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Exodus 5-6: The Lord and Our Circumstances Print E-mail
Sunday, 19 July 2009

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How we respond to difficult situation says much about our faith in God.  The trials we face are where the rubber meets the road concerning our theology.  It is easy to believe that God is sovereign and good when things are going well.  Yet, when things donít go like we expect, we struggle.  And when things actually go the opposite than what we expected, we often face a crisis of our faith.  We think: ĎHow can God be both good and sovereign in the midst of these circumstances?í  It is in these times, when we are asking these questions, when what we truly believe about God is revealed.

The circumstances that arise when Moses and Aaron return to Egypt and first go to the Pharaoh are difficult indeed.  Everything was going well at the end of chapter 4.  They went to the elders, told them what God had said, performed the signs, and the people believed.  The story picks up in chapter 5 with Aaron and Moses going to the Pharaoh.  They tell him to let the people go in verse 1.  Yet, Pharaoh asks in verse 2: Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?  He goes on to refuse their request.  They tell him that God has met with them and told them to offer sacrifices.  They even warn him about what will happen if he does not let them go.  Yet, Pharaoh does not concede.  In fact, he only increases the burden on Israel.  Instead of listening to Aaron and Moses, he withholds the straw that is necessary to make the bricks that he requires from them.  He goes so far as to have the foremen beaten and asked: Why have you not done all your tasks of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?  Needless to say, the situation is not looking too good for Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites.  So how will they respond, how will the Lord respond, and what can we learn from these responses?

The foremen respond with anger (5:15-21).

The foremen, who are Israelites, are beaten by the Egyptian taskmasters according to 5:14.  After this mistreatment, they go to Pharaoh and ask him why he is doing this since he took the straw away.  The Pharaoh answers them by saying: You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ĎLet us go and sacrifice to the Lordí (5:17).  He tells them to keep working and to keep producing the same amount of bricks, even though he is not going to give them straw.  Of course, he is quoting Moses and Aaron to the elders and blaming them for the increased burden.  The text goes on to say that they knew that they were in trouble.  Moses and Aaron had told Pharaoh to let the people go and Pharaoh was going to make these foremen and the people pay for it with their sweat and blood. 

The Pharaohís tactic worked and turned the foremen against Moses and Aaron.  Look at their response in verses 20-21.  Forget the fact that the Pharaoh was the one who had enslaved them and increased their workload.  Forget the fact that Moses and Aaron were their Israelite brothers.  Forget the fact that they had brought a word from the Lord that promised their deliverance.  No, forget all that, all they knew was that they at least had straw before Moses and Aaron opened their big mouths.  The circumstances made it clear: Moses and Aaron had only made things worse.

We can sympathize with the response of these foremen.  We all know what it is like to respond in anger when things go from bad to worse.  Things go bad at work, the car has to go in the shop, one of your kids is failing math, and whoís to blame?  Why not my wife or my husband?  They just make things worse.  Our circumstances cloud over the fact that they are part of the struggle with us.  Something goes wrong in the Church and the pastor blames the people while the people return the favor; both forgetting that they are on the same team.  Our circumstances can get the best of us and drive a wedge between us and those we care about.  Moses and Aaron were fighting for the foremen, but they could not see that through their circumstances.  Instead, they were angry and they let their brothers know it.

Moses responds with doubt (5:22-23, 6:12, 30).

I keep wanting Moses to move beyond his struggles and doubts.  I want him to be strong and courageous.  Yet, if I am honest, he keeps acting like me.  Look at his response to the circumstances in 5:22-23.  This is not the response that we would expect from the hero of the story, which simply serves to remind us that Moses is not the true hero, the Lord is.  Moses is questioning himself, questioning Godís call, even questioning the Lord at this point.  Things are not going like he had planned.  However, we should note that the Lord told Moses this was going to happen.  In 3:18 and 4:21 the Lord told Moses that the Pharaoh would not let them go at first.  Apparently either Moses forgot about that or just figured it would not lead to more burdens for the people.  Either way, Moses was not pleased with how things were going.  So much so, he was ready to call the whole thing off.  The only real positive thing about Mosesí response is that he at least knew where to take his doubt.  At least he goes to the Lord.

