“Let My people go.”
Exodus 5 begins with the very phrase that sets up the main conflict of Exodus: God freeing His people from a tight-fisted Pharaoh.
And Pharaoh’s answer, though having become sort of a cliché over the years, attests to the depth of his stubborn heart.
But it also attests to the depth of God’s power to overcome a hardened heart . . .
. . . in Pharaoh’s chest
. . . in Moses’ chest
. . . in the Israelites’ chests.
And God, in His infinite wisdom, has a plan in place to overcome each and every one of these hearts.
But in the eyes of all involved—including us—it gets worse before it gets better.
First, God has to remind the Israelites that He is Yahweh and that He always keeps His promises.
Israel’s doubt makes this difficult to see, however, after Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh for the first time. Pharaoh (who is ever the businessman and economist in this case) believes that Israel seeks the freedom to go into the wilderness for a few days to worship their God because they want to slack off from making bricks. Thus, Pharaoh decides to stop supplying them straw for the bricks.
This may not seem like a big deal to our eyes. But to the Israelites, this was a big burden upon shoulders carrying enough burdens already.
Now, they have to first go collect their straw before they return to their stations and make the bricks. And they still have to meet their daily quota of bricks.
Have you ever had a day that was so jam-packed with things to do and places to be that you begin to dread it, hate it, wish it was over already? Better yet, to just crawl in a hole somewhere and ignore it?
I can only imagine that this is sort of what the Israelites felt like with these new brick-making standards: hard-laboring, yet ever broken-spirited.
It didn’t help that they still got beaten whenever they did not meet their quota of bricks.
They pleaded their case to Pharaoh, but Pharaoh simply responded with: “Slackers!”
As he sat on his throne. Probably munching on some food. Probably being fanned by some servants. Probably drinking a cup of wine. Probably wishing he could find something on Netflix or Hulu to watch.
So the Israelites—with this human need to blame that we inherited from Adam and Eve—turn to Moses and Aaron:
“May the Lord take note of you and judge,” they said to them, “because you have made us reek in front of Pharaoh and his officials—putting a sword in their hand to kill us!” (Exodus 5:21)
Some pretty strong words from a people who are weak with burdens.
And this is where Israel’s doubt triggers Moses’s insecurity. I’m sure when Moses heard the Israelites say these words he couldn’t help but flash back to that dead Egyptian on the sand, slain by Moses’s hand, the words of the two fighting Hebrews falling onto the sand, outlining the Egyptian:
“Who made you a leader and judge over us? Are you planning to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14)
Judge, kill . . . they are in both statements. Moses probably picks up on these words, feeling the weight of them. Feeling the significance of them.
God sent him as a judge of Israel, but now he himself is judged for being a poor one. God sent him to help deliver Israel, but now his actions have only killed the hope and faith that so shortly before he had inspired within them.
So Moses cries out, “Lord, why have You caused trouble for this people? And why did You ever send me? Ever since I went into Pharaoh to speak in our name he has caused trouble for this people, and You haven’t delivered Your people at all.” (Exodus 5:22-23).
God, why haven’t You taken this thorn from my side?
God, why haven’t You come through with Your promise yet?
God, why haven’t You given Your answer still?
God doesn’t work on our timeline.
God doesn’t think like we do, act like we do.
So even when our circumstances around us become the worse for wear, even when the darkness overcomes us, even when we can’t help as our faith—not even as big as a mustard seed—crumbles like sand into crippling, hopeless doubt . . .
. . . this is the point in which we must trust God the most.
Because God will show up.
And at this time, at this point in the story is where God begins phase II of His battle plan:
One of the beautiful things about the plagues is that God, in His wisdom, matched His power to the power of Pharaoh’s magicians: the staff becomes a snake, the water turns to blood, the frogs come up onto the land. Pharaoh’s heart hardens even more because in his eyes, the God of the Hebrews is on the same level as his court magicians (can you see the head expanding as the heart turns into stone?)
