“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.” Hebrews 11:23.
In this verse the Holy Ghost proceedeth further, and setteth down unto us a notable and worthy example of the faith of Moses’ parents. If we would see the history at large, we must read the second chapter of Exodus; of which these words are an abridgement, or brief epitome. Now, here the faith of Moses’ parents is commended unto us by two notable actions:
I. The hiding of Moses their child when he was born.
II. Their courage and boldness in that action, in not fearing the king’s commandment.
I. Of their hiding of him, we will first entreat generally, and then come to the circumstance thereof.
1. In general, their hiding of the child was this: They kept him close, and unknown to the Egyptians for three month’s space; because the king had given commandment and charge to all his people that they should drown every man child born among the Hebrews (Exod. 1:22). In this action of their faith, we may observe some special points:
(1) First, Moses was to be a worthy prophet and captain or guide unto the people of Israel; and therefore howsoever other men-children were drowned upon the cruel command of Pharoah, yet the Lord provides for him so soon as he is born, that he shall be hid, and so preserved from the tyranny and rage of Pharaoh. Wherein we learn that God in the midst of all persecution, doth evermore preserve the seed of His church. There be two estates of God’s church in the world; the first is quiet and peaceable, when the gospel is publicly, likely professed, taught and received without hostile opposition, as by God’s great mercy it is in our church at this day. The second is an hidden estate, when as it cannot shew itself visible, but the open profession of the gospel is suppressed by the rage of the enemy the devil, and by wicked and cruel men that be his instruments. Thus God suffered His church sometimes to be shadowed, and in these times, many of His dear children to be slain and put to death for the sins of His church, yet so, as that always He preserves the seed of His church. When Isaiah had shewed the Jews the fearful desolation of their land; that the cities should be wasted without inhabitant, and their houses without man; yet then he saith, There shall be a tenth in it, and the holy seed shall be the substance or underprop thereof (Isa. 6:13). God doth not deal with His church as He doth with the enemy thereof; He but lops off the branches of His church, whenas He stocks up the root of His enemies (Isa. 27:7,8). When he visiteth Sodom and Gomorrah, He destroyed them utterly out of the earth; but the Lord doth ever keep fast the seed of the church, that when the storm of persecution is blown over, his church may spring and flourish afterward.
(2) Here some may say, Seeing God purposed to make Moses such a worthy man over His people, why did He not by some wonderful, powerful and mighty manner preserve him against the rage of Pharoah? Answer: God indeed was able to have sent a legion of angels for his preservation, or to have done it after some strange visible manner; but yet He would not; for we must know and remember that it is God’s pleasure to shew His power in weak means. He can preserve every servant of His from all kinds of injury; but He will not always do so. When Christ Himself our Saviour was in His infancy persecuted by Herod, God His Father was then able to have preserved Him in Judea, and to have overthrown His persecutor by many legions of angels; yet He would not, but only useth the poor help of Joseph and Mary, with the ordinary weak means of flight; and all this He did that He might be glorified in the weakness of His servants; for when all means fail, then doth He magnify His power and providence in preserving those that trust in Him. And thus much of this action in general.
2. The circumstances to be considered in the hiding of Moses are four:
(1) The time when he was hid, the text saith, When he was born. Moses (as we said) must be afterward a notable servant, and a worthy instrument of God, whereby He would work the deliverance of His people, out of the bondage of Egypt; and yet we see he is fain to be hid so soon as he is born.
Hence we learn that those that be servants of God, and are in special favour with Him, must look for trouble and affliction in this life, from the cradle to the grave; from the day of their birth to the hour of their death; Moses is in danger of his life by Pharoah so soon as he is born. And so was our Saviour Christ by Herod, when He was but a babe; whereupon His parents fled with Him into Egypt for His safety. And answerable to their infancy was the rest of their life; full of danger, full of trouble. And as it was with them, so it is with others (2 Tim. 3:12), he that will live godly must suffer persecution; and He that will be Christ’s disciple must take up his cross every day, and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
This is a point which all of us must mark; we must not look to have ease and joy on earth. It is enough for us to enjoy that after this life. If Christ Himself carried His cross out of the gate, we then with His disciples must take up our cross and follow Him every day.
(2) The second circumstance to be considered is this: How long was Moses hid? Namely, three months. Question: Why was he hid no longer? Answer: Because they could not; for it is likely that there was a search for him, and therefore they made a basket of reed, and daubed it with slime and pitch, and laid the child therein, and put it among the bulrushes by the river’s brink (Exod. 2:3).
Thus did the parents adventure the child’s life, for the saving of their own; wherein we may see a great want and weakness in their faith; for they kept their child a while by faith, but afterward committed him to the dangers of the waters, of wild beasts, and fowls of the air. So that it is plain their faith was weak and mingled with fear, and with some doubting. For in keeping the child three months, they shewed forth lively faith; but whenas they expose him to danger for their own safety, herein they bewray some want of love and weakness of faith; and yet we see they are here commended for their faith. Which sheweth plainly that if a man have true and sound faith, though it be but weak, yet God in mercy will take knowledge of it and commend it, passing by the weakness of it; yea, and unto that faith will give the promises of life everlasting made in Christ.
(3) The third circumstance to be considered is this: Who it was that kept Moses three months. In Exodus it is said that his mother kept him; but here it is said that his parents kept him; where the Holy Ghost includes his father also. How can both things be true? Answer: We must know that the mother was the chief doer in this work; and the father, though he was not a doer, yet he gave his consent. Now we must remember that consent is a kind of doing, whether it be in good things or in evil; for when Saul did but keep the persecutors clothes that stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58), whereby he signified his consent; thereupon he confesseth himself to be guilty of his death (Acts 22:20).
