27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27 ESV
Once again, we have an apparent contradiction between the Exodus account of the life of Moses and that of the author of Hebrews. Exodus tells us that when Moses became aware that news of his murder of the Egyptian had gotten out, he became afraid.
Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” – Exodus 2:14 ESV
Then it goes on to say that when Pharaoh heard about Moses’ crime, “he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15 ESV). Yet, the Hebrews account states, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king.”
Which is it? Was Moses afraid or not? Did he flee or not? The author of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides the answers. Yes, Moses was afraid, but the context tells us that his fear was based on his awareness that news of the murder had spread. His little secret was out. By the time Pharaoh heard about it, Moses had had time to think about his predicament and to reflect on what he should do. According to Hebrews 11, he had already made plans to go to Midian; not out of fear, but out of faith.
Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for “flee” can mean “to hasten” or “to put to flight.” The Exodus passage can make it sound like Moses fled for his life out of fear of Pharaoh. But when you combine the two passages, it makes better sense that Moses was put to flight by Pharaoh. We almost immediately assume that Moses was in fear for his life. He ran because he was fearful that Pharaoh would have him captured and killed. But think about what Hebrews 11:24-25 says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”
Moses had already made the decision to extricate himself from Pharaoh’s household. But as the adopted grandson of the Pharaoh, the likelihood that he would be put to death for murder was probably slim to none. What Moses feared was having to go back to his life in the royal palace with its “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25 ESV). Again, we read that Moses left Egypt because, “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26 ESV).
So it was “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king” (Hebrews 11:27a ESV). Moses didn’t leave Egypt because of Pharaoh, but because of God.
He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27b NLT
Moses headed to Midian, not out of fear for his life, but out of faith in God. He somehow knew that God was going to fulfill His promise to His people and restore them to the land of Canaan. He didn’t know how yet. He didn’t know when. But he believed it was just a matter of time and he was content to go to Midian and persevere until that time came. Little did Moses know that it would be 40 years before God put that part of His plan into action. And when God finally did decide to act, Moses would be surprised to discover that He was God’s choice to set the plan into motion.
The day would come when God deemed it time to redeem His people. Exodus tells us, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV).
God knew their plight, and He knew where Moses was. He knew what Moses had been doing for the last 40 years. The flight of Moses to Midian had been part of God’s plan. Just as Moses had been kept alive in the basket made of bulrushes, He had been protected in Midian, removed from the effects of the fleeting pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt. During his 40 years in Midian, Moses had given up his quest to be the savior of the people of Israel. He still believed in God’s promise to redeem His people, but he had long ago given up the idea that he might play a role.
But God had other plans. He was still going to use Moses, but in a way that Moses would find surprising and a bit scary. Hebrews says that Moses “kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” During his time in Midian, he kept trusting in God. Remember how the author described faith in verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Moses had never seen God and yet he “kept his eyes” on Him. He kept believing in the reality of the One he could not see and the promises he had yet to see fulfilled. According to Hebrews 11:6, faith is required to please God and whoever wishes to draw near to God “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
It would be safe to say that Moses sought God during his time in Midian, and the day would come when God revealed Himself to Moses.
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” – Exodus 3:1-4 ESV
Moses had a direct encounter with the unseen God. He came face to face with Yahweh, and it was a life-changing moment. Forty years after leaving Egypt, he returned, not as the grandson of Pharaoh, but as the representative of God. By faith, he had left Egypt and now he was going to be returning the same way – trusting in the promises of God Almighty.
To be directed by God requires faith in God. We must believe that He is at work in our lives in ways that we cannot see or even understand. When Moses left Egypt, he left everything behind. He was forced to begin a new life. He left looking like an Egyptian (Exodus 2:19) but upon his return, he appeared as a Hebrew prophet and the personal spokesman for God.
His 40-year exile in Midian proved to be little more than a temporary pause in the plan of God. Yahweh was watching and waiting, preparing to implement His divine redemptive plan at just the right time and using just the right person for the job: Moses.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.