Exodus, 3


God had appeared to Moses to give him a job:

“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:9-10 NIV84)

There was an interval between the time when Moses was commissioned and he actually got to work, and during that time he checked in with his father-in-law, Jethro. He didn’t tell him, or any of his relatives, why he was leaving. He probably thought they would think he was a raving lunatic.

But the fateful day finally came. Moses went back into Egypt accompanied by his older brother, Aaron, and some elders. His wife, Zipporah and his young sons, also went along with him. God had already told Moses that Pharaoh would be resistant and that his heart would be hardened. This troubles some Bible readers. Why would God harden Pharaoh’s heart? If God could harden his heart, could he just as easily soften it, allowing the Israelites to leave? Several times in the story we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart because he stubbornly refused to do as Moses asked. Paul makes an interesting comment on this issue:

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:17-18 NIV84)

There’s no denying the truth of God’s sovereignty. Sometimes God uses rebellious hearts to fulfill His will. But it is never God who hardens anybody’s heart; it is always the result of one’s own decisions and actions.  More on that in due course.

God’s Word Rejected, Exodus 5:1-21

This is what the Lord says… (vs. 1, 2)

Moses’ initial request – to let his people go into the desert so that they could worship their God – was not necessarily an unreasonable request. But after some four centuries, Pharaoh had come to regard the Israelites as HIS people. How could they belong anybody else? Pharaoh had no fear of Moses’ God, or any other god for that matter. In his world, gods were meant to be manipulated, not obeyed. His refusal was three-pronged:

  • There were no deities above him;
  • He saw the Israelites as cheap labor; his people to be exploited and used as he saw fit;
  • The only thing he was concerned about was productivity.

What Pharaoh didn’t yet realize was something that C.S. Lewis was able to put into a few choice words, as he was so good at:

When you are arguing against God, you are arguing against the very Power that makes you able to argue at all.

Necessity of worship (vs. 3)

Moses took another stab at it, but this time he had some help from his brother.

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.” (Exodus 5:3 NIV84)

They used a slightly more deft approach this time; this time they cast themselves as representatives of the people and painted God in a way Pharaoh would understand. Adam Clarke’s observations help us understand Moses and Aaron’s strategy:

The Israelites could not sacrifice in the land of Egypt, because the animals they were to offer God were held sacred by the Egyptians; and they could not omit this duty, because it was essential to religion even before the giving of the Law.

A hardened response (vs. 4-9)

Still the Pharaoh refused and accused these two of being lazy. Tyrants always find it hard to believe their “subjects” ever have a righteous cause.

Worse, thanks to Moses and Aaron doing the right thing, life for the Israelites got even harder, if that were possible.

“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.’ ” (Exodus 5:7-8 NIV84)

So far, Pharaoh is acting like a typical political leader. He’s on his way to hardened, unrepentant heart, but at this juncture his responses to Moses are in keeping with who he is. However, as life got harder for the Hebrews, Pharaoh’s opportunities to do the right thing were vanishing.

God Affirms His Promise, Exodus 5:22-6:13

Moses’ lament (vs. 22-23)

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.” (Exodus 5:22-23 NIV84)

In spite of the fact that he was forewarned about what would happen, Moses had no idea how his people would be punished for his obedience. An initial reading of Moses’ lament gives the impression that he was just complaining to God. But that’s an incorrect impression. Moses’ faith wasn’t perfect – he was just human, after all. Moses just wanted to know, “why.” He wasn’t venting to God, he wanted to understand God’s plan.

The Lord is actually pleased when we come to him with genuine concerns and questions. Moses’s faith, like ours should be, was a growing faith not a static faith, and as such it faced a setback. But a setback to us is not a setback to God; it’s an opportunity for God to show His strength.  Thomas a Kempis knew this to be true:

There is no man in this world without some manner of tribulation or anguish, though he be king or pope.

Or, as we might say: It’s never easy for anybody.

God revealed (6:1-4)

As God so often does, He didn’t exactly answer Moses’ questions directly. Moses would discover for himself the answers he sought through his experiences. But God didn’t let Moses down, as one scholar noted:

A delayed deliverance was not a forsaken promise.

