One difference between the Old Testament and the New is the comparative silence of the former respecting Moses and the frequent mention of him in the latter. When he has brought the children of Israel through the wilderness to the borders of the promised land, their great leader is seldom mentioned by historian, psalmist, or prophet. We might be tempted to imagine that the national life of Israel had outgrown his influence. It would without question be in a measure true. We may state the same thing on its religious side by saying that God hid the memory as well as the body of his servant, in the spirit of John Wesley's words, happily chosen for his and his brother's epitaph in Westminster Abbey, "God buries His workmen and carries on His work." But in the New Testament it is quite otherwise. No man is so frequently mentioned. Sometimes when he is not named it is easy to see that the sacred writers have him in their minds.
One reason for this remarkable difference between the two Testaments in reference to Moses is to be sought in the contrast between the earlier and later Judaism. During the ages of the old covenant Judaism was a living moral force. It gave birth to a peculiar type of heroes and saints. Speaking of Judaism in the widest possible meaning, David and Isaiah, as well as Samuel and Elijah, are its children. These men were such heroes of religion that the saints of the Christian Church have not dwarfed their greatness. But it is one of the traits of a living religion to forget the past, or rather to use it only as a stepping-stone to better things. It forgets the past in the sense in which St. Paul urges the Philippians to count what things were gain a loss, and to press on, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before. Religion lives in its conscious, exultant power to create spiritual heroes, not in looking back to admire its own handiwork. The only religion among men that lives in its founder is Christianity. Forget Christ, and Christianity ceases to be. But the life of Mosaism was not bound up with the memory of Moses. Otherwise we may well suppose that idolatry would have crept in, even before Hezekiah found it necessary to destroy the brazen serpent.
When we come down to the times of John the Baptist and our Lord, Mosaism is to all practical ends a dead religion. The great movers of men's souls came down upon the age, and were not developed out of it. The product of Judaism at this time was Pharisaism, which had quite as little true faith as Sadduceeism. But when a religion has lost its power to create saints, men turn their faces to the great ones of olden times. They raise the fallen tombstones of the prophets, and religion is identical with hero-worship. An instance of this very thing may be seen in England to-day, where Atheists have discovered how to be devout, and Agnostics go on a pilgrimage! "We are the disciples of Moses," cried the Pharisees. Can any one conceive of David or Samuel calling himself a disciple of Moses? The notion of discipleship to Moses does not occur in the Old Testament. Men never thought of such a relation. But it is the dominant idea of Judaism in the time of Christ. Hence it was brought about that he who was the servant and friend appears in the New Testament as the antagonist. "For the Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." This is opposition and rivalry. Yet "this is that Moses which said unto the children of Israel, A Prophet shall God raise up unto you from among your brethren, like unto me."
The notable difference between the Moses of New Testament times and the Moses delineated in the ancient narrative renders it especially interesting to study a passage in which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews takes us back to the living man, and describes the attitude of Moses himself towards Jesus Christ. Stephen told his persecutors that the founder of the Aaronic priesthood had spoken of a great Prophet to come, and Christ said that Moses wrote of Him. But it is with joyous surprise we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews that the legislator was a believer in the same sense in which Abraham was a believer. The founder of the old covenant himself walked by faith in the new covenant.
The references to Moses made by our Lord and by Stephen sufficiently describe his mission. The special work of Moses in the history of religion was to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus Christ and make His paths straight. He was commissioned to familiarise men with the wondrous, stupendous idea of the appearing of God in human nature, -- a conception almost too vast to grasp, too difficult to believe. To render it not impossible for men to accept the truth, he was instructed to create a historical type of the Incarnation. He called into being a spiritual people. He realised the magnificent idea of a Divine nation. If we may use the term, he showed to the world God appearing in the life of a nation, in order to teach them the higher truth that the Word would at the remote end of the ages appear in the flesh. The nation was the Church; the Church was the State. The King would be God. The court of the King would be the temple. The ministers of the court would be the priests. The law of the State would have equal authority with the moral requirements of God's nature. For Moses apparently knew nothing of the distinction made by theologians between the civil, the ceremonial, and the moral law.
