By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
THE REPROACH OF CHRIST
Reproach is shame, opprobrium, infamy, disgrace, exposing men to scornful derision.
Nothing has rendered men so liable to taunt, reviling, and malignity as love to Jesus Christ. The Lord himself told his people that it would be so: "You shall be hated of all men, for my name's sake." "If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you." The reproach of the cross has not ceased. Matt. 10:22; John 15:18; Gal. 5:11. Whoever would be a true Christian must obey the summons: "Let us go forth therefore unto him outside the camp, bearing his reproach." Heb. 13:13. The great scandal of Christianity is the cross and the Crucified. It has long been so. The very expectation of a Redeemer, thousands of years before his coming, was an offence to men, and exposed them to virulent scorn.
It is mentioned by the apostle to the Gentiles, as worthy of special notice, that "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward." Hebrews 11:24-26. This is an illustrious example of faith, and full of instruction. Let us look at it in some of its more important bearings.
Ancient Egypt was a wonderful country. The Hebrews called it Mizraim, from the son of Ham, who bore that name. To this day the Arabs call it Mizr. By the Greeks and Romans it was called Egypt, the origin of which word we do not know. To its great river, the Nile, was first given the name of the Father of waters. To the overflowings of this river the land of Egypt owes its extraordinary fertility. Egypt is about four hundred and fifty miles in length. It is commonly divided into Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt, and the Delta. Anciently it was subdivided into forty-two provinces. In Upper Egypt was one of the most remarkable cities known to antiquity; and the whole land was sufficiently supplied with cities and towns. The Egyptians were greatly averse to the life of shepherds or herdsmen. They gave great attention to the culture of grain. Not less than twenty million bushels of corn were for a long time annually sent from Egypt to Rome. The land generally afforded two crops every year—one before and one after the overflowing of the Nile. The Egyptians were a people remarkable for their skill in the arts. No contemporary nation equaled them. To this effect ancient history speaks clearly. The productions of the soil were very various. Different species of wood and varieties of marble in Egypt induced men to become skillful manufacturers. The monuments of ancient art among this people are amazing. For thousands of years the pyramids have been the wonder of the world. One of these covers an area of thirteen acres, and is still four hundred and seventy-four feet above ground. In Upper Egypt, the sphinxes, obelisks and temples still amaze the beholder. Wonderful statuary and paintings are still found in that region. The ancient Egyptians were to a great extent the fathers of science and of literature. Philosophy, astronomy and geometry, early found favor among them. There too the practice of making permanent and intelligible records seems first to have extensively prevailed. In their acquirements, the priests of Egypt excelled the learned of all nations; yet the superstitions of the country were strange, mighty, and numerous; there were gods by the thousand; religious worship was addressed to men, to stars, to domestic animals, and even to plants; thus proving that mere science can save no people from debasement, and that "those who are most delicate as to the decencies of life, are often the most gross as to the decencies of religion."
For a long time this country was governed by a race of kings known to us as the Pharaohs. The word Pharaoh signifies sovereign power, and is not very different from our word emperor or autocrat. Each of the Pharaohs probably had a proper name; but none of these names are preserved to us in Scripture until the time of Rehoboam, when Pharaoh Shishak lived. We do not, therefore, know which of the Pharaohs was on the throne at the birth of Moses.
But we are well informed that he had an only child, a daughter, whom he greatly loved, and who was herself childless. According to the Egyptian laws, she was at liberty to adopt whom she would as her son, and on his adoption he became the heir expectant and apparent of the throne of Egypt. The name of Pharaoh's daughter, according to Josephus, was Thermutis. This woman was led to adopt Moses under the following circumstances. For some time a cruel decree had been in force that all the male children of the Hebrews, who had now for a long time been in abject slavery, but who yet rapidly increased in numbers, should be put to death as soon as they were born. In Hebrews 11:23, the apostle says: "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment." What it was that made them regard him with unusual interest, we know not; but they risked their lives to save his. Having kept him concealed for three months, and finding further secrecy impractical, they put him into a small water-tight basket, on the banks of the Nile. Thermutis, the king's daughter, coming there to bathe, and perceiving the basket, ordered it to be brought. She opened it, and found a weeping infant. There was watching, at a little distance, a Hebrew girl, about ten years old. It was Miriam, the only sister of Moses. She came to Thermutis, and asked if she would have a Hebrew nurse. God led her to assent, and soon the delighted little sister brought Jochebed, the wife of Amram, and the mother of the babe. The princess gave to the child the name of MOSES, which is a compound Egyptian word signifying drawn out of the water.
