Moses’ Question


Sermon Text: Exodus 5:1-23
Sermon Series: “Exodus” (#8)

Main Points:
I. Unexpected trouble to Israel
II. Some incongruities
III. Moses’ question and God’s answer

Following the book of Exodus, we now see Moses and Aaron finally enter the throne room in the Egyptian palace. How has Moses found the way to meet Pharaoh? We’re not told because that’s not important – instead, what Moses and Aaron will speak to Pharaoh is. So, we’re ushered into that momentous audience in the beginning of Ex. 5 and hear the message we’ve been waiting for, that is, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go.’”

It took eighty years for God to finally deliver this message to the ears of Pharaoh. According to God’s gracious plan for redeeming His people from their slavery, Moses was born and miraculously rescued from the Nile. Then, passed forty years’ Egyptian upbringing before having another forty years’ training in the Midianite wilderness. Imagine the breadth of God’s patience over that long period of time as well as the ardent and painful longing of the Israelites for deliverance. At last, the message is announced! It is exciting to picture it all! Finally, God speaks to Pharaoh and demands His people’s departure! As He says it, it would surely happen. How exciting this is!

But, in today’s reading, that’s not what concludes ch. 5. Instead, a long description of an unexpected trouble fell upon the people of Israel is. Seeing this, Moses turns to the Lord and painfully asks, ‘O Lord, why?’ Why is a heavier burden imposed on Israel, instead of instant release from their centuries-long-pain?

Truth is that this question Moses asks is what Christians and churches also ask even today. Moreover, the same question is what you and I indeed query daily. ‘Why don’t I have full confidence in Jesus but constantly struggle against sin? Haven’t I been following Christ these many years?’ ‘Why is this church going nowhere but dwindling? Aren’t we faithful to God?’ This is Moses’ question on our own lips – ‘O Lord, why?’

So, I want you to focus on what the Holy Spirit speaks to us through this story and question of Moses.

Let me first begin with this unexpected trouble Israel faces. Rejecting Moses’ request, the Egyptian king orders not to provide straw to the Jewish slaves. But they must meet their daily quota of making bricks. Straw is an essential element in making clay bricks. Without it, clay bricks provide not enough strength. Ancient Egyptian engineers were not fools; they knew what was needed to build buildings and monuments. So, the clay bricks Israelites made in the time of the trouble of Ex. 5 most likely have been rejected for unacceptable strength. Israelites have to find straw by themselves in addition to their usual daily labours. I believe the elderly and children must’ve been pressed into this duty of collecting straw. The whole nation must’ve noticed a great disturbance among the Jewish slaves. It is surely an unexpected trouble fell upon God’s people.

I guess many of you would not consider it a surprise and that’s because you’re familiar with the story of Moses and Israel’s exodus. But if you heard this story for the first time, you would’ve probably considered this development strange and even surprising. And you might ask, ‘Isn’t God the only and sovereign One? And He spoke, demanded, ordered Pharaoh, a mere man, but its evil consequence fell upon God’s own people and they suffer? What is going on?’ Truly, an unexpected trouble has met God’s people, and Israel suffer from harsh retaliation. You see clearly why Moses turns to God and asks, ‘Why, Lord?’

This sounds familiar to us, doesn’t it? I mean, we Christians of the present generation and churches of our time constantly ask the same to God, don’t we? Why, God, are we facing all these troubles? God’s message is delivered to all in this society, but we’re disfavoured and treated harshly. More and more we seem to lose our stance in this generation. We sense that our hands and feet are bound tighter every day by the culture of the day and governments are hostile toward Christians and churches and Jesus’ gospel. And we the faithful turn our eyes to God and ask, ‘Why, Lord?’ For both the Israelites in Egypt of Ex. 5 and we of the 21st century church are with an unexpected trouble.

I don’t know how many times you’ve read this story, but has any of you stopped from reading it and queried in your mind that something seems to be inconsistent in this story; some parts of this story seem to be incoherent.

If you have, you’re right. Surprisingly, there are multiple incongruities in this record. First of all, this chapter begins with the account of Moses and Aaron visiting Pharaoh. Is this what was supposed to be done? The answer is, no. Earlier in Ex. 3:18, God said to Moses to go to Pharaoh with the elders of Israel and deliver the message. But we don’t read the elders’ presence with Moses.

Secondly, Moses and Aaron say that the reason for the requested leave is to hold a feat to God in the wilderness. Again, this is different from God’s direction recorded in 4:23. There, God said, “Let My son go that he may serve [or worship] Me.” Some of you might say it’s acceptable because holding a feast might mean worship. But to the ears of the Egyptian king who had no knowledge of the rules and regulations of the OT feasts, I doubt he heard it that way. Whether Moses realises his mistake or not, we don’t know, but in v. 3, he changes his words and says that the purpose of departure is to sacrifice to the LORD, Yahweh, their God.

