An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Faith of Moses
"The apostle, as we showed before, takes his instances from the three states of the church under the O.T. The first was that which was constituted in the giving of the first promise, continuing to the call of Abraham. Herein his first instance is that of Abel, in whose sacrifice the faith of that state of the church was first publicly confessed, and by whose martyrdom it was confirmed. The next state had its beginning and confirmation in the call of Abraham, with the covenant made with him and the token thereof. He therefore is the second great instance on the roll of testimonies. The constitution and consecration of the third state of the church was in giving of the law; and herein an instance is given in the law-giver himself. All to manifest, that whatever outward variations the church was liable to, and pass under, yet faith and the promises were the same, of the same efficacy and power under them all" (John Owen).
In approaching the careful study of our present verses it is of great importance to observe that they begin a new section of Hebrews 11: if this be not seen, they cannot be interpreted aright. The opening verse of each section of this chapter takes us back to the beginning of the life of Faith, and each one presents a different aspect of the nature or character of saving faith. The first three verses of Hebrews 11 are introductory, the fourth beginning the first division. There, in the example of Abel, we see where the life of faith begins (at conversion), namely with the conscience being awakened to a consciousness of our lost condition, with the soul making a complete surrender to God, and with the heart resting upon the perfect satisfaction made by Christ our Surety. That which is chiefly emphasized there is faith in the blood. But placing his faith in the blood of Christ is not all that is done by a sinner when he passes from death unto life.
The second section of Hebrews 11 commences at verse 8 where we have set before us another aspect of conversion, or the starting-point of the Life of Faith. Conversion is the reflex action or effect from a soul which has received an effectual call from God. This is illustrated by the case of Abraham, who was, originally, an idolater, as we all were in our unregenerate state. The Lord of glory appeared unto him, quickened him into newness of life, delivered him from his former manner of existence, and gave him the promise of a future inheritance. The response of Abraham was radical and revolutionary: he set aside his natural inclinations, crucified his fleshly affections, and entered upon an entirely new path. That which is central in his case was, implicit obedience, the setting aside of his own will, and the becoming completely subject to the will of God. But even that is not all that is done by the sinner when he passes from death unto life.
The case of Moses brings before us yet another side of conversion, or the beginning of the Life of Faith, a side which is sadly ignored in most of the "evangelism" of our day. It describes a leading characteristic of saving faith, which few professing Christians now hear (still less know) anything about. It shows us that saving faith does something more than "believe" or "accept Christ as a personal Savior." It exhibits faith as a definite decision of the mind, as an act of the will, as a personal and studied choice. It reveals the fundamental fact that saving faith includes, yea, begins with, a deliberate renunciation or turning away from all that is opposed to God, a determination to utterly deny self and an electing to submit unto whatever trials may be incident to a life of piety. It shows us that a saving faith causes its possessor to turn away from godless companions, and henceforth seek fellowship with the despised saints of God.
There is much more involved in the act of saving faith than is generally supposed. "We mistake it if we think it only to be a strong confidence. It is so indeed; but there are other things also. It is such an appreciative esteem of our Christ and His benefits, that all other things are lessened in our opinion, estimation, and affection. The nature of faith is set forth by the apostle when he saith, ‘What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ; yet, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ; and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith; that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death’ (Phil. 3:7-10). And therefore true faith makes us dead to the world, and all the interests and honors thereof: and is to be known not so much by our confidence, as by our mortification and weanedness; when we carry all our comforts in our hands, as ready to part with them, if the Lord called us to leave them" (Thomas Manton, 1660).
"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" (verses 24, 25). Here we see the nature and influence of a saving faith. Two things are to be particularly noted: in it there is an act of relinquishment, and an act of embracing. In conversion, there is a turning from, and also a turning unto. Hence, before the sinner is invited to "return unto the Lord," he is first bidden to "forsake his way," yes, his way—having "his own way." So too we are called on to "repent" first, and then "be converted," that our sins may be "blotted out" (Acts 3:19).
