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This blog post is Part 1 of a series entitled "From Fear To Freedom" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN. 

Message Date: January 28, 2024

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The great lawgiver. The father of the nation of Israel. The emancipator of God’s chosen people. The man who spent more intimate time with God than any other human. The person, Moses, is mentioned 803 times in the Bible. Only Jesus and David are mentioned more times. The circumstances surrounding the introduction of Moses to the world are both bizarre and unique. We are first introduced to Moses during a ferociously barbaric era in the timeline of Egyptian history. Hebrew midwives are being commanded to murder all newborn Israeli boys. A powerful King, in fear of losing everything, is drowning Hebrew babies in the Nile river. And a million plus people are subjected to a life slavery.

Moses himself was born into a family of slaves. His Jewish parents were slaves under the ruthless Pharoah – the King of Egypt. At his birth and over fear for his young life, Moses’s mother hid Moses from the Pharoah and his murderous subordinates. At the mere age of 3 months, he is placed in a basket to float in the Nile River. Imagine a mother placing her baby in a basket and setting him a float in a river to protect him. The likelihood is quite high that Moses was not the only baby floating that day. Sadly, with the hundreds of thousands and thousands of Jewish people living in Egypt, there were other babies, who had been thrown into the river by the command of this Pharoah, whose dead bodies were potentially floating everywhere.

Yet, from this moment forward, young Moses’s life, and the lives of every Israeli Jew, will never again be the same. Moses is adopted into royalty when he was but three months old. He later became a man uniquely educated in the court of one of the world’s mightiest empires. He too would be an heir to prestige, wealth, and Egyptian power and pleasures. But… at a young age, he would walk away from it all.

Acts 7:22 says this of Moses: Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.

While believed to be at the age of 40, Moses chooses to identify himself with his own oppressed race. Moses kills an Egyptian for beating one of his own, and he flees Egypt in fear of the Pharoah. Moses ran from a position of royalty and became as a foreigner in a foreign land. It would be forty years later when, while tending flock for his father-in-law, that Moses met with God on a mountain – the same mountain upon which he will one day return to meet yet again with God and to receive 10 incredibly important commandments that even unto today, the Church is to revere and respect. 40 years after his departure, Moses returns to Egypt to stand before the Pharoah. After numerous conversations and snakes and blood and frogs and gnats and flies and dead cows and festering boils and hailstorms and locusts and darkness and death, and especially the death of the Pharoah’s son, Moses leaves Egypt along with about a million Jews who have been living in indescribable conditions under 400 years of Egyptian captivity and oppression. Moses then embarks upon a most remarkable excursion from “fear to freedom” … a journey that will take 40 years. 

This story, this remarkable story, is one unlike any other story ever in the history of time on our planet. It is one of pain, brokenness, idols, murder, turmoil, treachery, contentions, pride, blood, and fear. It too is a beautiful story of purpose, forgiveness, miracles, promises, life, and freedom. While playing the role of Moses in the 1953 classic, The Ten Commandments, the actor Charlton Heston said these words about the man Moses:

When we were to film scenes on Mt. Sinai for the picture, The Ten Commandments, it took us two days to drive from Cairo over country so desolate that halfway there all pretense of a road gave out and the drivers had to pick their way among the rocks. It was here, on God’s mountain, where I realized the magnitude of responsibility that rested on this man, Moses. Charlton Heston, Actor, October 1958

Indeed, Moses was a man on whom much responsibility rested. And with all that we are to glean from his life, I am confident, this will truly be a deeply rich and profound and empowering study for us as His Church.

Moses was not a perfect man, yet a man chosen by God to overcome his imperfections and complete the purpose for which he was created – to obediently follow God over men and mountains and across waters and before multitudes. He too was called to embark upon a most challenging and supernatural and overwhelming chance of a lifetime to journey from fear to freedom.

I’d like to encourage you to really think about the statement you just read. Because the study upon which we are going to embark isn’t merely one of an old man from the Old Testament of whom movies have been made. No! 
What we are going to see is that through the study of this man’s life, there will be countless, countless, opportunities for you and for me to place ourselves into the story and to realize that God is calling us each into a beautifully challenging and supernatural and overwhelming chance of a lifetime to journey with Moses from fear to freedom.

The story of Moses unfolds throughout the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. We believe Moses authors these books, along with the book of Genesis. We too know he penned at least one Psalm – Psalm 90.

Let’s read this Psalm 90.

Holy Moses - - what beautiful words from such a prolific writer! Moses had such an impact on the Holy Scriptures and their authors. Moses is mentioned in 26 of the 66 books of the Bible. And, even in the very last book of the Bible, Revelation, we find evidence of the legacy this man of God has eternally left. John wrote these words in Revelation 15:3 when he spoke of what he saw in his vison of heaven:

And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb.

“Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations.” Revelation 15:2-3

In the New Testament book of Matthew, Jesus gives His followers an indescribable moment to sit and watch and listen to a conversation unlike any before that was literally out-of-this world; a conversation I am confident they never forgot:

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John, the brother of James, up on a high mountain by themselves. While they watched, Jesus’ appearance was changed; his face became bright like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Then Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Matthew 17:1-3

Imagine being invited to have a listening ear in that conversation. And at one point during His earthly ministry, when being pressed by the Jewish leaders who would not place their faith in Jesus, Jesus references Moses by saying in John 5:

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say? John 5:46-47

It is at the death of Moses, that words are spoken of him that I presume we each should aspire for such a similar proclamation of true obedience about our own lives. I know I desire for such to be said of me:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt - to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34:10-12

The study of the life of this man Moses will be one of the most intensely enlightening, and personally challenging, inspiring, convicting, motivating, exhausting, and stimulating study upon which we the Church will embark. For I can confidently say: Apart from the Son of God, no other person in history has made a more profound and enduring impact on the world as did the “servant of God,” Moses.

In full disclosure, I have been hesitantly excited about this new series with which we begin 2024. I have known for some time now that the Lord was leading me to a deep dive into the life of this extremely interesting man whose story, I dare say, is known by countless people. I have paused often this past fall to think about this man Moses. Knowing we would soon be dissecting so very much about his life, I’ve tried placing myself in his position as I have supposed what it would have been like to be a man who, in one day, went from sharing a palace with the world’s most powerful man to being hunted for his very life by the same man…Moses knew what it meant to fail. He was a murderer. I presume he did not plan on such a decision to take a man’s life. It just happened. It happened so very fast. He saw an injustice and he snapped.

I’ve never killed someone. I cannot imagine doing so. And I too believe this is not something young Moses could have ever imagined. But I can relate to making rash decisions in the moment – decisions that are wrong; decisions that are wreckless; decisions that are wrecked with regret; decisions that come with lasting consequences. Dare I say you too can relate with such moments?  Moments when, if only briefly or short-lived, you reacted, you spoke in the heat of the moment, you gave into your passions, you snapped, you made a hasty decision that you wish upon which you could hit repeat and do things differently; respond more wisely; react more tempered. In this regard, I suppose each of us here today and watching today can say in some way, “I too, like Moses, have failed.” And in doing so, I know I have and too presume have you, felt the overwhelming emotion that is indescribable and incomprehensibly paralyzing… fear.

Moses knew what it meant to fear. His flight through the desert came at a time in his life when he was not a man of faith; he had not yet met God and received his divine commission. He was merely a man running for his life. He was fleeing Pharoah’s death sentence through the desert, not only over fear of the mighty King’s cruel and swift judgement, but too over the equally cruel sun and sand and heat that would soon close in around him as he crossed this dry wasteland. Days before he had enjoyed the pleasures of Egyptian royalty. Now, he is a man exhausted and empty and alone and consumed with fear.

On January 18th, 2023, a man named Collin sat in my office and cried. The night before I met him for the first time, I spent several hours on the phone pleading with my new friend to not take his life. A mutual friend had called me frantic on the night of the 17th explaining that Collin had separated from his wife, was struggling financially, and was exclaiming he was going to kill himself. My friend asked me to call Collin. I am so very glad I did! After a long conversation, I convinced Collin to not take his life that night and to promise to come see me the next day, January 18th. Collin did. We sat in my office a long time as Collin shared with me his life story of immigrant Jewish parents who came to America from Poland when Collin was a young boy. Collin spoke of an underlying fear he had of failure – failure as a husband; failure as a father; failure as a business owner. Collin allowed me to tell him my story. He listened as I spoke of my shortcomings both as a pastor and a husband. I explained to Collin that I too struggle at times with fear. That day, January 18th, 2023, while sitting in my office, Collin took the first step from fear to freedom by surrendering his life to Jesus. I called Collin last week to celebrate with him his 1-year anniversary as a Christian. He is an entirely new man. He and his wife are still together, his business is going great, and he said, “Even with life’s pressures, I now have a peace I didn’t have before January 18th a year ago!” What a story of fear to freedom Church!


The more I have studied the life Moses, the more I have come to understand how paralyzing fear can be in each of our lives.

Fear is a reality we will revisit throughout this study. We are going to see time and again in the study of Moses how, when it goes unchecked, disregarded, or ignored, the effects and the aftermath of fear are almost always catastrophic. As a matter of fact, we are not even yet introduced to the main character of this story, and we see that, in actuality, it is the presence of fear the rears its ferociousness at the onset of this moment in history. See if you can recognize it:

Exodus 1:1-10

Do you see it? Fear is at the underlying core for which God’s people, the Israelites, are forced to become slaves. Read on...

Exodus 1:11-14

Now do you see it? The reason for the entirety of this story that eventually leads to the nation of Israel being held captive as slaves to the Egyptians for 400 years... Fear.