But in the passage before us we have something quite different from this. The Apostle says nothing about the creation of the covenant people out of the abject slaves of the brick-kilns. He is silent concerning the giving of the Law amid the fire and tempest of Sinai. It is plain that he wishes to tell us about the man's inner life. He represents Moses as a man of faith.
Even of his faith the apparently greatest achievements are passed over. Nothing is said of his appearances before Pharaoh; nothing of the wonderful faith that enabled him to pray with uplifted hands on the brow of the hill whilst the people were fighting God's battle in the valley; nothing of the faith with which, on the top of Pisgah, Moses died without receiving the promise. Evidently it is not the Apostle's purpose to write the panegyric of a hero.
Closer examination of the verses brings out the thought that the Apostle is tracing the growth and formation of the man's spiritual character. He means to show that faith has in it the making of a man of God. Moses became the leader of the Lord's redeemed people, the founder of the national covenant, the legislator and prophet, because he believed in God, in the future of Israel, and in the coming of the Christ. The subject of the passage is faith as the power that creates a great spiritual leader. But what is true of leaders is true also of every strong spiritual nature. No lesson can be more timely in our days. Not learning, not culture, not even genius, makes a strong doer, but faith.
The contents of the verses may be classified under four remarks: --
1. Faith gropes at first in the dark for the work of life.
2. Faith chooses the work of life.
3. Faith is a discipline of the man for the work of life.
4. Faith renders the man's life and work sacramental.
1. The initial stage in forming the servant of God is always the same, -- a vague, restless, eager groping in the dark, a putting forth feelers for the light of revelation. This is often a time of childish mistakes and follies, of which he is afterwards keenly ashamed, and at which he can sometimes afford to smile. It often happens, if the man of God is to spring from a religious family, that his parents undergo, in a measure, this first discipline for him. So it was in the case of Moses. The child was hid three months of his parents. Why did they hide him? Was it because they feared the king? It was because they did not fear the king. They hid their child by faith. But what had faith to do with the hiding of him? Had they received an announcement from an inspired seer that their child would deliver Israel, or that he would stand with God on the top of Sinai and receive the Law for the people, or that he would lead the redeemed of the Lord to the borders of a rich land and large? None of these sufficient grounds for defying the king's authority are mentioned. The reason given in the narrative and as well by Stephen and the writer of this Epistle sounds quaint, if not childish. They hid him because he was comely. Yet they hid him by faith. The beauty of a sleeping babe was to them a revelation, as truly a revelation as if they had heard the voice of the angel that spoke to Manoah or to Zacharias. The Scripture narrative contains no hint that the child's beauty was miraculous, and, what is more to the purpose, we are not told that God had given it as the token of His covenant. It is an instance of faith making a sacrament of its own, and seeking in what is natural its warrant for believing in the supernatural. Nothing is easier, and perhaps nothing would be more rational, than to dismiss the entire story with a contemptuous smile.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews must admit that Jochebed's faith was unauthorised. But does not faith always begin in folly? Is it not at first a blind instinct, fastening on what is nearest to hand? Has not our belief in God sprung out of trust in human goodness or in nature's loveliness? To many a father has not the birth of his first-born been a revelation of Heaven? Is not such faith as Jochebed's the true explanation of the instinctive rise and wonderful vitality of infant baptism in the Christian Church? If Abraham's faith dared to look for the city which hath the foundations when God had promised only the wealth of a tented nomad, was not the mother of Moses justified, since God had given her faith, in letting the heaven-born instinct entwine with her earth-born love of her offspring? It grew with its growth, and rejoiced with its joy; but it also endured and triumphed in its sore distress, and justified its presence by saving the child. Faith is God's gift, no less than the testimony which faith accepts. Sometimes the faith is implanted when no fitting revelation is vouchsafed. But faith will live on in the darkness, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in the heart.
A wise teacher has warned us against phantom notions and bidden us interpret rather than anticipate nature. But another great thinker demonstrated that the clearest vision begins in mere groping. Anticipations of God precede the interpretation of His message. The immense space between instinct and genius is in religion traversed by faith, which starts with mera palpatio, but at last attains to the beatific vision of God.
