Exodus 4:27 – 6:8
Did you hear about the pastor who one morning had a meeting with the chairman of the elder board? The elder chairman told the pastor the elders had a meeting the previous night, and that he had some good news and some bad news to tell the pastor. The pastor said, “Well, tell me the good news first.” The elder replied, “Pastor, I’m happy to tell you that last night the elders voted to give you an all-expense paid trip to the Holy Land.” The pastor responded, “Wow! That’s great! I’ve always want to go to the Holy Land. Thank you so much. So tell me then, what’s the bad news?” And the elder chairman said, “Well, pastor, the elders decided to give you a one-way ticket!”
I wonder if Moses sometimes felt like that pastor. God promised him a trip to the Holy Land as well. In fact, Moses would win the release of the Israelite slaves from their Egyptian taskmasters and then lead them to their new homeland, what we sometimes refer to as the Holy Land. But this was kind of a good news/bad news proposition. The good news was that the Israelites would be set free from their slavery and be able to make their home in a rich and fertile land. But the bad news was that this journey wouldn’t come easily. There would be opposition to face and battles to fight along the way. In fact, problems would begin before they even left Egypt.
Last time we considered the encounter between God and Moses at the burning bush. Moses, having fled Egypt some 40 years before, had spent all this time tending sheep in the desert of Midian, to the east of Egypt. But when the time was right, God called Moses to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites to freedom and into their new home, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Moses resisted and came up with a number of excuses as to why he was not the one to pull off such a mighty work. Even though God assured Moses that He would be with him, Moses still asked God to send someone else to do it. So God said that Moses’ brother Aaron would go along with him and Aaron would be the spokesman.
So Moses and Aaron journeyed to Egypt. When they arrived it says in Ex. 4:29-31:
Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.
This was the good news. God had told Moses He had seen the suffering of the Israelites and was going to free them. Aaron told the Israelite elders everything God had told Moses. “Great!” they thought, “we’re going to the Holy Land!” And they bowed down and worshipped God. But it wouldn’t be so easy, and it wouldn’t be so fast. In fact, major problems would break out. There would be a confrontation not only between Moses and Pharaoh, but in reality it was a confrontation between God and Pharaoh, who thought he was a god. And so we read Exod. 5:1-21:
Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’”
Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”
Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.”
But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!” Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”
That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”
Then the slave drivers and the foremen went out and said to the people, “This is what Pharaoh says; ‘I will not give you any more straw. Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.’” So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, “Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.” The Israelite foremen appointed by Pharaoh’s slave drivers were beaten and were asked, “Why didn’t you meet your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?”
Then the Israelite foremen went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.”
Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are – lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”
The Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the Lord look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Not surprisingly, Pharaoh wasn’t nearly as receptive to the message from Moses and Aaron to let the people go as the Israelite elders were. “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go,” said Pharaoh. In ancient Egypt it was believed that the Pharaohs were divine. I suppose no one believed that more strongly than the Pharaohs. So when Moses and Aaron tell the Pharaoh they have a message from the God of the Israelite slaves, Pharaoh is not impressed. Nor is he open to their message.
There is probably no greater barrier that can keep us from God than pride. Pharaoh prided himself in being divine, so he was not about to listen to a message from the God worshiped by his slaves. In fact, you can detect the proud contempt in Pharaoh’s response, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?” This was not a question of curiosity but of dismissal.
I’m sure none of us are convinced that we are divine. Nevertheless, we do battle pride, and pride can keep us from God. When we think we are good enough to earn God’s acceptance by our behavior so we don’t need a Savior, we keep ourselves far from God. When we think we are strong enough and smart enough to handle life on our own, that we don’t need God day-by-day and hour-by-hour, we forfeit a sense of His loving presence and wise guidance in our lives. When we are too proud to accept correction from others, we miss out on the work God wants to do in our lives.
The church has long considered pride to be one of the seven deadly sins, and with good reason. For nothing can bring spiritual death faster than pride – trusting in oneself instead of trusting in God. And by pride I don’t mean having a healthy self image, but thinking more highly of ourselves than we should, thinking more highly of ourselves than we do of others, and thinking we can earn God’s approval through our behavior.
