ŇBy faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.Ó Hebrews 11:27.
In this verse the Spirit of God proceedeth to another example of MosesŐ faith; and hereto also in the verse following he addeth a third. Now, He is thus large in the commendation of his faith for this end: to persuade the Hebrews, to whom this epistle is sent, that they were not to look for any justification by the works of the law. And His reason is, because if any man could be justified by the works of the law, it must be Moses, who gave the law to the people from the Lord, and did excel in obedience to both tables, and therefore is a renowned prophet unto all posterity in special favour with God (Num. 12:7,8). But Moses could not be justified by the works of the law; for here the Holy Ghost proveth that Moses was justified and saved by faith. The thing that commends Moses, and makes him stand before God, is not his works, but his faith; and therefore the conclusion is, that as Moses was not justified by his works, but by faith; no more must they stand upon their works to be justified thereby, but labour for such faith as Moses had. Now, this faith of Moses is a true saving faith, founded on these two promises of God: 1. On this great and main promise made to Abraham, I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed; and, 2. On another particular promise rising from the general, made unto him when he was called to fetch the Israelites out of bondage, which was this: I will be with thee, and guide thee (Exod. 3:12). And in this place, Moses is said to have faith, not only because he believed that God would be his God, as He was the God of all AbrahamŐs seed; but because he believed particularly that God would be his God, and defend and be with him in the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt.
To come particularly to this fact:
By faith, Moses forsook Egypt.
Moses departed from Egypt twice: First, when he had slain the Egyptian, and fled from Pharaoh unto Midian, and there kept JethroŐs sheep. Secondly, forty years after, when he led the people of Israel out of Egypt into the land of Canaan; and here some make it a question, whether of these departures is meant in this place? Answer: It is most likely that this place is to be understood of his second departure, rather than of the first; and the reason is taken out of Exod. 2:14, where we find that the first time, he fled for fear; for as soon as he heard that his slaughter of the Egyptian was known to Pharaoh, he fled in such fear as that he durst not return again for forty years. Now these words are not to be understood of such a flight; for here it is said, He departed, not fearing the kingŐs wrath, or fierceness.
Here, some will say, this is no commendation; for malefactors and rebels do flee their country. Answer: They flee indeed, yet not in faith, but in fear. Moses fled in faith; and hereby his faith is commended, that he fled not fearing the king; but malefactors flee for fear of punishment. Moses departed with courage and boldness, and therefore fled not as a malefactor; for he feared not the king, as appeareth plainly in the history; for though Pharaoh had said unto him (Exod. 10:28), Get thee gone, see thou see my face no more; for when thou comest in my sight, thou shalt die; yet Moses went once more, namely, the tenth time, and told him of the tenth plague, and said the PharaohŐs servants should come down unto him, and fall down and pray him to get out, with the people and their cattle (Exod. 11:8). And when the Israelites murmured against him at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh was at their heels, and they had no way to flee, Moses encouraged the people, saying, Fear not, stand still, and behold the salvation of the Lord which He will shew you this day; for the Egyptians whom ye have seen this day, shall ye never see again (Exod 14:13). Whereby it notably appears that Moses departed in faith without fear of Pharaoh.
But some will say: For a man to come into another manŐs kingdom, and to carry away his subjects without the kingŐs consent, is an act of rebellion and sedition; and therefore worthy of no commendation, but rather shame and punishment. And this did Moses; he comes from Midian, and carries away the Jews which had been a long time PharaohŐs subjects; and for whose service he might plead possession, and a long prescription; therefore it seems to be no act of faith. Answer: Indeed if Moses had done this on his own head, he might worthily have been thus censured. But when he came to Egypt, he had a calling immediately from God to do as he did; and for the confirmation hereof, he had GodŐs promise of assistance, in working strange miracles; and when he carried the people out of Egypt, he did it by commandment of a King higher than Pharaoh. Neither yet did Moses carry them away as a private man, for he was a public person, an high magistrate, and no stranger, but one of themselves; yea, he was a king, as may appear in GodŐs Word (Deut. 33:5), where he is plainly called a king; and (Gen. 36:31), it is said, there were so many kings in Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel. Now the last of those kings reigned at the time when Moses went with the Israelites out of Egypt; so that Moses was their king, and had the authority and government of a king over them from the Lord; and therefore it was no act of rebellion in him, but a work that did greatly commend his faith, being grounded upon GodŐs commandment and promise.
