There is simply no telling the way that the Lord will work when we take him at his word and move forward in obedience. This is the meaning of “by faith.” It is not that these men and women mustered up courage within themselves to undertake great things. In each case, God’s word was directing them, so that they moved forward at his command. It cannot be doubted that we have heard too much about “doing great things,” but usually disconnected from specific faith in God’s word. This has led some to look at all such calls as nothing but misguided enthusiasm. If God does not often do these kinds of wonders or more local ones for his people, it is at least partly explained on the basis of the prevailing lack of faith in his promises and depressed spirits that characterize his people (Matt. 13:58). This does not mean that we should expect all our problems to go away, possess earthly riches and honor, or healing from every disease. These are not the great things of faith. The impossible that faith does is to trust and obey God in the midst of the worst conceivable circumstances, and then to see him keep his promises. This may mean death, but in such a case, it will be a glorious death of faith triumphing over fear, quenching the sword with love, and then arriving in heaven. If we take God at his word and obey him, there is simply no telling what he will do for us (Eph. 3:20).
Five Impossible Things Faith Did
A Vagabond Fearlessly Faced a Pharaoh
1. Moses First or Second Departure from Egypt?
The key point in each of these examples is that faith in God’s word gave strength to do the otherwise impossible. There is significant disagreement as to whether Moses’ leaving refers to the first time, when he fled to Midian, or to the second time, when he left at the head of his people. If it refers to his first departure, then we shall have to reconcile the “not fearing the wrath of the king” (v. 27) with Exodus 2:14-15, which reads: “And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.” Is the Spirit clarifying Moses’ motives at this time? That he did not fear what Pharaoh would do to him personally as much as he did what would happen to his people if he were killed. It is obvious that “he did not fear the wrath of the king” would apply to the second departure, but why would this be necessary to state? Pharaoh was a defeated foe and commanded them to depart. Would “by faith” be so pertinent as to his first departure, when it must have seemed to Moses that he was forsaking his people, all that he knew and loved, and possibly an opportunity to be the promised deliverer? And then, did Moses alone leave Egypt? He was at the head of a great multitude of people, and Egypt lay in ruins.
I cannot help but take the more traditional of the two views: that although Moses feared that his slaying of the Egyptians was known and fled Pharaoh to go to Midian, the Spirit is somewhat clarifying his fear. He did not so much fear man as much as he feared not being able to be a help to his people. And perhaps there is a slightly deeper point about the “not fearing” and the earlier “he feared.” Our courage is never perfect in this life. Moses left by faith – he left the Egyptian homeland he knew. He left the covenant people he loved and to whom he was completed committed. He fled to an unknown future, wondering what would become of his people. He had taken matters into his own hands, which had messed up what Moses must have thought was a prime opportunity to demonstrate that he was auspiciously positioned to do good to his people. Moses placed all of this in God’s hands, and by faith he left Egypt. He set his hope upon God. This is what the Hebrew Christians must do. They may have sullied their faith somewhat by fear and uncertainty, but now the Lord is giving them an opportunity to rectify the mistake and to stand fast. Look at Moses. His faith was not perfect. God does not honor faith because it is without flaws but because it looks to him.
2. Moses’ Departure by Faith
Faith also looks at him. All the emphasis upon Moses’ leaving is that he kept looking at, continued seeing the invisible God. This is not a reference to the burning bush or the later vision on Sinai. The idiom is “seeing as a way of life.” The way Moses endured those years of waiting is that he kept looking at God. He was more real to Moses than anything he saw. It was as if God was continually standing before Moses, so assured he was that God was with him. The emphasis of the latter half of this verse is the seeing, not the enduring. Enduring was the fruit of the seeing. He persevered in faith because he looked at God and his promises. The enduring would also seem to fit the Midian period more than the much speedier release after the ten plagues, which happened in relatively short period. Whether the leaving and the looking refer to Moses’ first or second departure, he was able to do this by faith. Faith lays hold of God’s promises, and even if there seem to be insurmountable obstacles, even if a desert and a stubborn Pharaoh stand between God’s people and their freedom, faith believes God, not its eyes. We must therefore trust God’s promises and his providential working to fulfill them. And now that the greater glory is coming in Christ, by looking upon this glory rather than upon our weakness or the hatred of the world, we shall not only obtain the promise but also be transformed in the process by the glory of God indwelling (2 Cor. 4:18).
3. How Faith Helps Us Leave Egypt
We should observe carefully how necessary faith was in order for Moses to leave Egypt. It was all he had known, of course, and all its prospects of glory and fame for him he had to count as nothing. The same is true of us and this world, for our eyes see so many pleasant things here, and it is difficult to leave them, if God calls us away. Or if he does not call us away by death but by a conscious gospel separation so that we might live more truly unto him (2 Cor. 6:17), we see that many balk against shutting their eyes to the world. They find it difficult to give up its conveniences and pleasures. To “use the world without abusing it,” as the apostle wrote (1 Cor. 7:31), to live in Egypt but to remain unstained by it (James 1:27), this is a rare gift. Only faith can show us the way. Moses came to believe that whatever opportunities Egypt offered to him, they were nothing in comparison to being identified with God’s people and suffering afflictions for the sake of Christ. Thus, for him to leave Egypt by faith, he had to value God’s promises above everything else Egypt offered to him.