"If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself" (Matthew 16:24). What is meant by the denying of "self"? This, the abridging ourselves of those things which are pleasing to the flesh. There are three things which are chiefly prized by the natural man--life, wealth, and honor; and so in the verses which immediately follow, Christ propounded three maxims to counter them. First, he says, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it" (verse 25): that is, he who thinks first and foremost of his own life, whose great aim is to minister unto "number one," shall perish.] Second, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (verse 26): showing us the comparative worthlessness of earthly riches. Third, "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then shall He reward every man according to his works" (verse 27): that is the honor we should seek.
"By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter." Here was a notable case of self-denial: Moses deliberately renounced the privileges and pleasures of a royal palace. It was not that he was now disowned and cast out by the woman who had adopted him; but that he voluntarily relinquished a position of affluence and ease, disdaining both its wealth and dignities. Nor was this the rash impulse of an inexperienced youth, but the studied decision of one who had now reached the age of forty (Acts 7:23). The disciples said, "We have forsaken all, and followed Thee" (Matthew 19:27): their "all" was a net and fishing-smack; but Moses abandoned a principality!
The denying of self is absolutely essential; and where it exists not, grace is absent. The first article in the covenant is, "thou shalt have no other gods before Me": He must have the pre-eminence in our hearts and lives. God has not the glory of God unless we honor Him thus. Now God does not have the uppermost place in our hearts until His favor be esteemed above all things, and until we dread above everything the offending of Him. As long as we can break with God in order to preserve any worldly interest of ours, we prefer that interest above God. If we are content to offend God rather than displease our friends or relatives, then we are greatly deceived if we regard ourselves as genuine Christians. "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37).
"Faith is a grace that will teach a man to openly renounce all worldly honors, advantages, and preferments, with the advantage annexed thereto. When God calls us from them, we cannot enjoy them with a good conscience" (Thos. Manton). We are often put to the test of having to choose between God and things, duty and pleasure, heeding our conscience or gratifying the flesh. The presence and vigor of faith is to be proved by our self-denial! It is easy to speak contemptuously of the world and earthly things, but what is my first care? Is it to seek God or temporal prosperity? To please Him or self? If I am hankering after an increase in wages, or a better position, and am fretful because of disappointment, it is a sure proof that a worldly spirit governs me. What is my chief delight? earthly riches, honors, comforts, or communion with God? Can I truly say, "For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand" (Ps. 84:10)?
"All believers are not called to make the same sacrifices, or to endure the same trials for righteousness’ sake, nor have all the same measure of faith; yet, without some experience and consciousness of this kind, we are not warranted to conclude that we are of Moses’ religion; for a common walking-stick more resembles Aaron’s fruitful rod, than the faith of many modern professors of evangelical truth does the self-denying faith of Moses or Abraham" (Thomas Scott). The faith of God’s elect is a faith which "overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4), and not one which suffers its possessor to be overcome! "They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Gal. 5:24); not ought to, but have done so—in some real measure at least!
The great refusal of Moses consisted in a firm resolution of mind not to remain in that state wherein he had been brought up. This was not attained, we may be sure, without a hard fight, without the exercise of faith in prayer and trust in God. He knew full well all that his decision involved, yet, by grate, made it unhesitatingly. His resolution was made known not by a formal avowal, but by deeds, for actions ever speak louder than words. There is no hint in the sacred record that Moses verbally acquainted his foster-mother with his decision, but his converse with his brethren (Ex. 2:11 etc.) revealed where his heart was, and identified him with their religion and covenant. Ah, dear reader, it is one thing to talk well about the things of God, but it is quite another to walk accordingly; as it is one thing to pen articles and deliver sermons, and quite another to practice what we preach!
Not only was Moses’ renunciation of his favored position a grand triumph over the lusts of the flesh, but it was also a notable victory over carnal reason. First of all, his action would seem to indicate the height of ingratitude against his foster-mother. Pharaoh’s daughter had spared his life as an infant, brought him into her own home, reared him as her son, and had him educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. For him to turn his back upon her now would appear as though he was devoid of appreciation—so little is the natural man able to understand the motives which regulate the workings of faith. The truth is that, the commandments of the second table are binding upon us no further than our compliance with them is agreeable to our obedience unto the commandments of the first table. The saint is neither to accept favors from the world, nor to express gratitude for the same, if such be contrary to the fear of God, and the maintenance of a good conscience.
