Bible Text: Exodus 5:22 – 6:8 | Preacher: Pastor Steve Wilbraham | We believe in a mighty, miracle working God who loves us and has promised to watch over us and care for us. What, then, about the times that we pray and God’s answer does not come right away? What happens when we do get an answer, but it’s not what we asked for? What about when we pray and things get worse instead of better? What happens when deliverance is delayed?
This morning we return to the book of Exodus where our hero, Moses, is asking God about delayed deliverance. We first meet Moses in chapter two where he is born and adopted by an Egyptian princess. As a man he kills an Egyptian and has to flee for his life to Midian, where he marries and has a family. He is shepherding his father-in-law’s flock when, in chapter three, he sees a burning bush. God speaks to him out of the bush, telling Moses that he must return to Pharaoh and tell the king to let God’s enslaved people go. Together with his brother, Aaron, he returns to Egypt where he convinces the Israelites that God really did appear to him and really did promise that Pharaoh would let the people go. So far, so good.
But then, at the beginning of chapter five, things start to unravel. Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh and give him God’s command to let the people go. Pharaoh refuses. He has no respect for the God of the Hebrews and he will not release them from their slavery so they can travel to the Promised Land. Not only does he refuse to free them, but he makes their work even harder, telling them they must now collect their own straw with which to make bricks. When the Israelites are unable to meet their quotas they are beaten by their Egyptian overseers. They blame Moses, calling on God to punish him for making their lives even harder than they were before.
Things are not going well for Moses. Obediently he has gone to Pharaoh with God’s message, but Pharaoh has refused and God hasn’t done anything about it. Then, to make matters worse, Pharaoh has punished Moses’ fellow Israelites, and God hasn’t done anything about it. Finally, the people all blame Moses, and God hasn’t done anything about it. Moses has obeyed God and things have gotten worse, not better. Have you ever found yourself there? If so, you will probably empathize with Moses’ response to what’s going on in his life. I am reading Exodus 5:22-6:8
Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!” Then the Lord told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of my strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!” And God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh—‘the Lord.’ I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them. And I reaffirmed my covenant with them. Under its terms, I promised to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners. You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them. Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’”
What is Moses focusing on? What is occupying his thoughts and emotions? What is controlling his life right now? A Pharaoh who said ‘No,’ having to make bricks without straw, and being blamed for the people’s suffering when all he did was obey God. Deliverance has been promised but it’s not here yet, and Moses wants to know why. How different are you and I from Moses? Have you ever, when finding yourself in a difficult place, protested to God wanting to know what’s going on? “All the time,” some of us will have to confess. The wonderful thing about Moses’ protest is that God is not bothered by it in the least. He knows that Moses is only human, responding out of human emotion and lack of faith, just like you and me. Not that he wants us to remain there, but he understands. Thankfully, instead of berating us or, even worse, abandoning us, when we get upset with him, he uses the situation as an opportunity to grow our faith.
Notice the first thing God says to Moses: “You will see . . .” Moses’ eyes are on his troubles – a stubborn Pharaoh, brick quotas, and hostile countrymen – but, God is telling Moses to turn his eyes on him and he will see that deliverance is on the way. In the New Testament we are told a story about Jesus and his disciples. While Jesus remains on land, the disciples get into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. Suddenly, a violent storm blows in and they’re in danger of capsizing and drowning. They cry out in their fear and suddenly they see Jesus coming toward them, walking on the raging waters. He gets in the boat with them and at his command the sea is still once more. When your mind is filled with thoughts about what is not going well in your life, when your attention is focused on the many things wrong with the world in which we live, choose to focus on something different. Imagine in your mind’s eye God walking on your stormy sea toward you. Deliverance is on the way, and when the time is right he will calm the sea. In the meantime, allow his promise of deliverance to calm your heart.
“You will see . . .” God said in verse one. Now, in verse two he declares, “I am the Lord.” Those words begin a seven-verse series of promises of things that God has done, is doing, and will do for his people. He is the great I AM, that is his name, which affirms the eternal nature of who he is. If he is I AM, then he has always been, he is, and he will always be. He was with Moses, even when Pharaoh said, “No,” and when making bricks became even harder, and when complaints were being lodged against him. God is with Moses as he responds to his protest, reminding Moses of what he has promised to do and how he has fulfilled his promises in the past. And, as we will see in our continuing journey with Moses, God will be with him every step of the way toward the Promised Land.
In another New Testament story, we find the sisters Mary and Martha sending word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, is sick and that Jesus needs to come immediately and heal his friend. But, Jesus waits, and when he finally shows up it’s too late. Lazarus has died, and Mary and Martha want to know why Jesus didn’t come quickly. Why didn’t he respond to their summons? What didn’t he fulfill their request? Why didn’t he save their brother? Jesus replies: “I am the resurrection and the life.” The I AM knew about Lazarus’ illness. The I AM was aware that waiting meant Lazarus would die. The I AM’s love and care for this family was strong and powerful and constant, regardless of when he arrived. Deliverance was on the way, and when he arrived the great I AM called Lazarus forth from the grave. The great I AM is aware of your life and my life, he is our deliverer, and he is on his way to do all that he has promised.
To conclude this message, let me bring you two brief passages of Scripture, both from the prophet Isaiah. First, a word of assurance from Isaiah 40:27-31
O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights? Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
Second, a word of deliverance from Isaiah 65:17-19
Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore. Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation! And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness. Her people will be a source of joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and delight in my people. And the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more.