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.” (Exodus 6:1 NIV84)

That’s quite a promise, and it was backed by God.

God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord.” (Exodus 6:2 NIV84)

While this sounds innocuous, to Moses this statement was a fresh revelation of God’s character and nature. Moses’ God was Yahweh – I AM – and He did what He was known for doing: Yahweh reiterated His covenant with His people to Moses.

God takes a people for His own, vs. 5-8

Moses’ revelation of God included the fact that God had bound Himself to His people by His Word – His covenant. The covenant He made with Moses’ ancestors included a home in the Promised Land. That wasn’t Egypt! So God indicated to Moses that He hadn’t forgotten His original covenant; He was only waiting until His people were ready to enter into their part of the covenant.

The promises of God illustrate what “I am The Lord” means.

  • There are three first-person verbs with His promise of redemption: I will bring you out/I will free you/I will redeem you.
  • There are two first-person verbs that promise their adoption by God as His own people: I will take you as my own people/I will be your God.
  • There are two promises that deal with the land: I will bring you to the land/I will give it to you.

Another crisis of confidence, vs. 9-13

Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage. (Exodus 6:9 NIV84)

Coming off his incredible revelation of God, Moses came face-to-face with people less-than-excited about it. Sometimes it’s hard for anybody who has been in God’s presence to deal with those who aren’t as motivated by it as he is. Moses’ people were just not impressed. But it wasn’t because they were bad people; their less than ideal circumstances had taken its toll on them. We may not be Israelites, but we aren’t too far removed from them in the sense that sometimes we let life get us down; we let it rob us of the joy we should have in serving The Lord.

They had believed – probably still did on some level – but because things had deteriorated so much for them, they needed more than words. Sometimes “words” are enough, but other times it takes a work of God before a promise of God can be believed. Afterward, people like that will recall the words. Nobody’s faith is perfect, and God understands that.

Unfortunately, their response caused Moses to emotionally crash to the same level they were at. It caused Moses to have a “crisis of confidence.” He wrongly thought that if HE couldn’t convince them, then there was no way HE could convince Pharaoh. Thing is, his confidence was misplaced. It wasn’t his job to convince anybody; it was God’s. Moses’ confidence should have been in God! Charles Hodge:

The ultimate ground of faith and knowledge is confidence in God.

Indeed. How easy it is for us to forget that truth.

God Reveals His Plan, Exodus 7:1-7

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” (Exodus 7:1 NIV84)

This must have helped Moses’ self-esteem slightly! God was working on Pharaoh’s heart all the time. Not only that, Aaron would be a prophet; Moses wouldn’t be by himself in front of Pharaoh.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt… (Exodus 7:3 NIV84)

Here’s that troublesome verse. Clearly God declares that HE would harden Pharaoh’s heart, and yet  in the very next chapter it says something different:

But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said. (Exodus 8:15 NIV84)

So which is it? One way to look the whole “hardening of the heart” is like this:

  • A person knowingly hardens his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34). Pharaoh was determined to resist and oppose God’s will.
  • As a result of those actions, his heart was hardened.
  • When God saw that Pharaoh was determined to resist and do as he pleased, He directly hardened the man’s heart.

This is a direct judgment upon Pharaoh – a foretaste of what he would experience in the hereafter.

God does not cause men to sin nor does he cause any man to do wicked things. Pharaoh was responsible for his own evil choices and for continually resisting God. However, when any man sets his will against God, then God gives him up to his base desires.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. (Romans 1:24 NIV84)

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 NIV84)

God does show mercy to those rebels who yield to Him, but the opposite is true for those who never yield and continually rebel.

Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:18 NIV84)

God is sovereign. In the case of Pharaoh, God extended his life and consequently his ability to resist in order to give a greater display of His power and glory.  So, we might say, God hardens only those who have already begun the process themselves. He does this by direct intervention and by the person’s ordinary responses to the circumstances of his life.

God revealed His plan to Moses and the deliverer was about to get see a side of His God not seen for generations.


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