(4) Lastly, observe the cause, or rather the occasion that moved the parents to save their child. It was a notable comeliness or beauty which did appear in the body of the child when he was born. This moved then to reason thus with themselves: Surely God hath given such beauty and comeliness unto this child, that it is very likely He will use him hereafter, to be some notable instrument of some great work; we therefore will keep him alive. This point must be marked for us; for beside their natural affection, this also was motive to make the parents save the child.
Hence we may learn that those whom God will employ above others in some special service for His own glory, are usually endowed with some special gift above all others; yea, many times with outward grace and comeliness in the body. For this beauty in Moses’ body moved his parents to seek to save his life; they persuaded themselves that God had not imprinted that in him for nought. Saul (we know) was made king over Israel; and it is noted that the Lord had given him a goodly stature; for he was higher than any of the people from the shoulders upward (1 Sam. 9:2). And so David had a good countenance, and a comely visage (1 Sam. 17:42); for the Lord purposed to make him king over Israel. Now as he did excel his brethren in beauty and comeliness, so he was to be far above them in this special service of God, in governing His people.
Hence we learn first that comeliness and beauty is a gift of God. Secondly, that those which excel others in these gifts of nature must look also that answerably they excel them in holiness and zeal in the service of God, and doing good unto men, as Moses and David did. But alas, wretched is the practice of these times; for commonly those which have comeliness and beauty above others, do use it as a bait and occasion unto all sin and naughtiness; as to whoredom and lasciviousness, that thereby they may more fully satisfy their own wretched and satanical lusts; but this must carefully be looked unto, of all such as have the gifts of nature in most excellent manner than others. For if they use them, or rather abuse them to be means of sin, and to set forth the pride and vanity of their hearts, they have much to answer for unto God at the dreadful day of judgment. Hath God given thee beauty and comeliness; and doest thou use it as a bait to ensnare others for the satisfying of thy lust? Then look unto it thou evil servant, for thou doest not hide but consume thy master’s talent, employing it to His dishonour; therefore it shall be taken from thee; and instead thereof, thou shalt have ugliness and deformity, and so in soul and body be tumbled to hell with unclean spirits. And thus much of the first action of their faith, with the circumstances thereof.
II. The second action, whereby the faith of Moses’ parents is commended unto us is this: They did not fear the king’s commandment.
These words must not be understood absolutely and simply, but with limitation. For many places of Scripture are spoken simply, which must be understood with respect; as when it is said (Matt. 11:18), John came neither eating nor drinking, that is not, eating nothing at all, but eating little; and Christ saith (Matt. 10:34), He came not to bring peace, but a sword; that is (as Luke expounds it, Luke 12:51), rather debate than peace. And so in this place, Moses’ parents feared not the king’s commandment; that is, they did not fear it overmuch, or wholly, or only, or so much as others did in this like case.
1. Here then first we may learn, how far forth we must obey superiors and magistrates: we must obey them not simply, but in the Lord (Eph. 6:1), that is, in all their lawful commands; but when they command things evil and unlawful, then we must stay ourselves, lest obeying them we rebel against God. For this we have sufficient warrant in this place, as also in the apostles; who being commanded (Acts 4:18,19) that in no wise they should speak or teach in the name of Jesus; answered, Whether it be right in the sight of God, to obey you rather than God, judge ye. And the midwives of Egypt are commended by the Holy Ghost (Exod. 1:17) for saving the young children alive against the king’s commandment. And the three men of the Jews, Shadrach. Meshach and Abednego, are renowned with all posterity for disobeying the commandment of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 3:16,17) of worshipping the golden image. By which examples we may see plainly that our obedience to men must be in the Lord only. Neither is our refusing to do their unlawful commands any disobedience indeed; because the fifth commandment in this case ceaseth to bind, and gives place to the commandments of the first table, which are greater, as we shewed before (v.17).
2. Secondly, see here this godly boldness, in not overmuch fearing the king’s commandment, is made a work of faith; whence we learn that true faith in the promises of God, doth serve to moderate a man’s affections. There is no man, but if he be left to himself, he will go too far in the sway of his affections; experience sheweth that many through anger and joy, have lost their lives; some for fear have forsaken religion, and sorrow hath cost many a man his life; yea, any affection, if it be not moderated and stayed, will bereave a man of his senses, and make him a beast and no man.
But behold the use and power of true faith. It serveth to mitigate a man’s affections; so as if a man be angry, it shall be with moderation; and so we may say of fear, joy, hatred, or any other affection; faith will assuage and stay the rage thereof. For undoubtedly, Moses’ parents might have been overwhelmed with fear of Pharoah’s tyranny and cruelty, but that God gave them faith, which did moderate this fear. There is none of us, but if we look well into ourselves, we shall see that we are excessive in many affections, sometimes in fear, sometimes in anger, sometimes in sorrow, and such like. Now would we know how to bridle these strong passions? Then get true faith; it is the means whereby a man may moderate and stay the rage of his affection, so as they shall not break out in extremity. Is a man angry? Why, if he have faith, he will bridle his anger. Is he sorrowful? Yet it is in measure; and so for the rest, faith will rule them all, and yet extinguish none. Which should greatly provoke us to labour for true faith, seeing it is of such use and power in the stay of our affections.