Thus we see how we must conceive of MosesŐ act. Now we come to some particular points to be considered therein:
1. How came it to pass that Moses now had this courage to depart from Pharaoh, not fearing his commandment; whereas forty years before, being called to shew himself unto the brethren, as one whom they were to respect as their deliverer (Acts 7:23,25), he fled immediately out of Egypt upon the notice of one act of defence on behalf of the Israelites? Answer: The cause of his courage at this latter time was this: God now renewed His commission, and confirmed His former calling. For when he was first called, he did his duty, and revenged their wrongs; but yet being in danger, and his calling being as yet but a secret instinct, he was fearful and fled. But now when God called him the second time and confirmed the same calling, both by promise and commandment, and power to work miracles, then fearful Moses becomes courageous and bold.
Here, then, observe that there is a difference in GodŐs graces: there is a first grace, and a second grace. The first is that which God gives to any man for any calling; the second is that which God adds to the first for the confirming thereof. And the first is not effectual without the second; as here we see MosesŐ first calling was not effectual with him, till the second came. And so GodŐs first grace is not effectual till the second come; by which the former is confirmed, strengthened and increased. And the second is confirmed by the third; and so we must go on from grace to grace, if we will be bold and courageous in any duty, either of our general or particular calling. This must be well considered; for that any man stands in grace, or increaseth therein, either respecting his particular calling, or his Christian conversation, it comes from this: that God adds a second grace unto the first. And therefore whosoever is enabled for any duty, hath great cause to praise God; for whether we continue in grace, or increase therein, it cometh from the goodness of God, who addeth grace to grace; which if He should not do, we should fall away, and not be able to go forward in the fear of God and the duties of our calling; for the first grace would not suffice to strengthen us against temptation. And therefore howsoever God hath strengthened us for the time past, yet still we must pray to God to deliver us from evil; which plainly imports that our standing is from His daily supply of new grace.
2. When went Moses out of Egypt? The time is directly set down (Exod. 12:41), Even the self same day when the promise of God was expired; for when the 430 years were expired, they went all the host of the Lord out of Egypt; neither before nor after, but the very same day. Indeed Moses was chosen to be their captain forty years before, and sent unto them by God; and St Stephen saith, He thought they would have understood so much (Acts 7:25). But then they would not take him for their guide. Yet now, forty years after, when GodŐs determinate time of 430 years was expired, he comes again unto them, to carry them out of Egypt; and then they acknowledge him and follow him out, according to GodŐs commission.
Hence we learn, first, that no creature can alter the rule of GodŐs providence. Forty years before, Moses would have delivered the people, but he must stay until the time of the LordŐs promise was accomplished; and then he carries them away. Secondly, this must teach us not only to believe that God both can and will keep His promises; but also by faith to wait for the time wherein He will accomplish the same unto us. Moses is fain to wait forty years for the fulfilling of GodŐs promise. When Daniel understood how long the Israelites must be in captivity, he would not pray for the shortening of that time; but when he knew that the time of their return drew near, then he prayed unto the Lord most earnestly, waiting for the accomplishment of GodŐs promise in their deliverance. And David thus waited on God for deliverance in all his troubles. And their examples must we follow, for the fruition of all GodŐs blessings.
3. In what manner doth Moses part? The text saith, he went out, not fearing the kingŐs commandment; so that his departure was with courage. Whence we learn sundry instructions:
(1) First, here is a notable precedent for the framing of our lives, which must be a rule unto us. We must walk diligently in our callings, as Moses did; and though crosses do meet us, so that Pharaoh fall out with us; if kings become our enemies, yet we must not lay aside the duties of our callings; but after MosesŐ example, go on therein with courage. Moses without fearing the kingŐs wrath, went and led the people away. And so must every one of us do; although dangers come, we must not fear, but stand fast in our profession, and go on in the duties of our callings (Eccl. 10:4), If the spirit of him that ruleth riseth up against thee, leave not thy place.
(2) Secondly, hence we learn that magistrates which are to govern the people, ought to be men of courage in performing the duties of their calling. When too heavy a burden lay on Moses in judging all the congregation himself; Jethro, his father in law bids him provide among the people men of courage, fearing God, to be rulers (Exod. 18:13-21). Now their courage must not be a proud haughtiness, or an indiscreet cruelty, but a godly boldness, which may enable them to the duties of their calling, without fear of man. To this end, the Lord put of His Spirit upon the seventy which were to rule with Moses (Num. 11:17). Now the Spirit of God is not the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). Which shews that in a magistrate must be courage to call and (if need be) to compel others to the duties of their callings, how great soever they be. And it is a matter of great weight and moment in GodŐs church; for the minister may teach and speak as much as he will, or can; yet unless with the sword of the Spirit, there be joined the temporal sword of the magistrate to reform menŐs lives, and to keep them from open sin against the law of God, and to urge them to the duties which the minister teacheth; surely, their teaching and preaching will be to small effect.