2. Faith chooses the work of life. The Apostle has spoken of the faith that induced the parents of Moses to hide their child three months. Some theologians have set much value on what they term "an implicit faith." The faith of Moses himself would be said by them to be "enwrapped" in that of his parents. Whatever we may think of this doctrine, there can be no question that the New Testament recognises the idea of representation. The Church has always upheld the unity, the solidarity, of the family. It sprang itself out of the family. Perhaps its consummation on earth will be a return into the family relation. It retains the likeness throughout its long history. It acknowledges that a believing husband sanctifies the unbelieving wife, and a believing wife sanctifies the unbelieving husband. In like manner, a believing parent sanctifies the children, and no one but themselves can deprive them of their privileges. But they can do it. The time comes when they must choose for themselves. Hitherto led gently on by loving hands, they must now think and act for themselves, or be content to lose the power of independent action, and remain always children. The risk is sometimes great. But it cannot be evaded. It oftentimes happens that the irrevocable step is taken unobserved by others, almost unconsciously to the man himself. The decision has been taken in silence; the even tenor of life is not disturbed. The world little weens that a soul has determined its own eternity in one strong resolve.
But in the case of a man destined to be a leader of his fellows, whether in thought or in action, a crisis occurs. We use the word in its correct meaning of judgment. It is more than a transition, more than a conversion. He judges, and is conscious that as he judges he will be judged. If God has any great work for the man to do, the command comes sooner or later, as if it descended audibly from heaven, that he stand alone and, in that first terrible solitariness, choose and reject. In an educational age we may often be tempted to sneer at the doctrine of immediate conversion. It is true, nevertheless. A man has come to the parting of the two ways, and choice must be made, because they are two ways. To no living man is it given to walk the broad and the narrow ways. Entrance is by different gates. The history of some of the most saintly men presents an entire change of motive, of character even, and of general life, as produced through one strong act of faith.
When the Apostle wrote to the Hebrew Christians, the time was critical. The question of Christian or not Christian brooked no delay. The Son of man was nigh, at the doors. Even after swift vengeance had overtaken the doomed city of Jerusalem, the urgent cry was still the same. In the so-called "Epistle of Barnabas," in the "Pastor of Hermas," and in the priceless treasure recently brought to light, "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," the two ways are described: the way of life and the way of death. Those who professed and called themselves Christians were warned to make the right choice. It was no time for facing both ways, and halting between two opinions.
Moses too refused and chose. This is the second scene in the history of the man. Standing as he did at the fountain-head of nationalism, the prominence assigned to his act of individual choice and rejection is very significant. Before his days the heirs of the promise were in the bond of God's covenant in virtue of their birth. They were members of the elect family. After the days of Moses every Israelite enjoyed the privileges of the covenant by right of national descent. They were the elect nation. Moses stands at the turning point. The nation now absorbs the family, which becomes henceforth part of the larger conception. In the critical moment between the two, a great personality emerges above the confusion. The patriarchal Church of the family comes to a dispensational end in giving birth to a great man. That man's personal act of refusing the broad and choosing the narrow way marks the birth of the theocratic Church of nationalism. Before and after, personality is of secondary importance. In Moses for a moment it is everything.
Do we seek the motives that determined his choice? The Apostle mentions two, and they are really two sides of the same conception.
First, he chose to be evil-entreated with the people of God. The work of his life was to create a spiritual nation. This idea had already been presented to his mind before he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. "He was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; and he was mighty in his words and works." But an idea had taken possession of him. That idea had already invested the miserable and despised bondsmen with glory. Truly no man will achieve great things who does not pay homage to an idea, and is not ready to sacrifice wealth and position for the sake of what is as yet only a thought. He who sells the world for an idea is not far from the kingdom of heaven. He will be prepared to forfeit all that the world can give him for the sake of Him in Whom truth eternally dwells in fulness and perfection. Such a man was Moses. Had not his parents often told him, when his mother was nourishing the child for Pharaoh's daughter, of the wonderful story of their hiding him by faith and afterwards putting him in an ark of bulrushes by the river's brim? Did not his mother bring him up to be at once the son of Pharaoh's daughter and the deliverer of Israel? Was the boy not living a double life? He was gradually coming to understand that he was to be the heir of the throne, and that he would or might be the destroyer of that throne. May we not, with profoundest reverence, liken it to the twofold inner life of the Child Jesus when at Nazareth He came to know that He, the Child of Mary, was the Son of the Highest?
