God had called Moses out of Midian, away from his family, and back to the place he’s run away from as a criminal refugee forty years earlier. God has listened to Moses’ objections, dealt with his refusal, and answered his doubts. Moses has spoken to his people, the Jews, about God’s plans to deliver them, and brought his brother, Aaron, on board with God’s orders. Finally, in Exodus chapter 5, we find Moses and Aaron approaching Pharaoh and asking that God’s people, which just so happen to be their people, too, be given leave from their slave labor for three days.
Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh – the most powerful ruler in the world at the time – that God himself wants them to hold a feast in the wilderness and then they’d be right back.
Consider that request for just a moment. It is quite absurd when you think about it. Imagine going to the highest authority you can possibly think of and telling him that God himself needs to “borrow” thousands of his subordinates – who just so happen to be all your friends and family – for a few days. As a dictator set on accomplishing goals and dealing out work, are you really going to oblige these two nobodies? Pharaoh’s reply is not at all surprising:
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” ~Exodus 5:2
Who said I should let all my workers leave? God?! Um. I don’t think so. Why should I obey this so-called “God?” I don’t know him. No slaves are leaving their work.
God is just about to show Pharaoh exactly who he is, but first God’s prophets try to tell him. Again, Moses and Aaron petition Pharaoh. They warn, “…what if God sends pestilence or sword…” because of your disobedience to him? All the while, they knew that that was exactly what God was about to do.
Still, not surprisingly, Pharaoh disregards them. He accuses them of being lazy liars and trying to get out the Israelites out of work. Flexing his worldly power in defiance, he sends his own plague upon them by failing to give straw to make bricks. The leaders of the task were beaten for failing to produce the same amount of bricks as when they were given the straw. The leaders went to Pharaoh crying “injustice” upon deaf ears. Next, they went to Moses and Aaron, cursed them, and complained of the hardship their request to leave had brought.
Moses went back to God completely discouraged and doubtful. He asks, “Why?” “Why have you done evil, God?” “Why did you send me, God?” “You haven’t delivered anyone at all, God.”
Even though God had told Moses up front that Pharaoh would initially refuse him, Moses was unprepared for this seeming failure. The world hit him with a blow he wasn’t expecting – no straw and beatings as a result of his request – and instead of blaming the evil ruler for his evil, he automatically defaults to blaming and accusing God of evil.
Moses understands God’s sovereignty. He knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is in control of all things. Therefore, evil dealt in response to his obedience to God – from both his enemies as well as his friends – is unbelievably difficult to understand – even when you’ve been told the future by God himself beforehand.
Been there, Moses. I feel you.
What are we to do when our obedience to God is met with worldly injustice, evil treatment, pain, suffering, and even accusation from the very people we are seeking to help?
Moses asks why, accuses, and blames God. These are the most human, natural responses, but they are what we ought not to do. Instead, we must try to remember God’s plan and trust in him no matter what happens as a result of our obedience – and that’s scary. It includes many unexpected hardships. It requires an extra helping of courage and a great resolve to put away our natural instincts to duck and run from obedience to God when things go wrong. If we find ourselves in this kind of situation, let us remember the words of Matthew Henry:
“What strange steps God sometimes takes in delivering his people; he often brings them to the utmost straits when he is just ready to appear for them. The lowest ebbs go before the highest tides; and very cloudy mornings commonly introduce the fairest days.”