By faith Moses, after he was born, was hidden by his parents for three months, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they didn’t fear the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of sin. For he considered reproach for the sake of Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since he was looking ahead to the reward.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We have been talking about living by faith for a few weeks now. The author of Hebrews, after defining faith for us (living out a belief in something we can’t see on the word of someone we trust), shifted gears to offering one example after another of what it looks like to live by faith. Essentially, it looks like doing what God says instead of what we or the world around us wants. In most circumstances, even in hostile-to-Christianity locations, this doesn’t involve anything terribly controversial. It is just denying ourselves in favor of the righteousness of Christ and loving our neighbors like Jesus loved us. But sometimes, living by faith can take us into more challenging territory. Instead of positively doing something, it involves actively not doing something or else rejecting opportunities we are expected to take. With some examples from the story of Moses, let’s talk today about a couple of the challenges of living by faith.
Other than Abraham and Elijah (who, interestingly, doesn’t get mentioned at all in this chapter…I guess he was too far back in the story and the author used up all of his space with the examples from the beginning of the scroll), Moses is the figure who loomed largest over the history Israel. In fact, his stature eclipsed the other two by a fairly wide margin. Moses was the one God used to bring the people freedom. He led them to the land God had promised Abraham He would give them. Moses gave them the law which more than anything else defined who they were as a people. Moses is the one person in history to have actually seen a glimpse of God’s real glory with his own two eyes. He was called the most humble man who had ever lived. All of this is to say, with the author’s telling the stories of faith from the Hebrew scriptures, the audience would have been waiting for Moses’ turn in the spotlight. He was to Jews of the first century a bit of what Jesus is for us today.
And so, the author, using the same formula that has gotten him this far in the chapter, tells us that by faith Moses…has something done for him over which he had absolutely no control. That’s right, the first story of faith about Moses isn’t actually about Moses’ faith at all. It is about the faith of his parents. Now, this little story potentially has some pretty significant implications and could lead us down an interesting little rabbit hole of when and whether we can resist people in positions of authority when their commands violate the higher commands of God, but I don’t want to chase that particular squirrel right now. For now, we’ll suffice it to say that God doesn’t support the murder of innocent children in any context, and so Moses’ parents courageously put their faith in God’s strong preference for life over death and did everything they could to keep the Egyptian authorities from taking their baby boy and drowning him in the Nile River. The Pharaoh’s edict no doubt carried some weight for them, but their greater fear was reserved for the Lord, and so they kept their baby alive.
The second little story here is actually about Moses’ faith. Moses grew up in the palace of Pharaoh as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Now, it is probably too much of a stretch to suggest this means Moses grew up like one of Pharaoh’s grandchildren. He no doubt had many different daughters with many different wives and concubines. All of them would have had some sort of place in the palace life, but only a very few of them would have been significant at all. Being a daughter would have made Moses’ adopted mother much more insignificant than any of Pharaoh’s sons. While there is a good chance Pharaoh at least knew about Moses, it is doubtful that there would have been any kind of a closeness between the two of them. And, by the time Moses came back around to lead the people of Israel to freedom, 80 years had passed and perhaps multiple different Pharaohs.
All of that being said, Moses, by virtue of growing up in Pharaoh’s household, would have had access to all the luxuries and pleasures of royal life. He could have chosen that life. But he didn’t. Just what his rejection of that looked like we don’t know, but when given the chance, he chose to side with his people even to the extent of killing an Egyptian guard who was abusing a Hebrew slave. We obviously can’t endorse that, but the lessons his birth parents (who were conveniently hired by Pharaoh’s daughter to raise her newly adopted child) taught him about the God of his people stuck, and when given the choice, he chose that life instead.
The author of Hebrews makes an interesting little observation that Moses chose this life of reproach for the sake of Christ. Now, Moses couldn’t have known he was doing that in the moment. What this reveals is not something about Moses, but about Jesus. Jesus is God incarnate, the second member of the Trinity. When Moses chose to live with his eyes fixed on the future promises of God’s people rather than “the fleeting pleasures of sin” in Egypt, those promises were ultimately fulfilled in Christ, thus the connection.
Those are the stories, here, but what do they actually have to do with us? Sometimes pursuing the life of Christ by faith involves turning left when the culture around us says to go right. While it often means doing simple things to reject our own desires in favor of the character of Christ or going above and beyond in our efforts to love our neighbors, sometimes it means more than that. Sometimes it means actively going against the grain and resisting authority.
Perhaps an example will help. In the first half of the 20th century, there were laws on the books across the U.S. South that prohibited black people from having access to the same facilities and public services as white people. In addition to that, there were a great deal more cultural laws – extra-legal traditions that nonetheless carry the weight of force in a particular area or region – that segregated the two groups of people. These laws were unjust and evil.
In 1960, a group of black teenagers in Greensboro, NC decided to do something about it. They went to a popular restaurant in town – Woolworth’s – and sat at the lunch counter to be served. They were, of course, not served and told to leave. They refused, and soon similar lunch-counter protests began happening all over the South. The protesters were almost entirely non-violent. When arrested they did not resist. They faced jail time and paid their fines (often with help from generous benefactors). And a great many of them were motivated and encouraged by their faith in Jesus who proclaimed a kingdom in which all such segregation had no place.
Civil disobedience like this has a long and rich history. The world does not pay fealty to the kingdom of God. And while sometimes the two kingdoms maintain an uneasy truce, at other times, the world takes aggressive moves to assert its dominance by passing laws mandating behaviors that are out of sync with the kingdom of God. In these moments, there have long been courageous and faithful followers of Jesus who have resisted these laws because of their higher commitment to the law of Christ. Whether it was believers collecting babies (especially girls) left out to die of exposure in the first and second centuries of the church, or courageous bishops advocating for the end of the gladiatorial games, or Martin Luther protesting the sale of indulgences, or a group of black teenagers refusing to leave the Woolworth’s lunch counter, when the laws of the world contradict the laws of God, we who claim Christ as our king are duty bound to honor the latter instead of the former. There will be a social and political and even legal cost to pay for this resistance, but our faith nonetheless demands it.
This isn’t the only thing we see here, though. Sometimes, living by faith doesn’t mean doing anything illegal, but rather refusing to take opportunities the world around us expects us to take. It means not going somewhere or doing something we could do in order to better honor Jesus with our lives. This is the young man with wealthy parents who expect him to join them in the family business, choosing instead to go into the mission field to plant churches and advance the Gospel.
I would argue this second application is going to be far more relevant for most of our lives than the first. There may be a time when we need to engage in some act of civil disobedience (the civil part of that is very important), but I suspect there will be far more times when faithfulness to the path of Christ will mean not doing something we could have otherwise done, and which would have likely made our lives easier or more convenient than they will be without it. But this less convenient path is more honoring of Jesus, and so it is the wiser path to take. Indeed, I don’t suspect there are any laws you need to consider breaking right now out of obedience to Christ, but I suspect there are some things you need to give up which the world otherwise expects you to keep. What do you need to go without in order for Christ to be more honored by your life? It won’t be easy, but living by faith demands it.