Thermutis had her adopted child taught in all such matters as the vast science and literature of the country could afford. He was also instructed in more important matters. His pious parents taught him the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and early imbued his mind with excellent precepts of wisdom, virtue, and godliness. At what precise age his education was considered complete, is not certain; but it is probable that it was not until he was at least thirty years old, perhaps nearer forty than thirty.
The Scriptures do not inform us as to the circumstances attending the first open act whereby Moses disowned any connection with the royal family. Whether it was done in words and actions, or by actions only, is not known; nor is it necessary that it should be. His forsaking of the court was a matter which could not be misunderstood. Soon after, he fled the country, and went to Midian, and allied himself to Jethro, and remained for forty years longer, until he was called of God to return to Egypt. But it is his conduct in retiring from court that is specially noticed by the apostle: "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward." Hebrews 11:24-26
In contemplating the reproach of Christ, and the manner of overcoming it, let us consider
I. The CHOICE which Moses made.It consisted of two parts: something forsaken—and something embraced; something refused—and something received; something relinquished—and something laid hold of.
A. What did Moses give up?
1. The highest HONORS which earth had to bestow.Egypt was at this time, in an important sense, the mistress of the world. She had more resources, more character, more national glory, than any of the nations of antiquity. Her glory had been filling the world with wonder for ages, and at no time more than within the last eighty years. No crown on earth glittered with such dazzling brightness as the crown of Egypt. More foreigners came to that land to seek wisdom and to wonder, than were then going to all the world besides. Priests of other lands came here to study theology. The magi of remote nations visited its schools to study astrology. Whatever was supposed to be useful or ornamental in life, could be found or learned in Egypt.
By leaving the court, Moses lost all opportunity of conversing with learned men, and of being an object of admiration as the great light of science and literature in his generation; for although he was not an eloquent man, yet the Bible tells us he was a man "mighty in words." The meaning is that he had not any great fluency, nor did he seek meretricious ornament in speech; yet his great learning and wisdom were remarkable. That Moses could write with sublimity hardly equalled by any of the ancients, has always been confessed by sober critics. That in sentiment and style, if not in delivery, he was a sublime preacher and poet, requires no proof beyond that given us in the last two chapters of the Pentateuch. As a historian and a lawgiver, he has no equal. His fitness to govern, and his power to command, have never been surpassed. Moses, then, relinquished all the honor which, as a scholar, a man of science, a military commander, and king of the most enlightened and powerful nation under heaven, he might have enjoyed. Converse with the elite and the great, even as their Mentor, he gave up for the life of a shepherd in Midian. The crown of Egypt grew dim, and its glory faded before his eye of faith.
2. He also relinquished all the PLEASURES which the absolute monarchy of ancient Egypt might have afforded.The Scripture says he cared not to enjoy "the pleasures of sin for a season." How many wondrous arts for gratifying our carnal nature are known at courts of great kings, is no secret.
3. He also gave up great WEALTH.There is much force in that phrase, "the treasures in Egypt." Many ancient thrones had vast treasures. It was so with the Jewish throne in the days of Hezekiah, and with that of Babylon in the days of Belshazzar. It was unquestionably so in Egypt in the time of Moses. During the long famine in the days of Jacob, Joseph had bought up all the land in Egypt, and brought it into the possession of the crown.
B. What did Moses embrace?
The apostle uses two phrases, neither of which sounds sweetly in the ears of a carnal man. The first is, "affliction with the people of God;" the other is, "the reproach of Christ."
The afflictions of the people of God at this time were very great. They were in the most abject bondage. They were the slaves of slaves. Servants ruled over them. The Egyptians themselves now for a long time had been nothing but tenants at will of the land under their sovereign. They were at the mercy of their monarch for a home, for food, for clothing, and even for life. These were the degraded people who were the masters of the Hebrews. Over them they had the power of life and death. They had actually murdered many of them, and had made all of them to groan and sigh with the enormous burdens of labor and toil which had been placed upon them. Joseph, who had been dead one hundred and four years, was forgotten. Gratitude for his eminent services was nowhere found. For Moses to make common lot with such a despised people was an act of great humiliation.
The rest of their condition can easily be conjectured. It was exceedingly dark. None of us has ever witnessed such scenes of misery and degradation. Abject poverty had wrought its usual effects. The Hebrews were far from being highly virtuous, as we might have hoped from their possessing the knowledge of the true God. But few of them were truly pious. The great mass of them were gross and sensual unbelievers, who, for their outbreaking sins, perished in the wilderness. When Moses first appeared among them, about the time of his forsaking the court; "Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not." Acts 7:25. Yet they were the people of God by promise and by profession. What little piety there was on earth was chiefly among them. They, too, had the traditions of the patriarchs. They were beloved for the fathers' sakes. To them pertained the covenant, and the promise, and the ordinance of circumcision.
