Updated: Oct 8, 2019
Hebrews 11:27, 28
Faith is seeing what no one else sees and betting your life, and the lives of others, on it.
“27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who was invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.” (Hebrews 11:27, 28).
There is some debate as to which departure from Egypt is referred to in verse 27: the first, after Moses had killed the Egyptian, or the second, when Moses left Egypt accompanied by all the Israelites. The first departure seems fraught with fear of some form of retaliation on the part of the Pharaoh against Moses. Some feel that after his initial panic thinking he would get into serious trouble for the killing of the Egyptian that Moses regained his faith and overcame his fear and launched out to begin a new life somewhere else. Others believe that verse 27 refers to the second time Moses left Egypt; this time accompanied by all the people God had sent him to rescue. This departure, ordered by God and accompanied by indisputable signs and wonders, would have filled Moses with a confidence that he would not have had when he first fled Egypt.
I am inclined toward the second mainly because of the text in Exodus and the fact that the Moses we meet during the episode of the burning bush still reveals a fearful man, a man who seems to be content to live out his life as a shepherd, not come up with plots and plans to rescue anyone and one who doesn’t seem to be waiting for any word from the Lord to the contrary. The Moses of the burning bush is a humbler man who now is ready to listen to God’s instructions, follow those orders and believe that it will be God who frees His people, not Moses.
Elliott comments: “(27) By faith he forsook Egypt—it is a matter of great difficulty to decide whether these words refer to the flight into Midian (Exodus 2:15), or to the Exodus. The former view, which seems to be taken by all the ancient writers and by most in modern times, is supported by the following arguments:—(1) The institution of the Passover is mentioned later in this chapter (Hebrews 11:28); (2) the second departure was made at Pharaoh’s urgent request (Exodus 12:31); (3) “he forsook” is too personal an expression to be used of the general Exodus. On the other side it is urged with great force: 91) that, although the actual departure from Egypt followed the institution of the Passover, the “forsaking” really commenced in the demand of Hebrews 5:1-3, persevered in until the anger of the king was powerfully excited (Hebrews 10:28); (2) that, as might have been certainly foreseen, the wrath of both king and people was aroused as soon as the people had departed (Exodus 14:5); 93) that the flight to Midian was directly cause by fear (Exodus 2:14-15); (4) that the words following, ‘He endured, &c.,” are much more applicable to the determined persistency of Moses and his repeated disappointments (Exodus 5-12) than to the inaction of his years of exile. On the whole the latter interpretation seems preferable. If the former is adopted, we must distinguish between the apprehension which led him (4) to seek safety in flight and the courage which enabled him to give up Egypt.”
When Moses left Egypt the first time, he was running, terrified for his life. “Then Moses was afraid and thought, ‘What I did must have become known.’ When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian…” (Exodus 2:14, 15). When Moses returns to Egypt, he returns a humbler and wiser man, this time under an authority not his own. And when he leaves Egypt for the second time, it is faith, rather than fear, that lends wings to his feet.
The key to our understanding of verse 27 is found in the following episode in Moses’ life as described in Exodus 3:1-10 in the episode of his encounter with God. When he realized who was speaking to him, “…Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” This is reaffirmed in Acts 7:30-35: “…Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground…He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush.” (Emphasis mine.)
We have seen this quote before but it bears repeating. Paul David Tripp writes in Dangerous Calling: “It is only fear of God that has the spiritual power to overwhelm all the horizontal fears that can capture your heart…It is only when God looms larger than anything you are facing that you can be protected and practically freed from the fear that either paralyzes you or causes you to make foolish decisions. Wise, stable, and fear-free living doesn’t require you to deny what you’re facing, but rather looks at whatever you are facing from the perspective of a gloriously freeing and motivating fear of the One who rules all the things that you would otherwise be afraid of. A functional awe of God really us the key to your heart’s not being ruled by fear.” (pg. 129)
There are two sides to “the fear of the Lord.” For the unbeliever there should be, and ultimately will be: “terror, fright, fearfulness, horror, alarm, panic, agitation, trepidation, dread, consternation, dismay, distress; anxiety, worry, angst, unease, uneasiness, apprehension, apprehensiveness, nervousness, nerves, perturbation, foreboding”
For the believer there should be, and ultimately will be: “stand in awe of, revere, reverence, venerate, respect.”
Consciousness of our condition, and who He is, is part of any encounter with God.
Luke 5:8 — “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man’…Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid…’”
Acts 9:3, 4 — “As he [Saul] neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground…”
Revelation 1:17,18 — “When I [John] saw him [Jesus], I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’”
Revelation 5:8 — “And when he [Jesus] had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.”
The presence of the Almighty creates holy ground and the response to that presence is worship. Nowhere in Scripture is there anything that indicates the familiarity of approach that we so often talk about in this modern age as though God were one of our “bosom buddies” whom we greet with a hug and a slap on the back.
