Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part VI

Egypt’s True Alternative

Returning to Joseph’s and Moses’ refusal to identify their true treasure with the wealth of Egypt, we must ask ourselves what the alternative was. At first glance, of course, it looks like these men forfeited Egypt for Canaan, the “land flowing with milk and honey.” But Egypt’s boast of being the greatest kingdom in the ancient world would have been pretty empty if “milk and honey” were not among its bounty of delicacies. Moses would not have abandoned his royal status in Egypt in order to traverse a harsh wilderness to a land that promised nothing beyond what was already at his disposal, would he?

No, Moses was more than a national reformer and patriot, and his hope lay not a piece of real estate, no matter how lush and well-watered. Like the patriarchs before him, Moses “looked to the reward,” to “a homeland,” a “heavenly country” whose surpassing splendor made the pomp and pleasure of the kingdoms of this fleeting age appear as mere trifles in comparison (Heb. 11:26, 14, 16). Paul wrote to the Corinthians that those whose hope is in this life only “are of all people most to be pitied” (I Cor. 15:19). Moses was a lot of things, but pitiful was not one of them.

This is the point of Hebrews 11—a point often missed by much of what passes as “evangelism” in the contemporary church. For example, we often hear that if we give our hearts to Jesus we will experience love, joy, peace, and immediate fulfillment. The harsh reality, however, is that the Bible makes no such promise. In fact, evangelist and author Ray Comfort has often quipped that Christianity promises four things: trial, tribulation, persecution, and everlasting life. Moses did not give up earthly misery for earthly joy, he gave up earthly joy for earthly misery. Why would he do this? Because his faith provided him with “an assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). In other words, the only reason anyone would trade present comfort for present pain is because both of these are just that—present and passing, and will soon give way to a joy that is eternal, and that transcends the successes or failures of this age.

While it is true that the earthly lot of many believers does not necessarily improve the moment they look to Jesus, this is not the point. In verses 33-38 of Hebrews 11 we read:

[These saints] through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
Notice how the writer moves seamlessly from his description of those whose faith resulted in their conquering kingdoms and stopping the mouths of lions to those whose faith resulted in their being imprisoned or sawn in two. The point of presenting so stark a contrast with such seeming indifference is stated smack dab in the middle of this section—neither the triumphs associated with the victorious saints of verses 33-35, nor the defeats of those described in verses 36-39, are “worthy” of drawing their subjects’ attention away from the enduring blessing that comes from “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (12:28).