Last week we talked about how God gave Moses a mission. Who remembers what that mission was? [Let them answer.]
Right. It’s his job to go back and set all the Israelites free. Now was Moses excited about this task? [Let them answer.]
Yeah he definitely was not excited, and he gave God every excuse in the book to not do his job. In the end he mostly relented, but as we’ll see today, he’s still like “Are you sure God?” almost every step of the way, trying to get someone else to do the task. Because this is not a fun task, and one Moses doesn’t think he’s well suited for.
Now last week in one of the classes there was a little bit of confusion over the pharaohs. So I want to reiterate quickly. The Pharaoh who ordered the death of all the Israelite baby boys is a different Pharaoh from the one we’ll be talking about today. The previous Pharaoh is traditionally considered to be the Pharaoh named Seti, and if you ever watch a movie about Moses like Prince of Egypt or the Ten Commandments that’s the name he’ll have. We don’t know for sure if it was really Seti or not. Now while Moses is out in Midian, that first pharaoh dies and a new pharaoh takes over Egypt. Traditionally this pharaoh is considered to be Rameses and that’s how he’s referred to in most Moses movies. But like the first pharaoh, neither pharaoh is named in the Bible.
Moses was picked up by the first pharaoh’s daughter, making him the first pharaoh’s grandson. We don’t know how Moses was related to this second pharaoh. It could be any number of things. Royal successions are weird. He could be the first pharaoh’s son, but if the first pharaoh had no sons, he could be the first pharaoh’s grandson or his brother’s son, or some other male relation. Most Moses movies will portray them as closely related because that makes for a really good story, a great familial tension, if Moses and Rameses were close in age. But we don’t know that. Rameses could be old enough to be Moses father.
All we really know is that the Pharaoh Moses fled when he left Egypt is not the person who is pharaoh when he returns to Egypt.
Okay, so Moses is headed back to Egypt and this new Pharaoh. But God’s not sending him alone. Can someone read Exodus 4:27-31?
27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went; and he met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him, and all the signs with which he had charged him. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses, and performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 The people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had given heed to the Israelites and that he had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.
So God tells Aaron—Moses’s brother—to go meet Moses who’s on his way in. Because remember, Moses thinks he’s not very good at talking, so God was like “Okay, but your brother Aaron is, so he’ll help you out.”
Moses and Aaron meet up and Moses explains everything. Then with Aaron’s help, Moses gathers all the leaders of Israel and then Aaron explains everything. And at this point, the elders are really hopeful! They’re like “God has heard us! He’s going to save us! Thank goodness!”
They may even think it’s going to be easy and fast. Because God is God, he can do whatever he wants. So some of these people may expect that they’ll just go back, grab everyone else and leave, easy peasy. But God doesn’t always do everything the easy way, does he?
Now it’s time for Moses to let Pharaoh in on this whole freedom thing. So can someone read Exodus 5:1-5?
5 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!” 5 Pharaoh continued, “Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!”
Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh that God says he needs to let the Hebrews go. And Pharaoh basically laughs in their face. He doesn’t know this God. And he refuses to give up the Hebrews. The Hebrews’ are Pharaoh’s slaves, to do work for Pharaoh, and he’s not going to let them go. On top of that, we’re about to see he’s going to punish them for even asking.
Can someone read Exodus 5:6-13?
6 That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.”
10 So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.’” 12 So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.”
One of the jobs of the Hebrews had to do was make bricks, presumably for construction. These bricks would basically be made with straw and clay. The Egyptians would provide the ingredients and the Hebrews would put it together. But as punishment for asking for their freedom, Pharaoh is basically like “We’re not providing the straw anymore. Go find your own straw. And oh yeah, you need to still produce the same amount of bricks you were making before.”
This is basically impossible.
And the Hebrews are pretty upset. They were told they were going to be freed. Not punished! Someone read Exodus 5:20-23.