We are never to be dutiful to man at the expense of being undutiful to God. All relations must give way before preserving a clear conscience toward Him. His rights are paramount, and must be recognized and responded to, no matter how much the doing so may clash with our seeming obligations unto our fellows. A friend or kinsman may be entertaining me in his home, and show me much kindness through the week, but that will not justify or require me to join him on a picnic or frolic on the Sabbath day. "If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). The language of the Christian ought ever to be, "wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?" (Luke 2:49).
To enjoy worldly honors is not evil in itself, for good men have lived in bad courts. Daniel is a clear case in point: most of his life was spent in high civic office. When Divine providence has given worldly riches or worldly prestige to us, they are to be entertained and enjoyed, yet with a holy jealousy and prayerful watchfulness that we be not puffed up by them, remembering that, "Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud" (Prov. 16:19). But such things are to be renounced when they are sinful in themselves, or when they cannot be retained with a clear conscience. Against his conscience, Pilate preferred to condemn Christ than lose Caesar’s friendship, and stands before us in Holy Writ as a lasting warning. "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).
Again; not only did Moses’ great refusal seem like gross ingratitude unto her who had adopted him, but it also looked like flying in the face of Providence. It was God who had placed him where he was; why, then, should he forsake such an advantageous position? Had Moses leaned unto his own understanding and listened to the dictates of carnal reason, he had found many pretexts for remaining where he then was. Why not stay there and seek to reform Egypt? Why not use his great influence with the king on behalf of the oppressed Hebrews? Had he remained in the court of Pharaoh, he would escape much affliction; yes, and miss too the "recompense of the reward." Ah, my reader, unbelief is very fertile, argues very plausibly, and can suggest many logical reasons why we should not practice self-denial!
What was it, then, which prompted Moses to make this noble sacrifice? A patriotic impulse? a fanatical love for his brethren? No, he was guided neither by reason nor sentiment: it was "by faith" that Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. It was the clinging of his heart to the Divine promise, the apprehension of things not seen by the outward eye, the confident expectation of future reward. Ah, it is faith which imparts to the heart a true estimate of things, which views objects in their real light, and which discerns the comparative worthlessness of what the poor worldling prizes so highly, and through his mad quest after which he loses his soul. Faith views the eternity to come, and when faith is in healthy exercise, its possessor finds it easy to relinquish the baubles of time and sense. Then it is the saint exclaims. "Surely every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them" (Ps. 39:6).
What a truly remarkable thing that one in Egypt’s court should have such a "faith"! Moses had been brought up in a heathen palace, where there was no knowledge of the true God; yea, nothing but idolatry, wantonness, and profanity. Yes, some of Christ’s sheep are situated in queer and unexpected places, nevertheless the Shepherd seeks them out, and either delivers them from or sustains them in it: the wife of "Herod’s steward" (Luke 8:3), the saints in Nero’s "household" (Phil. 4:22) are notable examples. What illustrations are these of "The Lord shall send the rod of Thy strength out of Zion: rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies" (Ps. 110:2)! However His enemies may rage, seek to blot out His name and root out His kingdom, Christ shall preserve a remnant according to the election of grace "even where Satan’s throne is" (Rev. 2:13).
Some one may object, "But Joseph had faith as well as Moses, yet he did not leave the court, but continued there till his death." Circumstances alter cases! Their occasions and conditions were not alike. "God raised up Joseph to feed His people in Egypt, therefore his abode in the court was necessary under kings that favored them; but Moses was called not to feed His people in Egypt, but to lead them out of Egypt; and the king of Egypt was now become their enemy, and kept them under bitter bondage. To remain in an idolatrous court of a pagan prince is one thing; but to remain in a persecuting court, where he must be accessory to their persecutions, is another thing" (T. Manton).
"Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (verse 25). This gives us the positive side of Moses’s glorious decision. There is both a negative and a positive side to faith. First, a refusing, and then a choosing, and that order is unchanging. There must be a "ceasing to do evil" before there can be a "learning to do well" (Isa. 1:16, 17); there must be a "hating the evil" before there is a "loving the good" (Amos 5:15); there must be a "confessing and forsaking" of sin, before there is "mercy" (Prov. 28:13). The prodigal must leave the far country, before he can go to the Father (Luke 15). The sinner must abandon his idols, before he can take up the Cross and follow Christ (Mark 10:21). There must be a turning to God, "from idols," before there can be a "serving the living and true God" (1 Thess. 1:9). The heart must turn its back upon the world, before it can receive Christ as Lord and Savior.
"Moses gave up the world; and ambition had the prospect of honor and greatness; the culture of the most civilized state was fascinating to the mind; treasure and wealth held out potent allurement. And all this—and does it not comprise ‘all that is in the world,’ and in its most attractive and elevated manner?—Moses gave up. And, on the other side, what awaited him? To join a down-trodden nation of slaves, whose only riches was the promise of the invisible God" (Adolph Saphir). A man is known by his choice. Do you do evil for a little profit? Do you avoid duty because of some trifling inconvenience? Are you turned out of the way because of reproach?
Moses preferred to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a brief season. Do you? He judged it the greatest misery of all to live in sin. Do you? Here is an important test: which gives you greater grief, sin or bodily affliction? Which troubles you the more: suffering loss in the world, or displeasing God? There are thousands of professing Christians who complain of their physical aches and pains, but how rarely do we hear any groaning over the body of sin and death! When you are afflicted in the body, which is your dominant desire: to be freed from the suffering, or for God to sanctify the suffering unto the good of your soul? Ah, my reader, what real and supernatural difference is there between you and the moral worldling? Is it only in your creed, what you believe with the intellect? "The demons believe."
Yes, it is our refusal and our choice which identifies us, which makes it manifest whether we are children of the devil or children of God. It is the property of a gracious heart to prefer the greatest suffering—physical, mental, or social—to the least sin: and when sin is committed, it is repudiated, sorrowed over, confessed, and forsaken. When "suffering" is inflicted upon saints by persecutors, the offense is done unto us; but "sin" is committed against God! "Sin" separates from God (Isa. 59:2), "suffering" drives the Christians nearer to God. "Affliction" only affects the body, "sin" injures the soul. "Affliction" is from God (Heb. 12:5-11), but "sin" is from the devil. But naught save a real, spiritual, supernatural faith will prefer suffering affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
"None of the exemplifications of the importance of believing, brought forth by the apostle, is better fitted to serve his purpose than that which we have been considering. The Hebrew Christians were called on to part with an honor which they were accustomed to value above all other dignities. They were excommunicated by their unbelieving brethren, and denied the name of true children of Abraham. Their unbelieving countrymen were enjoying wealth and honor. The little flock they were called on to join were suffering affliction and reproach. Now, how is this to be done? Look at Moses. Believe as Moses believed, and you will find it easy to judge, choose, and act as Moses did. If you believe what Christ has plainly revealed, that ‘it is His Father’s good pleasure to give’ His little flock, after passing through much tribulation, ‘the kingdom’; if you are persuaded that, according to His declaration, ‘wrath is coming to the uttermost’ on their oppressors, you will not hesitate to separate yourselves completely from your unbelieving country-men.
"The practical bearing of the passage is not confined to the Hebrew converts, or to the Christians of the primitive age. In every country, and in every age, Jesus proclaims ‘If any man would be My disciple he must deny himself, he must take up the cross, and follow Me.’ The power of the present world can only be put down by ‘the power of the world to come’; and as it is through sense that the first power operates on our minds, it is through faith alone that the second power can operate on our minds. Some find it impossible to make the sacrifices Christianity requires, because they have no faith. They must be made; otherwise our Christianity is but a name, our faith is but a pretense, and our hope a delusion" (John Brown).