Read again: Exodus 1:8-11

It is fear - the fear of losing power; the fear of the unknown; the fear over not getting what he wants that causes the King of Egypt to become irrational, insensitive and abusive. Is this not true in so very many ways for us each? If left unchecked, fear will move me to act in ways irrational and motivate me to respond in ways irreverent. Fear is a powerful emotion on full display throughout the story of the Exodus.  

Now… in order to begin moving through this story, we must first take a colossal step backwards
almost 600 years prior to the birth of Moses. For, this story cannot be fully understood without a brief timeline step-back to consider another man… the first father of the Jewish people. The year is 2091 BC, close to 600 years before we are introduced to a child named Moses who is floating in a basket in the Nile River. It is at this moment in time when God speaks to another man to whom He reveals His plan for His chosen people. This man’s name…Abraham, and he is 70 years old. And though Abraham has no children, God makes a covenant with Abraham, giving him His ordained word that one day Abraham will become a father, the father, of a great nation.

You see, God’s call to the patriarch Abraham provides for us significant details of what is to come for His people. Let’s look at Genesis 15, which doesn’t merely provide for us background information for Abraham, but too details the single most significant day in the life of Abraham. 

Genesis 15:1-17

Did you notice the very first words that the Lord spoke to Abraham in his vision? Look again!

Genesis 15:1

God says, “Do not be…” what? - - “Do not be afraid! Do not fear!” Again, I remind you… fear is such a crippling feeling… a paralyzing emotion. And it is front and center throughout the entirety of this monumental moment in Scripture. Now... Some say that we are to ignore our fears. Some even say that to give credence to one’s fears is to show a sign of weakness.
I say this approach itself is weak. I presume this is why God speaks so often into this very human struggle reminding us that we are to not fear!

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Psalm 46:1-3

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

Do you notice a pattern among these individual passages about fear? I do! The pattern is to simply not ignore one’s fears. Scripture does not say we are to ignore the reality of fear. 

Rather than ignoring my fears, I instead exemplify tremendous strength and courage when I:

1. Fully recognize my fear.

2. Faithfully release my fear.

We are going to see through this study that it took Moses a lifetime to do exactly this! At the beginning of a new year, this is the optimal time for you to do exactly this as well. Answer this question this morning Church:

What do I most fear?

We each fear something. Uncertainty. Sickness. Rejection, Loneliness. Discomfort. Loss. Regret. Betrayal. In Genesis 15, God takes Abraham outside and has him look into the night sky and to count the stars. Abraham could not. They were beyond Abraham’s ability to count! God then reveals to Abraham that his descendants will be as the stars in the sky – innumerable! It is what happens next in the story that helps us clearly understand why God has His hand on Moses and why God calls Moses to such a monumental journey of a lifetime.

In early times, when an agreement known as a covenant is decreed between two people, they typically did so in blood. The two parties would cut animals in two and place the slain animals against one another on the ground. They would then arrange the animal parts in two parallel rows. Then the two individuals would stand between the two rows of bloody animals, thus consecrating their agreements and binding such promises in blood.

Genesis 15:9-21

God had Abraham take a heifer, goat, ram, dove and pigeon and cut each of them except for the birds in half. He then had Abraham arrange the dead and bloody animals in rows. But notice what happens next:

Genesis 15:17

This is not how a covenant is traditionally sealed. As I shared earlier, typically two parties stand together in between the rows of animals. Their bilateral agreement involves each party doing their part to consecrate the promise. But this did not happen, did it? No! This is SO VERY IMPORTANT Y’ALL! Abraham is doing nothing but watching as God is the one sealing the covenant! Rather than the two parties pass between the dead animals, instead, look at verse 17:

Genesis 15:17

“… a smoking firepot and blazing torch” passed between the pieces of animals. This covenant happened while Abraham was in a dream sitting on the sidelines watching. The obvious question: “What did the smoking firepot and blazing torch represent?” The obvious answer: God! These two symbols of “fire” represent the Holy God who, as Isaiah says: “His tongue is as a devouring fire.” Over 90 times in the Bible we read God appears as fire, or within fire or accompanied by fire. As a matter of fact, the first time God speaks to Moses, He does so in what? A burning bush. And in Deuteronomy, Moses Himself says this about God:

For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:24

And, as we will soon see in this study of the life of Moses, once leading the Israelites out of Egypt, God leads and protects His people through the wilderness at night by a cloud of fire. So, “… a smoking firepot and blazing torch” passed between the pieces of animals. These symbols represent God alone passing between the animals… Why?

Why is God’s covenant with Abraham so important?
1. The covenant is absolute.
2. The covenant is autonomous.

This covenant did not depend on anything Abraham would do. Only God participated in the covenant. Abraham watched. God’s unilateral covenant with Abraham is not conditional on anything Abraham will or will not do – no matter Abraham’s actions, obedience, failures, character, faith, strength or courage! God said it. God made it clear. And it will happen! We know this because of these three words God promises to Abraham in Genesis 15:13: “Know for certain…” What a story – what a beginning to a most amazing story... We are just getting started on a wonderful journey from fear to freedom!


Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.