Hebrews 11:24-27 says Moses' leaving Egypt was because of his faith and that he did not fear, but Exodus describes his as leaving because of his fear. How can I harmonize this?
I have been studying out faith recently in my Bible study; it has been amazing!! But as I was reading this morning Hebrews 11, I came across a passage that I have read before, but never looked deeply into it. The passage is Hebrews 11:24-27. In it the author describes Moses as doing the things he did, it seems like, prior to his encounter with God, as doing them by faith. I went back and read in Exodus about Moses being brought up in the Pharaoh’s house and his fleeing to Midian. I saw that it said no where in the text that Moses refused to be considered a son in the Pharaoh’s household, and it seemed like the reason Moses fled was for the exact reason that the Hebrew writer said that he didn’t flee for; it seems like he fled because he WAS afraid of the King’s punishment for killing an Egyptian. It also doesn’t seem like he regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, and it doesn’t seem like his eyes were fixed on a reward from God. I e-mail this to you because this is something that I am trying to harmonize, but I just can seem to come to an harmonic conclusion with these two passages. Your insight will be greatly appreciated and valued!
I will have to say I can see why you feel hesitant to completely agree with the Hebrew writer’s assessment of Moses’ behaviour. His killing of the slave overseer and his flight into Midian were not completely guided by his faith. However, if we allow that Moses was far less than perfect, let us look at the situation and give Moses some credit for his faith.
Moses had it all. He was the adopted son of Pharaoh, living in his palace, having access to power and riches which no Jew in his or her wildest imagining could have hoped for. Moses could have completely forgotten his people and his faith. Yet, in the situation described in Exodus chapter 2, we can see him not abandoning his people and not abandoning his God. In Exodus 2:11f we find Moses going out and watching his people. We do not know what was going through his mind, but, using Hebrews 11:24-27 as an inspired guide, we can imagine him considering his God and the horrible situation for his people. Perhaps he was pondering what he could possibly do for his people. Perhaps he was thinking something similar to what God was thinking, as expressed in Exodus 3:7f; “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So, I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.” I cannot prove it, but I believe it is likely that Moses had a similar thought as he looked at his people’s misery in Exodus 2:11f. I believe in the inspiration of the Bible, so I interpret Hebrew 11:24-27 to be consistent with what happened in Exodus 2.
In any case, when Moses saw the terrible beating the Egyptian slave driver inflicted on one of his people, Moses decided to act to defend his people. He did this with the potential at stake that he would lose everything he had in Pharaoh’s palace. As we know, this is in fact exactly what happened. We may not approve of how Moses acted here, but God commended him for his faith–that he did not forget his people and that he risked everything he had to defend his people who were afflicted in slavery.
I believe that you are right in saying that Moses’ flight to Midian had very little to do with faith in God and more to do with trying to save his own skin. He fled, not because of faith in Jehovah, but out of fear for his life. So, I can agree that his flight out of Egypt was not an act of faith. The specific statement in Hebrews 11 which is hardest to justify in this regard is 11:27; …he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger… Clearly, there was an element of fear in the actual leaving of Egypt.
However, the thing which put him into the situation of needing to flee was his concern for God’s people and his courage and willingness to risk everything he had in order to defend his people when he saw the plight of the Jewish slaves. Again, I ask you to consider why Moses was watching his people that day and what was going through his mind as he saw them mistreated. I ask you to consider that, in light of Hebrews 11:24-27, he did indeed contemplate risking everything he had in Pharaoh’s palace in order to defend his people. Notice, that even after killing the Egyptian slave driver, he was there the very next day, at even greater risk “not fearing the king’s anger”, watching his people and trying to intervene to right the wrong one Hebrew inflicted on the other. Again, we see Moses risking his position to intervene in a situation in which he surely risked a lot, the day after he had defended his Jewish compatriots by slaying their slave driver. Apparently, Moses had decided in his mind already to help his people at any cost. We will probably not defend the wisdom of his actions, but the Hebrew writer comments his faith in risking all to help his people and to defend the honor of Jehovah.
In conclusion, I can definitely see why you saw Moses’ flight out of Egypt to not be the result of faith. However, if we look behind the circumstances, we can see that Moses did indeed make a decision to risk all to help his people, even if we do not defend his specific course of actions and even if his courageous actions led to a less than courageous flight from Pharaoh.