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Exodus 2:11 - 3:10

Frank Binford Hole


From the address of Stephen, in Acts 7, we learn that at the time of the event, recorded in verses 11-15 of our chapter, Moses was "full forty years old." He had reached complete maturity as well as conspicuous greatness in the highest court circles of Egypt and, if we only had the record of Exodus we might be inclined to regard his slaughter of the Egyptian as an act prompted simply by a sudden burst of indignation. We have to read Hebrews 11: 24-26, and then we discover that it was an outward expression of an inward resolve, which had been reached in the power of faith.

In Exodus we are given a brief recital of the facts on the surface history of the episode. In Acts 7 we are told of what was in his mind, leading him to act as he did. As to the history, he knew that he sprang from Israel and shared Israel's hopes, though he was a great man amongst the Egyptians. The assaulted Hebrew was brother to him. He "looked this way and that way," and as there were no witnesses, he identified himself with the Hebrew and slew the Egyptian But what was in his heart was the conviction that God by his hand was going to deliver the children of Israel, and "he supposed his brethren would have understood" that such would be the case.

His brethren however did not understand, for they did not share his faith. In result they rejected him as their deliverer, wishing to pursue their own way of wrong-doing, and not to stir up retaliation from the power of Egypt. In Acts 7, Stephen is led to make these points clear, in order to show that in the rejection of the Lord Jesus the Jews had re-enacted, on a scale infinitely more serious, what their fathers had previously done with Moses. In the Lord Jesus there was not the slightest element of imperfection. In Moses there was distinct failure. His desires were right: his action wrong.

How often this has been the case with all the servants of God save the one perfect Servant! Again and again there is with us the "seeing" of some "wrong," that should be avenged—or possibly of some right, that should be established—and then hasty action, confident that God would endorse it. We too have "supposed" that we are at liberty to do God's work in our own way and strength, and that all will understand. A New Testament example of this is furnished by Peter. To stand by the Lord in the hour of His trial was surely a good thing, and Peter "supposed" that he had grace and power to do it. As in the case of Moses his discomfiture was complete, but like Moses he afterwards did in the power of God what he failed to do in his own wisdom and strength, as we see in John 21: 19.

But if in Exodus we are given the surface history, and in Acts what was working in the mind of Moses, we discover in Hebrews the amazing faith that illumined his mind and led to his great renunciation—as remarkable a decision as any recorded in Scripture. To his faith the nation of slaves in Egypt were "the people of God." All that Egypt had to offer him were "the pleasures of sin," though indeed there were "the treasures in Egypt." His faith then had about it a quality which reminds us of the X-rays, which pierce to things beneath the surface. It saw through the oppressed Israelites, unattractive as many of them were, and discovered that God was behind them and beneath them. When the treasures of Egypt with all their pleasures passed before his gaze, he discerned far beyond them, and wholly surpassing them, "the recompense of the reward."

Hence he chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God," and he "esteemed the reproach of Christ" to be of surpassing worth. All this happened about 1,500 years before the Lord Jesus Christ appeared. When He did appear, we have the supreme example of the One who stooped from the heights of the Divine glory to take up the cause of sinful men, with all the reproach that entailed. The step that Moses took was a slight foreshadowing of that marvellous event. The reproach that it involved for him was in its principle and character the reproach of Christ.

One thing further we must remark. The elevation of Moses, to the position of influence and power he held in Egypt, was a singular act of God's providence. Providence however is not that which is to guide us, but rather faith. His natural reasoning would have said, Providence has placed me in the court of Pharaoh in a most remarkable way, so of course I must be guided by Providence and remain here. Faith discerned that Providence was only a means to an end, preparing him for the step which faith indicated in due time. If we too, in our much smaller affairs, remember that faith in God's word is to guide us, and not Providential dealings, we shall do well.

The immediate effect of this intervention by Moses was his flight from Egypt and consequent sojourn in Midian for forty years. When he found that the thing was known, and his action, however well-intentioned was rejected by his people, he departed. Reading Exodus, we certainly get the impression that the prevailing motive with him was the anger of Pharaoh. Rather a different light upon it is cast by Acts 7: 29. "Then fled Moses at this saying"—the saying of the wrongdoer—"Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?" So evidently his rejection by his own people was what cut him to the quick. Forty years later they all had to discover that it was GOD, who made him a ruler and judge over them, but for the time being he was lost to them.

In Exodus 2, the next forty years of Moses' life is compressed into verses 15-22. We again see God acting in His providence and giving Moses a home and a wife in a strange land. The name that he gave to his son showed that he realized that Midian was not the place of God's purpose for him, and that he had expectations that lay outside of it. Only Divine support could have enabled him to endure the long years of exile, doing nothing but keeping the sheep of his father-in-law, as we are told in the first verse of Exodus 3. It was a tremendous humiliation after his princely place in Egypt. What sustained him?

