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Feb 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 25, 2018 – Exodus Chapter 5-6:1

Echoes of Our Past

After this presentation to Israel’s leaders, Moses and Aaron went and spoke to Pharaoh. They told him, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: Let my people go so they may hold a festival in my honor in the wilderness.”
“Is that so?” retorted Pharaoh. “And who is the LORD? Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I don’t know the LORD, and I will not let Israel go.”
But Aaron an Moses persisted, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us,” they declared. “So let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness so we can offer sacrifices to the LORD our God. If we don’t, he will kill us with a plague or with the sword.”
Pharaoh replied, “Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their tasks? Get back to work! Look, there are many of your people in the land, and you are stopping them from their work.”
 Exodus 5:1-5

Intro: I assume we have all heard of Billy Graham’s passing this last Wednesday

Two of his most famous quotes defined Evangelical Christianity
(at least in North America)
“A personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior”
– this is what he urged people to do at his crusades
• to leave their seats, come to the stage, and say a prayer

Last Sunday, Steve Gumaer told us that saying a prayer does not define salvation
– Billy Graham would have agreed with Steve
• in fact, Dr. Graham said:

“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”

– the book of Exodus is the perfect place to deepen our understanding of salvation
• of that “daily process” of transformation
• however, the story we find ourselves in today doesn’t look like salvation

1-5 Moses and Aaron have their first audience with Pharaoh

In the message they delivered, they made slight modifications in the script they were given
– it was reasonable for Pharaoh to ask, Who is Yahweh?
• if Moses had just learned God’s name, we cannot expect Pharaoh to have known it
◦ Egypt had its own plethora of deities
◦ the Pharaoh himself was considered a deity
• I imagine Pharaoh thinking:
“Now these Israelites are inventing new gods just to get a few days off.”
– why should Pharaoh concern himself with Israel’s God?
• if the best he could produce was a slave people,
◦ then he must be a weak god – a minor deity
• Pharaoh felt no threat in defying Yahweh

Moses and Aaron immediately changed their tune
– instead of demanding they began begging
• now they ask, “Please”

(the New Living Translation left out the “Please” in verse 3, but the same Hebrew construction is used in 4:18 where Moses asked his father-in-law, “Please let me return,” only here it is, “Please let us go”)

– now they do not refer to Yahweh, the God of Israel, but Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews
• this is how God told them to refer to him (Ex. 3:18)
◦ “Yahweh” and “Israel” are specific–Yahweh a specific God, Israel as specific people
◦ “God” and “the Hebrews” are general terms
(Israelites were a subclass of the the Hebrew ethnic category)
• there was a reason for referring to Yahweh as the God of the Hebrews
◦ it was a way for Israel to talk about God that Gentiles would understand
◦ it is not unlike the way both Melchizidek and Abraham could refer to Yahweh as God Most High (Gen. 14:19-20 & 27)

He will kill us – God did not say this and it sounds rather dramatic
– but after Moses’ recent experience on his way to Egypt, it seemed like a credible possibility (Ex. 4:24-26)
– Pharaoh, however, had nothing more to say about their God
• his only concern was his slaves and their productivity

6-9 Pharaoh imposed a new policy on Egypt’s workforce

He obviously failed to consult an industrial organizational psychologist
– nor was he worried about “improving morale” or “job satisfaction”
• either Pharaoh did not believe Moses or he did not take him seriously
• he drew his own conclusion for why they petitioned for a holiday in the desert:
They are lazy
◦ now doesn’t that sound exactly like some of our old bosses?
◦ his thinking was not, “We’ve worked them too hard and they need a break”

When I was a camp counselor, our philosophy was to use daylight hours to wear down and exhaust the campers so that they would need to sleep through the night.

• that seems to be the strategy here
◦ Pharaoh wanted to quickly stamp out this new hope

10-14 The predictable results of Pharaoh’s new policy

The message to the Israelite slaves began with, This is what the Pharaoh says
– this is a standard phrase we find in the Hebrew Scriptures
• it is sometimes referred to as the “messenger formula” or “prophetic formula”
◦ think of the way many of the prophets began their announcements
◦ perhaps we are more familiar with the King James Version, Thus saith the LORD
• it is the same formula Moses and Aaron used to introduce their first speech (v. 1)
– by copying this introductory formula, it sets Pharaoh’s word over against Yahweh’s word
• it would seem that Pharaoh is staging a contest
“Let’s see whose word will stand, Pharaoh’s or Yahweh’s”
• for now, it looks as though Pharaoh is winning the contest
◦ and that was exactly the outcome he expected

15-18 The complaints start rolling in

The Israelite foremen bring their complaint to Pharaoh first
– there’s a bit of music here, like in the Psalms of lament or Psalms of complaint
• the theme is “your servants” (referring to themselves)

Why are you doing this to your servants?
Your servants are given no straw,
yet they keep telling us to make bricks.
Look! Your servants that are being beaten,
but it’s your own people who are at fault.