(3) Lastly, Moses went with courage out of Egypt. This departure of his was a sign of our spiritual departing out of the kingdom of darkness; for so Paul applieth it, (1 Cor. 10). And therefore after MosesŐ example, we must with courage come every day more and more out of the kingdom of darkness, marching forward with courageous faith and heavenly boldness towards our blessed Canaan, the glory of heaven; we must not leave this to the last breath, and then think to have heavenŐs gates ready open for us; but we must enter into GodŐs kingdom in this life. Look as Moses by his faith did depart boldly out of Egypt, so must we in heart, by faith depart out of the kingdom of sin. This we shall do, when we use means to establish the kingdom of Christ Jesus in our hearts, and do forsake the works of sin and darkness. For look where there is no departing from sin, there is no faith; and therefore let us shew ourselves to have true faith, by departing more and more boldly and joyfully out of the kingdom of sin and Satan; that so it may appear we love the light and hate darkness. And in this journey, let us not fear any contrary commandment, nor the furious wrath of spiritual Pharaoh the devil, nor all the gates of hell; for Christ Jesus is our guide.
Because a man might think at the first that it was a rash and desperate part in Moses thus boldly to take away the Israelites, not regarding PharaohŐs commandment; therefore in the latter part of the verse, the Holy Ghost setteth down a reason that moved Moses to do, in these words: For he endured, or was courageous, that is, he took heart to himself. Why so? Because he saw God that is invisible. That is, he cast the eye of faith upon God, who had promised the evidence of His power and presence in their deliverance. So that it was the work of MosesŐ faith, laying hold on the promise of GodŐs presence and protection from the rage of Pharaoh, that made him thus confident and bold.
Hence we learn that the true valour and manhood that was in Moses, and is in all GodŐs children, like unto him, is a gift of grace. Among many gifts of the Spirit, poured upon our Saviour Christ, the spirit of strength or courage is one (Isa. 11:2). And JethroŐs counsel to Moses is notable this way; he bide him provide for governors, men of courage, fearing God (Exod. 18:21), insinuating that true courage is always joined with the fear of God, and is a fruit of grace. But some will say that many heathen men, who never knew the true God, nor what the gifts of the Spirit meant, had that courage. Answer: True it is that they had courage indeed; but it was nothing but a carnal boldness (not worthy of the name courage; being only a shadow of true fortitude) arising from ambition, pride, and other fleshly honours; whereas MosesŐ courage sprang from the grace of faith, in the merciful promises of God made unto him concerning his deliverance and safety. And indeed, howsoever wicked men have a noticeable shew of divers virtues, yet in the trial they prove but shadows; for true valour and other virtues do always accompany regeneration.
As he that saw Him that is invisible.
Here is the cause that made Moses thus courageous; and this will make any man bold: if he can be persuaded in his conscience of GodŐs special presence with him, and providence and protection over him.
Here then observe a singular fruit of faith: it makes God, who is indeed invisible, to be after a sort visible unto us. Moses by faith saw Him that was invisible; for by faith he was persuaded of GodŐs providence, and special protection in the delivery of His people, though Pharaoh should rage never so much. So Enoch is said to have walked with God, because he saw Him by the eye of faith in all his affairs. And when Joseph was allured to sin with his mistress, what stayed him? Surely the fear of God, whom he saw by faith: How can I do this great wickedness (saith Joseph) and so sin against God? (Gen. 39:9). As if he should say, I am always where God is present; how then shall I do so wickedly, and God see it? And the same is the state of all true believers; their faith makes the invisible God to be after a sort visible unto them; so as a faithful man may say, God is present with me, and protecteth me. Whereby we may see what little faith is in the world; for few can truly say that they see God; which faith enableth a man to do. Yea. Most men care so little to see God, that He is far from their very thoughts. Many have made means to see the devil; but where is he that labours for such a measure of faith, that he may see the invisible God? If wicked men run to conjurers to see the devil, whom they shall once see to their sorrow, let us labour for faith in the Word and sacraments, and this faith will make us so to endure in all tribulation, as though we saw God.