Lest we be too hard on Moses, we have to admit that our circumstances often lead us to doubt.  Things donít go like we plan.  The Lord calls us to wait.  We cannot understand why things are going the way they are going.  Specifically, we can feel this way about following Christ.  Maybe we thought that the Christian life would be easy.  Maybe we thought we would not have to face difficulties, or at least so many of them.  Sometimes our circumstances can lead us to doubt whether or not we are Christians, or even whether or not we want to be Christians.  I mean in your darkest moments have you ever wondered: ĎIs this what Jesus meant by abundant life?í  Or if we try to keep the Lordís commands and do the hard work of speaking the gospel to someone we love or confronting someoneís sin and things donít go well, do you ever question like Moses: Why did you ever send me?  If we are honest, we have probably all been there.  And make no mistake, the Lord is big enough for our questions and struggles (see the Psalms).  We need to take our doubts to Him.  But as we will see in a moment, we need to labor to see the whole truth.

The people respond with unbelief (6:9).

In 6:1-8 the Lord responds to Moses, which we will consider in a moment.  After this, Moses goes and speaks to the people.  Look at how they respond in 6:9.  Notice why they did not listen to Moses: because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.  The Lord is raising up Moses to set His people free, but they canít see it.  They cannot get past the present situation.  Granted, what they were facing was no easy task, but was it enough for them to completely dismiss Moses and his word from the Lord?  They had had enough and were done listening to Godís servant.

When things are hard and difficult, do we sometimes begin to lose our trust in Godís Word to us?  ĎYes, we know God tells us to call sin sin, but that is no way to make friends.  Yes, we know that His Word will not return void, but people like movies and entertainment more than words.  Yes, we know that the gospel is Godís power for salvation, but the gospel is offensive and being offensive will never grow the Church.í  Our circumstances can lead us to unbelief.  They can lead us to thinking that we are actually wiser than the Bible.  God raised up Moses and gave him a word for the people, but their circumstances were too much for them to believe.

The Lord responds with His character (6:1-8, 10-13).

So then, we have seen the foremenís anger, Mosesí doubt, and peopleís unbelief, but how does the Lord respond to these circumstances?  Look at 6:1.  The Lord reminds Moses of just who is in charge of the circumstances.  To make this plain, He goes on to speak of the past, present, and future.  Look at 6:2-4.  He has appeared to Israelís forefathers and made Himself known even more through Moses.  He established a covenant with them and has not forgotten.  We could also point to the genealogy of Moses and Aaron in 6:14-30.  It demonstrates Godís plan of raising up these two Levite brothers to set His people free.  Look at 6:5.  God reminds Moses that he knows the situation.  God is not unaware of what is going on.  He has not lost control.  The Pharaoh has not surprised Him with the increased burdens.  He knew this would happen.  Yet, His plan to free the people and give them Canaan has not changed.  Look at 6:6-8.  The Lord promises Moses and the people that He will bring them out, He will deliver them and redeem them, and He will give them the land.  Pharaohís actions and the terrible circumstances have not changed anything.  He is still sovereign, still in control, and still determined to do good to His people.

It is during the hard times that we need to be reminded of the Lord and His character.  We need to hear that He has not been caught by surprise, that no matter how things appear to be, He has not lost control.  He is going to keep His promises and fulfill His plans.  He is the Lord.  And how are we supposed to respond to difficult circumstances?  We stay the course.  Look at 6:10-13.  We heed the charge.  We take our eyes off of the circumstances and put them were they need to be: squarely on the Lord.  It is easy to let our circumstances get the best of us, but we must not let them pull our gaze from our God.  He is enough.

Interestingly, there is a biblical paradigm to recognize in this passage.  God often takes His people through dire circumstances to deliver them.  In fact, is this not a description of the life of Christ?  The eternal Son of God took on flesh and was born in a feeding trough.  His own did not recognize Him.  His crowds and followers were made up sinners and tax collectors.  His disciples were fisherman, who struggled throughout His ministry to really understand what He was teaching.  Then, He was turned over to be killed by the religious leaders of the day.  And instead of escaping, He willingly gave His life and died on a tree.  The circumstances donít get any worse than this.  Yet, this was the plan. 

And three days later we understand that the great tragedy of the cross was actually a great victory for God and His people.  Thus, as Peter says, we should not be surprised when suffering and difficulty come our way.  After all, we are followers of Christ, the Suffering Servant who died on a cross to set us free.  Of course, it is easier to say than to do, but when the difficult times come (and they will come), may we be a people who stay the course.  May we be a people who keep our eyes fixed on our Sovereign God and His promises.  May we entrust (our) souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Peter 4:19).  Brothers and sisters, may we always remember, no matter what we are facing, that He is the Lord.  He is the LORD.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 30 July 2009 )

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