It should go without saying that this is the same way we value the gospel pearl – selling everything to have and keep it. Forfeiting the world, however, requires that we believe God’s promises, for following our Savior is a very different kind of pleasure than the flesh craves. The flesh lives by the “lust of the eyes” and the “pride of life.” Little of our Savior’s cross appeals to the flesh. Thus, we must be born again and have new eyes so that we come to value nothing as highly as to be found in Christ and for him to recognize and claim us for his true disciples. Then and only then can we forsake the world and come to Christ, even if means that we lose everything in the coming, even our lives. This was the choice before the Hebrew believers, and only faith would enable them to make the right choice. Only faith in God’s promise will help us, for we no less than they must fight against the world and overcome it by the power of God’s word.
4. The Way We Learn to See God
“Seeing the invisible God” should not be taken as an ecstatic vision of God. If it were impossible for the Hebrew believers and for us to see God in the sense intended, the Spirit would not have brought it up. He would not say, “Well, Moses endured because he was always seeing God, but this is not possible for you.” “Seeing God” is related to the truths already set forth in verse 6. First, Moses was persuaded that God existed and that he was the God who revealed himself to the fathers, the covenant keeping God. That is, he not only exists, but that he is near, hears our prayers, and rewards us when we diligently seek him. Unless we believe these truths about God, we shall never be able to see him. God shows himself in this sense to those who take him at his word and determine to obey him (John 14:21).
This is exactly what we see in Moses’ case. He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter but threw in his lot with God’s persecuted people. His faith was more than natural sentiment; he came to be persuaded that it was better to suffer for Christ’s sake than to have all the pleasures of this world. Therefore, Moses believed God’s word. His parents told him about it. He had learned it when very little and nursed by his mother. He likely learned more as he grew older. He believed God’s word and determined that it was truer and finer than all the learning of the Egyptians. And therefore, he saw God. God was real to him; God’s word was true to his soul. He made decisions and suffered loss and left Egypt and endured the wilderness because he saw God. And when it was time to return to Egypt and lead God’s people to freedom, he stood before Pharaoh and was the instrument of God’s judgment upon him because he believed God’s word. All were laughing at him. For a time, the court magicians were imitating him. Moses kept looking at God and seeing him because he believed him.
This is the way God becomes real to us, truer than our own thoughts and the feelings of those around us. He must reveal his truth and Son in us so that we put more stock in the smallest word that has come out of his mouth than in all the wisdom of man. We see God when we love his word and are conscious of his sworn nearness to us by the Holy Spirit so that we do not want to offend him by our sinning but walk in closer fellowship with him through joyful obedience. Seeing God requires, therefore, that we believe God’s word and that it is truer to us than anything we see with our earthly eyes. My children are straying, but I will believe God’s promises and walk in obedience to him. My marriage is in trouble, but I will seek to love my wife or reverence my husband even if all the bridges seem to be burned. I will repent, confess my sins, and encourage us to live in God’s mercy and strength. God is truer than my feelings, the opinions of friends and family, than my next breath. This “sight” is a gift from the Holy Spirit, who opens our otherwise blind eyes. It is also a vision we improve by obedience and actual experience in dying to ourselves and doing what the Lord tells us to do.
Lamb’s Blood Preserved from Destruction
This sight enabled Moses to return to Egypt and keep the Passover. What would have persuaded him, when being warned that all the firstborn were about to die, that putting blood upon the door would preserve Israel’s firstborn children and animals? The Egyptians must have watched this quizzically, even with laughter – blood on your doors? Moses kept the Passover because he believed God. The world still laughs at deliverance from death and judgment through the blood of the Lamb, but as only God’s people were preserved from the destroying Angel then, and it will be the same on the day of judgment for all men. To be delivered from the wrath to come, it is no cold ritual but a living, breathing faith in God’s gospel promise that leads us to run to Jesus Christ and rest upon him alone for cleansing and righteousness. Faith alone teaches us that we must believe God upon this point and give up our works, rituals, and traditions. Nothing but the blood of Christ delivers us from the wrath and curse of God.
Through the Seas and Over the Walls
It was by faith that Israel saw the seas before them and the Egyptian armies behind them, and then walked through the Red Sea as if on dry ground. Moses’ stick was lifted up, and that part of the Gulf of Suez parted, with high walls of water on either side, nothing but God’s power holding them at bay. This is utterly impossible, but Moses told the people to stand still and see the salvation of God (Ex. 14:13). Look at him, not at roaring seas and surging armies. And the same was true forty years later, when God told Joshua to march around the walls of Jericho seven times, to say nothing, then on the seventh day to blow horns and shout at the end of the last circuit. Silent marches do not bring down high walls. Faith does not look at means as much as at the power of God and his faithfulness to do what he has promised. This was God’s command – moved forward into the water – and they parted. March around Jericho’s walls – and they fell. Do what God says, Hebrew believers, and God will take care of you. Hold fast to Christ, and he will allow nothing to separate you from God’s love. Would you hold on to this life but lose Christ in order to save your skins? Would you burn incense to Caesar rather than see what the Lord will do for you when you honor him?
