When Obedience Makes Things Worse | Exodus 5

Sermon Excerpt

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Introduction

Good morning, Raintree. Hope you had a great week this week, enjoying yet another week of abnormally beautiful weather. Lauryn and I are still waiting on this Missouri winter that some of you brag about. So far, it’s all been talk, but that’s it.

Today, I am excited to continue our journey through the first 15 chapters of Exodus, which will actually take us all the way to Christmas Eve, or at least that’s the plan at this point. But today we get to see Moses finally obey God, finally starting doing what God has called him to do, in going to Pharaoh and telling him that God has commanded him to let his people go. The results of this first encounter with Pharaoh are a bit different than what Moses expects. But before we get to chapter 5 of Exodus, I want to remind us of where we are.

 

Background

Last week we looked at most of chapter 4 and the excuses that Moses gave for why he didn’t think he was capable, and ultimately why he just didn’t want to do what God had called him to do. We talked through how strong the parallels are for the excuses we give at times for not wanting to share the Gospel, which I hope was challenging for us. But at the end of chapter 4, which we didn’t actually quite get to, we see Moses and Aaron starting the process of actually obeying God. Starting in vs. 27 of chapter 4, reading through verse 31, this is what it says happens

The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him to speak, and all the signs that he had commanded him to do. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.

This is the stage being set. Moses and Aaron get to meet up, and then they meet with the Hebrew elders and tell them what has happened, that God has a plan for freeing all the Hebrews from slavery and taking them out of Egypt. So after telling them and showing them the signs God had given them, the people believed and even bowed in worship together. Obviously, things started out going well! In fact, they were apparently going a lot better than Moses had expected! If you remember, in verse 1 of chapter 4, Moses was clearly concerned that the Hebrews would not believe him! So that concern has gone out the window now! Likely a surprise to Moses, they believed them AND they even worshipped God with them.

With all of this happening at the end of chapter 4, I imagine that Moses and Aaron had much more confidence than they did before. The text doesn’t straight-up tell us that, but it would make perfect sense for them to have much more confidence as they head to talk to Pharaoh: They’re probably thinking, “God’s just doing amazing things; the people believed us; they even worshipped God after hearing what he’s going to do!” Again, the text doesn’t say that, but it would certainly make sense. Then, they finally go to Pharaoh, which brings us to chapter 5. Now, we’re going to spend the next like 15 minutes just working our way through what’s happening in chapter 5. And then we’ll step back and see what we can learn from what happens with Pharaoh, Moses, and the Hebrews. Let’s read chapter 5, verses 1-9:

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” 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.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”

Wow. So they go to Pharaoh, and say: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” Pharaoh’s response very clearly reveals the hardness of his heart. This also shows the primary conflict through the Exodus narrative. It’s not between Moses and Pharaoh, or even between the Hebrews and Pharaoh. It’s specifically between Pharaoh and God himself.

In verse 2, he says, “Who is the Lord?” Now he’s not asking for information, because he’s genuinely interested: “Who is this Lord you speak of?” No, he’s just completely dismissing him, almost mocking him. “Who, compared to our great gods, is this Lord?” It’s not that he’s never heard of this God; it’s that he doesn’t respect or submit to him. So he just says no. “I don’t respect or know this God, therefore, obviously, I’m not going to obey him. I do not recognize the authority of this ‘Lord.’”

So I can’t help but wonder what’s going through Moses and Aaron’s minds as they get this response from Pharaoh. They came in likely confident, or at least more confident than they were before the Hebrews believed what they had to say. And now they’re getting a very clear, “No.” So, they respond, in verse 3, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.” “In case we weren’t clear, ‘The God of the Hebrews has met with us.’ We’re not here on our own accord, we’re here on behalf of the God of Israel! So let us go a three days journey into the wilderness.”

Just a sidenote, a little parenthese: You may wonder where this three days came from. Like, you know, I thought they were leaving for good. What’s with this three days? Well, this is what God commanded them to say in chapter 3 verse 18, so we know they’re not lying or trying to make up a story to make this a bit easier for Pharaoh to let them go. But why the three days? Most likely, three days was about the amount of time it would take the Israelites to get where Moses was going to lead them, back to Mount Horeb, or Mount Sinai, where God would give them the law. It never actually says anything about returning. So, this wasn’t a request to leave for only three days, even though Pharaoh may very well have thought that.