• if this is quasipoetic, then their words are meant to express their passion
◦ and the depth of their emotion is meant to evoke empathy
– Pharaoh repeats his speech from v. 8, but with more emphasis
• the doubled word, lazy! Lazy!, gives it more force or intensity
• from the Israelites’ point of view, everything is falling apart

19-21 The foremen bring their complaint to Moses and Aaron

This reveals a sharp turn in their mood – at first, they worshiped (cf. Ex. 4:18)

In Jesus’ parable of the seed and the four soils, he explained that the rocky soil was like people who received the word and its life began to grow within them, but at the first sign of trouble, they wilted. That was because, like the plants in shallow soil, their roots had no depth.
There is a proverb that says:
If you fail under pressure,
Your strength is too small 
(Pr. 24:10).
We might think that if a person fails under pressure, the pressure is too great. People who have received a word from God need to hang tough through adversity. Of course, that is easier said than done, but even still it is true.

– perhaps they expected an instant, painless liberation
• but that isn’t how it works
– but why didn’t God make it that easy?
• he wanted to form a bond with his people
◦ for that, he needed their cooperation
◦ they had to play their part, which was to trust him
• he also wanted their relationship with him to have depth
◦ and for that, they needed adversity to send their roots deep

22-23 Moses brings his complaint to Yahweh

It sounds like he’s blaming God, Why have you brought . . .?
– they wouldn’t be in this mess if God had not forced him into this mission

“What did I tell You back at Mt. Sinai? I’m not the man for this job. Now look at the mess Your people are in!”

• the foremen had seen they were in serious trouble (v. 19)
◦ and now here is all this trouble
(two times in vv. 22-23 where brutal translates the same word for trouble)
◦ the Hebrew for trouble is ra: evil, hardship, all the bad things that could happen
• these two powerful forces, Yahweh and Pharaoh, were clashing
◦ and God’s people were in the middle, taking a beating from both sides

Briefly, notice how Moses’ expresses his complaint: with “why?” questions. Every tragedy, every senseless death, every deeply felt loss raises why questions. The pain is so overwhelming that our minds cannot process our feelings. It is possible that in the grip of these agonizing emotions, “why?” may not really be a question, but rather a way of expressing our grief, confusion and frustration–like a sigh or groan. Besides, if we found a perfectly logical reason for our loss, would it make the pain go away?
We can create greater problems for ourselves if we continue to ask why, as if there were an answer but we have not found it yet. For example, we can get stuck in a phase of our grief that prevents us from reaching a point where it becomes less intense, allowing us to get back to the challenge of living. Also, if we insist on asking why, doing so eventually undermines trust. Many of us have found that trust is the only way we were able to process our grief and it is not something we would choose to give up. It would be like refusing to take hold of a life preserver thrown to us when drowning.
Even still, when we take a strong and painful hit, we cannot help but ask why, and doing so is not a sin. Even our Lord Jesus in his agony cried out, My God, My God, why . . . .?

6:1 Yahweh accepted Pharaoh’s challenge

Pharaoh seemed like an insurmountable obstacle
– a force Israel would not be able to overcome
• to provoke him was just to make things worse
• like Hercules and the eight-headed Hydra
– Yahweh’s response to Moses, Now you will see what I will do
• I am tempted to put the emphasis on you and I
◦ up to this point, God had seen everything
◦ but now Moses, Pharaoh and all Egypt and Israel will see what Yahweh can do
• there is some music in Yahweh’s statement

Now you’ll see what I will do to Pharaoh;
because of a mighty hand he will let them go,
because of a mighty hand he will drive them out.

Thomas Dozeman observed, “Salvation in this instance is not Yahweh’s direct liberation of the Israelites as either a defeat of the Egyptians or an escape from Egypt. It is, rather, Yahweh’s ability to overwhelm the will of Pharaoh, so that he himself expels the Israelite people from the land of Egypt by ‘driving them out.’ ”

Conclusion: But liberation is only one half of their salvation

God had told Moses,

I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land (Ex. 3:8)

– salvation is both “out of” and “into” – the goal is the “into”
• besides that, even their “out of” was not one smooth movement
– in scripture, Egypt becomes a metaphor of slavery and oppression
• Paul will tell us that the old self was a slave to sin
◦ this includes all of our unconscious habits and addictions
◦ we were in a state where many things in our environment triggered old-self behavior
• if that is what still defines me, I have not been liberated
◦ the Israelite foremen had not yet abandoned their old mind-set
◦ they still referred to themselves as servants of Pharaoh (three 3 times in v. 15)
• to be saved is to become the new self
◦ and that begins with assuming this identity
◦ to get to that point, we may need a sanctified imagination and renewing of our minds

Later on, Moses will tell Israel,

Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God redeemed you from your slavery. (Deut. 24:18)

  • these are the two parts of salvation:
    ◦ to dismantle and shed the old self
    ◦ to develop and become the new self (Ep. 4:22-23; Col. 3:9-10)
  • both parts have their challenges

God did not judge or condemn Moses as the Israelite foremen said
nor was he displeased with the foremen or the complaints of his people
He knew they could not yet see the big picture
Israel had a lot of ground to cover between “out of” and “into”
In other words, our slow progress in faith and virtue is normal
Our transformation does not occur overnight,
and it is not an easy transition
but that we keep getting up and going forward is what matters
So–get up and keep going

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