Description / Transcription
This sermon originally delivered by Kevin DeYoung at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan
I invite you to turn to Exodus, the second book in the Bible. We will be reading all of chapter 5 this morning, beginning at verse 1. Hear God’s Word:
1 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.’” 2 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.” 3 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.” 4 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.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 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.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
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?”
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, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
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.”
One of the first things I did when I was in seminary—I think it was on one of the first weekends there—was go to downtown Boston with a friend of mine. As we were walking through the city, one of the things that I really wanted to do was get a bird’s-eye view of it. It’s not like Chicago where you can go up the Sears Tower (I guess it’s the Willis Tower now) and have an observation deck. I didn’t know if there was such a thing in Boston—I still don’t know if there is one—but people had told us, “Just find one of these tallest buildings and go up to the top.”
I think I went to the Fleet building, which was a bank building (that’s now Bank of America). It was one of these big, tall bank buildings downtown. I went in there and thought, “Well, I’ll just walk through the lobby.” The doorman said, “Hello.” He was really doing a bang up job as I just walked in, went to the elevator, and pushed whatever the top floor on the elevator was. I thought, “Well, there’s probably some sort of deck up there that we can see the whole city from.” We went all the way up, however many stories that was.
When the door opened, to my surprise, it was like one of those scenes in a movie where you see people working on important business—everyone is in coats and ties, and stuff that people are doing is flying around—and then, all of a sudden, everyone stops. It felt kind of like that as the doors opened. This was clearly not an observation deck. It was the very top floor of the bank, and everybody was working.
Thankfully, this was pre-9/11. I don’t know what would have happened post-9/11. We might have been on the news or something. But as we made maybe three steps to just look out the door, we were quickly alerted that we would not be looking out that window here on the top floor. It was not for twenty-year-old yahoos to come up and look out. We were quickly ushered out of their office space and back down the elevator to the bottom.
I tried to explain that we were just going up to get a view. I tried to explain that the nice man in the lobby by the elevator didn’t seem to mind that we were going there. I even tried to explain that I was from Michigan, I didn’t know better, and we were just here to see the city. All of those things were to no avail, because we were nobodies in a room with somebodies. They didn’t know who we were, and they were not interested in the message we were telling them. So, despite our protestations, we were sent out of the Fleet building. That’s why I never wanted to live in Boston. I’m here, where you can climb up to the top of the six story building and nobody kicks you out.
Moses and Aaron had a similar experience when they went to Pharaoh. They were there, they had an audience with the great and the powerful—and he was not very interested in what they had to say. Look at verse 2. This is the most important verse in the chapter:
2 But Pharaoh said [in response to Moses and Aaron and their demand that he let the people go], “Who is the Lord…?”
See ‘Lord’ there in those small capital letters? “Who is YHWH? Who is this Jehovah?” “Thus says YHWH, ‘Let my people go!’”
“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.”
“Who is the Lord…?” With that question, Pharaoh revealed more of his heart than he realized. Throughout the next ten chapters, we will see God go to great lengths to make sure that this question is answered. Pharaoh will know who the Lord is. By the time the Israelites leave Egypt, he will have unmistakably encountered the God who makes Himself known.
Who is the Lord? This is the central question of the whole Exodus narrative—and, you could argue, the central question of the whole book of Exodus. Wasn’t that what Moses was just asking in the wilderness in Midian? “Who are You? What’s Your name? Who should I say that You are that has sent me to Egypt?” And now Pharaoh asks a very similar question. “Who is the Lord…?”
There are all sorts of problems in the world. Open a paper, look at the little ticker across the bottom of your screen, or look down at your phone. There are all sorts of problems. I don’t know if there are more problems than there ever have been. Probably not. There are probably fewer people dying from disease or war. Actually, murder rates are down in this country. You could put together statistics that suggest that things have actually been a lot worse before. But, with the ubiquity of news and information, it sure feels like things have never been worse. It’s just one piece of bad news after another: another killing, disaster, tragedy, terrorist act, or scare. There are lots of things wrong in the world.