But get this: by the third plague, God brings His level of power above that of the magicians. He brings forth the gnats; the magicians don’t. “This is the finger of God,” the magicians said to Pharaoh (Exodus 8:19).
We still have 7 plagues to go.
Flies, dying livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness. Each one an added frustration and burden on the Egyptians. Each one a mirror for each burden they placed on God’s people.
And each one is met with the further hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. During some of these plagues, he even asks Moses to appeal to God on his behalf to make the plague stop. And God does.
But Pharaoh still hardens his heart.
It’s like when we give into a temptation or sin again that has powered over us for too long, and we feel a flood of guilt and shame wash over us. It feels as bloody and weighty as the red Nile. And we sink to our knees, overcome with this guilt and shame, asking God, begging God for forgiveness.
And He does. He graciously, lovingly does. Because Jesus has already died with that weight of our sin on His raw, flesh-torn, beaten back that was propped up by a wooden cross.
Just so we don’t have to feel that red Nile.
But then we go on about our lives, forgetting God. Forgetting his forgiveness. We give into the same sin again . . .
This is our spiritual trigger. It was Pharaoh’s spiritual trigger. How do we get to the place where are hearts are so hardened that we immediately turn back on our God and Creator who so graciously forgave our sins, cast it as far as the east is from the west? How do we become so hard-hearted that we crave the same sin knowing that it upsets God? How do we become so hard-hearted that we commit this sin anyway, and then have the audacity to turn our backs so quickly on God after crawling straight to Him for forgiveness?
This is our Pharaoh side. The side that doesn’t listen to God. The side that says we are good enough on our own, even when we literally just got relief from a major problem not by our own strength, but His own.
But the tenth plague—oh, the tenth plague will change things.
Not just for the hard-hearted Pharaoh, but for the insecure Moses and the doubting Israelites as well.
And it all starts with instructions.
Like usual, God tells Moses what is going to happen with the next plague. Moses tells Aaron. Aaron tells Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s heart deflects the word, sending Moses and Aaron away from the throne room.
But for this final plague, God gives Moses instructions—instructions for the Passover.
He tells them to mark this month as the first month of their new calendar year. He tells them to slaughter an unblemished animal, take the blood, coat their doorway with it, and then eat all the animal’s meat throughout the night. He tells them to dress for travel—sandals on feet and staff in hand and everything. He tells them to prepare unleavened bread.
And to the Israelites, this all may seem a little too much. What could God possibly have in store for the Egyptians that would require Him to prepare and protect His people through blood-stained doors?
Death for the firstborn of every human, every animal in Egypt. For every firstborn who did not live behind a blood-stained door.
All of Egypt awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of great wailing.
And in the middle of this tear-stained night, Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron.
“Get up, leave my people, both you and the Israelites, and go, worship Yahweh as you have asked. Take even your flocks and your herds as you asked and leave, and also bless me.” (Exodus 12:31-32).
The Egyptians practically threw the gold and silver jewelry the Israelites asked of them at their feet—just as God had commanded them to ask for earlier—just so the Israelites could leave. So their God could leave.
And so the Israelites—with the clothes on their backs, the sandals on their feet, the kneading bowls of unleavened dough wrapped in clothes on their shoulders, the jewelry in one hand, the hands of their family in another—left Egypt.
400 years of slavery, of misery, of suffering, of crying out to silence, of hoping with nothing to show for it . . . and it was finally over.
God had delivered them! God knew how the night of their exodus was going to play out, and He prepared them for it! God had protected them from death! God had distinguished His people from Egypt!
You would think this is where the story would end.
But the Bible shows us time and time again that God is never done writing the story . . . writing our stories.
Egypt was only the beginning for this nation God has chosen and distinguished. They still have the desert of Sinai to face . . .
. . . and trusting in God is not always their first response.
We’ll see next week how they saw the dry bottom of the Red Sea underneath their feet, yet still managed to let their insecurities distort their faith in God.
See you next Friday,