(“Questions From Israel’s Exodus” series: post #7)
God got Moses to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of their Egyptian bondage, but getting Moses to step into that role took some doing. First, God had to answer all the excuses Moses offered as reasons why he wasn’t the man for the job (Exodus 3:11-22; 4:1-17). Second, since Moses’ two sons (Gershom and Eliezer) had never been circumcised and thus did not bear the mark of the covenant that God had made with Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 17:1-27), God had to convince Moses to circumcise them (Exodus 4:24-26). Those circumcisions, by the way, did not sit well with Moses’ wife, Zipporah, one bit! Third, God had to send Aaron, Moses’ brother, out to Mount Sinai to meet with him so that Moses could convey to Aaron everything that God had told him about Israel’s upcoming exodus (Exodus 4:27-28).
At long last, though, Moses arrived in Egypt, and he and Aaron met with the Israelite elders (Exodus 4:29). With Aaron doing the talking and Moses doing the miracle-working, the two brothers convinced the elders that God truly was coming to the rescue of the Israelites (Exodus 4:30-31). Once the support of the elders was in place, the next thing to do was pay Pharaoh a visit.
Moses and Aaron went to see Pharaoh and were allowed access to him. While that might seem a bit strange to us, it’s not like two unarmed men walking up to the front door of the royal residence would have been cause for alarm. Perhaps the Pharaoh had a policy of agreeing to talk with anyone who asked to talk with him, or perhaps he agreed to the visit simply out of curiosity. Whatever the exact details were it seems clear that this Pharaoh either didn’t recognize Moses from Moses’ previous time in Egypt or had never known him. The latter is more likely because God had told Moses back in Midian that all the Egyptians who had once sought to kill him were now dead (Exodus 4:19).
One thing that few people realize is that the opening request that Moses and Aaron put to Pharaoh did not call for the Israelites to permanently depart from Egypt. While the permanent departure was definitely God’s ultimate goal, the opening request was that the Israelites be allowed to journey three days into the desert, make sacrifices to God, and return to Egypt (Exodus 5:1-3). Presumably, the Israelites hadn’t been offering up any sacrifices to God for some 400 years. That explains why Moses and Aaron even mentioned to Pharaoh that by allowing the Israelites to do this it would prevent God from inflicting the Israelites with pestilence and death.
Despite the apparent validity of this request, however, Pharaoh was having none of it. He responded to Moses’ and Aaron’s “Thus says the Lord” talk by scornfully asking, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (Exodus 5:2). Obviously he was dismissing the notion of an Israelite God rather than looking for an actual answer to the question. Then he added in, “I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go” and said to Moses and Aaron, “Why do you take the people from their work? Get back to your labor” (Exodus 5:2).
It was at this point that Pharaoh really showcased his evil character. Rather than just refuse the request that Moses and Aaron had made, he commanded his taskmasters to stop providing the Israelites with the necessary straw for brickmaking (Exodus 5:6-7). This meant that the Israelites would now have to gather their own straw in addition to keeping up the same quota of making bricks (Exodus 5:8-9). As could be expected, that assignment proved too difficult and the Israelites quickly started falling behind in production. The taskmasters responded to the drop off by beating the Israelites who were overseers of their fellow Israelite workers (Exodus 5:10-14). When those overseers questioned why the taskmasters were doing all this, the taskmasters sarcastically answered, “We’re doing it because you people have too much idle time on your hands. If you didn’t have so much free time, you wouldn’t be asking Pharaoh to let you go offer sacrifices” (Exodus 5:15-19).
Human nature being what it is, the entire sequence of events caused the Israelite overseers’ attitude toward Moses and Aaron to take a hard turn for the worse. As we read the words they spoke to the brothers, we can hear the anger: “Let the Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:20-21, N.K.J.V.). And how did Moses react to that? He did exactly what I would have done if I had been in his position: he vented at God. Exodus 5:22-23 says:
So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it that You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all. (N.K.J.V.)
Doing God’s will is hard enough, especially when it cuts against what you want to do anyway. But doing it and then being forced to watch as your actions make the situation even harder than it already was? That’s brutal, just brutal. I, for one, have experienced this more than once, and you can believe me when I say that it is one of the hardest things you will ever have to endure in walking with the Lord. It simply contradicts everything that our human logic tells us should happen when we obey God and carry out His will.
Please understand, though, that I’m not saying this to get you to shun God’s will. I’m saying it to warn you that doing God’s will might make things tougher on you (and those with you) rather than easier. Moses didn’t see this type of thing coming, and I don’t want you to get blindsided by it like he did. The hard, cold truth is that sometimes doing God’s will must be followed by ducking Satan’s response. And sometimes even ducking doesn’t help! Always keep in mind, though, that the harsh response is itself confirmatory proof that you have successfully done God’s will. Think of it this way: You’ve poked the bee’s nest, and so you shouldn’t be surprised that you got stung. Satan doesn’t give up his ground without a fight, and he doesn’t care one bit to fight dirty.