The Great Renunciation
October 19th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
THE GREAT RENUNCIATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Exodus 2:1-11; Hebrews 11:23-26
10-19-58 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Great Renunciation. As we have followed through these early first books of the Old Testament, we are in the beginning chapters of the second book of Moses, the Book of Exodus. In the second chapter:
There went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.
And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, beautiful, well formed, she hid him three months.
And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.
And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.
And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.
And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children.
Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?
And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother.
And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it.
And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: for she said, Because I drew him out of the water.
And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens.
The passage we follow in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the twenty-third and following verses:
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful, well formed, symmetrical child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
These are the Scriptures around which we have prepared this message entitled The Great Renunciation.
I find it first in the mother, the great renunciation. "By faith his mother and his father were not afraid of the king’s commandment" [Hebrews 11:23]. The king had decreed, "All the male children are to be destroyed" [Exodus 1:16, 22]. But this beautiful child, so well formed, so fair of countenance, they disobeyed the king’s decree, and they trusted God for the deliverance of the child; and were not afraid [Hebrews 11:23]. They believed that God would deliver that precious life. So they did not stand in terror before the king’s commandment [Hebrews 11:23]; but by faith they trusted God for the deliverance of the little child. So as the child grew, and became lusty of lung, and husky of life, she was unable to hide the little fellow any longer. Taking the papyrus plants that grow so thick and heavy on the banks of the Nile, she made a little ark, a little basket, and carefully making it impervious to water, she laid the precious little child with many a kiss in the little ark, and closed the lid, and carefully placed it among the flags, among those papyri plants that grow so profusely on the banks of the river. I would say she did that to keep the current from sweeping the little ark out into the bosom of the great stream, and so on down to the sea. She placed it carefully where the ark could be lodged and held among the flags that grew along the bank of the river [Exodus 2:2-3].
And it happened according to the mother’s faith. It befell as she could have hoped: she had placed it where Pharaoh’s daughter came oft down to the river to bathe. And when the princess saw the ark there caught among the flags, she sent one of her maidens to fetch it for her [Exodus 2:5]. And you will never improve upon that word "fetch"; it’s falling out of the use of the English language, but there’s no other word to take its place. "Fetch" says it exactly: "to send and bring back." She fetched it; she sent her maid to get it and bring it back. And when the ark was, the little basket was laid before her and it was opened, there she looked upon the face of the beautiful, beautiful child. The babe cried, and it touched something in her woman’s heart. And looking upon the child, she immediately divined why its presence there in the river: close by were the Hebrew huts, the complexion and features of the little baby, the unlikelihood that a mother would ever forget her sucking child, and the remembrance of the stern though temporary edict of her father, she immediately came to that inevitable conclusion, "This is one of the Hebrews’ children," placed there to escape the decree of the king [Exodus 2:6]. All the while Miriam, the little thirteen year old sister of the babe, was watching breathlessly [Exodus 2:4]. And when she saw the princess look upon the face of the child, and the movement of her woman’s heart in compassion and pity as the babe wept, the sister interposed. And the interposition was a suggestion: "Would you like for me to get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for thee?" [Exodus 2:7]. All of this could not have happened were it not led by the Holy Spirit of God. It is ordered of heaven; it is decreed in glory. And these things that are happening before our eyes are but a part of the great pattern that God hath woven in heaven.
When you act according to the will of God, what you shall have bound on earth shall have been bound in heaven [Matthew 16:19, 18:18]. "Whosoever sins ye remit, whosoever sins ye retain" [John 20:23]; when we are in the will of God, acting according to the decree and the purpose of God, what happens down here is the thing that God hath decreed in heaven, all of this according to the infinite choice and elective purposes, by the determinate counsel of God in heaven. And this princess responded immediately to the suggestion of the little Hebrew girl. "Yes, a nurse, go fetch her" [Exodus 2:7-8]. And the little sister made her way to the Hebrew hut, and there announced to the child’s mother that Pharaoh’s daughter had sent for her. Quickly the mother comes and stands in the presence of the princess of the greatest empire in that ancient world. And the princess says to the Hebrew woman, "Take this child, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages" [Exodus 2:9]. Can you imagine the trembling hands? Can you imagine the overflowing thanksgiving to the God who lives, who reigns, who decrees, who chooses, who keeps, who guards? Can you imagine the overflowing gratitude of her heart as she received from the hands of the princess herself that precious bundle, protected now under the aegis, by the authority of the greatest sovereign in the earth? And the wages paid, more than adequate for all of the needs of the little household: truly, once again, God hath done exceeding abundantly above all that we could ask or think [Ephesians 3:20].