But, no matter the request, Pharaoh responds in an even clearer way. “No. Why are you taking the Hebrew slaves from their work? There’s so many Hebrews that are my slaves, so they’ve got to get back to work!” In fact, not only did he say no; he took it a step further. He began requiring of them not only to make all the bricks they had to make each day; but he also added to their responsibility finding their own straw to make the bricks! But they still had to make the same number of bricks each day! And then, he insults them! He says, “Oh, they’re just lazy. That’s why they cry about wanting to go out and sacrifice to their God.” Then he even specifically insults Moses and Aaron and accuses them of lying to their own people, the Hebrews.

Here’s the thing worth noting about all of this. Yes, Pharaoh was likely mad about anyone thinking they could come to him with demands and trying to pretend like there was an authority higher than him, that even he had to obey! So yes, he’s mad, and I’m sure that that’s part of the reason he responded like this. But it was also a very calculated response, specifically meant to put tension between Moses and the Hebrews. Pharaoh is smart; he’s doing some political maneuvering, here.

The Hebrews had accepted Moses’ claim and seemed to be hopeful that they’d be delivered from slavery. So Pharaoh is clever and produces this internal problem for Moses, which it seems obvious that Moses didn’t expect. Pharaoh even straight-up blames Moses, Aaron and the Hebrews for all this happening, calling Moses and Aaron liars, and calling the Israelites lazy. More and more, though, again, Pharaoh does not realize he’s setting himself up not against the Israelites, but against God himself. The very cries that God heard from his people, the very cries that made God feel compassion for his people, are the same cries that Pharaoh is now mocking.

But with his response to Moses, questions must have come up in Moses’ mind: “Did God not say that he would be with him, and accomplish what he sent him to do? It’s not just that this didn’t work. It seems like it made things WORSE!” So, the question for us as we continue is, does it actually make things worse? Let’s read verses 10-14, make some brief comments, then we’ll continue reading again:

10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?”

So, Pharaoh follows through. It wasn’t just a threat! Now, just so you know who is who here, the taskmasters were Egyptians over the Hebrew slaves. The foremen were actually Hebrew slaves who had been placed over other slaves, basically just to organize them better, and likely to make the taskmasters’ job a bit easier. So the foremen were in charge of making sure their fellow Hebrews met the daily quota, and they were beaten because the slaves under them weren’t making enough bricks! Part of the reason the foremen went to Pharaoh (about to read), could have been because that they thought a mistake had been made, that they weren’t supposed to be beaten, but the slaves themselves, the ones who did the work, were the ones who should’ve been beaten. So, they went to Pharaoh. Verses 15-21:

15 Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? 16 No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” 17 But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” 20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, b/c you have made us stink in the sight of Phar. and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Yet again, Pharaoh doesn’t just say no, does he? He mocks them and accuses them of laziness! Pharaoh doesn’t even address the foremen’s concern, their question of why they were getting beaten when this wasn’t their fault? Why? Because all Pharaoh cared about was that Moses had offended him. All he cared abot was showing his pre eminence over this so-called “God of the Hebrews.” This shows, as we’ve seen throughout this narrative so far, the incredible contrast between God and Pharaoh: God hears the cries of the Israelites and cares. Not only does Pharaoh NOT care or sympathize, but he doesn’t even acknowledge their cries! He calls them lazy and tells them to get back to work.

And as we see in what we just read, Pharaoh’s strategy for putting a wedge between Moses and the Hebrew slaves, it worked. Moses, the man of God to whom God spoke through the burning bush, THAT man and his brother, the foremen pronounce a curse on them! They turned on Moses and Aaron so quickly! It was Pharaoh who enslaved them, and it was Pharaoh who placed this insane extra requirement on them! But, even though they had JUST been convinced that Moses had been sent by God, now they turn and attack. And that’s the connotation here in Hebrew, that they are afflicting Moses and Aaron with this curse: “The Lord look on you and judge.”

