‘Things are going from bad to worse’
…mutterered the teenager as he reflected first on the coffee stain he had just made on his parent’s new carpet, and then on the results of pouring bleach over it.
…moaned the England football fans as they contemplated first their team’s embarrassing display in the European Cup and then on the manager’s equally embarrassing departure from his role.
…sighed the young woman struggling single-handedly to raise her two young children, who then was told that she must undergo prolonged and painful medical treatment.
I wonder if you know that feeling? Moses and Aaron certainly did.
Bad: Israelites slaves in Egypt. Moses has already failed once, and been spurned both by Egypt and his own people, and had to flee to Midian.
Things were beginning to look better: ch 3 the Lord appears to Moses; tells him what he is say to Pharaoh, and what the result will be, v18ff.
God answers Moses’ objections; gives signs, 4:1-17. Moses returns to Egpyt, and teams up with Aaron. Moses ‘performed the signs before the people,’ and ‘when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.’
They must have been feeling pretty buoyant as they strolled into Pharaoh’s presence.
Demand, v1 “Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.”
Refusal, v2 “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know him.”
Revised demand, v3 “Please let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God. If you don’t, he may punish us.”
Further refusal, v4f “Get back to work!”
vv6-14 “If they have time to go off on a jolly, then they have time to work a little harder.”
Foremen appeal, v15f “Pharaoh, you’ve made life impossible for us.”
Appeal rejected, v17f
The chain of blame: Pharaoh blames the Israelites (they’re lazy and gullible, v17); the Israelites blame M & A (they’ve made a bad situation worse, v20f), and M & A blame the Lord (‘this is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into’, v22f).
Things seemed to be getting better, But, if fact, they have gone from bad to worse.
Who’s responsible? It would be easy for me to apportion blame. So here goes.
(a) Pharaoh was guilty of pretended omnipotence. You’ve got to admire him – he ran a very tight ship. But, like so many powerful people, he thought he could do anything. Not just totalitarian rulers, but also celebrities and even Christian leaders are apt to abuse their power.
Savile: “The message to his victims was: I’m a star, this is normal, I can do whatever I want.” (Louis Theroux)
Trump: “When you’re a star you can do anything.”
Pharaoh must have compared himself with the Hebrews and thought: “I am powerful; you are weak. My gods have made me what I am; your god has made you what you are.” No much of a god, then, this Yahweh of yours? But he was about to learn (7:17; 8:12). He would be given 9 opportunities to recognise that ‘there is a higher power’.
Today, sceptics regard the Christian church with similar disdain, and conclude that the Christian God is likewise pitiful. But they will learn that Phil 2:9-11 ‘God has exalted [Christ Jesus] to the highest place, and given him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’
(b) The Israelites were guilty of selective hearing. You’ve got to feel sorry for them (especially the people themselves, who have no voice at all in this chapter). They had endured years of misery. And now they’ve gone from the frying pan into the fire.
But listen: Aaron had told their elders ‘everything’ that the Lord had said to Moses (4:30). They welcomed the good news (3:17): “I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into…a land flowing with milk and honey.” But they stuffed their fingers in their ears when it came to the no-so-good news (3:18-20): “The king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.”
We must heed not only the promises, but also the warnings. Jn 14:17 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Jn 16:33 – “In this world you will have trouble.” And then again: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
(c) Moses and Aaron were guilty of partial disobedience. You’ve got to credit them for having a go. But looking back at 3:18-20 (here I’m indebted to Motyer),
- They didn’t take the right people with them. They had been told to take the elders of Israel with them, but they didn’t.
- They failed to say that God had appeared Moses.
- They made the wrong request. God had told them exactly what to say to Pharaoh. But their opening gambit was too vague and too ambitious.
- They added to the Lord’s word by threatening plagues and slaughter, Ex 5:3.
- They too were guilty of selective hearing. They neglected the warning that Pharaoh would refuse at first, and would harden his heart.
Not until 7:6 will we reach the turning point – ‘Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD commanded them.’
It’s one thing to work out who’s at fault, and another to decide what’s to be done about it.
What are we to do, when everything and everyone seems against us; when God himself seems to have disappeared from the face of the planet; and all we have to fall back on are his promises?
(a) Go to God with your complaint. After his first failure, Moses had fled to Midian. This time, he flees to God. “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends…” The Christian has two advantages over the atheist: someone to thank, and someone to complain to!
(b) Don’t quit now! It’s Exodus 5, but Ex 6 is coming. I’m going to leave you on that cliff-hanger. (Except to say this: God has not spoken a word in ch. 5, but he is about to speak: “Now you will see what I will do.”)