Now how long the mother kept the child we do not know. All we know is this: that she kept that little child long enough to teach the little boy the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. When did she reveal her identity to him? We do not know. But she identified the life of that little boy with his people. She taught him the great mission and destiny of his people. She repeated to him the promises unto Abraham, and unto Isaac, and unto Jacob. And she instilled in the heart and soul of that little life a love for God and a devotion to the promises of the Lord that he never, never, ever, ever forgot. And as he grew, those promises grew. And as the days wore into the years and he came to maturity, those great abiding revelations made to that little boy through the mouth, and lips, and heart, and soul, and loving teaching of the mother grew to maturity also. This is just one more time which we have met so many times before, that instance, that bring, that point out, that emphasize the great, marvelous, strategic, open, pliable, amenable opportunity, for God’s people is always in the teaching of our children. Not when they get old, not when they go away to college; these things have their places, yes, these things are necessary by all means, but the great, ultimate, final, fundamental lies in teaching these children.
So, the mother teaches this little boy. We do not know how long, but long enough to put his feet on a rock, put the love of God in his heart, and to identify himself with the chosen people of the Lord. So the Scriptures say, "The child grew, and the mother brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son" [Exodus 2:10]. Now, I would think that was done with a commingling of emotions. Proud, yes, to see that beautiful boy; Josephus says, "So beautiful that when he would walk, everyone would turn and look upon him; so beautiful," Josephus says, "that the workmen, toiling at their tasks, would lay down their burdens just to get a look at the beautiful countenance and wonderful stature and features of that glorious child." I say, with commingled emotions: proud that the boy should be spared, proud that he should be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, grateful for the preservation of his life; I can see all that, can’t you? And I can also imagine the inward heartache and the unbidden tears when she renounced her motherhood and her parenthood, and gave the boy to be the son of another home, another family, another woman. Oh, how, when she went back to that dreary Hebrew hut, how many nights she must have wept, how many days she must have buried her face in her hands and cried; her great renunciation, giving up the son that he might be Pharaoh’s daughter’s son.
So, he becomes the child and heir apparent to the throne. And Pharaoh’s daughter called his name Moses, "For," she said, "I drew him out of the water" [Exodus 2:10]. Now that is an interesting little etymological discussion here, that, let’s follow just for a moment: that man’s name, Moses. The Oriental mind demanded that every name have a meaning. That’s so different from us; we name a fellow Tom, or Dick, or Harry, and Tom, Dick, and Harry mean nothing to us, it’s just a nomenclature, a designation. But those people who lived back there in that day were quite different: every name had to have a meaning, it had to mean something. Well, this little boy that she now possessed, that was her own, the Egyptian word for "born of" is moses, "born of." Its etymological meaning, its first meaning, its way back primary meaning was "drawn out," and "moses, drawn out" came to mean "born of." Well, the princess could not actually use the word "moses, born of," he was not born of the princess. So, she went back to its ultimate, primary meaning, its pristine primeval meaning, and took it, and made it to refer to what she had done: drawn out of the water. Now it is almost certain that in the court he would also be given a pre-syllable to that name. The great Egyptian sun god was named Ra. So it is practically, almost undebateably certain that in the court, this son of Pharaoh’s daughter was known as Ra -moses, "born of, drawn out of Ra"; that’s almost certain. So when the people in the court saw the great man, or when he walked down the streets or appeared in public, it is almost undebateable, they called him "Ramoses, Ramoses." That is especially likely because this all happened in the Ramesside dynasty; and doubtless the king of the great oppression could have been and was Ramses, Rameses II.
So you have this young fellow, growing up in the court, heir apparent to the throne, Ramoses, and the whole Egyptian empire is before him. The cream of the cup of the land is placed in the hands of Ramoses. That wonderful empire, so eloquently and marvelously described by Herodotus, and the glory of that kingdom that is depicted in the hieroglyphic records, all of it lay before him.
When he rode down the streets of Memphis, or of Pithom, or of Raamses, or of Zoan, he rode in a golden chariot. I have seen one of those golden chariots. And a crier ran before him, who lifted up his voice and said, "Bow the knee, bow the knee, Ramoses, Ramoses, bow the knees." Oh, you can just see the glory and the might as that young fellow matures. When he floated on the bosom of the Nile in his golden barge it was to the strains of voluptuous music. Any wish that came to his heart was supplied by the vast, illimitable, immeasurable treasures of the golden empire of ancient Egypt. His education, in Acts 7: "And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds," Acts 7:22. And he was learned in all of the arts and sciences of the Egyptians. We think we are so brilliant today; it has been my understanding we couldn’t build a pyramid. After these four thousand years, the largest structure man has ever built, and the most perfect, is the great Cheops pyramid on the other side of the Nile River from the ancient city of Memphis, in which city Moses lived and walked and wrought as the heir apparent to the throne, learned in all of the arts and sciences of the Egyptians. Those great universities that had grown up around the temple of the sun god, there Moses learned to write those strange hieroglyphics, there he was taught astronomy. There he learned chemistry. We haven’t even learned how to embalm like those ancient Egyptians. There he learned all about mathematics, the structures, the raising to those colossal heights a pyramid, colossi, palace. One of the traditions that I read said that these great cities of Pharaoh, Pithom and Raamses, were built under the supervision and under the direction of the great Ramoses. "Learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and mighty in words and in deeds" [Acts 7:22]; a statesman, he was an able and a brilliant man, "Mighty in words, and mighty in deeds."
