CHAPTER 9. –MOSES
Next we turn to the case of Moses. This towers over all others like a great mountain over the surrounding country. Moses is next to the Lord Jesus, “the prophet like unto him,” in the height, breadth, importance, and greatness of his case in all points and relations; yet all of God, for apart from God’s use of him (God’s word to him and work with him), Moses would have lived a quiet pastoral life in Midian, and passed off the scene without leaving much if any mark behind him.
It belongs not, however, to the present series of articles to consider him in the mighty and faithful operations by which he broke the resistance of Egypt, held a mighty insubordinate congregation in subjection in exodus, inscribed the name and the law of Jehovah indelibly in the earth, and established the most illustrious nation of history. Our contemplations must be confined to those aspects of his case in which God though avowedly, was not apparently at work. Our aim is to extract comfort and light for our day and situation, when that “long time” during which Jehovah “holds His peace” and “hides Himself from the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 42:14; 8:17; 45:15) is yet unexpired. Therefore we look at Moses where all was apparently natural but where God was at work in providence.
This mode of study leads us at once to fix on his birth. To estimate aright the incidents attendant on that event, let us recall to mind the situation of things to which it had relation. Jacob’s children (multiplied greatly) had been in Egypt for several generations. Their position had greatly changed from that which they occupied during the lifetime of Joseph. When Joseph lived, their position was one of comfort and honour in the land; but after he was dead, “there arose a new king over Egypt which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), and this new king regarded this thriving and prolific colony of Israelites with a jealousy which prompted him to devise harsh measures against them. He “made their lives bitter with harsh bondage in mortar and in brick and in all manner of service in the field.” This grievous experience was calculated to revive Israel’s recollection of the promise that God would deliver them—a promise made long before, but which the prosperity of the first part of the period of their settlement in Egypt may have caused the people to forget or undervalue, in the same way that we find that in our own day, prosperity for the Jews in any part of the world makes them think lightly of the promised restoration. The promise dated back to the days of their father Abraham:
“Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs and shall serve them and they shall afflict them four hundred years, and also that nation whom they shall serve will I judge, and afterwards shall they come out with great substance” (Genesis 15:13).
This promise was held in recollection by the faithful of Abraham’s seed. Jacob spoke of it on his deathbed.
“God shall be with you and bring you again unto the land of your Fathers” (Genesis 48:21).
It was the last thing Joseph spoke about to his brethren:
“I die, and God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land into the land which he sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. . . . God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence” (Genesis 50:24-25).
The recollection of this promise was treasured by others after Joseph’s time, as evidenced by the faith of the parents of Moses (Hebrews 11:23), and Moses’ interpretation of the times (Acts 7:25). It was “the hope of Israel” in Egypt. Not all, however, adhered to this hope. The bulk of the Israelites had sunk into a state of indifference, and even of idolatry. This we learn on the testimony of God Himself:
“In the day when I chose Israel and lifted up Mine hand to the seed of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known unto them in the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them . . . then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abomination of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. But they rebelled against Me and would not hearken unto Me. They did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:5-9).
This statement is illustrated by the fact that after their deliverance, they proposed on more than one occasion to stone Moses, make gods of their own, and go back to Egypt (Numbers 16:2-4; Exodus 32:1). In fact, before they actually crossed the Red Sea, they said to Moses,
“Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:12).
Thus we have the spectacle distinctly before us of God’s own nation (concerning whom promises had been made, and the time for the fulfilment of which had drawn near), looking at the situation as it appeared from the divine point of view, not only with indifference, but with absolutely perverse and carnal eyes. That God should be at work at such a time may console us who live in the latter days, when the time has again approached for God to remember the house of Israel, and when the house of Israel everywhere is similarly unenlightened and indifferent.