Benson comments: “For he endured—Continued resolute and immoveable; as seeing him who is invisible—Keeping the eye of his mind continually fixed on that great invisible Being. Whose presence and friendship is of such importance, that the person who fixes his regards on him, will never by any consideration be influenced knowingly to offend him, nor be much impressed with the fear of any person or thing that would tempt him to do this. This character of God is here given with peculiar propriety. Moses was now in that condition, and had those difficulties to encounter, wherein he continually stood in need of divine power and assistance: whence this should come he could not discern by his senses: his bodily eye could behold no present assistance; for God was invisible: but he saw him by faith, whom he could not see with his bodily eyes, and thus seeing him he found him a present help, no less than if he had been manifest to his senses. A double act of Moses’s faith is intended herein; 1st, A clear, distinct view and apprehension of God’s omnipresence, power, and faithfulness; and 2nd, A steady trust in him on account of these perfections. This he relied on, to this he trusted, that God was everywhere present with him, able to protect and assist him, and faithful to his promises. Of these things he had as certain a persuasion, as if he had seen God working with him and for him with his bodily eyes. This sense of God he continually had recourse to in all his hazards and difficulties, and thereby endured courageously to the end.”
What we believe about God makes the difference between whether we choose faith or fear.
As we read the story of Moses in the Exodus account, we know that though he was afraid in the presence of the Lord, he was also still afraid of other things as well. He was afraid of rejection, inadequacy, and having to give up what had become a comfortable and safe way of life.
Returning to Egypt represented a lot of risk. We can identify with that. Sometimes the Lord asks us to do what represents the proverbial “stepping out on a limb” and we hesitate.
In Exodus 3:11-4:12 we discover the difference between the Moses who killed the Egyptian slave master and the Moses who God is about to send back to Egypt. The man who once upon a time needed no invitation to step up to the batter’s box, now comes up with a whole plethora of excuses as to why he should sit on the sidelines.
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
When “they ask me. ‘What is his [God’s] name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
“What if they do not believe me or listen to me…?”
“I have never been eloquent, neither in the past or since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
“Please send someone else.”
Moses, rather than the cocky man he once was, has been humbled by Egypt and by his experience in the desert. Forces bigger than he is have imprinted his life. But rather than create in him a dependence on God, fear and the failure of the past have replaced faith. But God is infinitely patient with Moses’ excuses.
The forty years of wilderness experience were meant to kick the stuffing out of Moses’ pride and self-sufficiency. Now his problem is self-esteem that is lower than a snake’s belly. But there is no “pep talk” here, no “you can do it!” “You’re prepared!” “You and me, man, unbeatable team!” no “you can do anything you want to do!” Each “I can’t” is met, not with a “you can,” but with an “I will.” God does not seem to try to build up Moses’ self-esteem.
I love this! Our generation is so given to building up self-esteem and self-confidence. We have gurus who make a fortune on telling how we can become all that we were meant to be. God has given us a simple solution to that—depend on Him and we will be all that He ever meant us to be and rejoice not in our own abilities but in His ability to work in us and through us. The current self-esteem industry, making people feel better about themselves actually works against us ever “seeing the invisible.”
Jerry Bridges writes this, referring to the first of the Beatitudes: “…those who are poor in spirit freely acknowledge that all they are, and anything they have accomplished, is because of the grace of God at work in them (1 Corinthians 15:10). People who are poor in spirit also see themselves as utterly dependent on God and His grace in their entire lives. They recognize that they are dependent on God even for ‘life and breath’ (Acts 17:25). They freely acknowledge that any abilities, talents, spiritual gifts, and accomplishments are gifts from God. They identify with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:17: For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
So instead of boasting or seeking recognition for themselves, they, like the apostle Paul, boast only in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 6:14).
In Genesis 41:16 we have recorded these words spoken by Joseph: “‘I cannot do it,’ [interpret Pharaoh’s dreams] Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.’” Moses, as we find him in Exodus 3 and 4, has not quite gotten to the point of understanding that what he is being asked to do only makes him an instrument in God’s hands, not God. God seeking to lead Moses toward the same attitude as we saw in Joseph. When Moses comes to stand before the Pharaoh of his day faith will replace the fear he once felt because he will know that it is God, not him, who is at work.
Moses has really seen this invisible God and believes that where he can’t, Almighty God can. His awe of God needs to be greater than his fear of man.
But at the end of the conversation with God as recorded for us in Exodus 4:13, 14, the Lord loses patiencewith Moses.
The last excuse is no excuse at all. It is simply a refusal. “Please send someone else.” Until after he has made that last statement, God doesn’t rebuke Moses. It is when Moses gives up on excuses and simply says that he doesn’t want to go that we read: “Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses…” When Moses is on the threshold of disobedience, then God becomes angry with him. There is a difference between not feeling capable and refusing to do something. It is at the point of refusal that God becomes angry.