If pride is an issue in your life, let me encourage you to surrender that to God and ask God to help you grow in humility instead. It won’t be easy, for dying to pride is one of the most painful things we can undertake, but it is also one of the most freeing. And as we do, our relationship with God will be deepened and our relationships with others will be enhanced, for no one likes being around a proud person, but people do enjoy being around those with a humble spirit.
Pharaoh, of course, chose not to die to his pride and not to listen to the message from the true God coming to him through Aaron and Moses. In fact, Pharaoh showed his disdain for both the Israelites and the message brought to him by Moses and Aaron by increasing the workload for the Israelite slaves. The Israelites had to meet the same quota for bricks made from mud and straw, but now they would have to find their own straw, whereas before that was provided. Pharaoh wanted them to work so much that they wouldn’t have time to listen to Moses and Aaron.
The Israelite foremen decided that a little labor negotiation was called for. But to their dismay, they discovered that the management was not at all interested in their concerns. When the Israelite foremen complained to Pharaoh about the increased workload, Pharaoh accused them of being lazy. Then he repeated his order that they had to still meet their quota while finding their own straw.
After that the Israelite foremen found Moses and Aaron and told them just what they thought about this great plan of being released from their slavery. “May the Lord look upon you and judge you!” they said. “You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Here is the bad news section. The good news was that the Israelites would be set free from slavery and would go to their new homeland. The bad news was that things would get worse before they would get better, for they would have to face the wrath of Pharaoh. Their workload would increase and some would be beaten by the Egyptian slave drivers.
So this was not going well for Moses. He had done – although reluctantly –what God asked of him. He and Aaron delivered God’s message to Pharaoh. Not only does Pharaoh rebuff Moses, but the very people Moses came to deliver turn on him and curse him. So Moses took his complaint to God. Vs. 22-23 read, “Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.’”
Have you ever complained to God? I imagine we all have. Maybe misfortune strikes our lives, and we beseech God, “Why has this happened? Why has this happened to me?” Perhaps like Moses we respond to what we understand to be God’s will for us, but it doesn’t turn out well – or at least, not like we thought it would. Maybe we agree to teach a Sunday School class but the kids are disruptive and don’t give a hoot about what we spent several hours preparing. Maybe we open our home for a home Bible study and no one shows up. Perhaps we gather our courage and witness about Jesus to a friend and they look at us like we’re crazy. Maybe we go on a short term mission trip and we spend most of our time sick, and when we do go out someone steals our wallet and passport.
When we get mad or discouraged because things didn’t work out as we thought they would have or should have, we must realize we are looking only at the surface of things. Yet God may have had a purpose in our obedience that is different than what we thought the outcome should be.
Take the example of teaching Sunday School. You pray about it and conclude God is calling you to this opportunity. So you agree, and soon start envisioning how it will turn out – the children eagerly soaking up everything you say. But then it doesn’t turn out that way as the children don’t even pay attention. Yet maybe God’s purpose in this had more to do with you than the children. Through this, God may desire to teach you patience, or that you would develop a deeper sense of dependency on God or trust in God even when you don’t understand everything.
God’s purpose for us in this step of obedience may not have to do with outward success but it’s to teach us perseverance, to press on in obeying God even when it is not easy. Or it could be simply that God’s timing is different than ours. There could be any number of things God has in mind when He calls us to a particular step of obedience, but we most likely will not know those at the beginning.
We must refrain from looking at things only at the surface level. For when we do that, we will likely respond like Moses. Notice Moses did not say to God, “Why have bad things happened to this people?” No, he said, “O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people?” In other words, this is Your fault, God! I did what You asked me to do but everything fell flat. In fact, it’s worse than before. I like how Charles Swindoll elaborates on this. He envisions Moses’ statement to God going something like this:
I told You back at the bush that I’m not the guy for this job, and You kept saying, “Moses, you’re the man.” I told You and told You, “No I’m not! I’m not cut out for this kind of thing. I’ll fail.” But You kept saying, “Yes, you are. You’re My choice.” So I reluctantly gave in. I walked all the way from Midian – left my home and my job. And here I am, Lord, in trouble with Pharaoh and hated by the very people I wanted to help. See? I told You I wasn’t the one for the job! I did exactly what You said – used Your very words – and Pharaoh kicked sand in my face! And these poor people are worse off and about to die because I’ve made all the officials so angry.