One of the unusual traditions that Josephus elaborates on so greatly – and these historians say with all doubtless truthfulness – one of these stories that Josephus tells is that in those days, Egypt was invaded by Ethiopia. And the swarming armies of the Ethiopians were destroying the entire kingdom of ancient Egypt, and when the people in desperation made inquiry at the oracle of their gods, the oracle said to appoint Moses commander in chief. So Ramoses was appointed commander in chief of the armies of Egypt; and instead of facing the Ethiopians as they would have thought, following down the course of the river, Josephus describes the campaign of Moses, as he took his armies through the deserts, and surprised the Ethiopian armies and put them to flight, and then invaded their own territory and took their own city, and returned to Egypt and to Memphis in glory, in honor, with the spoils of a vast victory; Moses, mighty in deeds, mighty in words, educated in all of the arts and sciences of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22].
Ah, what a tremendous figure! With Egypt before him, with his great opportunity for study and education, and yet, and yet, as the days pass and the years multiply, and he comes to full age, when he was grown, forty years old, there is a strange inexplicable, intangible, indescribable something about that young prince. There are shadows that fall upon his face. Even his best friends and those closest to them cannot explain them. To his foster mother he has a little turn toward melancholy; and she can’t explain it. "Son, what? Is it a new chariot? Is it a new barge? Is it another palace? Is it more servants? Is it diamonds and jewels?" "Son, why?" And to his companions and intimate friends he seemed just a little different, absent-minded. And the servants in his house would whisper to one another, saying, "He falls into such depression. Isn’t it strange? We can’t understand – this glorious prince." But the secret stayed locked up in his heart, those shadows that fell upon his face in the most voluptuous of all circumstances, wine, party, companions, music, and that shadow. And in the midst of the acclamation of an empire, delivered by the hand of the great Ramoses, and that quiet, that sadness, that inexplicable melancholy, for as he walked and as he talked, as he’d draw through the streets and highways of the empire, there did he see the toil of his brethren under the taskmaster’s lash, and his mother’s face, and his mother’s God, and the promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And there finally settled in his soul the great resolve.
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused, renounced, the throne of Pharaoh, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God . . . esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.
The great renunciation: may I say four things briefly about it? First: it was made in the mature years of his life. This was no arduous, hot decision of youth, which mounts up like a bonfire and dies in the same hour of the night. This was the steadied, studied, steady will and resolve and determination of a man who had seen much of life, who had counted its cost, and who chose to renounce the greatest throne in the world and step down into the hardship and tears and trials of an enslaved people.
It was done at a time when the fortunes of Israel were at their lowest: trading a palace for a hut, trading the luxuries of life for the course hard fare of a slave, trading honor and glory for ignominy and shame and contempt and reproach, trading the companions of the court for the association of ignorant and depraved and untaught, unlettered slaves. Did ever a man in all the history of the world make such a character decision as did that man Ramoses? "Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God," than to enjoy the throne and the pleasures and the treasures of the greatest empire of the ancient world [Hebrews 11:25]. And when he made the decision, he made it decisively. How many would have temporized between the two? Held on to the throne and befriended those slaves, outwardly bow down before the god Osiris and the sun god Ra, worship Jehovah in the heart; how many would have rationalized the position? "These slaves need a great friend in court; it is best for me to stay on the throne." He made the decision decisively! He cut the thing in two! He renounced the throne, and renounced his adoption, and walked down the steps of the greatest empire in the world in order to share with his brethren slavery, and toil, and tears, and sorrow. "For he had respect unto the recompense of the reward" [Hebrews 11:26]; he believed God. He believed the promises of God. He believed in the destiny of his people. He believed that God would deliver him by His hand; and he chose the reproach of Christ.
"I Athanasius against the whole world," said the great theologian, defending the deity of his Lord. "Here I stand, God help me, I can do no other," said Martin Luther against the entire papal system: choosing the reproach of Christ.
Now, just a little sentence of the sermon to come; when he first tried to deliver them he tried it by the strength of the flesh, by the might of his own arm, and he failed [Exodus 2:11-12]; and was driven out into the desert [Exodus 2:15]. And there God had His great opportunity. As long as it was done in the might and strength of the flesh, the honor would never have been to God, but to Ramoses. But when he failed, was driven out into the desert, after forty years of teaching in the solitudes of the Paranic desert [Acts 7:30], then God had an opportunity. Out of the smitten rock the waters flow. Out of the dead seed the flowers grow. Out of the dark of the earth and in the refining fires, the gold emerges. And out of the great renunciation and the desert solitude of this man, comes the Exodus, and the birth of a nation: "By faith Moses," by the strong hand of God.
Now while we stand and sing our hymn, somebody, to give his heart to the Lord, somebody to put his life with us in the church, while we sing this song, in the balcony around, on this lower floor, you come and stand by me. Come immediately, on the first note of the first stanza, while all of us stand and sing.