“By faith he left Egypt behind, not being afraid of the king’s anger, for Moses persevered as one who sees him who is invisible. By faith he instituted the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch the Israelites. By faith they crossed the Red Sea as though they were on dry land. When the Egyptians attempted to do this, they were drowned.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We’ve been in deep lately as we have been talking about living by faith and what that looks like practically in our lives. This morning, let’s lighten things up a bit. Instead of focusing on a single example, we are going to let the author lead us through a potpourri of examples from Moses’ life. These three examples don’t have a whole lot to do with one another except that they are all from Moses’ life. But I think there’s a lesson in each for us if we’ll listen for it. So, lean in with me this morning as we talk some more about faith.
Let’s treat each of these different examples in turn. The first one here is Moses’ flight from Egypt. The author of Hebrews labels this flight an act of faith. This is really interesting because in its original story context we are told explicitly that Moses fled Egypt for Midian precisely because he was afraid of the king’s anger. Check out Exodus 2:14-15: “‘Who made you a commander and judge over us?’ the man replied. ‘Are you planning to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Then Moses became afraid and thought, ‘What I did is certainly known.’ When Pharaoh heard about this, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.” So then, which was it, faith or fear that led him out of Egypt?
Well, for the author’s purposes in this chapter, he chooses not to give much weight to Moses’ fear. That brings up a really interesting question about the legitimacy of preachers today weighting a certain part of a text over another in order to make a point in their sermons. Namely, is it legitimate to do what we are sometimes told is proof texting? And saying that the author of Hebrews had the Spirit’s backing to do what He did while we may or may not seems a bit like a copout to me.
Thankfully, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here (and not just because I don’t have a clear or easy answer to that question). I think the author is focusing on the bigger picture of Moses’ choice to live his life first in light of the God of his people rather than the king of Egypt. Now, we should be clear that God did not sanction the murder of the Egyptian guard. That was on Moses. And, honestly, Moses’ flight from justice for that is a challenge worth giving some attention another time. Perhaps 40 years in the wilderness in Midian along with another 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai could be considered part of his sentence. But at some point along the way of his first 40 years of life, Moses chose to live with his eyes on the invisible God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob instead of Pharaoh. That was faith. His attempts to live out of his faith were often messy and ugly (and those should not be excused on those grounds), but the larger trajectory of his life was faith and that’s what mattered most.
The point for us here is this: If the trajectory of our life is faith, many of the mistakes we make and failings we experience along the way can be addressed and set within a context in which God’s justice is still honored and His kingdom is advanced. Your journey of faith just might be as ugly as Moses’ was. But if you will stick with that faith as your true north, and keep coming back to it when you stray, God will take your feeble attempts to follow Him and turn them into something entirely greater than they seemed in the moment.
The second example from Moses’ life here is the instituting of the Passover. God gave Moses a set of instructions that, if followed, would allow him and anyone who joined him in keeping them (including any Egyptians who so desired!) to avoid an incredible act of God’s judgment against Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. The faith exhibited here is something we’ll come back and talk more about tomorrow, Lord willing. Sometimes God asks us to do things that seem arbitrary to us in the moment, but which have a significance we cannot then understand. If we will trust Him and do what He says, there will be rewards that come from it.
When the Israelites painted their doorposts with the blood of a sacrificial lamb in an act we now understand was just dripping with pointers to Christ, they were exercising faith on two different points. The first and obvious way was their trust in God’s word to obey His command. The second and less talked about faith was in their trust that this judgment was coming in the first place. There is a very great temptation on our part to think that because God doesn’t often deal with our sin in the moment we commit it that there will not be any kind of a reckoning for it at all. This is a grave error to make on our part. If we don’t live by faith in His promise of judgment, we won’t be ready for it when the day comes, and that won’t be a good thing for us.
Our way out of judgment on this side of the cross does not consist in something that seems as arbitrary (not to mention gross) as painting an animal’s blood on our doorposts. Their culture understood and accepted that kind of act in a way ours would not so God doesn’t ask us to do something like that any longer. That being said, the foundational element of Israel’s salvation in the moment of that terrible tenth plague is just the same as it is for us: Faith. They demonstrated their faith in God by keeping His command. We demonstrate our faith in Christ by keeping His command. Salvation was and has always been by faith.
The third example here rings with echoes of the first except that instead of talking about just Moses, the author shifts his focus to the entire nation of Israel. He notes that it is by faith they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. Like his reflections on Moses’ not being driven by fear in leaving Egypt, this example seems to run contrary to the actual text of the story. When the people were standing at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army bearing down on them, they were anything but a picture of faith and faithfulness. They whined and complained and doubted God’s goodness and His plans. They were ready to give up and go back to Egypt. In fact, that tended to be their default position every time they ran into trouble of any kind the entire duration of the journey to the Promised Land, including the 40 years in the wilderness. Why should they be commended for their faith here?
Because they crossed the Red Sea on dry land. When push came to shove, the people crossed the sea. That was faith in action. A begrudging and doubtful faith is still faith. If anything, that truth practically leaps off the pages of the story of the Exodus and journey through the wilderness. Moses’ initial response to God’s command to go and lead the people to freedom was whiney and cowardly. God all but kicked him in the pants to get him to obey. But he went. The people were a pain in the side of Moses and God time and time again as they were moved along to the incredible gift of land and freedom God kept telling them He was going to give them. But they went. Sometimes they needed a kick in the pants to go, but at the end of the day, they went.
Sometimes our journeys of faith aren’t pretty. In fact, they’re downright ugly. And on those days, in those moments, the enemy will tempt us with the thought that we’ve given up on our faith and might as well complete the process. Yet while every moment of our lives matters, no one moment is likely to define the whole of our lives. Instead, our lives will be defined by their overall trajectory. Was the aim of our lives faith in Christ, or faith in something or someone else? The thief on the cross was given an assurance of salvation from Jesus Himself because in his final moments he turned to faith. The final picture of his life was faith, and he received the just reward of that. When you have been through an ugly moment in which it is hard to describe anything you did as motivated by faith, get back up, shake off the dust, and live by faith again. God’s not done with you yet and you shouldn’t be either.