Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part II

The Temporal and the Eternal

Thankfully, we need not burden ourselves with divining or decoding the reason for Joseph's and Moses' desire to abandon Pharaoh's land, for the text of Hebrews 11 spells out very clearly their reasons for refusing to give Egypt their allegiance, despite all it had done for them. What is only hinted at in Joseph’s mention of “the exodus of the Israelites” is made explicit in Moses’ own refusal to own Egypt as his true homeland: The “pleasures” of Pharaoh’s land were “fleeting,” and its “wealth” and “treasure,” though impressive to be sure, could not hold a candle to the “reproach of Christ” and the “affliction” suffered by the people of God. Because Moses “endured as seeing him who is invisible,” all the enticements of earth’s most powerful kingdom could not sufficiently capture his heart or affections, or distract him from “looking to the reward,” the “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (vv. 25-27, 10).

The real issue, then, was not whether Egypt was a place of comfort or oppression, or whether its pleasures were necessarily sinful (some undoubtedly were, while others most likely were not). The issue, according to the text, concerned not Egypt’s goodness or badness, but its worthiness of these saints’ devotion. Speaking of all the saints of Hebrews 11, verse 38 sums up the problem with a beautiful succinctness: “Of [these saints] the world was not worthy.”

The “unworthiness” of Egypt in particular, and of this present age in general, is defined throughout the New Testament in terms of their fleeting, passing, and temporal nature. Paul argues that the sufferings that characterize life in this world “are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us,” and that the “slight momentary afflictions” we face here and now only serve to prepare us for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all compar-ison” (Rom. 8:18; II Cor. 4:17). His own life and ministry bear this out. Upon his final departure from Ephesus to Jerusalem, where he would face immediate imprisonment and eventual martyrdom, Paul confidently assured his flock, “But none of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear unto myself” (Acts 20:24, KJV). It was utter folly for Paul—as for Joseph and Moses—to choose earthly comfort, which is fading, over eternal blessedness, which never ends. For two of these saints, however, this choice did not only mean the loss of present pleasure but the gaining of present persecution.

But given the fact that eternal concerns always trump temporal ones, the choice was obvious.