Sermon – Sunday April 29, 2018 Exodus 5:1-6:1
The path to freedom for Israel had one big obstacle in the way, one big seemingly immovable object, and that was Pharaoh, king of Egypt. And God chose two humble Israelites from the tribe of Levi to face him, Moses and Aaron. It is amazing how Moses and Aaron went directly to Pharaoh. The people of Israel were far too numerous for any covert operation in the middle of the night. There is no way two eighty year old men could sneak in like Navy Seals and spring 2 million people free. It would have been a logistical nightmare. No, Moses and Aaron had to go directly to the source of their problem. They had to face Pharaoh head on. And they had to do it God’s way in God’s timing.
This is what we sometimes have to do with the “pharaohs” in our lives. By this I mean anything or anyone that has power or control over you. It might be another person that has power and control over you like what happens in the evil trade of human trafficking. It might be someone who oppresses you and treats you poorly. Or it might be something inside you that has power and control over you. It might be an addiction, a fear, a chronic problem with guilt and condemnation. There is always something or someone trying to gain control over us, manipulate us or take advantage of us. Always.
Many times we can’t go around our pharaohs or outmaneuver them. We can’t ignore them or pretend they are not there. Like Moses and Aaron with the king of Egypt, we have to face them directly. But as we do, whatever our obstacle is, there are a few pieces of advice we can follow in facing our pharaoh:
- We do not have to face our Pharaoh alone.
As I mentioned last week, Moses and Aaron were a team. They worked together because they were called together. Though they had not seen each other in years they were still brothers, they were still fellow Israelites serving their God together. And together they would change the world.
But even more important than having each other, Moses and Aaron had the Lord. God would not have sent them without going with them. There was no way Pharaoh was going to be persuaded by a common Hebrew slave and his shepherd brother from Midian who hadn’t been around for forty years. Egyptians did not even like shepherds. They had no clout of their own before Pharaoh. But they did have the Lord and that was more important than anything else. They didn’t come to Pharaoh in their own name with their own agenda, they would have been laughed right out of the king’s court. No, they came in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel and His agenda: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says…”
When Jesus sent his followers out two by two to bring the good news of the kingdom to the world, he knew they would be facing obstacles. He knew that they would be facing darkness. So he gave them authority in his name to face that darkness: “And he called the twelve and began sending them out two by two, and gave them authority over unclean spirits” – Mark 6:7 (ESV). There is no way the disciples could handle unclean spirits on their own. They had no authority in themselves. But in the Lord they had authority over the darkness.
We must face our Pharaohs not on our own but in his name, with His presence and with His authority. Just as David did when he faced Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” – 1 Sam. 17:45 (NIV).
- It is best to overcome our Pharaohs gradually, little by little.
Notice that the first request Moses and Aaron made of Pharaoh was not complete freedom, even though that was the goal. The first request, actually, the first command the Lord through Moses and Aaron gave to Pharaoh was to let the people go so they could hold a festival to Him in the wilderness. God did not begin with a command for a full unconditional release. It was for a “three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord” (v. 3).
In verse 1 some translations say “festival,” while others say “feast.” The Hebrew word means “to make a pilgrimage or keep a pilgrim feast.” It also means “to march in sacred procession,” not in a sad march but a happy one, one with a spirit of celebration. This was a special occasion. The God of Israel had heard their cries and He had come to them. Now He was inviting them out into the wilderness to worship Him and sacrifice to Him and to celebrate that special relationship they had with their God.
But Pharaoh wasn’t about to let his slave force have a break to celebrate anything. He did not know the Lord nor did he have any reverence for him, “Who is the Lord?” he said. Pharaoh didn’t see any reason why he should acknowledge must less obey a foreign God, especially a God of slaves. So just as God said in Exodus 4:21, Pharaoh was determined not to let Israel go. He saw himself as the Lord and as the object of worship. In his mind, all foreign gods were subject to him not the other way around.
So even with the Lord on their side, Moses and Aaron had to move gradually toward deliverance. Little by little, they would overcome their Pharaoh. They didn’t come in and just kick him off his throne, they dealt with him a little at a time. Later on, God told Moses and the Israelites regarding the occupants of the Promised Land they would be replacing: “Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land” – Exodus 23:30.
God has the power to make sweeping, rapid changes. But much of the time, for various reasons, He works in increments, little by little. He sees way ahead of us. He knows the ramifications of each action, each move and each event. Even the walls of Jericho did not immediately come down (Joshua 6). The Israelites marched around them for six days, then marched around them seven times on the seventh day before they came down. God knows what he’s doing. We will not overcome our pharaoh overnight nor as quickly as we would like to. But in God’s time with God’s help we will overcome.
- Don’t let temporary setbacks get you down.
If Moses and Aaron thought Pharaoh would just cave in right away and let them go they were mistaken. Just as God said, Pharaoh was stubborn and would dig in his heels (3:19). He didn’t want to lose that free slave labor for all his building projects. He accused Moses and Aaron of taking the people away from their labor (Ex. 5:4-5). They were too large of a workforce to just stop working much less take what would amount to a seven day vacation (a 3 day journey one way + 1 day of worship). Slaves don’t get vacations!