The time spoken of in the promise to Abraham as the time of the affliction of his seed had about run out. We need not trouble ourselves here with any chronological difficulties. It is plain there were 430 years from the promise to the giving of the law on Sinai (Gal. 3:17). Our reading of the promise must harmonise with that fact which is in agreement with the genealogies of Israel after the settlement in Egypt. It is plain also that at the birth of Moses the time of the promise had drawn near (Acts 7:17, 20). As Moses was 80 years old at the Exodus, it follows that the time of the promise was considered to have drawn near a long time (as men reckon) before its actual arrival. Let us realise this. Let us think of ourselves as in Egypt 80 years before the promised deliverance. God was remembering the promise and disposing events in preparation for its execution. What evidence was there of this? None to be seen with the ordinary eye. To the ordinary eye, everything seemed to be in the most unlikely form for the realisation of Israel’s hope. The Egyptians were great and prosperous. A dynasty unfriendly to Israel was established on the throne. Israel themselves, the bulk of them, were sunk in idolatry; and besides being in a state of indifference to the purpose of God, they were the objects of a cruel oppression on the part of the king of Egypt, who deliberately aimed at breaking their spirit and destroying their strength by hard measures. The Israelites everywhere were engaged in the meanest drudgery under the most exacting and cruel taskmasters. God was silent, and the hope of Israel seemed a forgotten dream. But God was at work without speaking or making His hand manifest. A baby boy was born. It was a very commonplace occurrence. It was probably an unwelcome occurrence to his father and mother; for Pharaoh had decreed the destruction of every Hebrew male child that should be born. If it had been a girl, they might have been at liberty to rejoice: but here was a fine boy: an unusually fine boy, “exceeding fair” (Acts 7:20): “they saw he was a goodly child” (Exodus 2:2), and they were bound by the law to destroy him. We can imagine the conflict of feeling that raged in the bosom of his father and mother. “They hid him three months;” they could hide him no longer. Their concealment would be discovered. They would be in danger of their own lives as well as the child’s. What were they to do? They would comply with the cruel law, but they would give the child a chance. They were bound to put him in the river: but they would at least put him in a waterproof basket that would float, and in which he might be found and appropriated by someone else to the saving of his life. God was directing them but they did not know. They got ready the unnatural and cruel cradle; they put the beautiful, plump, smiling boy into it (they would rather it had been into a coffin) with agonised hearts, they carry it out of the house with its living freight, and go their way to the river. Oh, how dark and cruel the whole situation seemed! Yet God was preparing a nation’s deliverance. They did not know this. In much affliction they submitted to the evil, and faith left the matter with the God of Israel. They deposited the little ark with its lovely freight among the flags by the river brink, and, with failing and reluctant hearts, tore themselves away. They dare not be seen in the neighbourhood, for the preservation of the child was a disregard of the law and would bring the parents, if found out, into trouble. They hastened home, but they could not altogether abandon the precious child to its fate. They posted his sister, probably a girl of fourteen or fifteen, near the spot to watch what would become of “baby.” In this also, they were directed of God but they did not know it. It was a link in the circumstances destined to place Moses in a position for the right training, in the hand of his mother. The sister (probably Miriam) did not have long to wait. Pharaoh’s own daughter came down to the river to bathe. There was nothing unusual in that; she came there for the reason she always came: but her present coming was very important, of which she knew nothing. She was being used for the purpose of God without being aware of it: her movements for once were controlled, though not apparently so: her perceptions and feelings for once were influenced in a particular direction. She quickly saw the little object among the reeds on the bank of the river. Her curiosity was aroused. She despatches one of her maidens at once to fetch it. It is brought: doubtless the maiden says excitedly as she brings the curious box: “It is a little child!” They open the lid, and there poor cold little Moses (not yet called Moses) lies crying heartily before them. The heart of Pharaoh’s daughter is touched. She might have been differently affected in another case. She might have taken up her father’s views and said, “It is one of those nasty Hebrew children: they are all to be drowned: take it away: put it back in the water.” But it was not to be so. God’s purpose was involved. Her heart was touched. “She had compassion on him.” The child’s sobs were too much for her. She probably wiped his little face, and tried to comfort him in a motherly way. The question arose, “What shall we do with him?” Pharaoh’s daughter says, “I should like to keep him.” Moses’ sister had drawn near, and was an attentive onlooker. She seizes the opportunity.
“Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for thee?”
A word in season, how good is it. The proposal was of God. Pharaoh’s daughter jumps at it. It exactly commends itself. It relieves her of the burden of the child: at the same time it preserves the child to her. “Go,” says she. With what a bounding step we may imagine Miriam (if it was Miriam) darted home to Moses’ mother. With what unspeakable gratitude Amram and Jochebed—Moses’ father and mother—must have received the tidings—the child saved and to be confided to their own keeping! Jochebed returns in haste with her daughter. She stands before Pharaoh’s daughter. She sees her own darling child; her heart yearns upon him. She can scarcely conceal her motherhood.
“Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.”
Wages! Wages for doing what she would have been glad to pay any amount of money to be permitted to do! How exquisitely beautiful are all the ways of God.
“And the woman took the child.”
Yes, with a zeal never shown by nurse before. Why did not God allow an Egyptian nurseship to be arranged for? Because it was most important for Moses to receive the right instruction in his early years. Had he been brought up with an Egyptian nurse, he would have been inoculated with a contempt for the Hebrew and scorn for the God of Abraham. Confided to a Hebrew nurse, and that nurse his own mother, and that mother a woman of faith, his young mind was early enlightened as to the true situation of things, and biases in the right direction with a power that no amount of after education in Pharaoh’s court could efface.
Why, then, give him into the hands of the Egyptians at all? First, to save his life; and secondly, to give him a status high in Egyptian society, and a thorough knowledge of Egyptian ways, that he might be fitted to act the part of God’s messenger to Pharaoh when the time should come. Both needs are met with consummate wisdom, and all apparently in the most natural way. At a certain age—Josephus says twelve, the Scripture is silent and probably nobody knows—Moses was given up by his mother. Her nurseship had terminated and Moses was handed over to Pharaoh’s daughter, to be thenceforth educated “in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” in which he became proficient (Acts 7:22). The power of his early training, however, withstood the effacing effects of courtly ways. Pharaoh’s daughter called him her son; but Moses, instructed of his mother, knew better and “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” He chose, in preference, to bear the reproach of his Hebrew extraction. This was not human nature. Most men exalted to high spheres, would gladly forget their humble parentage. But Moses had good reason for his choice. Paul’s testimony is that he—
“Chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Hebrews 11:25-26).
This shows that Moses’ spiritual education was of a very robust order, and that his faith in the promises made of God to the fathers was of a very practical and fruit-bearing kind. He was not ashamed of his connection with the slaves of the country. He did not seek to avoid the reproach of such a connection. He did not bury himself in the grandeur and the luxury and the splendour of Pharaoh’s court as he might have done. He deliberately maintained his character as a Hebrew and his profession as a believer in Israel’s God. “He chose rather to suffer affliction” with the despised of Pharaoh’s realm. In this he showed himself a true brother of Christ, and of kin with every brave believer in our day who in any position in society openly identifies himself, at the peril of loss and shame, with the faith in promises which all the world despises and rejects.
Moses not only held fast to the faith of the promises. He considered his own position, and came to the conclusion that he was elevated among the Egyptians for the purpose of serving Israel. This interpretation of the providence of God would probably originate in his mother’s suggestions. At all events, we find it recorded that—
“When he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel” (Acts 7:23).
“He supposed,” adds Stephen, “his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them.”
Moses was right in his supposition, although, as a matter of fact, he was forty years before the time; for it was not till he was eighty years of age that God appeared to him and commissioned him to deliver Israel. It is interesting to observe that, without revelation, Moses should entertain such a view of his position. It was the conclusion he had come to as the result of his interpretation of the ways of providence. He knew that God purposed the deliverance of Israel from Egypt: he knew that the time had come near (when he was forty, it only wanted ten years to the end of the 400 years spoken of to Abraham): he looked at his own position—a Hebrew admitted to the court of Pharaoh through a circumstance arising out of the Egyptian persecution of Israel: and he came to the conclusion that God’s purpose was to deliver Israel by his hand. His conclusion was right as events ultimately showed, but he was premature in the way he attempted to give his conclusion practical effect. He did not wait for God himself to use the situation thus providentially prepared. He began to act without directions. Of his own motion, he smote an Egyptian who wronged a Hebrew. He did the thing secretly, and supposed it would remain secret. Such things do not remain secrets. The matter was soon reported, and, fearing the consequences at the hand of Pharaoh, he found himself under the necessity of absconding. And he did abscond and found himself a wanderer in the wilderness of Midian, and the prospect of Israel’s redemption postponed in the most indefinite and hopeless manner. Through an act of courtesy, he obtained an introduction to the leading man of the country, Raguel, or Jethro, a flockmaster, with whom he ultimately accepted employment as chief herdsman, and married one of his daughters. Years rolled by, and Moses was engaged in the quiet life of a flock-tender in the comparative solitudes of Horeb.
