When God appears to Moses at the burning bush, He tells him that He is going to rescue Israel from their oppression and deliver them into a land of milk and honey (Exodus 3:8). I’m not sure how Moses receives this news. It’s been forty years since he has had contact with his people and his parting memory was their rejection of him (Exodus 2:14; Acts 7:35). One of his sons is uncircumcised (Exodus 4:24-26), and as such, does not bear the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham (see Genesis 17). Have four decades in the desert dried up the passion he once had for his people.
If you read Exodus 3:7-9 carefully, you’ll see God speaking about what He’s going to do (“I” is used six times). In v. 10there is a sudden shift as He says, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” What God proposes to do will be done through Moses!
In an extended conversation that covers the rest of chapter three and the first half of chapter four, Moses makes excuses as to why he can’t go and God rebuts them. He promises He will be with Moses (3:11). When all is said and done, Moses meets with the Israelites (4:29-31), and then goes before Pharaoh (5:1ff).
But things don’t go well. Well, that’s an understatement—they
go terribly. Pharaoh is convinced the Israelites have too much time on their hands if they’re asking off work to take a three day trip into the desert so he orders their workload increased (v. 4-9). The Israelites are unable to meet their brick quota and the Hebrew overseers are beaten (v. 10-14). After a futile appeal to Pharaoh, they go to Moses and tell him, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us,”(v. 21). Moses tells God,
Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? . . .Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all. (v. 22-23)
If you’re wondering about the origin of grumbling—here it is! A superficial look at all of this might lead us to think that maybe there was some legitimacy to Moses’ complaint. No doubt he feels that God has set him up—again! But a closer examination will reveal it’s not the case.
I can think of three factors that need to be taken into consideration when looking at the events of this chapter.
#1 – Moses’ expectations were unrealistic. Back in 3:19-20, God cautions Moses that Pharaoh will have to be forced into allowing Israel to leave. He will have to strike the Egyptians and perform wonders among them. Moses tells Pharaoh as much in 5:3, so he knew better. Disappointments are measured in terms of expectations and Moses’ were unrealistic.
#2 – God is faith building. Okay, I know at first glance this seems like a strange way to build faith, but it’s not. God was forthright with Moses about what to expect so He “proved” His trustworthiness. More to the point though, I think the “failure” was part of getting Moses to put His trust totally in God and not in his staff, Aaron, his understanding, etc. Paul talks about this principle in reference to own life in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9.
#3 – God was giving Pharaoh opportunity to repent—even though it meant prolonging the suffering of His people. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but wants all to find life (Ezekiel 18:23). “He devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him,”(2 Samuel 14:14). If we do not understand these things, we do not understand the heart of God! His love is for everyone and He will allow people to suffer redemptively in an effort to bring all to Him (see Colossians 1:24).These three factors are worth considering whenever we think God has failed to rescue us.