Maybe you’re tempted to buy what the news is selling: that we are this close to having it all figured out—if we could just get the right president, have a strong enough military, have a climate change summit, fix education, or just have another program.
I’ll leave it to you to decide how important each of those things might be, but here’s what we know from the Bible: there is one true, living God, and our central problem is that we do not know and worship Him. It’s not to discount or be pie-in-the-sky about whatever problems there are in the world and just say we don’t have to be involved in them. Of course we do. But here’s what we know from the Bible: whatever you might make of the world’s problems, and whatever you might think of the solutions, there is one true, living God, and our central problem is that we do not know and worship Him. We, like Pharaoh, must ask the question, “Who is the Lord?” The problem of the Garden of Eden is still the human problem today: unbelief. “Has God really said that you shall not eat from any tree in the Garden?” We have here, in Pharaoh, a particularly powerful example of a stubborn refusal to listen to God.
Exodus 5 gives us a quintessential picture of unbelief. We have here an anatomy of unbelief. What does it look like when you don’t believe in God? That’s where we were. That’s where some of you are, perhaps. That’s where many of your loved ones reside (and you pray for them). What does unbelief look like? Let me unpack three characteristics of unbelief we see in Pharaoh that you may find in your heart or the hearts of people you love.
Disregard for God’s Character
In the heart of unbelief, there is a disregard for God’s character. This can be based on ignorance. Pharaoh didn’t really know who YHWH was. Remember, even Moses wasn’t sure until very recently who this Lord, YHWH, was. Pharaoh would certainly have been what we might call a spiritual person. He was even a very religious person. He was no doubt aware of many gods and goddesses. Perhaps he considered himself to be one. He no doubt worshiped a number of deities—deities of the sky, the earth, or the Nile—made sacrifices, and performed rituals. He was interested in the afterlife, and believed in miracles and unexplained phenomena. So he was what we would call a very spiritual person. But this God of the Hebrews, this I Am that I Am, this Jehovah, this God he did not know.
I’m speaking to those who came here for whatever reason this morning. Somebody made you come, you just wandered in, or you’re visiting this country, and you don’t really know God. You wouldn’t call yourself a Christian or a believer. Maybe even this fits some students or young people here. I’m very glad that you’re here. Have you ever considered that perhaps your disregard for God is because you don’t really know Him? You know, you’ve heard about God. You’ve been to church. There was a time that you were kind of interested in spiritual things. You know some Christmas carols, and you recognize one or two of these songs. You like that about going to church—but honestly, you don’t know Him. If there is a God, do you think that you can understand Him, pretty well size Him up, and figure Him out based on a semester course in philosophy?
That happens to some people. “I’ve kind of been to church. I’m kind of interested in God. But then I went to school and thought about things for ten weeks, and then I decided ‘Yeah, I think I know more than everybody.’” You’re ready to dismiss what you do not know; ready to ignore after a few moments reflection what the greatest minds in the world spent a lifetime pursuing. Perhaps they were all mistaken, but you cannot say they were all dumb.
We have to remember this when talking to others about our faith. People may affirm there is a God. They may believe in a Creator. They may have no problem accepting that there is an afterlife. They may be spiritual people like Pharaoh. They may even be religious people like the Egyptians. They may profess a lot of things about God and still not know the Lord, just like Pharaoh.
I’ve heard a line from D.A. Carson a number of times in his decades of doing university missions and speaking at different colleges all around the world. He’ll say, “You know, twenty or thirty years ago, it at least used to be the case that if you met somebody who was an unbeliever, the God they didn’t believe in was the Christian God.” What he means by that is that there used to be a sort of default, at least in the West: here’s ‘Christian’. If you don’t believe in God, then you are saying, “I understand this Christian understanding and I reject it.” Whereas now you go and find all sorts of people who say, “I don’t believe in God” or “I don’t believe in a deity” or “I don’t believe in even a Christian God,” but they don’t really understand it. They’ve never really been introduced to it. It may be in their cultural background—sort of slipped through a few of their cultural filters—but they don’t really know this God. They’ve not really been taught the gospel. They’ve never really studied the Bible. They didn’t have parents who brought them to church week after week. They are not well-versed in the Scriptures.
