It was hard to get Moses to accept the leadership of his people. He almost missed the glory of his life by urging his unworthiness and unfitness. But when he had accepted his mission, he gave himself to it without reservation. He never again raised the question of his ability, nor shrank from any service required of him.
Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh and delivered to him the message of Jehovah: “Let my people go!” “Who is Jehovah,” was the insolent reply, “that I should hearken unto his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah; and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” He had no fear of the Lord, and no love for Him; and therefore, he refused to obey Him. Thus Pharaoh’s pride, ambition, covetousness, and political knowledge hardened him to his own destruction.
What Moses and Aaron asked for was very reasonable. They only petitioned to go three days’ journey into the desert, and to do so on a good errand – to “sacrifice unto the Lord our God.” And Pharaoh was very unreasonable in saying that the people were idle, and that was why they talked of going to sacrifice. By doing so, he misrepresented them, so that he might have a pretended justification for adding to their burdens. His new command was very barbarous. Now the usual quota of bricks must still be made, but without the allowance of straw that they were given to mix with the mud. Thereby, more work was to be laid upon the Hebrews. If they attempted to perform it, they would be broken by the oppressive labor; and if they did not perform it, they would be severely punished. O how much we need to pray that we may be delivered from wicked people! The head-workmen among the Hebrews justly complained to Pharaoh, but he only taunted them. The malice of Satan has often misrepresented the service and worship of God as if it were only a proper employment for those who have nothing else to do, and whose only business is to be idle. But actually, it is the duty of everyone – even of those who are the most busy in this world.
Thus the demand made by Pharaoh only added to the burden and hardship of the Hebrew people. In their anguish, they cried to Moses in bitter complaint; and he took the matter to God in prayer. He knew that what he had said and done had been by the Lord’s direction, and so he appealed to Him. Whenever we find ourselves bewildered in the way of our duty, we ought to go to God and lay open our case before Him by fervent prayer. In reply to Moses, the Lord rehearsed His covenant-promise that He would surely bring the people of Israel out of Egypt, no matter what Pharaoh said. God will acknowledge His people, even though they are poor and despised; and He will stand up and plead their cause. But alas! At this point, the Hebrews were so afflicted that they could think of nothing else except their cruel wrongs and great sufferings.
One of the dangers of trouble is that when we are in our distress, we often fail to hear God’s words of comfort, and we think only of our own affliction and pain. We are like a mourner in deep grief, sitting upon a rock beside the sea which has swallowed up her loved ones. Behind her is the Angel of Consolation, touching the strings of his harp. But she is so absorbed in her sorrow that she does not see the angel, nor does she hear the music of comfort. This is often the case with those who are in grief. The Lord’s comfort is brought to them; but sad-ly, they do not hear it. If the people of Israel had listened to the promise of God in their bitter trouble, they would have been braver and stronger; they would have been enabled to endure a little longer, in hope of the relief that was speedily coming.
The bondage of Israel in Egypt is a very good picture of our bondage to sin (John 8:34-36; Rom. 7:23-25). The weary tyranny of our besetting sins, the imperious demands of Satan, and the absence of any kind of reward for our hopeless toils – these are strikingly portrayed in the slavery of the Hebrews. Even though we weep and struggle, there is no help for us except in God. There is no straw! There is no lessening of the quota of bricks! There are false charges of idleness! There are cruel beatings! Deliverance apparently seems more distant than ever! But the darkest hour precedes the dawn. Israel had to be taught to look beyond Moses and Aaron to the Eternal Jehovah, and so must we.
God’s way is to bring men to an end of themselves, before He arises to be their help. Our efforts to deliver ourselves only end in increasing our perplexities. Our quota of bricks is doubled; our burdens increase; our strength is broken; we are brought to the edge of despair. This was probably the darkest hour in the life of Moses. But in the midst of all the reproach that was heaped upon him, he took refuge in God. Indeed, there is no other refuge for a finite human being than to “return unto the Lord” (verse 22). Dear reader! Return unto the Lord with your story of failure! Return unto Him for fresh instructions! Return unto Him with your appeal for His help! Be perfectly natural and open with your Heavenly Father. Then He will say to you, as He did to Moses in the opening verse of the next chapter, “Now thou shalt see what I will do.”
Lord, keep us from that desperately wicked state which is here described in the character of this wretched Pharaoh, who was given over to a reprobate mind. Help us to remember that even though we shall suffer tribulation in this world, yet we may rest assured that it shall not last one moment beyond Your perfect time, when You will arise and crush the power of those who tyrannize Your people! Amen.
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