This is when we start to see the Israelites’ hardness of heart, which we see far more of in the rest of the book of Exodus. But this wasn’t just a hardness toward Moses; it was a hardness toward God Himself, who had sent Moses. Their accusation, it really wasn’t fair, was it? That suddenly Moses had made the Hebrews stink in Pharaoh’s sight; if we’re honest, it seems pretty obvious that they had been a stink to Pharaoh for quite some time! So then, after all this happens, we see how Moses handles the situation. Verses 22-23, the last two verses of the chapter:

22 Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

Now, from Moses’ question here, and from the entire chapter, I want us to see three misplaced parallels between obedience and the expected results of that obedience.

 

Three Misplaced Parallels between Obedience and the expected Results, and these will be formulated into three application statements.

  1. Be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), not his salesmen.

This is a HUGE truth we must remember. We are Christ’s ambassadors, his messengers. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” Paul is speaking here of God’s ministry of reconciliation. At the most basic level, he is saying that GOD is the one who reconciles people to himself. We don’t do that. We talked about this last week. What is our job within the Great Commission? Not to be salespeople that figure out how to make truth more and more appealing to people, but simply to represent Christ, as his ambassadors! To let HIM make HIS appeal through US! Our job is simply to give people what God has said, just like Moses seemed to do here in chapter 5 of Exodus. It’s not our job to paint things a certain way, or emphasize this over that to make it more appealing, because we are not salespeople; we are ambassadors. We simply represent God, and are his messengers.

Like Moses, what do we say to a world that is far from God? Exodus 5:1- “Thus says the Lord.” I can’t tell you how many times, particularly in college, that I felt the need to sell my actions to the people around me, explain why I didn’t get drunk in a way that might be acceptable to others, instead of just being honest, and saying, because the Word says “Do not get drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18).

Ironically, some of the best opportunities we have as Christians to be light in the world is when people ask why we act and live a bit differently. But, we often shrink from the truth. Why? Either, because we’re trying to accommodate to people: “Well, I don’t want them to think I’m judging them or something for not living like me.” OR, we think it’s our job to be salesmen: “You’ve been dating for a year, and you haven’t had sex?” “Well, the Bible kind-of speaks against it, which makes perfect sense because, you know, STDs, unplanned pregnancies, you know, this just makes it more likely to have a successful marriage once we do get married.”

Those things might be true, but our job as Christians is not to sell the truth; it’s to proclaim the truth. We don’t sell Gospel; we proclaim it. We aren’t God’s salesmen and saleswomen; we’re his messengers, his ambassadors. The best thing we can possibly do is avoid trying to package the Gospel in such a way that someone might be able to swallow it, and instead to simply say, “This is what God has said.” The 2nd misplaced parallel between obedience and our expected results from obedience (again, formulated into an application statement):

 

  1. Trust God in obedience, no matter the results.

We see this with Moses, but we also see it in ourselves. For some reason, this is something that the enemy sells us all the time, sometimes without us knowing it at all. The lie is this: Obedience to God will bring us what we consider to be blessings. Obedience will get us what we want. Obedience will mean less hardship and less suffering or even no suffering. Please hear me: these are lies.

There are three guaranteed results from obedience:

  • Countless times throughout the Word do we see that obedience to God brings great joy. Joy being a state of mind that rests in contentment/hope.
  • Confidence that you’re in God’s will. If you are being obedient to God’s Word, you can know with certainty that you are in God’s will, because God’s Word reveals God’s will.
  • Suffering: Obedience will bring suffering. Not every moment or time that you obey God, but you can know, that obedience, at one point or another, will bring suffering. John 16:33- “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Philippians 1:29- “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”

The problem with obedience is often that we have misplaced expectations. We think we get a particular thing in return for obedience. Moses had a very specific expectation, and what happened with Pharaoh did not fit that expectation. And what happens when we have in mind to obey God with certain things we expect in return? We become distraught and confused, which is exactly what happened to Moses. Verses 22-23 again: Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.’” He even lays out accusation toward God!

This misplaced expectation (which was what? God doing what he said he would do, but exactly how I want him to do it, that was the expectation), it affected Moses’ faith! In those last few words he said, Moses seems to be openly questioning whether or not God was going to do what he said he was going to do! Unbiblical expectations can reveal that your faith is not actually faith in God, but in the genie you perceive to be God, the genie that is bound by your desires. We must guard against this. We must let the Word mold our hearts and minds in such a way that we expect only what God’s Word gives us reason to expect. Obedience always brings joy, it always brings about God’s will, and it will often bring about suffering of some type.