We must remember that when people reject the God that we offer them, they may well be rejecting a God that even you and I would reject. “I can’t believe in a God who is just petty and just sends lightning bolts at people and He’s always mad at everybody all the time.” I’m with you. That’s not my God either.
But they may have a god who is just the opposite. The god that they want is a god who’s just like this big guy who comes down a chimney in a white beard, says “Ho, Ho, Ho,” and gives presents. He looks at people, whether they are good or bad, and then rewards them. The people that you’re praying for likely do not know the God who is holy, self-existent, independent, transcendent, sovereign, and just. The God they think they know is not the triune God, not the God of the Bible, not the God we sing about in our hymns and confess in our creeds, not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They may be very spiritual and religious like Pharaoh. Yet do they know the Lord?
Pharaoh’s disregard for God’s character is based at least partly on ignorance and partly on indifference. It’s not just that Pharaoh never had the opportunity to know the Lord. He’s getting that opportunity, and he will have the opportunity whether he likes it or not. No, he appears to have no interest in knowing the Lord. You can picture him with folded arms: “YHWH? Not interested. Don’t know Him. Don’t care about Him. Get back to work.”
Ignorance and indifference go hand in hand. The people most indifferent toward God are often those most ignorant of God. Read the Gospels sometime. The demons were not indifferent toward God. They did not worship God, but they were the first ones to recognize the true identity of the Son of God, and they feared. They were not indifferent. There is no devil or demon in Hell who is indifferent to God, because they are not ignorant of Him.
So many people—perhaps some of us—have this invincible (or so it seems) indifference to the God who made you, loves you, rules over you, and directs all your steps, and before whom you will one day sit in judgment. If you are indifferent to all of that, then you must not know who you are really talking about.
I remember years ago. I don’t even know what it was about, but I came in and was telling my wife something that I had just heard or learned from some new documentary (it was really interesting) about Wayne Gretzky. I think she said something like, “Wayne who?” I said, “Wayne Gretzky. You know, the most famous hockey player ever? Hockey, you know—with the sticks, the puck, and the ice?” So, being a very much better wife than I deserve, she sat down and watched this thing about Wayne Gretzky. Now we can always have Wayne Gretzky to hold us together. We both know who he is! It’s kind of like how I need to learn who these people are on HGTV. I’m ignorant, so I’m indifferent—and truth be told, in that case, even if I wasn’t ignorant, I still might be indifferent. Just like my wife.
When it comes to God, though we’re slightly less indifferent and ignorant, the two things often go hand in hand. Think about it. If you are here this morning, and you are bored—okay, sermons can be boring. We sometimes put that on the preacher. It happens. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been bored with some of my own sermons! You say, “Then why do you keep going?” I’m just trying to find an interesting point. You can be bored with church. You can be bored with the sermon. There are boring things sometimes.
But God is never boring. If you are indifferent to God, you must not really know Him. I’m not talking about you having a bad day, or about you feeling sort of low and spiritually dry. That happens to the best of us. I’m talking about you being completely indifferent. Then you don’t know this God who made you, loves you, and rules and reigns over you. The obstacle with so many people is plain indifference. They disregard God’s character because they don’t know Him and they don’t care to know Him. They are not curious, interested, or even bothered. At least Pharaoh was bothered! So many people today, when you tell them about the God of the universe, are all like, “You know, whatever.” Disregard for the God of the universe is the first quality of unbelief.