But what he continues in the same verse is more than odd, it’s weird as he says, “lest [that is, in case Israel does not leave and fail to sacrifice to God] He [i.e., the God of Israel] fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” Some people interpret ‘us’ here to mean both Israelites and Egyptians, but I disagree because the Egyptian king would not hear this word, ‘us,’ to mean both peoples but the Jews only. I believe that you remember such is not what God has commanded Moses to say. From the first encounter, God said to Moses repeatedly that He would spread His mighty hand over Egypt, strike them with all the wonders He would do in the land. Even in 4:23 which we read and contemplated on last week, God’s warning against Pharaoh was to kill his firstborn son if he refused to let Israel go. But the message Moses and Aaron deliver in 5:3 is the opposite. How different this message is!

One more discrepancy we find is this that God’s direction was for Moses and Aaron with the elders of Israel to go and speak to Pharoah, but in v. 20, we read that Moses and Aaron wait for the Jewish foremen outside of Pharaoh’s palace.

Some of you might think I’m too picky. But I believe that I’m not the only one who have felt strange in reading this early section of Exodus. Some things in this early part of the Exodus story aren’t consistent. And it’s no coincidence that we hear Israel’s unexpected trouble and corresponding question of Moses to God, ‘Why, Lord? Why is this happening?’

Then, what does all this mean to us? It is God’s warning message to Moses as well as Aaron and, together with them, all of Israel for their lack of faith in their God. Moreover, the same message is for the churches of the present generation and all Christians including you and me.

Through this unexpected trouble Israel faced and made Moses perplexed, God points out Moses’ doubting God, thus, faithlessness because doubting is a milder expression of faithlessness. In what way did Moses doubt God? He compromised God’s authority by altering His divine message and tailoring it to appease man. God’s message for Pharaoh was, ‘Let My son go,’ but we hear from Moses’ lips a watered down version, ‘please let us go.’ God asked to ‘let My son go that he may serve Me’ but Moses softened it to be ‘so that we may have a feast to God.’ Even God’s stern warning for Pharaoh, that is, ‘if you refuse, I will kill your firstborn son,’ is now placated down to be ‘lest God fall upon us Jews with pestilence or sword.’ Simply put, Moses as well as Aaron and Israel altogether doubted God! And doubting is, as I said earlier, a milder word for disbelief! Therefore, in doubt and disbelieving, they have altered God’s message, thus, limited God in every way.

I pray that, through this story, God may open your eyes to see His face, and open your ears to hear His call to unwavering, uncompromising faith in Him, the Almighty. I pray that God may bless you to realise the importance of trusting God without doubting His immutable or unchanging nature, without doubting the power of His promise.

Such is the faith God seeks from His children. Such is the faith the Lord Jesus talks about when He says in Jn. 4:23-24 that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. This faith allows you and me to speak God’s message without trimming it, without seasoning it with the spices of this world, but boldly and directly to the ears of the unbelieving world. This simple but true faith enables us to wait for God to display His authority and power over the matters of this world. This unwavering faith adds to our confident heart greater hope in God as we witness God’s eternal plan manifested in the lives of people. So, God’s unspoken answer to Moses’ question is, ‘Trust Me, My dear, and enjoy with Me in My works!’

So, my friends in Jesus, let us trust God and doubt Him no longer. Speak His message boldly; deliver His blessing as well as His warning to every ear without doubting the all-powerful God. Leave the outcome to Him because that belongs to Him alone and our share is to witness His grace in His saving works and rejoice together with the Spirit, praising our Saviour Jesus.

Meanwhile, I urge you to pray for ministers and pastors who are God’s messengers in His church entrusted to the task of delivering the Father’s message to His people. Pray that they may be bold in carrying their task, not compromising the message but remain faithful to their God and Father.

At the same time, I urge you to pray for yourselves and all other Christians that you do not seek to hear messages that suit your own passions. Instead, seek to hear messages that challenge your soul to examine your faith and life; seek to hear messages that challenge to shun your doubts and trust God through Jesus more and more. Pray that on every Lord’s Day, as you leave this place, you may repent of at least a sin of yours and seek God’s guiding hands in your walk. Pray that the same blessing may be given to every brother and sister in Jesus.

Then, you and I will surely grow in trusting our all-powerful, all-knowing Father, and no longer will we continue and ask Him, ‘Why, Lord?’, for we know our Father and trust Him wholly! ***

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