Stephen continues the story: "When he was well-nigh forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel." "He went out unto his brethren," we are told in the narrative, "and looked on their burdens." But the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews perceives in the act of Moses more than love of kindred. The slaves of Pharaoh were, in the eyes of Moses, the people of God. The national consecration had already taken place; he himself was already swayed by the glorious hope of delivering his brethren, the covenant people of God, from the hands of their oppressors. This is the explanation which Stephen gives of his conduct in slaying the Egyptian. When he saw one of the children of Israel suffer wrong, he defended him and smote the Egyptian, supposing that his brethren understood how that God by his hand was giving them deliverance. The deed was, in fact, intended to be a call to united effort. He was throwing the gauntlet. He was deliberately making it impossible for him to return to the former life of pomp and courtly worship. He wished the Hebrews to understand his decision, and accept at once his leadership. "But they understood not."
Our author pierces still deeper into the motives that swayed his spirit. It was not a selfish ambition, nor merely a patriotic desire to put himself at the head of a host of slaves bent on asserting their rights. Simultaneous with the social movement there was a spiritual work accomplished in the personal, inner life of Moses himself. All true, heaven-inspired revolutions in society are accompanied by a personal discipline and trial of the leaders. This is the infallible test of the movement itself. If the men who control it do not become themselves more profound, more pure, more spiritual, they are counterfeit leaders, and the movement they advocate is not of God. The writer of the Epistle argues from the decision of Moses to deliver his brethren that his own spiritual life was become deeper and holier. When he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, he also rejected the pleasures of sin. He took his stand resolutely on the side of goodness. The example of Joseph was before him, of whom the same words are said: "he refused" to sin against God.
As the crisis in his own spiritual life fitted him to be the leader of a great national movement, so also his conception of that movement became a help to him to overcome the sinful temptations of Egypt. He saw that the pleasures of sin were but for a season. It is easy to supply the other side of this thought. The joy of delivering his brethren would never pass away. He welcomed the undying joy of self-sacrifice, and repudiated the momentary pleasures of self-gratification.
Second, he accounted the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. Not only the people of God, but also the Christ of God, determined his choice. An idea is not enough. It must rest on a person, and that person must be greater than the idea. He may be himself but an idea. But, even when it is so, he is the glorious thought in which all the other hopes and imaginations of faith centre and merge. If he is more than an idea, if it is a living person that controls the man's thoughts and becomes the motive of his life, a new quality will then enter into that life. Conscience will awake. The question of doing what is right will control ambition, if it will not quite absorb it. Treachery to the idea of life will now be felt to be a sin, if conscience has pronounced that the idea itself is not immoral, but good and noble. For, when conscience permits, faith will not lag behind, and will proclaim that the moral is also spiritual, that the spiritual is an ever-abiding possession.
Many expositors strive hard to make the words mean something else than the reproach which Christ Himself suffered. It is marvellous that the great doctrine of Christ's personal activity in the Church before His incarnation should have so entirely escaped the notice of the older school of English theology. On this passage, for instance, such commentators as Macknight, Whitby, Scott, explain the words to mean that Moses esteemed the scoffs cast on the Israelites for expecting the Christ to arise from among them greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. The more profound exegesis of Germany has made the truth of Christ's pre-existence essential to the theology of the New Testament. Far from being an innovation, it has brought us back to the view of the greater theologians in every age of the Church.