Defiance of God’s Commands
When Moses and Aaron present their request to Pharaoh, it does make you scratch your head a little bit. You want to know, “How did they get in there?” You can’t just go in and see the president whenever you want. Did Moses have some old connections from his time forty years ago when he grew up as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter?
Some people have suggested that in the ancient world it was actually the responsibility of the king to meet with both the greatest and the lowliest. Consider how later in the book of Exodus you will find that Moses is overworked because he is trying to personally adjudicate every case that comes before him. Or think of how, later in the Old Testament, Solomon will have different people come before him and ask, “Whose baby is this?” “Could you decide this case for me?” Some people have argued that in the ancient world it was understood that the king would (in part of his time) have an open door to see people who would come with various complaints. Wouldn’t that be an interesting idea? However it was, they got in. I think it’s probably likely that there was some sort of understanding that you could have an audience before Pharaoh. Perhaps he thought of himself as a deity, and though he could be a tyrant, he was at least accessible. At least you got some sort of reply.
When I was in fifth or six grade, I was a different sort of kid. I asked for atlases for Christmas. I had Transformers and some dinosaurs too—really cool stuff like that. But even when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I got really interested in politics. So, before the end of the school year, I wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan. Some of you just read about him in your history books. I’m so old…
I have no idea what I wrote about. I think I was just interested because I heard he had this Star Wars program. I was like, “I’ve seen Star Wars. That’s cool.” You know, it was a missile defense program or whatever. But I remember getting a call from my elementary school in the middle of the summer saying, “Kevin, there’s a piece of mail here. It says it’s from the White House. Would you come?” Oh, man, that was…I just thought for sure I was going to…was I old enough to be a Vice President? Ronald Reagan wrote me back! Was I going to ride his horse? So I went in there and they were pretty excited. “Why don’t you open this up?” So I opened it up. It was a very nice form letter that obviously gets sent to all eight or nine-year-olds who write a letter to the President that said, “Thank you so much for your interest in the government and here’s this and this”. I probably got a Reagan sticker or something, but at the time I didn’t know any better. I just knew that I got a letter from the President. I got in the White House!
I would think that something similar is going on here. Moses and Aaron get an audience with Pharaoh and, at the very least, he’s going to write back his form letter. Of course, they don’t have that method of communication, so you get a “Come in. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. No. No, you’re not going.” I don’t know. He hears request after request: “I’m not interested.” “I don’t know who this YHWH is.” “You just want to get out of work. Get back to work, and no straw.”
Moses and Aaron try to explain, “You don’t understand. The God of the Hebrews met with us. You don’t know Him, Pharaoh, but we do. He met with us—which means, by implication, He is on our side—and He wants us to go worship Him for three days.” We still have that nagging problem. Why is it that they ask to go worship for three days when what they really want is to be free from Egypt? I think that the best explanation is that God was testing Pharaoh. “Let’s just start with three days. We’ll go from there, but will you give My people three days to worship Me?” The contest, really, is about whom you will worship. Who is the Lord? Is it the God of the Universe, YHWH, or is it Pharaoh? “Will you give to YHWH three days?” Pharaoh says, “No.”
There are evidences in ancient literature and artifacts that show that Egyptian slaves were sometimes given time off to worship their gods. This was not an unheard of request. But Pharaoh will hear none of it. A document called the Targum, which is a rabbinical paraphrase of the Old Testament, give Pharaoh’s reply as this: “I have not found the name of the Lord in the book of the angels. I am not afraid of Him, nor will I release Israel.”
So Pharaoh says, “I don’t know this God of yours. Who is He?” and “I don’t have to listen to Him.” Pharaoh set himself up in place of God. His plan was to defy a God that he didn’t believe in. That’s not the first time nor the last time that will happen. Ever see that in people? Maybe yourself? “I don’t even believe this God exists, and I hate Him.” Really? So is the problem in your head or in your heart? Pharaoh was, as Paul would say years later in Romans 1, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
I love this line from Phil Ryken in his commentary. He says,
“Disobedience has a way of perpetuating ignorance.”
