Hebrews 11:24-28; Exodus & Numbers, selected verses
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
August 13, 2017
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews constitutes a biblical Hall of Fame, populated by exemplary people of faith. One model believer, whom any Christian would do well to emulate, is Moses.
Moses was terrific, but he was not perfect. For example, as a young man, he gave into a blind rage that rose up in him at the sight of an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and killed the man in cold blood; and as a mature man, he stole from God the honor due Him by claiming to be himself the source of the miraculous ability to produce water from desert rock – a blasphemous act of dishonesty that God found so grievous that for it God banned Moses from entering the Promised Land into which he was leading the people. (Num. 20:10)
I note Moses’ imperfection, not to throw mud on someone we should look up to, but to throw a light on God’s great grace. God is willing to work in close partnership with people who sometimes act disreputably, and to do wonderful things through people who don’t always behave wonderfully. That good news encourages us who are painfully aware of our moral and spiritual weakness to still hope that we can walk with God and that, with God, we can still make a difference for good.
So what is it about this imperfect man Moses that makes him a nearly perfect model of faithfulness?
According to Hebrews here, Moses made four life-defining commitments: 1) he determined, whatever the cost, to be who God wanted him to be, 2) he chose to suffer short-term pain in order to obtain a long-term gain from God, 3) he resolved to live his life in line with God’s values and purposes, and 4) he decided to give his faith the upper hand over his fears. Now, all of these are wonderful commitments, and we shall soon study them; but what was most wonderful about Moses was a disposition of heart that led him to make those commitments. Once we understand the fundamental attitude of Moses’ heart, we can understand his four commitments right and emulate them rightly.
That attitude of heart was his humility. Numbers 12:3 tells us, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.”
Moses was humble enough to recognize that he was something for God only by the gracious mercy of God, and his gratitude for that unmerited mercy made him generous in sharing mercy with others, even those who exasperated him and broke his heart. Though the people he led constantly second-guessed him and complained about his leadership, though they often accused him of having brought them into a worse situation than they had left behind in Egypt, though they once tried to stone him, though they twice supported conspiracies to overthrow him, and though they over and over again earned God’s righteous wrath and harsh judgment, Moses always pleaded with God to spare them from what they had coming by justice and give them the mercy of a second chance to get themselves together – and get right (Num. 14:13ff. and Num. 16:46).
Because of his humble appreciation for the mercy he’d received, Moses gave mercy to those who’d lost any right to mercy.
Moses was also humble enough to have that “poverty of spirit”, of which Jesus spoke, that makes us aware of our need of God’s grace and that moves us to depend on it for carrying out the assignments God gives us. Moses felt inadequate for every task God delegated to him, and thus he communed with God long (Ex. 24:18) and often (Ex. 33:7-11). Moses regularly retreated into extended times of one-on-one dialogue with God. It is because of those lengthy, leisurely times between the two of them that Exodus 33:11 says, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Moses kept sight of the fact that he had something unique in the character of his soul and the conduct of his leadership, not by virtue of any quality he had in himself, but by virtue of the One with whom he constantly connected and by whose grace he was sustained. Moses understood from first-hand, personal experience the truth of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When we bear in mind this fundamental humility in Moses, we can understand his four commitments right and emulate them right.
First, then, Moses determined to be, whatever the cost, the person God wanted him to be.
Moses could have chosen to be a very different person. Having been raised in the household of Pharaoh, the most powerful man of his day, Moses had every advantage, and every chance for a life of professional success, prestige, wealth and sumptuous entertainments. Moses was well-educated, and well-placed in a network of influential movers and shakers.
Yet, instead of pretending for the rest of his life to be Pharaoh’s grandson, and enjoying the benefits of that identity, Moses embraced his true identity as a Jew – even though that meant he had to abandon his privilege as a member of the royal inner circle and live in solidarity with slaves who were nobodies in most folks’ eyes – and treated that way! Hebrews says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”
Who we aim to become determines who we are in the end. So, am I choosing above all else, and at any price, to become God’s good and faithful servant? Am I choosing to become a person of love who sacrifices the enjoyment of the bling of my privileges in order to provide for the needs of those living on the edge of survival? Am I choosing to live in light of eternity or in preoccupation with what this world has to offer? Am I choosing to be caught up, not in narrow self-interest, but in the greater good, the biggest dream, and the most enduring accomplishment?
Moses chose to accept God’s call and identify with disparaged and demeaned slaves. As a result, he lost much; but he also became a heroic liberator of a people, a revealer of eternal wisdom, and a light to all people.
Let us reflect on what it would mean for us to emulate the model of Moses, and let us prepare to consider next Sunday his three other life-defining commitments.
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