20 As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them. 21 They said to them, “The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
22 Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”
The Hebrews are upset and they basically go to Moses and Aaron and are like “You said you would free us and now our lives our worse! What have you done? You’re going to kill us, not free us.”
The Hebrews lives were already hard. They were already slaves. Then Moses came along and said God wanted to deliver them out of their slavery. They probably thought that meant they would instantly be free. But that’s not the case. Instead their lives got worse. It’s no wonder they were angry. Moses gave them hope and it seemed to be for not.
And Moses instead of calming their fears and smoothing feathers, he takes their concern to God. He’s basically like “What the heck are you doing God?”
Sometimes people like to say it’s not our place to question God, and to a certain extent that’s true. We are not God. We can’t understand why he does the things he does. But right here, Moses is questioning God. He’s not just questioning God. He’s taking God to task. He’s like “Hey God, remember that thing you said you were going to do? Maybe you should freaking do it!”
It takes a lot of gumption to say something like that to God. And it would be within God’s rights to be like “Please, child, I don’t answer to you” and basically smite Moses where he stands. But as we’ve already seen with the story of Jacob and so many others, God is not opposed to us wrestling with him. It is okay to take your concerns to God and sometimes be a little angry about it. God understands your emotions, he wants you tell him what you’re feeling. And sometimes he responds with, “I’m God. I don’t need to explain myself to you. I’ve got it. Chill.” And sometimes he explains himself. Like here he will. Can someone read Exodus 6:1-8?
6 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.”
2 God also spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The Lord’ I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. 5 I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’”
God explains himself to Moses. He basically tells him that he’s going to make Pharaoh want to send the Hebrews out of the land, the very same Pharaoh who just basically laughed in Moses face and said he would never give the Hebrews up. God is going to change his mind that much.
Then he reiterates the covenant he made with Abraham to Moses. God has not forgotten his promises. And he says he will take them out of Egypt and back to the promised land, and through this all of the Hebrews will know him as their God.
Can someone read Exodus 6:9?
9 Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.
Moses goes back and tells the Hebrews what God told him. But the Hebrews spirit is broken. They don’t believe. And I think this is very important. We’re about to study and talk about plagues being rained down on Egypt and there will be the question of why God did this. Why did it take so many plagues and miracles to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go?
And I think this is why.
I think it’s less about punishing the Egyptians, and more about making the Hebrews believe again. These are a broken people. They have lost their faith. They do not think God can deliver them. And now God is going to show them just what his might and power can do. And he is going to remind him that this covenant thing is a two-way street. He is theirs, and they are his. The Hebrews belong to God.
Can someone read Exodus 6:10-12?
10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, 11 “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.” 12 But Moses spoke to the Lord, “The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?” 13 Thus the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them orders regarding the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, charging them to free the Israelites from the land of Egypt.
God speaks to Moses again, and tells him to go back to Pharaoh. But Moses is like “I couldn’t even get the people I’m supposed to free to listen to me. Why is Pharaoh going to?” Moses is trying to get out of his job again, but this time it’s not just because he hasn’t even tried. He’s talked to Pharaoh once and he’s talked to the Israelites. And neither time has it gone well. Moses is kind of like “I told you so God. I can’t speak well and that’s the downfall of this whole plan of yours.”
God doesn’t even deign Moses’s doubts with a response this time. Instead he’s just like, “Here’s my plan.”
Can someone read Exodus 7:1-7?
7 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them.” 6 Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. 7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.
God tells Moses he has made him like God to Pharaoh. What does that mean? Well remember, Pharaoh would consider himself a god. Pharaoh was the representative of the Egyptain gods on earth. God is basically sort of elevating Moses to that same status. Moses is God’s representative on the earth. Moses will be speaking God’s words to Pharaoh. Later in the Bible the word prophet will be used for this, for someone whose job it is to talk with God and speak God’s words to his people. Here it says Aaron is Moses’ prophet. That basically relates back to the whole, Moses thinks he’s a bad speaker thing. Moses will tell Aaron what God tells him and Aaron will put it in pretty and clear words for pharaoh to listen to.