Sound familiar? Have you had some conversations with God along those lines? The mistake that Moses and the Israelite foremen made was that they presumed to know how God was going to work, and when He would bring about their release. They thought it would come easily and immediately, that Pharaoh would instantly agree to their request. When things didn’t go as they presumed they would, the foremen got mad at Moses and Moses complained to God.
And that’s the mistake we often make as well, and the mistake we should try to avoid. If we are seeking God and His will for us, God will direct us to a certain activity, to a new step of obedience. God will make clear to us what He would have us do. But rarely does God at the same time reveal to us what the results will be of our obedience. We may envision glorious success – success, that is, as we define it. Yet we may experience just the opposite of what we hoped for, as Moses and the Israelites did at this stage of the unfolding of God’s plan.
What God desires from us is obedience no matter what the results are. On the one hand that may not sound so attractive, knowing that we may give our all to something and see nothing in response, or maybe what we see is a negative reaction from others, as was true here for Moses.
But on the other hand that is very freeing, for all God asks of us is that we follow His leading. We may see results we had anticipated – results that are satisfying to us and maybe even impressive to others – or we may not.
Even look at Jesus’ earthly ministry. After three years of ministry what did He have to show for it? A handful of scared disciples who would not even stand by Him as He was arrested. At that moment, and at the surface level, the results of Jesus’ obedience to the Father were not very impressive. That would change after the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Then the followers of Jesus courageously bore witness of Jesus. But as Jesus concluded His earthly ministry, it didn’t look so good. So we must remember: true success is not determined by the results we see but rather by our willingness to follow through on however we sense God leading us. The results are in God’s hands, and God may have a different purpose or a different timetable than we do.
Moses may have misunderstood the scope of God’s plan, and He may have complained to God, but at least he knew where to turn. He returned to the Lord. And notice how gracious God is. He doesn’t rebuke Moses for complaining or for failing to understand the whole plan. It says starting with vs. 1 of chapter 6 (1-8):
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”
God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”
God doesn’t chastise Moses for his lack of faith, but rather God reassures Moses of what He will do. God hears and answers prayer, even when it is a complaint from a confused and discouraged person. The key to the Israelite’s deliverance did not lay with the persuasiveness of Moses and Aaron nor was it rooted in the flexibility of Pharaoh. Rather it rested solely with God. Notice how emphatic this is in vs. 6-8. God says, “I am the Lord, I will bring you out, I will free you, I will redeem you, I will take you as my own people, I will be your God, I am the Lord, I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.”
God reassured Moses by making it as clear as possible that deliverance did not depend on Moses nor even on Pharaoh. It depended solely on God. For as God said three times in this passage, “I am the Lord.” In other words He said to Moses, “Pharaoh may think he is divine, but I am the Lord. Pharaoh may think he holds the power over the Israelites, but they are my children. I have all power. And I will act on their behalf.”
Sometimes God may ask us to do something that seems impossible. We may get started but the immediate results don’t look too promising. At those times we must remember to keep our focus on God, not on ourselves, our abilities or lack of abilities, or the immediate results. For whatever God calls us to do, He will enable us to do. He will give us the wisdom, the direction, the courage, the strength to see it through. God will be at work – through our efforts, in the lives of others, and in the circumstances themselves.
For again, God will reveal His will to us as we need to know it, including particular steps of obedience God would have us take. But God may not reveal to us His purpose for us in that act of obedience. Our task is simply to trust and obey. If God led us, we can be sure God is working to accomplish His will, no matter how it appears to us.
Nothing could have seemed more impossible than an 80-year old shepherd going to the highest echelons of political power and winning the release of the slaves who kept the economic engine running of the most advanced society of their day. But because God was in it, it came about – in God’s timing. And we can have that same confidence when we say “Yes” to God, no matter how impossible the task may seem from our perspective, no matter how much it seems the deck is stacked against us, no matter how the immediate results may appear. The key is trusting in God, stepping out in faith and obedience, persevering even when road is difficult or the results seem discouraging, and then seeing what God will do.
In time, Moses, Aaron and the Israelites would be able to look back and see how God, in His perfect wisdom, was working on their behalf. They would later be able to see how the Pharaoh’s resistance would be used by God to make the power and glory of God more evident. God’s plan was far bigger than what Moses and the Israelites could have envisioned. So let us learn from their example as we trust God and obey God at all times and in all ways.