We cannot enter into the general question. Confining ourselves to the subject in hand, the faith of Moses, why may we not suppose that he had heard of the patriarch Jacob's blessing on Judah? It had been uttered in the land of Egypt, where Moses was brought up. It spoke of a Lawgiver. Did not the consciousness of his own mission lead Moses to apply the reference to the long succession of leaders, whether judges or kings or prophets, who would follow in his wake? If so, could he have altogether misunderstood the promise of the Shiloh? Jacob had spoken of a personal King, Whom the people would obey. But nowhere in the Old Testament, not once in the history of Moses, is the coming of Messiah represented as the goal of the national development. Christ is not the flowering of Judaism. On the contrary, the Angel of the covenant established through Moses is not a ministering servant, sent forth to minister on the chosen people. He is the Lord Jehovah Himself. Christ was with Israel, and Moses knew it. We may admit the vagueness of his conception, but we cannot deny the conception. To Moses, as to the Psalmist, the reproaches of them that reproached Israel fell on the Christ. Community in suffering was enough to ensure community in the glory to be revealed. Suffering with Christ, they would also be glorified with Christ. This was the recompense of reward to which Moses looked.
The lesson taught to the Hebrew Christians by the decision of Moses is loyalty to truth and loyalty to Jesus Christ.
3. Faith is a discipline for the work of life. Moses has made his final choice. Conscience is thoroughly awake, and eager aspirations fill his soul. But he is not yet strong. Men of large ideas are often found to be lacking in courage. A cloistered is often a fugitive virtue. But, apart from want of practical resolution to face the difficulties of the situation, special training is needed for special work. Israel had come into Egypt to endure chastening and be made fit for national independence. But in Egypt Moses was a courtier, perhaps heir to the throne. That he may be chastened and fitted for his share of the work which God was about to accomplish towards His people, he must be driven out of Egypt into the wilderness. Every servant of God is sent into the wilderness. St. Paul was three years in Arabia between his conversion and his entrance on the work of the ministry. Jesus Himself was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness. He learned endurance in forty days, Moses in forty years.
It will be seen that we accept the explanation of the twenty-seventh verse given by all expositors down to the time of De Lyra and Calvin. But in modern times it has been customary to say that the Apostle refers to the final departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm. Our reasons for preferring the other view are these. The departure of the Israelites through the Red Sea is mentioned subsequently; an event that occurred before the people left Egypt is mentioned in the next verse, and it is very improbable that the writer would refer to their departure first, then to the events that preceded, then once more speak of their departure. Further, the word well rendered by the Old and the Revised Versions "forsook" expresses precisely the notion of going out alone, in despondency, as if Moses had abandoned the hope of being the deliverer of Israel. If we have correctly understood the Apostle's purpose in the entire passage, this is the very notion which we should expect him to introduce. Moses forsakes Egypt, deserts his brethren, abandons his work. He flees from the vengeance of Pharaoh. Yet all this fear, hopelessness, and unbelief is only the partial aspect of what, taken as a whole, is the action of faith. He still believes in his glorious idea, and is still willing to bear the reproach of Christ. He will not return to the court and make his submission to the king. But the time is not come, he thinks, or he is not the man to deliver Israel. Forty years afterwards he is still loath to be sent. He forsook Egypt because the people did not believe him; after forty years he asks the Lord to send another for the very same reason; "Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice." But we should be obtuse indeed if we failed to recognise the faith that underlies his despondency. Doubt is oftentimes partial faith.
Let us place ourselves in his position. He refuses the selfish luxury and worldly glory of Pharaoh's court, that he may rush to deliver his brethren. He brings with him the consciousness of superiority, and at once assumes the duty of composing their quarrels. Evidently he is a believer in God, but a believer also in himself. Such men are not God's instruments. He will have a man be the one thing or the other. If the man is self-confident, conscious of his own prowess, oblivious of God or a denier of Him, the Most High can use him to do His work, to his own destruction. If the man has no confidence in the flesh, knows his utter weakness and very nothingness, and yields himself to God's hand entirely, with no by-ends to seek, him too God uses to do His work, to the man's own salvation. But Moses strove to combine faith in God and in himself. He was at once thwarted. His brethren taunted him, when he expected to be trusted and honoured. Despondency takes possession of his spirit. But his trepidation is on the surface. Beneath it is a great deep of faith. What he now needs is discipline. God leads him to the back of the wilderness. The courtier serves as a herdsman. Far removed from the monumental literature of Egypt, he communes with himself, and with nature's mighty visions. He gazes upon the dread and silent mountain, hallowed of old as the habitation of God. He had already, in Egypt, learned the faith of Joseph and of Jacob. Now, in Midian, he will imbibe the faith of Isaac and of Abraham. Far from the busy haunts of men, the din of cities, the stir of the market-place, he will learn how to pray, how to divest himself of all confidence in the flesh, and how to worship the Invisible alone. For "he endured as seeing Him Who is invisible." Do not paraphrase it "the invisible King." That is too narrow. It was not Pharaoh only that had vanished out of his sight and out of his thoughts. Moses himself had disappeared. He had broken down when he trusted himself. He now endures, because he sees nought but God. Surely he was in the same blessed state of mind in which St. Paul was when he said, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." When Moses and when Paul ceased to be anything, and God was to them everything, they were strong to endure.
