A Character Portrait of Moses

By Wayne Jackson

It is said that reputation is what folks think about you; character is what God knows about you. The Lord does not view us as others do; “man looks on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

One of the prominent characters of the Bible is the Hebrew prophet, Moses. His name is found some seven hundred fifty times in the Old Testament and approximately eighty times in the New Testament. A consideration of some of the personal traits of Israel’s great leader can be profitable indeed. One of the most significant tributes to him is the fact that he was, in some sense, a type (prophetic picture) of the coming Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15ff; Acts 3:22ff).

In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the inspired writer employs a number of verbs which describe the actions of the noble leader of Israel. These terms become a real index to the character of Moses. Let us ponder several of these action words.

Moses Refused

One of the most forceful words in the English language, and yet one most difficult to release from the tongue, is “no.” It is such a challenge for us to master this simple negation; indeed, none, save Christ, has. And yet, at a very critical point in history, Moses said, “No!” “By faith Moses when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Hebrews 11:24).

It is not infrequently the case that a person’s character is revealed by his ability to say a simple, “No!” Joseph knew how to pronounce the word when Potipher’s wife attempted to seduce the lad who, though a captive in a strange land and but a youth of seventeen or so, had a oak tree for a back bone. Oh that there were more Josephs in today’s world; so many heartaches would be avoided.

Balaam, the prophet who was sought out by a pagan tribe in the hope that he might function as an instrument for the cursing of God’s people, did not have the fortitude to refuse the petition, hence, eventually lost his life in disgrace (Numbers 22-24, 31). Yet, when Christ was tempted by Satan in that wilderness encounter, three resounding times the Savior said, “No!,” and the tempter was forewarned that his ultimate destruction was certain (Matthew 4:1ff).

In considering Moses’ circumstances, one needs to reflect upon the fact that for most of that first forty years of his life, his principal mother-figure was an Egyptian princess. She had wept for him as a baby, she had held him in her arms, she had sent him off to his tutors, she had groomed him into manhood; she had, for all practical and emotional purposes, been his real mother. Surely he must have loved her dearly; and yet, the day came when he was willing to bid her good-bye forever—identifying himself with the cause of the true God. What courage and resolve lay resident in Moses’ great heart.

Moses Chose

Unlike other forms of biological life, human beings have been honored by the Creator in that they have been designed with the ability to make true choices. We do not operate out of mere instinct; rather, we make hundreds of conscious decisions every day of our lives. Some choices are rather inconsequential; others are of greater gravity—for better or worse.

The character of a person is revealed in the choices he makes in life. So it was with Moses. It must have appeared to the carnal mind that Moses had taken leave of all common sense when he chose to identify himself with a band of foreign slaves, rather than to retain his inheritance steeped in the advantages of Egypt.

The Old Testament narrative has it like this: “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked upon their burdens” (Exodus 2:11). Stephen informs us that the prophet was “well nigh forty years old” at the time (Acts 7:23).

Somewhere along the way Moses had learned of his real identity as a Hebrew, and his soul ached for the plight of his Israelite kinsmen. This adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter knew (if I may paraphrase an ancient psalm) that a single day with the people of God is better than a thousand days elsewhere, and that it is more noble to serve as a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to live in the tents of the wicked (cf. Psalm 84:10).

And so Moses chose to cast his lot with afflicted Israel rather than to defile himself with the pleasures of sin. He was a man who “counted the cost” (Luke 14:28). Moses knew that sin could be pleasurable—something to be enjoyed—but he also was convinced that there is no true happiness therein. Sin is never associated with happiness in Scripture. Indeed, “the way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). There is a vast difference between temporary pleasure and abiding contentment. What a commentary on the fabric of this man in that he chose to elevate the spiritual over the physical.

The youth of one’s life is a most frightening time. There are so many choices to be made, and there is not a reservoir of wise experience from which to draw in determining the best choices to make. What will be my vocation? Do I choose to marry, and if so, who will I select as a life-long companion? The tragic fact is, many of the youth of today’s generation are not receiving the type of character cultivation that will enhance a journey toward heaven. Character-building has vanished from the school system, and it is rapidly waning in the domestic realm.

Moses Discerned

The inspired writer declared that the choice of Moses to resist the life of pleasurable wickedness in deference to a spiritual destiny was due to the fact that he was “esteeming” (KJV), or “accounting” (ASV), the reproach of Christ to be greater than the treasures of Egypt. The word “accounting” is interesting. In the Greek language of the first century, it denoted basically “to lead,” and then, in certain contexts, “to lead in the mind,” i.e., to reflect, to weigh the options before making a choice.

Consider the phrase, “the reproach of Christ,” or, “the reproach of the Christ” (ASV). To say the same thing in another way, Moses contemplated the reproach that would be heaped upon the (coming) Messiah. To deny that Moses had any concept of the promised Christ, as some have done, is wholly unnecessary. The longing for the Anointed One was an abiding joy in the heart of every faithful Hebrew, and doubtless, at some early point, the seed-thought had been conveyed to Moses. This glorious hope ultimately was factored into Moses’ decision to join his Hebrew people.