Isn’t that true? When you do what you want to do, in defiance of God’s commands, it has a way of producing the ignorance required to do what you want to do.
Did you ever see the show Family Feud? You ask 100 people some sort of ridiculous survey question, and there’s the board behind them. “The survey says…”, the little tiles turn over, and it gives the answer. Imagine if you surveyed 100 people: “Tell me why you do not believe in God.” People would give their answers: “God hasn’t shown Himself to me.” “The survey says…” Ding. It’ll turn over. 15 people say that. “Well, He’s not relevant for my life.” “The survey says…” another 12 people. “I’m going to say a bad experience with the church.” “The survey says…” There it is! 30 people had a bad experience with the church and Christians. Someone says, “Problem of evil.” It’s on the board. They go down the line. “Not intellectually credible.” “The survey says…” another 25 people. “You can’t buy the manuscripts.” “Creation doesn’t fit with science.” “How do you get the books of the Bible?” “Didn’t the early church just vote Jesus to be God?” “Aren’t there a bunch of made-up stories?” These are the sort of answers you would get on the board if you were playing a game of Family Feud on “Why don’t you believe in God?”
All of those reasons certainly have some traction with people. It’s not to say that they are never sincerely held, but here is the one reason that would not show up on the board. It may be the most common reason why people do not believe in God. Here it is: “I don’t want to listen to God.” That’s why. Oh, it’s not going to show up. It’s much better to say, “I had a bad experience,” because people do have bad experiences with the church. It’s much easier to say, “Well, I’ve got intellectual questions,” because that sounds sophisticated—and maybe you do. But here’s the heart reason: “I don’t believe in this God because I don’t want to listen to Him.”
It’s just like in the Garden. Adam and Eve wanted autonomy. They ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which meant they considered themselves adequate to determine what is good and evil. Ever since you were a little tiny toddler, you’ve learned to say, “You’re not the boss of me.” You say it your whole life to God. “Nobody is going to tell me what to think, what to feel, or how to live. I don’t like my sins being called sins. I don’t like that the Bible says I need a Savior. I don’t like the stuff about Heaven and Hell.” In a moment of honesty, some of us raise a fist toward Heaven and say, “Who do you think you are? Some kind of God!”
Exactly. We don’t want a God. We want to be God. Pharaoh says to himself, “I hate this God of yours, whom I don’t even believe exists.” Such is the inconsistency of the unbelieving heart. The head finds reasons to disbelieve when the heart is unwilling to surrender. We’re not rational people so much as we are rationalizing people. We can always chase down an objection, always find a reason, always say, “Well, what about this? You can’t answer it.” Pharaoh had a disregard for God’s character and defiance of God’s commands. That was the heart problem.
Disdain for God’s Community
When you want nothing to do with God, you want nothing to do with God’s people. This may not always be the case, but it often is. God is invisible, so it can be hard to tell Him off to the face—but if you can’t poke God in the eye, God’s people will do. “Saul, Saul!” Jesus says. “Why do you persecute Me? You’re persecuting the church, but you’re persecuting Me! You hate them because you hate Me.”
Jesus said in John 15,
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
Pharaoh takes out his frustrations and his unbelief on the Israelites. Bricks without straw. It’s fascinating. Historians have looked at chapter 5 and demonstrated how historically accurate this description of Egyptian building and slave labor practices is. Most buildings in Egypt at the time (palaces, storehouses, military installations, and official residences) were made out of brick and mud. There are pictures in ancient Egyptian tombs showing people making bricks and wooden castings. Straw was a necessary component to keep the clay in place and help the bricks stay intact, keep them stronger and more secure.
An archeologist in the late 19th century commented that he saw in one building a corner of the brickwork where the bricks were made without straw. He said that in all his years he had never seen it in any other place in Egypt. Could it have been the very bricks that the Israelites were making? We don’t know. What we do know is that brick making was a hard, hot, miserable process. It was difficult enough with the provision of straw, and virtually impossible without it. It’s no wonder that the Israelite foremen complained to Pharaoh that it’s his fault that the slaves can’t meet their quota.