Then their pretended expectation of the Messiah rendered them even more hated than otherwise they would have been. To the Egyptians it looked like a mark of special stupidity, stubbornness, and arrogance for a people thus sunk down in the deepest degradation to be talking about a great king that would arise from among them, be the King of kings and Lord of lords, and establish a government that would have no end and no limit—a kingdom that would rule over all. Hence "the reproach of Christ" mentioned by Paul as coming on Moses at the making of his choice.
II. Let us consider the ELEMENTS of Moses choice.
1. It was a choice, a firm and decided purpose of the will, a hearty and voluntary preference of one thing, a cordial and controlling refusal of another thing.Paul speaks both of choosing and refusing. What Moses did, he did not by compulsion, nor by over-persuasion, but of choice.
2. It was a choice made at the most critical period of life, when he was about to enter on a splendid career; "at an age when the heart is most devoted to the pursuit of pleasure, most susceptible of the allurements of ambition."
3. It was a deliberate and intelligent choice.Nothing in the existing state of things around him led to his decision. The popular current was quite the other way. It was also the choice of a man, and not of a child who could not understand what he was doing. The Bible says "he was come to years." In the Greek it is "when he was become great." It is manifest from the Bible chronology that Moses was over forty years old. Nor was it the choice of a man who knew not the sweets of a palace. He had been brought up in ease and affluence. He was not a crude boor, incapable of enjoying the refinements and elegancies which encircled the throne of Egypt. Nor was it the choice of a man whose mind was soured by unsuccessful fellowship with the world. So far his relations, public and private, had been as pleasant as possible. The whole history of Moses shows him to have been a man of uncommon tenderness of sensibility, fitting him for fellowship with refined society. He was no ascetic. Nor did he expect by voluntary humility to merit the favor of God. Nor was his choice that of an old man who knew that he could not much longer enjoy the world. Eighty years later "his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated." He was no dotard. His choice was that of a full-grown man with a sound, matured mind, just as he was about to enter on a course for life—a life in which he had been led to expect stirring events.
4. The choice of Moses cannot be properly estimated without remembering that it was not the pursuit and prospect of great earthly advantages which he relinquished, with the probability that affliction and reproach would come in their room. No!He gave up the actual possession of these good things—with the entire certainty that the evil things would come. He was not merely in the high road to honor and wealth and power, but he actually possessed them all. He had "become great," "mighty in words and deeds;" he was eminent among the Egyptians.
5. Nor could Moses have failed to remember that in refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughterhe was exposing himself to the charge of base ingratitude towards his royal benefactress. Moses was not a man whose feelings were so blunted that he was not alive to any just reproach that might be cast upon him. Indeed, the fourth chapter of Exodus shows that he was a man peculiarly modest, and sensitive to the opinions of mankind. Yet he chose as he did.
6. The choice of Moses was an unreserved, an unconditional, and a final choice.The royal displeasure once incurred, and the royal confidence once forfeited—there was no hope of return. He indeed had no desire to win back the favor of the Pharaohs. He gave up all to the cause he espoused. He did not even look back.
7. His choice was a gracious choice.Without the aid of God's Spirit on his heart, he never could have made it. Flesh and blood did not reveal to him the great things that lay at the foundation of his decision.
III. Let us now consider the WISDOM of Moses choice.It was wise then. Moses believed it to be so. His history since has demonstrated its wisdom. True, he was forced to flee his country. Soon he was away in Midian. But God visited him there, and spoke to him in the burning bush, and in due time called him to be leader to his people. In the majesty of a mighty man of God, he appeared the magnificent ambassador from heaven at the court of Pharaoh; there he wrought great wonders; then in a marvelous manner he led forth God's afflicted people; became the historiographer of the world; gave laws to the most renowned nation in history; in an important sense he became the lawgiver of all nations; he inscribed his name on the pinnacle of fame above that of any of his countrymen or contemporaries; he beheld God and knew him face to face; he had so much honor paid to him, that to hinder his tomb from becoming the scene of superstitious devotions, no man knows the place of his burial unto this day. When he died God stood by him; when he was buried Jehovah buried him—an honor conferred on no other.
