeachment of the truth, for it is never permissible to lie- to do so shows a distrust of the sufficiency of God. Should the officers ask whether you are sheltering one they seek, either remain silent, or so prudently word your answer as will neither betray the party nor be guilty of falsehood.
Others may ask, Since God purposed to make Moses the leader of His people and accomplish such a memorable work through him, why did He not by some wonderful and powerful miracle preserve him from the rage of Pharaoh? Answer: God was able to send a legion of angels for his protection, or to have visibly displayed His might by other means; but He did not. It is generally God’s pleasure to show His power through weak and despised means. Thus it was during the infancy of His own incarnate Son: God warned Joseph by a dream, and he took the young child and His mother into Egypt, remaining there till Herod was dead. Frequently it pleases the Most High to magnify His providence by things which men despise, by feeble instruments, and this, that it may the more plainly appear the excellency of the power is of Him.
In the preservation of the infant Moses, we may see a blessed illustration of how God preserves His elect through infancy and childhood, and from all that threatens their existence prior to the time when He regenerates them. This is expressed in Jude 1: "Preserved in Jesus Christ and called." How blessed is it for the Christian to look back behind the time when God called him out of the darkness into His marvelous light, and discern His guarding hand upon him when he was dead in trespasses and sins. There are few if any of the Lord’s people who cannot recall more than one incident in early life when there was "but a step" betwixt them and death; yet even then, as in the case of the infant Moses, a kind Providence was watching over them. Then let us return thanks for the same.
"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." It is really surprising how many of the commentators, led by sentiment, have quite missed the meaning of this verse. Exodus 2:2 states that his mother saw "that he was a goodly child": the Hebrew word ("tob") being the same term whereby God approved of His works of creation and declared them perfect (Gen. 1), from which the conclusion has been drawn that, it was the exceeding fairness or beauty of the babe which so endeared him to his parents they were moved to disregard the king’s edict, and take special pains to preserve him. But this is only carnalizing Scripture, in fact, contradicting what the Holy Spirit has here said.
Hebrews 11:23 distinctly affirms that it was "by faith" the parents of Moses acted, and this it is which explains their conduct. Now Romans 10:17 tells us, "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God": thus Amram and Jochebed must have received a Divine revelation (not recorded in the O.T.), and this word from God formed the foundation of their confidence, and supplied the motive-power of what they did. It is true they knew from the prophecy given to Abram (Gen. 15) that the time for the deliverance of Israel from Egypt was drawing near, as they also knew from the prediction of Joseph (Gen. 50:24) that God was going to undertake for His people. Yet we are persuaded that Hebrews 11:23 refers to something more definite and specific. Most probably the Lord made known to these parents that their child was to be the promised deliverer, and furnished them beforehand with a description of him.
This revelation which Amram and Jochebed "heard" from God they believed, and that, before Moses was born. When, in due time, he was given to them, they "saw he was a proper child"—it was the discernmentcof faith, and not the mere admiration of nature. As Acts 7:20 declares "in which time was born Moses, and was beautiful to God" (Bagster Inter.), which indicates an appearance of something Divine or supernatural. They recognized he was peculiarly grateful and acceptable to God: they perceived something remarkable in him, which was the Divine token to them that he would be the deliverer of Israel. "Probably there was some mark of future excellency impressed on the child, which gave promise of something extraordinary" (John Calvin). "The beauty of the Lord set upon him as a presage that he was born to great things, and that by conversing with God his face would shine (Ex. 34:29), and what bright and illustrious actions he should do for the deliverance of Israel, and how his name should shine in the sacred record" (Matthew Henry).
Resting with implicit confidence upon the revelation which they had received from Jehovah, their faith now confirmed by God’s mark of identification upon the babe, the parents of Moses preferred its safety before their own. It was not simply they trusted God for the outcome, but in their souls was that faith which is "the substance of things hoped for" (Heb. 11:1), and in consequence "they were not afraid of the king’s commandments." Had it been only a natural or human admiration which they had for a signally beautiful child, then it had been "by affection" or "by infatuation" they hid the infant; and that would only have intensified their "fear," for the more they admired the infant, the more afraid would they have been of harm befalling it.
Mere beauty is by no means a sure sign of excellency, as 1 Samuel 16:7, 2 Samuel 14:25, Proverbs 31:30 plainly enough show. No, the infant Moses was "beautiful to God" (Acts 7:20), and perceiving this, Amram and Jochebed acted accordingly. First, they "hid" him for three months, "and when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bull-rushes" etc. (Ex. 2:3): it may be that the Egyptians searched the houses of the Hebrews every three months. No doubt it was under the Divine direction that the parents of Moses now acted, for surely the placing of this precious child by the brink of the fatal "river" (Ex. 1:22) was the last thing that carnal reason had suggested! We do not at all agree with those who think the faith of Moses’ parents wavered when they placed him in the ark: when one lawful means of preservation from persecution will no longer secure, it is a duty to betake ourselves unto some other which is more likely to do so—Matthew 10:23.
In the kind providence of God, His interests and ours are often twined together, and then nature is allowed to work; though even then, grace must bear sway. So it was here: the parents of Moses had received a direct commandment from God how to act and what to do (as the "by faith" clearly denotes), and in their case, what He prescribed harmonized with their own feelings. But sometimes God’s requirements and our natural affections clash, as was the case when He required Abraham to offer up Isaac, and then the claims of the lower must yield to the Higher. When the current of human affection clashes not with God’s express precepts we may follow it, for He allows us to take in the help of nature: "a brother beloved . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord" (Philem. 16).