So you had this system with Egyptian bosses at the top, a layer of Hebrews who were foremen in the middle, and then all the slaves. It made sense that if you gave to this layer of Hebrew middlemen some of the responsibility (and perhaps some greater privilege), they would be happy to have the position and to have less work. They were the ones responsible to actually administer the discipline, or to keep their own countrymen working. It’s really an ingenious system.
When these middlemen, these foremen, realize that they have the same quota without the same provisions, they go to Pharaoh and they say, “It’s your fault. You’re telling us, ‘You’re not making the bricks.’ How are we supposed to make the bricks? That was almost impossible. Now it is impossible because we have to go and find stubble in the fields and collect our own straw.”
One of the things Pharaoh wanted to do was drive a wedge between the people and their leaders. After the foremen complained to Pharaoh, then all the people complained to Moses and Aaron. “You’re the leaders! You’re the saviors! You’re the deliverers! How’s that working out for you?” When people are mad, they find someone to yell at. Usually their leaders will do. What’s sad is that the people begin to doubt their leaders as a result of Pharaoh distrusting those leaders. Pharaoh didn’t believe Moses and Aaron, and now the people aren’t going to believe Moses and Aaron either. You see verse 4?
“Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.”
9 Let heavier work be laid on the men…and pay no regard to lying words.”
Verse 17 says to the foremen,
“You are idle, you are idle…”
Pharaoh says, “Look, you’re lying. You’re lazy people. You want to get out of work. You’re not telling the truth. This is all a ruse so that you can get out of being slaves. You don’t want to work hard. I’m not buying it.”
Pharaoh considered the words of YHWH and His messengers to be lies. He approached the Word of God like a lot of people approach it—that is, “God’s Word is unfair. I don’t like God’s word, because it makes my life harder. It’s going to not allow me to enjoy life on my own terms. I want slaves to do the work for me. God’s Word says to let them go, so God must be lying. His people must be lying.”
Ideas have consequences, and so does unbelief. Pharaoh is a striking example, on the one hand, of the bondage of sin. We can see why later in the New Testament. This exodus event will become the picture of our redemption from sin. We can see why Jesus would tell us that His yoke was easy, and His burden was light, because the history of God’s people was to have a master like Pharaoh, whose burden is cruel, and whose yoke will kill you. So it is with sin. If you try to serve sin, you think that to trade that master for God as your master is going to make you less free. That’s the lie of the devil.
Then, as we’ll see over and over again, when you have that freedom in the Lord, what do you do when life is hard? You want to go back to the sin. “You know what? The status quo wasn’t so bad. Sin’s not such a bad master. Pharaoh wasn’t such a bad guy.” Pharaoh, like sin, demands bricks from the weary and the exhausted, and provides them with no straw. Pharaoh is an example of the bondage of sin.
He’s also an example of the cruelty of unbelief in how he takes out his frustrations on God’s people. Here’s what Calvin says:
“Now-a-days the Gospel procures hatred for many, deprives others of their pleasures, degrades others from their honours, brings to others the loss of their goods, sentences others to prison, others to exile, and endangers the life of some; in a word, the more God exerts His power, the more is Satan’s rage excited on the other side, and the wicked become more fiercely cruel.”
Did you ever think that when you see the wicked more fiercely cruel and Satan raging as it seems that he hasn’t before, that perhaps he knows what we may have forgotten—that God is doing amazing things. What Calvin described here in Europe in the sixteenth century is absolutely the reality for millions of Christians in our world today. Perhaps some of it will be a reality for us: that to believe in the gospel will mean hatred, will deprive you of certain pleasures and degrade you from certain honors, will bring loss of certain goods, and will endanger your very life. If that happens to any of us now (or fifty years from now), remember that it’s not ultimately about you. There is a much bigger battle going on, just like there was in Moses’ day.