Ages after his death, he appeared in great glory on the mount of transfiguration. Since that time his splendid career has been becoming still more brilliant; and yet it does not appear what he shall be, only when Christ shall appear he shall be like unto the glorified Lamb of God. It is now 1867—nearly three thousand four hundred years since Moses made his choice. Eighty of these were spent in affliction and reproach, yet not without comforts, joys, and supports which none of Egypt's monarchs ever tasted. The remaining more than three thousand years have all been spent in heaven. Yet eternity is hardly begun! The glories of salvation have but begun to be revealed. Already in heaven they sing the song of Moses and the Lamb; yet what is that song compared to the hosannas and hallelujahs which shall fill the upper temple when the fullness of the Gentiles, the abundance of the seas, and the nation of the Jews shall return to God; and when the work of redemption shall be concluded by the sublimities and splendors of the resurrection morning, of the judgment day, and of the marriage supper of the Lamb! Could we ask Moses what he now thinks of his choice, does any doubt what his answer would be? When Peter, James, and John saw him on the holy mount, did they see anything in his appearance that argued sorrow or relenting of choice? Was his countenance sad or gloomy? Rather, was it not cheered with light like the sun, and glory like unto that of the angels of God?
IV. The CAUSE of Moses choice, next claims our attention. The cause of his choice was his faith. So we are distinctly told: "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter." The great object of Hebrews, chapter 11, where the choice of Moses is stated, is to celebrate the grand achievements of this illustrious grace. The faith of Moses was not a blind credulity; it was not a sottish superstition; it was a reliance on the divine testimony given to the fathers, and through them to their posterity. His faith looked at things which could be seen neither by sense nor reason. "He was looking ahead to his reward"—the reward of eternal life. He looked back to former ages, and he looked forward to coming ages. The chief excellency of his faith was, the respect which it had to the Messiah. He believed all that God had said respecting the Deliverer who would arise. The coming of the Messiah was no secret among the Jews. It was always a pillar of their faith. Moses bore the reproach of Christ. He "esteemed the scoffs cast on the Israelites for expecting the Messiah to arise from among them, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed—greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." Wonderful indeed have been the effects of true faith, wherever it has existed.
1. True religion is the same in all ages.It is based in the same principles; it produces the same effects. Whoever properly believes God, has the same religion that Moses had, and under fair trial will prove it.
2. Let every man examine himself, and see what manner of spirit he is of. It is a great mercy when God so deals with us here as to furnish us a real test of our true character.
3. The apostle speaks well, when he tells us of "precious faith."What could we do without it? "Faith makes all evil good to us, and all good better; unbelief makes all good evil to us, and all evil worse. Faith laughs at the shaking of the spear; unbelief trembles at the shaking of a leaf. Faith finds food in famine and a table in the wilderness. In greatest danger faith answers—I have a great God. When outward strength is broken, faith answers—The promises are strong still. Thus faith pulls the sting out of trouble, and draws the wormwood out of every affliction." O let us have faith in God. Lord, increase our faith.
4. Let us not be discouraged, however much our condition may differ from our wishes.The life of a man does not consist in what he now is—but in what he will forever be. The same God who led Moses into Midian—can bring us out of any depths into which affliction may have cast us. The strong arm with which God saved Moses and his people—is as mighty as ever.
5. The wicked one gives his servants a treatment very different from that received by God's people."The wages which sin promises to give the sinner are—life, pleasure, and profit. But the wages it actually pays him are—death, torment, and destruction. He who would understand the falsehood and deceit of sin, must compare sins promises and its payments together." But the Lord gives good measure, pressed together and running over. In death he gives victory.
"How often has the gloom which spread
Where is your treasure? Where are your affections? If the earth should be burned up, have you anything left?
6. Let us receive the word of exhortation.Like Moses, we all are passing through scenes, which are manifesting our preferences. Had he chosen this world, how different his history—and how sad his final destiny! We must choose this world or the next. The present is near, urgent, and flattering; but it is vain, fleeting, and full of disappointment. "Our love to creatures is like the running of a stream in a channel that is too narrow for it, where stops and banks do make it go on with roaring violence. Our love to God is like the brook that slides into the ocean, where it is insensibly swallowed up."
7. Let us not be cast down by the reproach of Christ.Others have borne it, and even triumphed in it. All will end right at last. The Son of man has been here in weakness and suffering; but in due time he shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, and before him shall be gathered all nations. Then it will be found an immortal honor to have borne shame and spitting for him: "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you; for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." All this will be manifest in the last day. For the King shall say unto them on his right hand, "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." One smile from the eternal Judge will forever obliterate all painful impressions made upon us by the scorn of men who have despised us for Christ's sake!
"Under sorrows and reproaches,