Furthermore, seeing Moses by faith endured as he that saw God; we learn that the seeing of God by faith takes away fear, and gives spiritual boldness. This is a point of special use; for naturally men are fearful; some cannot endure the dark, nor solitary places, for fear of the devil; yea, the shaking of a leaf, or the crawling of a worm doth terrify others. Now howsoever some menŐs constitutions may help forward this fear, yet many times it doth come from an accusing conscience, as a fruit of sin. And the way to remove it is here to be learned; namely, to do as Moses did; that is, labour to be resolved of GodŐs presence with us, and providence over us; and this will arm us against all satanic and foolish fear. For if God be on our side, who can be against us to do us harm? Again, the soldier by his place and calling ought to be a man of courage; for else the state of his life and the thought of his enemies will much affright him. Now how may he become courageous? They used to sound the drum and trumpet for this end; and it must be granted they are good incitements and provocations unto battle; but when it comes to the point of danger, they cannot give heart. Others use against the battle to fill themselves with wine; and to make themselves valiant by strong drink. This indeed may make them senseless and so desperate. But the true way is to become Christian soldiers, knowing and fearing God; and with their bodily armour to bring also the shield of faith; whereby their hearts may be assured that God hath called them to that fight; and that He is present with them to cover their heads in the day of battle. This will make them to take heart and courage to themselves, and to become truly valorous, though by nature they may be weak and timorous.
Thirdly, who knows whether God will bring us to this trial; either to lay down our lives, or forsake His truth; for He may justly take from us these golden days of peace for our ingratitude. Now, if such times come upon us, what shall we do? Shall we deny the faith of Christ? God forbid. But how shall we stand out in such trial? Surely, we must follow Moses, and labour to see Him that is invisible, by faith. This will make us courageous, and without fear in GodŐs cause; remembering this also, that among those which are reckoned to go down to hell, the fearful man is one (Rev. 21:8), who dares not stand to the truth of God, but for fear of men denies it. Let us therefore now begin to settle our hearts in the assurance of GodŐs providence and protection; that so when trial comes, we may be bold in the cause of God.
Him that is invisible.
That is, God, who is a most simple essence, void of all composition or corporal substance; for God is a Spirit (John 4:24), and therefore invisible, and not subject to manŐs senses. But some will say, God is said to have head, heart, hands and feet, with other parts of manŐs body, and therefore He is visible. Answer: The Holy Ghost so speaketh in Scripture of God, by way of resemblance of Him unto man, that we might the better thereby conceive of His works; for therefore are the parts of manŐs body ascribed unto God in Scripture, that we might know He doth such works by His divine power, as man doth by the parts of his body. Man sheweth his strength and valour in his arm; and by resemblance unto man, God is said to have an arm, to note out His power and valiant acts. And so God is said to have eyes, because we should conceive that by His infinite wisdom He seeth all things more clearly than man doth anything at noonday with his bodily eyes. And so of the rest.
But Moses is said to talk with God face to face, and to see His back parts (Exod. 33:11, 23). Answer: This imports not that he saw the substance of God; but only that God did after a familiar manner reveal Himself unto him, and in some resemblance shew him His glory, so far forth as Moses was able to behold it; for the text is plain, My face cannot be seen. There shall no man see me and live (v.20).
Here we learn that when we pray to God, we must not conceive of Him by any form or image in our minds; for so we make an idol of God. Question: What then must we do? For how (some will say) can I pray to Him, and not think of Him? Answer: When we think of God, or pray to Him, we must conceive of Him in our minds as He hath revealed Himself in Scripture; that is, by His works, and by His properties; we must think in our minds of an eternal essence, most holy, wise, etc., who made all things, and who governs them by His mighty power. For every image to resemble God by, either to the mind, or to the eye, is a plain lie; making Him visible, who is invisible; as saith the prophet (Hab. 2:18), The image, what profiteth it? For it is a teacher of lies. Which flatly overthroweth the opinion and practice of the Romish church, who resemble the true God, even God the Father, and the Holy Trinity, in images; what else do they herein, but make a lie of God?
But the papists say they devise no image to resemble God in, but only such whereby He hath shewed Himself, as the Scripture testifies: as the Father, like an old man; the Son, as He was incarnate; and the Holy Ghost, like a dove (Matt. 3:16). Answer: We must not conceive of those forms, of an old man, or of a dove, to have been ever any image of the Father, or of the Holy Ghost; but only signs and pledges for a time, whereby those Persons did then manifest their presence. Now, there being an express commandment against all representation of God by images, not excepting those very shapes whereby it pleased God for a time to signify His presence; it must needs be idolatrous presumption to make any image of God, or of the Trinity. And indeed God being invisible (as the text saith), it is impossible to make any true image or resemblance of Him.