By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:27).
Moses left Egypt twice. The first time was when he fled from Pharaoh after having killed an Egyptian to protect a Hebrew slave (Exodus 2:14-15). The second time was when he led millions of slaves out of bondage to worship God at the base of Mount Sinai (Exodus 12-14). It is not entirely clear which “leaving” the writer of Hebrews has in view here. However, there are two clues that seem to indicate that he is describing the exodus itself.
First, we are told that Moses was not afraid of the anger of the king. Context would seem to indicate that he fled the first time because he was afraid of the anger of the king. By contrast, Moses was not, ultimately, afraid to confront Pharaoh and lead God’s people out of Egypt.
Second, the writer of Hebrews tells us why Moses was not afraid of Pharaoh: “He endured as seeing him who is invisible.” As far as we are aware, Moses had not had a personal interaction with God before he fled from Pharaoh the first time. However, it was his direct commissioning by God from the “Burning Bush” (Exodus 3:1-4:17) that emboldened him for his mandate. Initial fear was replaced by a confidence in the power of the LORD, which Moses beheld for himself.
Therefore, this verse could be rendered along these lines: By faith Moses led the Israelite exodus from Egypt, not fearing Pharaoh because he had personally encountered the Living God.
The problem with this text is that we have not seen God as Moses had. How then can this experience aid us in our desire to live faithfilled lives? Peter addresses this indirectly in his letter:
In this [salvation ready to be revealed in the last time] your rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6-9).
Moses endured without fear because he “saw” the invisible One in the Burning Bush. But, as Peter points out, we have not seen Him nor do we now see Him. Nevertheless we love Him, we believe in Him, and we rejoice at the thought of His coming. But how is it that we can be emboldened, so that we might have faith without fear as Moses did?
The answer is somewhat counter-intuitive. We are grieved by various trials. So Moses got to speak to God in the Burning Bush and we have to endure various trials? Precisely. These trials, says Peter, test the genuineness of our faith. That is, every time we endure and come through a trial with our faith intact, we gain confidence that it is, in fact, true faith and not just a house of cards. Moreover, trials give God an opportunity to reveal Himself as Protector, Provider, Healer, Comforter, Refiner, Forgiver, Father, and so on. It is in the valleys of life that we see God most clearly and therefore each trail builds confidence in our faith, enabling us to walk ever increasingly without fear.
Moses fled Pharaoh the first time with great fear. He returned and led a nation of slaves to freedom by faith, not fear. Like Moses, we ought to grow in faith that overcomes fear, one trial at a time.