“Things Could Be Worse” [Ex. 5-7 excerpts]
Sometimes when I’ve been going through difficult times in my life, I say to myself, “As bad as this seems to me, other people have it a whole lot worse.” I suppose when I consider that many others are far worse off than I am is one way to take the focus off of myself. But what happens when things that could be worse do, in fact, get worse? That’s what happened to Moses in chapters five through seven of the Book of Exodus.
Moses had been rescued from death as a baby by a compassionate Egyptian princess, and raised in the a royal household. But when as a grown man he decided to kill an Egyptian who was beating a fellow Hebrew, Moses became a fugitive from Egyptian justice. Fleeing to the land of Midian, Moses married the daughter of a priest named Jethro; and so Moses built a new life with a new family. But when the Egyptian Pharaoh who had sought Moses’ life died, the Israelites cried out to God in their suffering, and God called the reluctant Moses to go back to Egypt in order to lead the Israelites to freedom.
Assisted by some God-given signs and his brother Aaron, the elders of Israel at first accepted Moses optimistically as their new leader. Now God had forewarned Moses that Pharaoh would not listen to Moses, and so the initial encounter began as expected, as we read from Exodus chapter five:
Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” And Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” [vs. 1-2]
Pharaoh’s attitude was totally understandable, since the king was himself worshiped by the Egyptian people as a deity along with other Egyptian gods. There was no way Pharaoh was going to listen to a spokesman for the foreign god of his enslaved workforce. But with his pride up, things suddenly got worse for the suffering Israelites, as we read what happened next, beginning with verse three:
So [Moses and Aaron] said [to Pharaoh], “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days’ journey into the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” Then the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your labor.” And Pharaoh said, “Look, the Hebrew people of the land are many now, and you make them rest from their labor!” So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers, saying, “You shall no longer supply any straw for the people to make brick as you did before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall lay on them the same quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it. For they are idle; therefore they cry out, saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Let more work be laid on the men, that they may labor in it, and let them not regard false words.” [vs. 3-9]
Pharaoh’s taskmasters of course implemented the king’s draconian edict, and beat the Israelites when they were unable to fulfill their quota of bricks. So we read in verse 15 that the leaders of the Israelites:
…came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, “Why are you dealing thus with your servants? There is no straw given to your servants, and they say to us, ‘Make brick!’ And indeed your servants are beaten, but the fault is in your own people.” But [Pharaoh] said, “You are idle! Idle! That’s why you are saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Therefore go now and work; for no straw shall be given you, yet you shall deliver the quota of bricks.” And the officers of the children of Israel saw that they were in trouble after it was said, “You shall not reduce any bricks from your daily quota.” Then, as they came out from Pharaoh, they met Moses and Aaron who stood there to meet them. And they said to them, “Let the Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.” [5:16-21]
So there you have it. Things could have been worse, and then they indeed did got worse. And the blame, understandably, was directed at Moses and Aaron. The officers of the children of Israel could only see their increased misery, and had no vision in their suffering for how good could come out of their worsening circumstances. It’s been said, “It’s always darkest before the dawn;” but these Israelites could see no light at the end of their seemingly endless tunnel.
And of course Moses- feeling the brunt of their accusation that he personally was the cause of his fellow Israelites increased suffering- had this to say to God in verses 22 & 23: “So Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.’” There’s a hint of “I told you so” in Moses’ lament to God. After all, he never wanted this assignment in the first place.
God was very patient and understanding with Moses’ frustration, probably because Moses’ intentions were good. God knew that Moses wanted the suffering of the Israelites to end, which was God’s desire as well. So God responded to Moses with this encouragement at the beginning of chapter six:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Jehovah I was not known to them. I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. [vs. 1-4]
And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.’” So Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage. [vs. 5-9]
Moses discovered the reality of how difficult it is to comfort people- no matter how great the future promises- while they’re in the midst of suffering. Words were of little use: the people needed to see results. God now proceeded to continue His plan for deliverance, and so said to Moses in verse 11, “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the children of Israel go out of his land.” But Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, “The children of Israel have not heeded me. How then shall Pharaoh heed me…?” Good question; and God made it clear in verse 4 of chapter 7, “Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” This was to be a humiliation of the false and demonic Egyptian gods by the true Creator of heaven and earth. God had one more warning shot for Pharaoh, as we read beginning in verse 8:
Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Show a miracle for yourselves,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh, and let it become a serpent.’” So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the Lord commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent. But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. [vs. 8-13]
Yes, demons have limited powers; but God is infinitely greater, as was demonstrated when Aaron’s serpent-rod swallowed up those of the Egyptian magicians. But Pharaoh’s heart grew harder, because the pride of Egypt could only be humbled through the plagues that were to come. So when things get worse, remember God’s promise of Romans 8:28: “… all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Instead of focussing on our problems, let us in prayer and Scripture focus on the God, who alone is our deliverer, and the eternal solution through Christ’s death and resurrection to all of life’s problems. Amen.