Our text says that faith caused Moses to “persevere.” One of the consequences of fear of man is quitting as soon as the pressure gets to be too much, or the price to pay too high. This was what happened the first time Moses left Egypt. Moses had been afraid of what would happen to him when news of what he had done reached the Pharaoh’s ears. In the events that followed his return to Egypt, there were many pressures and costs that might have caused him to run again if he hadn’t had his encounter with the “invisible.” This second time he understood the purposes of God and knew that no man could thwart God’s plan, a plan in which Moses was destined to play a principle role.
We are usually not blessed with a burning bush experience that helps us see what is usually never seen—the invisible God. But we have the record of that event as an encouragement to move forward to face whatever lies in our path that will challenge our faith.
As others looked forward to that better country which allowed them to hold lightly to their present reality, so Moses takes his eyes off the risks and looks to that invisible one that he met at the foot of the burning bush. When our eyes are on that invisible One, but very real and present One, faith can overtake and overwhelm the fears that often dog our lives and cripple us from moving forward.
Moses’ second “by faith” in this passage from Hebrews 11 revolves around the last plague that God sent before Pharaoh allowed the Hebrews to leave Egypt. “By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.”
Exodus 11:1-12:30 describes a tremendous act of faith.
All the other plagues have failed to move Pharaoh, even though his people have suffered incredible losses and his advisors have begged him to let the Hebrews go. God’s mercy is seen in all of this. He has given Pharaoh every opportunity. Now the lesson must be learned with the sacrifice of his firstborn son, and the firstborn of all his people.
The Hebrews are instructed to prepare to leave. But on the night before that event is to happen, they are to prepare their last meal in Egypt. That meal, and the events of that night, will become a permanent reminder of how God keeps covenant with His people, and a marker for what God will do when He sends His own Son, His own Lamb, to rescue His children from the “Egypt” of their sins and secure for them the “Promised Land” of heaven.
They are to prepare the lamb. They are to cover their doorposts and lintels of their homes with the blood from that lamb. They are to remain inside their homes behind the protection of that blood. They are to exercise faith. They need to believe that God will protect their firstborn when the angel of death passes over Egypt.
Moses’ encounter with the “invisible” lays the foundation for this act of faith.
Throughout all the events between Exodus 4:18 and Exodus 13:42, Moses would have naturally have had moments of doubt (see Exodus 5:22, 23, 6:12, 6:28-30). But there wasn't any hesitation when it came to the instructions concerning Passover—the biggest test of faith of all. Like Abraham’s instant obedience to God’s command to take his son to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him (Genesis 22), so Moses instantly obeys and takes the risk of losing all of the Hebrew firstborn. AND each of those Hebrew families accepted that risk and exercised their faith as well. Unlike Moses, the Hebrews had not seen the “invisible” but they had seen other things, the footprints of the invisible in the miracles of the plagues that preceded this one last miracle.
The plagues were as much for the benefit of the Hebrews as they were a warning for the Egyptians. What went before the last plague was the foundation upon which that last big test was built. What they believed about God based on what they had seen him do was important. They saw the power of the invisible One whom Moses had met in the wilderness. To have asked them to exercise this kind of faith at the beginning would have been huge—too huge for a people just taking baby steps in their walk with God.
After this last plague and the establishing of the Passover as a perpetual memorial, God instructed His people to observe other special days that required sacrifice (See Numbers 28-29). There were daily offerings, weekly offerings, monthly offerings, and the observing of Passover, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Booths. All of these were holy days when work stopped and memorials took place built around the sacrifices. These observances were designed to strengthen the faith of the Hebrews.
We too need our memorials because we are so prone to forget. What God did in rescuing the Hebrews from slavery was something they were never to forget. They were never to forget their God. Hence these continual memorials were important to keep them on track spiritually. The memorials of the Old Testament were also meant to connect to the cross, to make the natural link between the Old and the New covenants. Just as the lamb’s sacrifice meant salvation for the Hebrews, the ultimate and last sacrifice, Jesus, means salvation for all who believe. Unhappily we have ditched many of those things which could and should serve as memorials for us—the things that keep us on track spiritually, that serve as constant reminders of where we came from, what God has done to deliver us, and where He now leads us.
CONSIDERATIONS AND CONVERSATIONS
1. Though the burning bush experience is unique, there are other way in which the invisible God reveals Himself to us. If possible, describe a moment when you had a glimpse of the invisible and how it impacted you.
2. Name some of the excuses you have given to God for not doing something He has asked of you.
3. How has God taught you the lesson of “I can’t, but He can”? How have these experiences strengthened your faith?
4. Review the events leading up to, and including, the Passover and compare that experience to the cross and the death of Christ. Write out a memorial of thanks to God for His mercy poured out on you.
5. Report on how you are doing in strengthening your relationship with God as a vital part of your faith journey.
 The Blessing of Humility, Jerry Bridges, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, p 14, 15
 Exodus 4:14