Personally we believe that Hebrews 11: 27 refers to this period, though some treat it as referring to the exodus mentioned in verse 29 of that chapter. The events referred to there, up to verse 31, are in chronological order, and unless verse 27 occurred before 28, the order of time would be broken in this solitary instance. Moreover, as we have seen, Acts 7 shows that what moved Moses in his flight was acute disappointment that his well-intended intervention was rejected by the very people on whose behalf he made it; so that they did not recognize him as a man sent by God. It was that, and not the wrath of the king, that sent him forth from their midst.

Accepting this view of verse 27, we see at once what it was that sustained him during the dreary years of his exile. The man who had led multitudes amidst the splendours of Egypt, now spends his years leading about a flock of senseless sheep! Yet "he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible." In Acts 7 it is stated that he acted as "seeing one of them suffer wrong." When wrong exists it is well that we should see it but if that is all that we see, we easily go wrong ourselves. It is when the eye of faith is fixed on God, that we go right. We are told that, "faith is . . . the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11: 1). Faith can see what is unseen to the natural eye.

Thus it was with Moses. God was before the eyes of his heart during all those 40 years, and hence the discipline to which he was subjected bore its wonderful fruit in due season. During his first 40 years he had attained to being a "Somebody" of much importance in Egypt; but during his second 40 years in Midian he learned how to be a "Nobody" in the world of men.

God was going to entrust to him a work of such magnitude that this lengthy period of discipline and humbling was needful.

The closing verses of Exodus 2 relate the death of the Pharaoh of those days, but the oppression of Israel continuing, God heard their cry and groaning, and He remembered His covenant with Abraham. Let us note that His intervention and His redemption of Israel from the house of bondage was under that covenant, and the covenant of law was not propounded until we reach Exodus 19.

Exodus 3. At the end of the 40 years in Midian, Moses had led the flock of Jethro into the vicinity of Horeb, which appears to be a more general term, embracing the mountain group of which Sinai was the chief peak. At that spot God appeared to him, so that he got his commission at the very place to which he was to lead the people after their liberation from Egypt, and where was to be promulgated the law, which is for ever connected with his name.

A number of times in the Old Testament do we get these appearances of God to men, and they vary in mode and character, so as to suit the communication or revelation that had to be made. Here the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush. Now in both Old and New Testaments the word used is one that signifies a bush of thorns, or, bramble bush; a bush of little worth and one that fire would soon consume. But God was in the bush, and therefore it was not consumed.

Here was a sight that directly contradicted all that was natural, and Moses was drawn to it. He had to learn that though, "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 19: 29), He could dwell in the midst of a people, who in themselves were thorny and fit fuel for the flames, and yet not consume them. It was indeed a "great sight," and surely during the forty years in the wilderness, when Jehovah in a pillar of fire dwelt in the midst of rebellious Israel, Moses must have thought upon the way in which God had revealed Himself to him at the start, in His great kindness.

In this incident the Angel, or, Messenger of the Lord is the Lord Himself, as we see if we compare verses 2 and 4. This being so, Moses had to keep at a distance and remove his shoes, as a sign that the place was holy, and he but a servant. Distance there had to be, but it was not nearly so pronounced as it was later when the law was given, and this doubtless because at the outset the Lord revealed Himself to him as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The God, who had instituted the covenant of promise, was not so awesome, as when He instituted the law from Sinai.

This is the statement to which the Lord referred when He rebuked the Sadducees, as recorded in Matthew 22: 23-33. The patriarchs had died out of the world of men, but they lived in God's presence, and this guaranteed a resurrection in God's appointed hour; a resurrection, moreover, which would involve an entrance into a new and heavenly order of things. It is noticeable too that the Lord referred to the statement as being "spoken unto you." What was said to Moses stands good for all, and for all time.

Having revealed Himself to Moses in this way, He made a declaration of three things. First, of His attention to the cry of His people and His sympathetic concern for their sorrows. For a century or two it must have seemed as though He was indifferent. But it was not so. God is never in a hurry and He intervenes in His own time, which is the right time. The three statements in verse 7 are very touching: He had seen; He had heard; He knew their sorrows. Thus it ever is with all His people, with us among the rest. The deliverance of Israel meant drastic judgments upon Egypt, and our God is slow to anger. Do we wonder why the Lord Jesus, who is coming quickly, has not yet come? Let us remember that His advent will mean tremendous judgments upon a guilty world.

Second, He declared His purpose to deliver His people from the slavery of Egypt and bring them into a land, "flowing with milk and honey." This is what Palestine was, as corroborated by the spies, in Numbers 13: 27; it is what the land will be in a coming day, though for centuries it has lain desolate. The blessings of that land were earthly, but they came from the hand of God and were not won as the result of irrigation and toil as in the case of Egypt.

Third, He told Moses that he was to be the servant, commissioned to face the mighty monarch, Pharaoh, and deliver the children of Israel out of his hand. As stated by Stephen, "This Moses whom they refused . . . the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel, which appeared to him in the bush." What he had attempted to effect in his own wisdom and strength, and failed to do, he is now to accomplish in the wisdom and power of God.

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