4. Faith renders the work of life sacramental. The long period of discipline has drawn to a close. The self-confidence of Moses has been fully subdued. "He supposed that his brethren understood how that God by his hand was giving them deliverance." These, says Stephen, were his thoughts before he fled from Egypt. Very different is his language after the probation of the wilderness: "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" Four times he pleads and deprecates. Not until the anger of the Lord is kindled against him does he take heart to attempt the formidable task.
The Hebrews had been more than two hundred years in the house of bondage. So far as we know, the Lord had not once appeared or spoken to men for six generations. No revelation was given between Jacob's vision at Beersheba and the vision of the burning bush. We may well believe that there were in those days mockers, saying, The age of miracles is past; the supernatural is played out. But Moses henceforth lives in a veritable world of miracles. The supernatural came with a rush, like the waking of a sleeping volcano. Signs and wonders encompass him on every side. The bush burns unconsumed; the rod in his hand is cast on the ground, and becomes a serpent; he takes the serpent in his hand again, and it becomes a rod; he puts his hand into his bosom, and it is leprous; he puts the leprous hand into his bosom, and it is as his other flesh. When he returns into Egypt, signs vie with signs, God with demons. Plague follows plague. Moses lifts up his rod over the sea, and the children of Israel go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. At last he stands once more on Horeb. But in the short interval between the day when one poor thorn-bush of the desert glowed with flame and the day on which Sinai was altogether on a smoke and the whole mountain quaked, a religious revolution had occurred second only to one in the history of the race. At the touch of their leader's wand a nation was born in a day. The immense transition from the Church in a family to a holy nation was brought about suddenly, but effectively, when the people were hopeless outcasts and Moses himself had lost heart.
Such a revolution must be inaugurated with sacrifice and with sacrament. The sins of the past must be expiated and forgiven, and the people, cleansed from the guilt of their too frequent apostasy from the God of their fathers, must be dedicated anew to the service of Jehovah. The patriarchal dispensation expired in the birth of a holy nation. The Passover was both a sacrifice and a sacrament, an expiation and a consecration. It retained its sacrificial character till Christ, the true Paschal Lamb, was slain. As a sacrifice it then ceased. But sacrament continues, and will continue as long as the Church exists on earth.
Moses had seen the invisible God. The burning bush had symbolized the sacramental nature of the work which he had been called to do. God would be in Israel as He was in the bush, and Israel would not be consumed. He Who is to His foes a consuming fire dwells among His people, as the vital heat and glow of their national life. The eye that can see Him is faith. This is the power that can transform the whole life of man, and make it sacramental. Too long has man's earthly existence been divided into two separate spheres. On the one side and for a stated time he lives to God; on the other side he relinquishes himself for a period to the pursuits of the world. We seem to think that the secular cannot be religious, and, consequently, that the religiousness of one day or of one place will make amends for the irreligion of the rest of life. The Passover consecrated a nation. Baptism and the Lord's Supper have, times without number, consecrated the individual. The true Christian life draws its vital sap from God. It is not cleverness and worldly success, but unselfish loyalty to the supernatural, and incessant prayer, that marks the man who lives by faith.
 John i.17.
 Acts vii.37.
 John v.46.
 Exod. ii.2; Acts vii.20.
 Acts vii.22.
 Exod. ii.11.
 After penning the above the writer of these pages saw that, in his view of the purpose of the sojourn in Midian, he had been anticipated by Kurtz (History of the Old Covenant).
 Gen. xlvi.2.