Returning to Egypt

Moses was not just a leader because God chose him; he clearly saw himself as a leader on behalf of Israel. In this study we will see Moses representing Israel before Pharaoh and before God both to help and forgive. The very fact of his presence in Egypt again after 40 years bears testament that Moses had returned for no other reason than to intercede with Pharaoh and to plead the cause of the nation. Sometimes a leader will be driven by personal ambition, by nationalistic zeal or by lust for power and wealth. Moses was driven by a love for his people. This love took him into uncomfortable territory and drove him to extraordinary lengths. In this, Moses was a true type of Christ.

It is difficult to conceive that the Pharaoh who reigned when Moses returned to Egypt did not have a personal knowledge of the circumstances of Moses’ ‘betrayal’ (from an Egyptian perspective). In all probability he had been personally acquainted with Moses. We need to imagine how Moses would feel returning after all those years. If Jacob with trepidation prepared to meet his brothers after 20 years, we can imagine that Moses had no less anxiety as he prepared to face Pharaoh.

Before Pharaoh

Counting up the number of occasions Moses faced Pharaoh, we have, by my reckoning, 14. Each would have been more strained than the last, until, finally, Moses left in anger and Pharaoh decreed that if he ever saw him again he would die. By the world’s measure, Moses would have been justified in abandoning his quest. Albert Einstein is reported to have said that insanity may be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. There is no record that Moses complained to God about the repeated lack of success. True, Moses initially cried to God because the oppression was increased as a result of the first approach but the context makes it clear that Moses accepted the blame for the failure. In Exodus 5:22, Moses questions why he has been sent and in chapter 6:12 and 30, he complains that he is of uncircumcised lips. Moses has again returned to his earlier suggestion that he is not qualified for God’s purpose. It may seem unusual to us to hear the phrase, “uncircumcised lips,” but we also find it used of the heart (Lev 26:41; Jer 9:26; Ezek 44:7) and the ear (Jer 6:10). The idea is of unreceptiveness to God and stubborn reliance on flesh. Clearly this was not Moses and God knew it.

Moses, however, was humbled and felt inadequate to represent his people. That Moses did it anyway is a great example to us all. Some have said, “I cannot speak” and “I cannot teach,” quite forgetting that it is the Word of God in our heart that speaks for us. Brethren, to excuse ourselves from service because we feel we cannot speak well is in most cases a feeble excuse, as indeed it was for Moses and while we can anticipate God’s generous long suffering to a point, we need be careful that we do not test His patience by failing to speak on His behalf when we should.

Moses’ representation of the people of God in confrontation with Pharaoh may be compared to the confrontations Jesus had with the rulers of the Jews, who found themselves in the unhappy situation of being compared with unbelievers.

The phrase, “the finger of God,” occurs in Scripture only four times. Twice it refers to the writing of the Ten Commandments, but the other two are in remarkably similar contexts. The first is in Exodus 8:19, in a confrontation with Pharaoh and the other is with the Pharisees, in Luke 11:20. Here we have a scripturally confirmed connection between Moses and Jesus with respect to standing up to spiritual wickedness. Interestingly, God’s patience with Pharaoh had limits and it ran out. Pharaoh was ultimately rejected by God without remedy. Similarly, Jesus warned the Pharisees that their rejection of the power of God placed them beyond forgiveness. It cannot have been easy for either Moses or Jesus to have stood before the rulers of their day and have them lie and cheat. On multiple occasions, Pharaoh repented only to renege moments later.

On behalf of his brethren

Why did Moses and Jesus endure such mocking and abuse? The answer is simple: they did it for their brethren, and in the case of Jesus, that means us. Essentially, Jesus stood up to the flesh and defeated it. The Pharisees were just an evident witness of the horridness of which flesh is capable. Jesus then defeated the flesh in all of its manifestations; and he did it for us. It would have been much easier to give in. The continual confrontation cannot have been easy but he endured for our sake. We are called, like Moses and Christ, to fight against spiritual wickedness in all of its high places. This may not mean confrontation with the Pharaoh of Egypt or the Pharisees of Israel but it will bring conflict with the flesh, both within our own selves and with others. Had Moses given up part way through, then the nation would never have left Egypt.

Moses represented the people to God in times of need. Eight times we have it recorded that the people cried to God or complained and Moses took their complaint to God. The circumstances were diverse but the common theme is their inability to see that God would provide. Moses complains to God that he was unable to carry the burden of the people in Numbers 11 but we do not hear of Moses saying this again, at least not until he spoke out of place at Rephidim. Instead we have his patient forbearance with human weakness. Moses is very Christ-like in that regard.

Considering the work of our Lord on our behalf, how many times has he accepted our groaning and represented us to God? We could not even begin to know. And how often, bearing in mind the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, do we pause to give thanks. Of the eight times that Moses spoke to God on behalf of a hungry, thirsty, frightened and unappreciative nation, there was always a divine response, which was mostly undeserved and received entirely without thanks (Exod 14:10–12; 15:24; 16:2; 17:2; Num 11:2; 16:41; 20:1–6; 21:4-7).

