Read: Exodus 2:1-10
Baby Moses, floating in his basket on the Nile, rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. It’s a cute children’s story, but it carries a grown-up lesson about faith’s power to resist.
Do you know the story of baby Moses? The first book in the Bible, Genesis, ends with Joseph’s death in Egypt. The second book, Exodus, begins with Moses’ birth. Egypt is ruled now by a Pharaoh who, in the Bible’s words, “knew not Joseph.” He did not know about the time when Joseph had saved everyone from a terrible famine. He was never told how one of his ancestors had welcomed Jacob and his family as honored guests and settled them in a territory of their own. This Pharaoh did not realize that the children of Israel were God’s chosen people, and that God had a purpose for them that would eventually lead to salvation for all nations, including the nation of Egypt.
If Pharaoh had known any of this, his attitude might have been very different. But instead, Pharaoh saw the people of Israel as a growing threat to his power, so he enslaved them and made them part of the labor force that carried out Egypt’s vast building projects. And when even this did not allay the king’s fears, Pharaoh issued a new edict decreeing that all male Israelite babies should be drowned in the River Nile. But at least one family resisted the king. When Moses was born his parents hid him as long as they could, and then when they could no longer keep him in their little slave quarters, Moses’ mother wove a basket for the baby, waterproofed it, and set it afloat among the reeds at the edge of the river Nile, with his older sister Miriam sent out to keep watch. And then one day, something lucky happened. Did I say lucky? Or was it providential, the first small step in God’s amazing plan for Moses’ life and for his people’s salvation. Here’s what happened.
Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:5-10)
Isn’t that a remarkable story? God not only saves Moses’ life; he arranges it so that Moses’ own mother is paid to raise him. But all along baby Moses’ parents were defying the king’s law, and they didn’t do that simply out of an instinct for survival or because they loved their newborn son. The Bible says what they did, they did because of faith. “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents,” says the book of Hebrews, “and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23). That statement points to an important truth about the faith of people who know and follow the Lord – Faith defies the world’s injustice.
You see it again and again, not just in the pages of the Bible, but in believers of every era. Faith in God gives ordinary people the strength to do extraordinarily brave things, and God brings them through. Faith can motivate the defenseless to stand up to this world’s rulers, to fight injustice even when it’s backed by the powers of the state, to remain true to the Lord despite threats or intimidation or sometimes outright persecution.
Moses’ parents weren’t revolutionaries or radicals. They had no power, but when the state made an evil demand, they simply and quietly said, “No, we won’t obey, we won’t submit.” They were not afraid of the king’s edict, says the Bible. Napoleon once remarked that moral courage is even greater than physical courage, and also more rare. That kind of courage comes from faith. Those who trust in God need not be afraid of the evil powers because they know that God holds ultimate power over all human rulers and states.
When Pilate was questioning Jesus, he was stunned by Jesus’ silent composure. “Don’t you know I can have you crucified?” he asked. “You have no authority except what has been given to you,” Jesus calmly replied. Christians can have the strength to defy evil rulers because we know there is a higher authority. We serve a greater King.
So faith in Christ gives us the strength to say no to what is wrong, even if we’re faced with the threat of punishment. You know, today there are millions of Christians throughout the world who are quietly living in defiance of the unjust demands of state or religion. Persecution of believers for their faith is very real today. But God is giving his people the power to stand fast for him despite all threats. Faith defies the world.
Faith also says no to the world in another sense: it denies the world. Faith means being able to choose the things of God instead of all the things society values and considers important. Faith can make us identify with the Lord’s people even if that means saying no to the glittering prizes the world offers.
As a boy, Moses was taken to Pharaoh’s palace to be raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. We can scarcely imagine the wealth and privilege of such a life. But Moses had been raised as a Hebrew and he never forgot his childhood lessons. One day he came unexpectedly to a crossroads in his life. It so often happens that way – suddenly you turn a corner and you find yourself faced with a decision. You have to make a choice, sometimes before you even realize what’s happening. That’s what Moses did on the day he stumbled upon an Israelite worker being mistreated by an Egyptian slave master.
All of a sudden the issues came into sharp focus for Moses. Who was he really, an Egyptian or an Israelite? Where did he belong, in the palace or with the slaves? Which was his life, the idle luxury of a prince or the hard service of the people of God? Moses didn’t have time to prepare long; he had to make his choice in an instant that day, and he did. He said no to the world and yes to God and his people. This is how Hebrews again describes it:
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. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)
Think of all that Moses lost when he said no to the world. He chose to surrender his status. He gave up the life of a prince for that of a slave. He said no to worldly pleasure, “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin,” the Bible says. He denied himself the wealth of the world. “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than all the treasures of Egypt” (v. 26 NIV). I mean, do you really believe that knowing and loving Jesus Christ is more valuable than the wealth of the pharaohs?
To choose God instead of the world, does that seem like a smart thing to do? To identify with the low, to give up an easy and comfortable life, to turn your back on wealth and fame all in order to become the follower of a crucified Messiah, does that make sense?
But Moses knew some things. He knew that the world’s values don’t last. What he denied himself, says the Bible, was the fleeting pleasures of sin. Fame and wealth, beauty, youth, appetites, passion – those things simply don’t last. They aren’t permanent. The world offers many treasures and pleasures, but none of them is forever. So if you knew that, if you really believed it, why would you choose those things instead of the eternal joy of the life and service of God?
Moses made his choice to deny the world and cast his lot with the people of God, and he did it because he really believed it; “because he was looking ahead to his reward,” says the Bible, and “because he saw him who is invisible.” Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? By faith Moses believed that the treasure of knowing the invisible God was more real than the physical treasures of Pharaoh’s palace. The world’s pleasures aren’t just temporary, they are illusory. Only God is real, and only God can satisfy. Compared to him, nothing else matters. “The enjoyment of God,” wrote Jonathan Edwards, “is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives or children or the company of earthly friends are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the ocean” (The Christian Pilgrim, Jonathan Edwards).
So it turns out that faith, real faith, doesn’t make you lose anything of lasting value. But it does enable you to gain the only real treasure there is: God himself.