Let us consider the situation. The ten remaining years of the 400 spoken of to Abraham had expired, and there was no visible token of interference. Israel were yet in Egypt in hopeless subjection to Pharaoh. Moses’ own return to Egypt was barred. He dared not show his face in a country where he was regarded as an out-lawed murderer. All was dark everywhere. Had the promise failed? No. There were to be four hundred years of subjection, and “afterward,” the deliverance was to be accomplished. How long afterwards was not revealed. “The time of the promise” had “drawn near” at the birth of Moses, as we have seen, and was of course much nearer now when Moses was fifty years old. The four hundred years were up, and therefore the time of the end of Israel’s sojourn had arrived. Still there was no sign, except such as the reader of providence could discern. Moses was in readiness—a man of reverence for God and readiness to obey, and qualified to hold intercourse with Pharaoh. True, he had been driven from the country and was now a herdsman. This looked the wrong way, but enlightened experience in Jehovah’s ways would have enabled a man to say, “Even this may be part of the work.” It was so. Moses, after a life of elevation and Egyptian education, had to have his zeal and his general views sobered by adversity. He had to be prepared by quietness and humiliation for the mighty work which God had in reserve for him. So here he was, in the unexciting wilderness, in a monotonous occupation, perplexed perhaps by the inexplicable delay, and discouraged by the total absence of direct tokens of God’s promised interference on behalf of Israel. His neglect to circumcise his children (Exodus 4:24, 26) would seem to indicate that he had fallen into a state of supineness. When he had fled from Egypt ten years before the end of the 400, perhaps he consoled himself with the thought that in ten years, at all events, God’s hand would become visible. At the end of ten years, nothing happened: and we can easily imagine that after that, as month after month rolled by in the routine of a shepherd’s life without witnessing any token of the promised visitation, the sickness of deferred hope crept over him and reconciled him to the idea of spending his days where he was. Nearly thirty long years dragged wearily by, after the expiry of the 400, without the expected message from God. Yet God had not been unmindful. He was at work, though not apparently. He had prepared the situation long in advance. Moses himself, pining in the dreariness of inexplicable delay, was part of the situation. God is great, and His works in providence with men are slow, gradual, and deliberate. There are points where rapidity of action then takes place; but the developments leading to these points are all conducted on natural principles as far as appearances to the human eye are concerned.
Moses at last experienced the truth of this. To the last moment there was nothing distinctly indicative of the tremendous crisis impending. Israel was slowly baking in the furnace of Egyptian affliction, without any man regarding or God taking any notice, as it seemed. The Canaanites, on whom God’s vengeance was to be poured by the sword of Israel, were indulging in all their abominations in safety in the midst of a fertile and glorious land, without molestation or fear. The eye ranging over the whole earth could see nothing but ease, carelessness, power on the side of the oppressor, and wickedness established in safety. The purpose of God was the most invisible thing in the whole situation, and Moses had long ceased to entertain sanguine thoughts on the subject. But at last, on a particular day, in the course of his ordinary affairs, while the flocks grazed under the shadow of Horeb, an unconsumed burning bush attracted his attention. Going near to ascertain the cause of so unusual a thing, the angel of the Lord announced his presence, and informed him of Jehovah’s purpose to deliver Israel by his hand.
Thus commenced that long series of marvellous events in which God wrought with unbared arm in the redemption of Israel and in their establishment as a nation before Him in the land promised to the fathers. With the glorious history of these, this chapter does not concern itself. They are the grounds of faith and the source of hope; but they have no counterpart in these, the days of probation, when, like Moses, we stand in an unexciting interval in the divine programme.
Our aim is to bring to bear so much of the history and experience of the fathers as may be applicable to our own case. Like Moses we are living at the end of a time of Israel’s down-treading. Like him, we are looking for a promised divine interposition. Like him we are able to discern providential signs characteristic of the situation; but like him we have been the subjects of delay in our expectations. As in his case, we may see that notwithstanding adverse appearances, God is at work, and we may hope that like him we shall one day, and that soon, be rescued and cheered by the angelic intimation that the moment of open interference has at last arrived.
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