That we are to see in the work of Moses a type of Christ is confirmed for us by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:9: “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents”. On this occasion, the complaint of the people was threefold. They grumbled that they had been brought out of Egypt to die, that there was no food or water and that the food (God’s provision of bread) was worthless and detestable. Would we make similar complaint? Clearly in the mind of the Apostle Paul the answer was frighteningly in the affirmative and so he warned the Corinthians (and by extension us) of the danger. The idea of the word “tempt” in the phrase, “neither let us tempt Christ,” is to challenge the power and authority and question the character.

We have been brought out of Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb and given every provision for life as we journey to the Promised Land. We dare not challenge our leader as Israel ungratefully did. When we do that, we will find ourselves straying into sin and feel its serpent bite. The crux of the matter is that we must “be content with such things as [we] have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb 13:5–6).

Making intercession

It is, however, an unfortunate reality that we do murmur, lust and sin in much the same way as Israel did and so we suffer as they also did. We do not find Moses saying, “I told you so; you have made your own bed and now you must sleep in it” or anything of the kind. Rather we find him on five gracious occasions pleading with God on behalf of his people (Exod 17:11; 32:11, 31–32; Num 14:13–19; 16:46; 21:7). We find Moses repeatedly praying for mercy and forgiveness for a people who were essentially unresponsive and ungrateful. We can find encouragement in this, for if Moses is a type of Christ, then surely Christ is greater in this regard than even Moses was.

We will consider just one of the occasions where Moses interceded on behalf of the people. It is the circumstance of the return of the 12 spies from the land of Canaan and the faithless report of most of them. The people had just announced their intention to stone Moses and Aaron, together with Caleb and Joshua, for daring to suggest that Yahweh would defeat the gods of the nations and their armies and bring them into the Promised Land. God announced His intention to disinherit them and start again with Moses as the patriarch of the nation.What a tremendous dual temptation this would have been for Moses. Not only did he need to overcome the very natural tendency to hate his enemies but he needed to overcome the pride that could so easily have welled up within him. Only one other man had greater temptation than Moses and only one other man exceeded even Moses in his pleadings on behalf of mankind. It is of course our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord had a similar twofold temptation when the people desired to make him king and (almost at the same time) the Jews sought to kill him. It takes somebody with enormous meekness and strength to resist such a significant temptation. Moses, to his credit, responded with these magnificent words in Numbers 14:19: “Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now”.

Christ our mercy seat

Shall we expect our Lord to be different? No, we should anticipate even greater intercession than Moses. This of course will yield the same results as did Moses’ prayer: “I have pardoned according to thy word”. Not only is God telling us that He forgave them but that Moses was the cause. Was there an angry God and a merciful Moses? Of course not! It is clear that Moses had captured the very essence of God, such that His word was God’s Word and his thought, God’s. It was as if Moses was at one with the essence of God, as the mercy seat was with the ark and hence he was the place where mercy might be found, just like our Lord. The Apostle Paul connects these thoughts together: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith.” (Romans 3:23–25 NET). What an enormous privilege we have.

In the context of the nation being denied entrance by God, the writer of Hebrews says, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (4:14–16). If God responded to Moses and forgave, how much more will he forgive us for Christ’s sake? Yet must we be careful, for with great privilege comes great responsibility. The writer asks, “How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:28 NET).

Moses, a servant and a witness of greater things to come

Let us not think that it cost Moses nothing to intercede on behalf of the nation. He shared the wandering for 40 years when he could have been the patriarch almost instantly. Why did Moses choose to plead for his people? It brought him discomfort before Pharaoh, frustration and setback. From a natural perspective it would seem a foolish thing to do. The record reveals he chose affliction with the people of God. This was his choice to be with and represent his people, God’s people. Moses felt a oneness with the people and a sense of belonging. He was pleased to share their grief and sorrow. Moses did not see himself as above the nation but part of it. In a lofty explanation in Hebrews 2, the oneness of Jesus with those he came to save is emphasised. The result is that he might make reconciliation for the sins of the people. In this too, Moses is typical of our Lord.

When the redeemed sing “the song of Moses” (Rev 15:3), it is not a completely different song from “the song of the Lamb”; it is essentially the same song. It is a song of deliverance. The song of Moses was first sung on the occasion when the people cried to Moses after the Egyptians had followed them into the wilderness and Moses cried to God on their behalf. The song of Moses celebrates God’s salvation and anticipates the ultimate deliverance through Christ. Of all the songs in Scripture, it is the song of Moses that is chosen to accompany the song of the Lamb. Surely this is further evidence of Moses’ significance as a type of Christ.

Moses was in a unique position to represent the people to God because of the close relationship he had with God. Yahweh himself said of Moses, “Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold” (Num 12:6–8); and again in Exodus 33:11, “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend”. This is perhaps the most Christ-like depiction of any man. There was never such a relationship as Jesus had with his Father. But “Moses verily was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things that were to be spoken after” (Heb 3:5; Deut 18:18). It was this that made his intercession possible. Moses was heard not because he challenged God to be merciful, but because he understood God’s mercy and had appreciated His glory. How much more he of whom it was said, “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).