The good news for that is that joy and suffering are not opposites. That’s another really common misconception: the greatest joy is found in the greatest avoidance of suffering. No, no. The greatest joy is found in the greatest obedience and the greatest sanctification, and often sanctification hurts. We trust God in obedience, no matter the results. Don’t let the results of your obedience, whatever it happens to be, lessen your trust in God. He is God, and He is, as I’ve already mentioned a few times this series, “working out all things for the good of those who love Him (R. 8:28).” Guess what “all things” includes? The negative consequences of obedience. All things.

 

  1. Trust that God will be faithful in his timing, not ours.

This goes right along with the previous thought, but I thought it worth bringing up on its own as well. We’ve also seen this truth already in this series, with God finally starting to fulfill the promise he made to Abraham in Genesis 15, by delivering his people out of slavery! The catch? It was more than 1000 years later!

For Moses, even though God was clear that this wasn’t going to be an easy task, he was impatient! Especially, and even understandably, with Pharaoh responding like he did, putting extra work on the Hebrew slaves. But instead of trusting that God was going to do what he said he was going to do, in HIS timing and in HIS way, Moses got frustrated with God. And before that, the Hebrews got frustrated with Moses and Aaron!This is something we must remember, as Christians: Just because we know something to be God’s will, does not mean there will be the immediate results that we want to see.

This is one of those unusual things about how the Hebrews themselves responded to what happened with Pharaoh. Instead of thinking, “Oh, well this might be harder than we thought, but we’re going to trust God.” Instead, they immediately turn on Moses and Aaron. Clearly, they were shocked and did not expect what happened. My question with this, though, is, Did Moses and Aaron not tell the Hebrew people everything that God told them? Back in chapter 4, verse 30, it says “Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people.” Then it goes on and says they believed, and even worshipped!

Think about it, God made very clear with Moses and Aaron that Pharaoh would not let them go without compulsion (3:19). In the very next verse, God said he would have to strike Egypt with many mighty wonders. Then, in chapter 4, God was even more specific, telling Moses and Aaron that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart and kill his own son! So if that’s what God told Moses, and if Exodus 4:30 says that they told the Hebrews all of this, why in the world are the Hebrew people so upset that this very first talk with Pharaoh didn’t go well? Shouldn’t they have expected it?

One of the reasons is because there was an apparent disconnect between what they understood God to have told them, and what they actually expected! They apparently expected God to deliver them NOW. No more suffering on the way to God delivering them, and especially no extra workload for a time. But God never promised these things. He promised to deliver them in his timing and in his way. Please hear me: When we make plans and label them as God’s promises, we’re putting words in God’s mouth. We’re speaking on behalf of God and believing something that God never said. This is especially true when we think about waiting.

Waiting for God is one of the most sanctifying things we can possibly do. There are few things that have the potential to make us more like Christ than waiting on God. Why? Because I think the biggest truth we learn in waiting is the truth of how little control we actually have. It’s for that reason, in a very real sense, that waiting can be even a relief! Why? Because it’s a reminder that we are not God, and we don’t have to pretend to be! We don’t have to carry the weight of the entire world, and try our best to keep it within our grasp and our reach, because we can’t do it anyway. Let waiting be a wonderful thing. Let waiting teach you to trust in God fully, not just with what he’s said, and the end result, but with everything in between.

 

Conclusion

How many times in this life will we be faced with ethical dilemmas, at work or in our social lives, or with being honest on our taxes? How many times will being radically obedient to God’s Word bring us pain and suffering? How many times will we be disappointed in the results of obeying God and His Word? I can’t answer these questions. There’s no telling how often we’ll experience this. But I can answer this one question: Who are we obeying? Who are we trusting? For whom are we messengers and ambassadors? The God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of both the Old Testament and the New, the God who sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross bearing our sin and rebellion and shame, and rising again to defeat death and sin altogether.

There’s truly no need to worry about what will happen if we’re truly and totally obedient to our Great God, BECAUSE our Great God is in control, and He has delivered us from slavery, the dominion of darkness, a dominion that is driven solely by results and utilitarianism and obsessed with profit and return and the ends always justifying the means. That’s the kingdom of man. In God’s Kingdom, we simply trust Him, and obey, no matter the results. There’s no greater joy than knowing that that’s exactly what we were created to do.