A Harlot Chose God and Forsook Her Own People
The fifth instance of faith doing the remarkable is Rahab’s forsaking of her own people in favor of the people of God. She was a Canaanite and a Moabite, two strikes against her. But she heard of what God had done for Israel. She believed God’s word. This may be a more remarkable work of faith than even in Moses. Being part of the people of God and having chosen Christ, he had context for God’s commands to him. He knew God’s covenant promises. Rahab knew nothing but what snippets reached her. She knew that she and her people were wicked, and even before Joshua’s trumpets, she had already decided to throw in her lot with God’s people. When the spies came, she hid them. When the walls fell in, she and her family were delivered. She became part of the lineage of our Savior. How great a change and deliverance but a small spark of faith is able to accomplish when it is carefully tended by obedience to God! She hid the spies at peril of her life. She even knew the name Jehovah and like Ruth would later do, embraced the God and Lord of Israel for her own (Josh. 2:11).
The Reason Faith Does Impossible Things
Each of these mighty works of God has several things in common. First, the individuals were weak in themselves, faced incredible opposition, and might at any moment have completely turned back due to inward fear or outward opposition. Whenever we talk about faith and obeying God, it is not the individuals God uses but his power and faithfulness are the main thing we must remember. But, second, each of these believers took God at his word and acted upon it in the face of their weakness and difficult circumstances. In fact, the glory of faith is not what it is commonly conceived today, as some sort of spiritual power, almost like magic. It is much, much simpler than that. Faith takes God at his word. Moses had God’s word, and he acted upon it. Joshua and Rahab, who compellingly met in the rubble and celebrated their common faith, heard God’s word and obeyed him. They did not know the outcome. The walls of Jericho seemed immovable and impregnable. It surely seemed like Rahab might have been killed by her countrymen for her betrayal or the walls fallen upon her house. Faith receives God’s word and acts upon it. We should never live by what might happen; we should live by what God has spoken.
This is because faith sees God’s promises and commands, his glory, for it is his word – the word of Yahweh, as Rahab confessed. When we believe God’s word, he gives us new eyes. We see the invisible. This is miraculous, but a different kind of miracle, a deeper kind of miracle. It means that in a fundamental sense our allegiance to God is restored, so that we believe him and not the snake. It means that when the world mocks or says there is a better way than obeying God, faith sticks to the narrow path. Seeing the invisible means that we have brought our consciences before God’s judgment seat in anticipation of the final judgment and have looked over and seen the Lamb of God, fallen at his feet, and confessed his cross. Cleansed and renewed by his Spirit, we are able to see that obeying God is the true pleasure. We are able to trust him to take care of us. We learn that to have him for our Friend and Guide gives us stability in the face of persecution, strength to love our enemies, resolve to leave Egypt and live in the wilderness with God and his people rather than enjoying sin’s fleeting pleasures. No one can do this without new eyes. When God graciously gives them to us, his word is the grand reality that illumines all else. It is not mysticism. It is not magic. It is God’s children hearing the living voice of their Father and determining to obey him, out of love for Christ, with the help and comfort of the Holy Ghost.
Faith Still Does the Otherwise Impossible
Faith still does the impossible. This is not the impossible of having all the money you want or a dream vacation. The impossible is when God calls you to suffer a little insult or perhaps lose your job because you will not back down from your convictions. The world tells you that absolutely nothing is wrong with a little compromise. If God were so desirous of our obedience, he would show himself a little more helpful and involved in this secular world. Faith says, God has loved us and given us his word. There is no greater pleasure and privilege than to love and serve him. The impossible is when God tells you to love your sinful and complaining wife, or to reverence your weak and compromised husband, or to respect and obey your yelling parents. The impossible, to hear men tell it today, is to restrain one’s sexual appetites until marriage, to reject being a slave to sexual lusts, and to still cling to the older sexual purity because one is married to Jesus Christ. God says, “Is anything too hard for me” (Gen. 18:14)? And, “All things are possible to him that believes” (Mark 9:23).
We think that our times are so different from those of Moses, Joshua, and Rahab. Faith and obedience to the true God were as strange in Egypt and Jericho as they are in Buford, Georgia. What counted was getting ahead, not rocking the boat, finding your place and your pleasures. If you want to be religious, fine, but do not let it get in the way with your fun. Better: bring all your notions of fun and fantasy into the worship of your gods. And yet, here was God introducing faith in his word and doing great things in these very citadels of sinful pleasure and idolatry and tyranny. So, let us not think that he is unable to do great things for us in our times and places. Let us leave the impossible to his hand and resolve to obey him. Let us believe that he is more real and truer and more faithful than all the disappointments and troubles with which we have met in the world. Let us pick up the cross and the torch of faith again. Faith does the impossible because God does the impossible when we trust and obey, when we move forward calling upon his name and depending upon his faithfulness. Nothing is too hard for him, and he is always faithful.