God tells them to go back to Pharaoh and ask them to let the Hebrews go, but that God will harden pharaoh’s heart. What does this mean? Well people argue about this. For some people it means God actually kept Pharaoh from realizing he should let the Hebrews go. God purposefully affected the pharaoh so he’d be stubborn. And God’s reason for this is he wants to show all his wonders, to convince not just the Egyptians but also the Hebrews that God is God. Then once God has done all the wonders he intends to do, he changes pharaoh’s mind so that pharaoh releases the Hebrews.
The other interpretation is that God knows what pharaoh is going to do, because God is God and he can see everything—past and present. So he doesn’t have to actively harden pharaoh’s heart, he knows that pharaoh will choose not to let the Hebrews go. And God knows exactly how many signs and wonders it will take to get pharaoh to change his mind.
This is basically a mini predestination vs. free will debate—which we briefly talked about a few weeks ago. Both interpretations are equally valid. Regardless, in both situations God is sovereign. Pharaoh’s stubbornness is used to further God’s plan—whether it was God who made Pharaoh stubborn or Pharaoh who chose to be. Because pharaoh was stubborn, God was able to basically show off his impressive miracles, signs, and wonders, and remind the Hebrews that he is there God and he is capable of more than they can possible imagine.
We see something similar to this again in the New Testament. I want you guys to flip to the book of John. Remember John is the fourth book of the New Testament. In the Gospels—the books of the Bible known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—Jesus performs many miracles. He turns water into wine, he heals cripples and blind people, he raises people from the dead. But still people didn’t believe in him. The verses we’re about to read are talking about that. So in the first verse when it refers to “he” it’s referring to Jesus but when it says “they” it’s referring to people who didn’t believe.
Can someone read John 12:37-43?
37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
“Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”
41 Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.
So this section is talking about how Jesus did all these miracles, but people still didn’t believe in him. Not just that they didn’t believe he was the Son of God and Messiah, but they thought he was a fraud! They saw these miracles with their own eyes and still tried to discredit them.
The writer of John—which is John—references the book of Isaiah to explain this, saying God hardened the hearts of these people. But then he also talks about people who want to believe but basically they love their power more than they love God, and they know if they follow Jesus they will lose favor with the religious authorities—who hate Jesus.
Those people God didn’t actively harden their hearts. They chose not to follow Jesus. They chose their power over Jesus.
And the religious authorities John is referring to? Did God actively harden their hearts? Maybe. This is the same debate. God certainly has the power to do so, and there are many Christians who believe this is how God operates. He chooses actively who believes or who doesn’t. However, this can also be reconciled with freewill. The Pharisees and religious leaders choose not to believe Jesus because it is a threat to everything they ever believed to be true. And if Jesus is real, they will lose all their power. Because these guys had a lot of power as the religious leaders of Israel. They had wealth, they had the trust of people, and they had to a certain extent the trust of the Roman government. They had a lot to lose by saying that this Jesus guy was the Messiah.
This debate of predestination vs. free will is not one we’re going to solve today. I don’t think anyone on this earth will ever solve it while living. I think in a strange way we can’t understand both are probably simultaneously true, and it’s probably really complicated and has to do with the fact that God sees so much more than we do, and we’re incredibly limited by this three dimensional, time bound earth. Whichever you choose to believe, I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong. As previously discussed, I lean heavily towards free-will but the Presbyterian Church as a denomination accepts predestination as true.
Regardless, of where you fall on the debate, we do know something. Jesus came to save whoever would believe in him. It’s John 3:16.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
We can argue about who creates that kernel of belief in a believer, but do not doubt that God loves you and this verse applies to you. Because it does. When I memorized this verse in the King James it says “whosoever believeth in him.” There is an old hymn we used to sing when I grew up where the main chorus was “whosoever surely meaneth me.” If you believe it means you, it does. Whosoever can mean everyone in here if you just believe.
And with that we’ll stop. Next week we’ll talk about the plagues of Egypt.