Instead of giving the Israelites leave for a festival, he made things worse for them. He gave orders to no longer supply straw for bricks (vv. 6-9). The people would have to gather straw for themselves but still be required to make the same number of bricks!
Can you imagine working in an automotive plant in Detroit on an assembly line and one day the owner of the company says the workers have to go out and get their own parts to make the cars but still meet their deadlines? I don’t think the union would stand for that one! They would think the owner had flipped his lid! But that is just what Pharaoh did to the Israelites. He wanted them to give up this notion of a festival to their God. In his mind, they belonged to him not God and he didn’t want them to forget it.
When the Israelites did not meet their quotas under the new requirements, their overseers were beaten by the slave drivers as a penalty (v. 14). It seemed as though the whole thing just backfired, rather than letting them go, Pharaoh made things worse for them. It was a major setback. If this is what happened when Moses and Aaron tried to get Pharaoh to let them go just temporarily, what would he do when they said to let them go permanently! Understandably, the Israelites were mad at Moses and Aaron for making their burden even heavier (v. 21). It would have been easy to think they had made some mistake or pulled a cruel joke on the people. But we know that wasn’t the case. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.
I was once working on patching a wall in the old library of Trinity Bible College. There had been a crack in the wall of the lower stairwell of the entrance way. Before I could apply the new material to patch it, I had to dig out the old, broken material. This created a mess of dirt and plaster all over the stairs. One of my teachers happened to come in. He stood at the top of the stairs looking down at me and said, “My, my, sometimes things got to get worse before they get better!”
Setbacks can be like that. They can be frustrating, they can cause us to doubt and to lose hope. It is sort of like having to go through the pain of surgery before you get better health. The end result is good and desirable, but the road to get there isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes you have to endure a temporary setback before you get better. In construction, sometimes something has to look worse before it gets better! A building has to be torn down or ground has to be dug up. It’s not a pretty sight at first. But the end result is.
It is not always easy but if we have the Lord there is always hope. Setbacks are temporary. We shouldn’t give up. For Israel, their setback was just a prelude to a mighty deliverance. Pharaoh was in for a rude awakening. His delusion of power was about to come crashing down. His pride was about to be dealt a severe blow. His days of power were coming to a close. He was being set up for a mighty fall. As the old saying says, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall!”
- Rather than lose hope, take your setback to the Lord in prayer (Ex. 5:22).
Verse 22 says it all, “Moses returned to the Lord.” Moses was not a spiritual giant yet. He was just learning how to pray, how to trust the Lord and how to follow the ways of the Lord. And it was on the job training! What better time to learn how to pray than when you have some adversity or some setback that you don’t understand. See, God doesn’t want to just do things for us without developing some things in us that help us grow. God wants to develop our relationship with Him first and foremost and He often uses setbacks to do it.
For Moses, God was just beginning to develop the instinct of prayer. He was just beginning to develop his faith. He was taking Moses’ relationship with Him to a whole new level. And eventually, Moses would go on to have one of the most intimate relationships with God that any human being ever had! He would learn to be transparent with God, to fear God and to love God with all his heart.
That said, in returning to the Lord, Moses let God know exactly how he felt about the situation. He just couldn’t understand what just happened. Why did the Lord bring such trouble on His own people? Did He send Moses just to bring more trouble upon the Israelites than they already had? Moses and Aaron had gone to Pharaoh just as God told them to and given him the message from the Lord they were told to deliver. And the result was that things only got worse, the people had not been rescued but given a heavier burden.
Again, this is what God had warned him about. Pharaoh would be resistant. Things were probably going to get worse before they got better. But God also told Moses that it would be just the prelude to a mighty deliverance: “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. Because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country” – Ex. 6:1. In other words, what seemed like a setback was more of a set up! It was a setup for the mighty acts of God. After God got done with the stubborn Pharaoh, he would beg them to leave!
Moses had to trust God and his word in this setback. We have to trust God in our setbacks too. We have to trust that He still has a plan for our good, that He is still in control of the situation, that His people will eventually be set free and that He will ultimately be glorified. I don’t think God minds if we complain sometimes, Moses did it, David did it and a host of others did it. He knows we struggle to believe, to not lean on our own understanding. That’s why He keeps His door open to us and gives us access to enter in. That’s why He calls us to prayer, to learn His ways and to trust in Him. We need to take our confusion more to God than to people.
So rather than lose hope, take your setbacks to the Lord in prayer: “Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care; precious Savior still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer” – Joseph Scriven. What a friend we have in Jesus! We can bring our discouragements, our disappointments and our confusion to Him just like Moses did. Let God develop in you the instinct of prayer. Let Him help you develop some faith and patience. And let Him help you overcome your setbacks, those times when you feel like you are trying to make bricks without straw!
With the Lord we can face our Pharaohs. We can face them and overcome them, not because we are greater but because He is greater!