One commentator says:
“The real combatants here are not just Moses and Pharaoh or the Israelites and the Egyptians, but between YHWH and Egypt’s gods.”
That’s what we’re going to see. It’s not Moses versus Pharaoh. It’s not even Israel versus Egypt. It’s the one True God versus false gods and the satanic realm which inspires those idols. So it is in our day. The battle is not ultimately against flesh and blood. You should not be surprised, Peter says, when the fiery trials come. You should not be surprised that in the heart of unbelief is a disdain for God’s people. You and I both know all sorts of very nice, decent, on-the-face of it moral, non-Christian friends and family members who are pleasant to be around. Thank God for His common grace. But if a culture becomes less and less tethered to some sort of Christian moorings, and if there is less residual truth to buoy up a moral framework, then we can expect this heart of unbelief to become more and more manifest. When it does we should not be afraid or take it personally.
I always remember a little line that I heard from Ben Patterson. He says, “If you’re in a war and somebody shoots at your foxhole, you don’t pop your head up and say, ‘Was it something I said?’ No, you’re in a battle. You get shot at.” In the heart of unbelief is a disdain for God’s people because of a disdain for the God that they worship. It’s not to excuse us. We do all sorts of ridiculous things. We get that. But at the heart of it, Jesus said “If they hated the Master, why do you expect them to love those who follow Him? Are you greater than your Master?” A disregard for God’s character, a defiance of God’s commands, and a disdain for God’s community—such is the heart of unbelief.
Two Other ‘D’s
Look at the last two verses as we close. There’s disregard, defiance, disdain. What about doubt? That’s what we see with Moses. “Lord, I told You this was not a good idea! Can I be right once, God? Didn’t I say that this is not going to work? Didn’t I say that I’m not good at talking? Didn’t I say that he’s not going to listen? Are you sure about this?” Even the Lord’s chosen prophet was still struggling to know exactly who the Lord was. He needed to have the question “Who is the Lord?” answered. He wasn’t so sure.
Let it be an exhortation and a comfort that our faith is often mingled with doubt—just like the father in the Gospels who cried out to Jesus, “I believe, O Lord. Help my unbelief.” Here’s Moses. “I believe. I’m going in to Pharaoh with Aaron. We’re going to say, ‘Let my people go!’”, and then when they don’t go, “I told You this was a terrible idea! Can we give it up now?” It’s faith mingled with doubt.
Jude says to have mercy on those who doubt. There will be seasons when we doubt. But there’s a difference between the doubt that walks with God (like Moses) and the doubt that turns against God (like Pharaoh). The doubt that walks with God says, “Okay, are you sure God? I don’t know. I’m still worried about this.” But you’re walking with Him. And then there’s the stiff-arm that Pharaoh does. “No, no.”
What about another ‘D’ as we finish. It was just hinted at and it’ll be the theme of all the chapters to come: ultimate defeat for Pharaoh. The king of Egypt would know the Lord before all was said and done. Just like:
…every knee should bow… 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
Everyone will see the glory of the Lord revealed. For some it will be too late. There’s a popular saying—you can probably even find a few bumper stickers to this effect—“True Love Wins.” That’s true. Love wins—but not always in the way that we think. God’s love for His people will win out. God’s love for justice will win out. God’s love for the glory of His name will win out. All of that will mean that Pharaoh’s unbelief will lose. Love wins, which means unbelief loses.
Who is the Lord? It’s the central question of the exodus and of the book of Exodus. Do you know the answer to that question? Who is really in charge? Not just in an abstract way. In your life, who is really in charge? Who can really be trusted? Whom will you serve? Who has the real power? These are the questions we all must face. Our prayer is that we would put our trust, faith, and belief in the One True God—this I Am, this YHWH, this Jehovah, this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If not, perhaps you will at least be honest enough to understand why.