But note the expression, “reproach of Christ.” The term for “reproach” is the Greek oneidismos; the noun form is found on only five occasions in the entire New Testament, three of these being in the book of Hebrews. The word carries the idea of a defamation. It is employed of the persecutions endured by the Jewish Christians in the earlier period of the present dispensation (Hebrews 10:33), and then later it is used of the ordeal of Jesus himself as he suffered the disgrace of the crucifixion (13:13). And so, by and by, during those hard years in which he guided Israel in the wilderness of Sinai, Moses would be forced to endure some of the same sort of reproaches that the Lord himself would experience. But they were outweighed by the greater glory to come.

Having caught the spirit of being an instrument in the thrilling scheme of human redemption, the Hebrew prophet was willing to forfeit the “treasures of Egypt” for a role in the unfolding plan of God.

Something of the magnitude of the wealth that Moses possibly surrendered was seen in the early 1920s when archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the young Egyptian king, Tutankamen, better known as King Tut. His tomb chamber was a breathtaking depository of golden treasure. One small, gold-plated chest (coffin), which housed some of his visceral organs, was valued at more than a quarter of a million dollars. And Tut was only an insignificant boy-king (some eighteen years of age) who lived in the days of Egypt’s waning glory! Moses’ character is highlighted by the fact that he valued divine treasures far more than those that glittered.

Moses’ Vision

When Moses died at the age of 120 years, the biblical text says his eye was “not dimmed” (Deuteronomy 34:7). His physical vision remained clear; sharper still, though, was his spiritual vision. The writer of Hebrews says that he “looked [‘had respect unto,’ KJV] unto the recompense of reward.” The verb that is rendered “looked” (ASV) is quite intriguing. This is its only New Testament occurrence. The Greek word is apoblepo, from apo (away from) and blepo (to look), hence to “look away from” all else, and so to rivet one’s attention upon another object. Moses turned his attention away from the mundane affairs of this planet and fixed his gaze on a reward beyond the fading enticements of earth’s resources.

This servant of God had a disposition similar to his illustrious predecessor of five centuries earlier. Abraham, father of the Hebrew nation, while dwelling in tents as a wandering nomad, nonetheless “looked for the city which hath the foundations” (real stability) whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). The grand old patriarch knew there was a better country; his Creator, he believed, had prepared for him a heavenly city (11:16).

While the minds of most men meander in the dust of earth’s materialistic environment, the child of God is challenged to believe that there is wealth of a grander nature. Christ admonished:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves do not break through and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).

Why is it that men are so shortsighted? Why are we inclined to seek the things below rather than those above, where Christ is reigning at the right hand of God? We are challenged to “set our minds” (“affections,” KJV) heavenward (see Colossians 3:1-2). The Greek verb suggests the idea of having our whole thought processes focused in a certain direction. This was the spirit of which Moses partook, and it is a thrilling glimpse of his character in a day of far less illumination than we now enjoy.

Moses’ Resolution

As a result of the ideals that lay quietly within his heart, Moses was enabled to summon the courage to forsake the land of his nativity. The writer of Hebrews says that he “forsook” Egypt. Scholars are slightly disagreed as to the specific application of the verb. Is the reference to when he fled into Midian, following the incident wherein he killed the Egyptian? Or is the allusion to the exodus? Likely the emphasis is upon the assumption of his role as leader of the Hebrew people and all that that decision involved. The old world was abandoned; a new existence was entered. It is much to the great prophet’s credit that he accepted his assignment with determined courage, though initially he was fearful of the awesome task. That is the nature of courage. It is not doing that of which you have no trepidation; it is forging ahead, in spite of your fears, with the utmost confidence in your God.

Moses Endured

One does not disrespect Israel’s daunting commander when he acknowledges that he had weaknesses and that he made serious mistakes in his forty-year trek. The testimony of his unmarked grave, east of Jordan, is evidence of that. Yet, after having viewed the land of promise, he entered into the eternal rest.

In spite of his frail humanity, the significant thing about Moses is this: he endured. The Greek word here employed (and only here) suggests the idea of steadfastness. That is the key to achieving victory in the final order of events.

And how was he able to so endure? He kept on “seeing him who is invisible.” While the phrase might appear to sound contradictory, it, in point of fact, is not. Certainly it is the case that no human being “has seen God at any time” (John 1:18), for he is the invisible one (Colossians 1:15) who dwells in light unapproachable (1 Timothy 6:16).

Nonetheless, Moses “saw” the Lord in the majesty of the creation (cf. Romans 1:20). He observed the mighty God in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, in the sustaining hand of mercy during the wilderness wandering, and in the personal communications—as it were, “face to face”—which he enjoyed on occasion (cf. Deuteronomy 34:10).

Therefore, keeping his eye upon the Lord—the only reality in a decaying universe—was the basis of his conquest. And, thrillingly, all others who maintain their endurance, will, in the final phase of human existence, sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb of God, praising the greatness, justice, and righteousness of the Lord God (see Revelation 15:3-4).

Conclusion

Moses, the man of God, was truly a remarkable person. His character was exemplary in a number of ways. And nowhere has that portrait been captured in such a condensed package as in Hebrews 11:24-27. Study this text carefully and be encouraged thereby.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.