Where would we be without trials? Trials bring us closer to the Savior. They make us rely on Him for strength and wisdom and security. If life was always a walk in the park . . . it wouldn't be a walk of faith.
“GOD’S BEST . . . WHEN THINGS COULDN’T BE WORSE”
We find our place, this morning, in Exodus, chapter 4. Exodus, chapter 4, a sermon entitled, “God’s Best . . . When Things Couldn’t Be Worse.” One of the things I’ve enjoyed about studying the life of Moses, thus far, is I can so easily identify with him. And, especially this morning, as things seem to cave in on him and the bottom seems to drop out.
Exodus, chapter 4, which we studied last session, led us to the conclusion that God wanted Moses to be independent of his own abilities and very dependent upon who God was. And God will, in a sense, stress that very same lesson in these next few verses. But, we’ll pick it up where we left off last time, in verse 27. God tells Aaron, in chapter 4, verse 27, “‘Go to meet Moses in the wilderness.’ So he went and” - here is a beautiful reunion - “met him at the mountain of God, and he kissed him.” You need to understand, they’ve been separated now for forty years. Aaron is Moses’ older brother. Aaron is three years older than Moses is and we know that Miriam is, perhaps, seven to nine years older than Moses and they’ll soon meet, as well. And they embraced out there in the desert, or wherever they were. “And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which He had sent him, and all the signs that He had commanded him to do.” And I just imagine, if Moses was like me, he said, “Hey, big brother, look at this trick.” And he probably threw the stick on the ground and they both were amazed. And Moses would say, “That’s no problem,” and he’d reach down and he’d grab it by the tail. And after he showed him the other sign of leprosy and, perhaps, told him about the sign of the water, “Then Moses and Aaron” - verse 29 - “went and” - there was a great reception - “assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; and Aaron” - now he is the voice for Moses - “spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He” - Moses, that is - “then performed the signs in the sight of the people.” - note this - “So the people believed”.
Do you remember, there were five reasons why Moses didn’t want to serve God? And at the heart of most of them was the thought, “The people may not believe me. They may not follow me. I’m really too insignificant and unqualified and ignorant and all of those things. Do you really want me to do that?” And God would say, “Yes, I do.” And I love the thought that Moses, perhaps with sweaty palms, performed the signs. But the text tells us, “So the people believed; . . . when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction”. Now, there wasn’t a great meeting. Somehow this had probably gone from slave hut to slave hut and the news had been whispered abroad until, finally, all the people heard what God was going to do for Israel. And you note the result, it says, “then they bowed low and worshiped.” I think that there was a revival. Because for nearly 400 years they had been impressed by all of the gods of the Egyptian Pantheon. They had seen the marvelous things that, supposedly, the gods of the Egyptians had done. And, perhaps, their faith was at it’s lowest ebb. But now, Moses comes in, performs the signs, and says, “God, Yahweh, is concerned about you.” And the response is worship. Their faith now reaches new heights.
And, I think, coming in on the crest of that conference and the results of that revival, Moses is now confident that God is going to do great things with him. And chapter 5, verse 1, tells us what happens. “And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said” - this is a declaration, not a request - “to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’’” There it is. Moses, with the confidence that God is on his side, like you and I when we go, perhaps, knowing that God wants us to speak a word to our neighbor or to our friend or to our relative, to do something that we know would honor Him, we go with that confidence, expecting results. Thinking that, “If I obey God, God will make everything work out just fine.” “But Pharaoh said,” - in verse 2, words that struck the heart of Moses - “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord,” - this Yahweh, this God of a parcel of slaves - “and besides, I will not let Israel go.” Moses does some quick thinking. He restates. Now, it’s a request. Verse 3, “‘The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.’ But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why do you draw the people’” - literally translated, “the peasants” - “away from their work? Get back to your labors!”
Now, we need to go back in time and understand that this Pharaoh was considered the embodiment of deity. It was tremendously offensive, and Moses perhaps forgot that, that you don’t go up to a Pharaoh and say, “God, OUR God, tells YOU,” - who is an embodiment of deity, a god - “what to do.” Because Pharaoh is automatically going to be incensed. “You are telling me, the king of this great land, the conqueror of other lands, that your God, whom I have never met, and could care less about, who must not care much for you because you are slaves, is telling ME what to do? I don’t know this God.” It’s interesting, most archeologists and biblical chronologists, believe that this was Ramses II. Time seems to match that well. We have found, by way of the spade of the archeologist, some interesting insights into the ego of this very man that Moses stood before. There is a mortuary temple that was built in western Thebes in this man’s honor. And they have discovered this, and I quote, this is Ramses II, “King of kings am I. If anyone would know how great I am, let him surpass one of my works.” Not a very humble man. And Moses goes in and confronts him with the demands of Yahweh that he could care very little for. And Moses is, I think, shocked at his response, and so he rephrases.
But, it really gets worse than that because Pharaoh will add to their labors. Verse 6, “So the same day” - that’s the same day Moses and Aaron came to him - “Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foremen, saying, ‘You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves.’” It was the custom, in this day, to mix water and mud and lay that in a wooden mold and allow the sun to dry it and then they would use that. In fact, the Egyptian word “brick,” is the word we get “adobe,” in our English language. And so this was the practice of the day. But they would always use a straw, or a grass, to mix in with that mortar to give it firmness and to give it tenacity. And, without it, bricks would crumble. Without it, they would have to carefully, gingerly create those bricks because they didn’t have the straw to keep it together. But he says, “Without the straw, you keep up your quota. And, if you want straw, you go get it for yourself.” “But the quota of bricks” - verse 8 - “which they were making previously, you shall impose on them; you are not to reduce any of it. Because they are lazy, therefore they cry out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’” In other words, “They have time to think about going and worshipping this God, this insignificant God I’ve never heard of. They must not have enough work. We will crush the spirit of their worship.” “So the taskmasters” - verse 10 - “of the people and their foremen went out and spoke to the people, saying, ‘Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I am not going to give you any straw. You go and get straw for yourselves wherever you can find it; but none of your labor will be reduced.’’ So the people scattered” - they scattered like frightened animals - “through all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. And the taskmasters pressed them, saying, ‘Complete your work quota, your daily amount, just as when you had straw.’” And there is the result of, what Moses would think, would lead to the deliverance of the Israelites.
Have you ever had your hopes completely dashed? Perhaps it was something like a financial investment that you knew would work out and you lost every penny. Perhaps it’s something much smaller and yet, at the moment, big. You plan a picnic for the family and, on that day, it rains. Your hopes, you have felt that feeling. Perhaps where you are living right now, in the situation where you are right now, you’re having difficulty keeping your hopes up and in your heart there comes questions. We have all had our hopes and our expectations changed. In fact, my wife and I laugh about the day I proposed to her. I had that thing planned out to the “T.” I had practiced my proposal many times, like most of you men, probably all of you men who are married, in front of the mirror, you had it all mapped out. And boy, I had this thing planned. I was going to ask her to marry me on Thanksgiving Day. As a college student, I would work odd jobs. And I was saving money because I wanted to put that ring on her finger and I wanted to not have any debt on that thing. And so, I was feverishly working. It was in the fall, obviously. And I can still remember, the last amount of money I needed to raise would be raised by raking this man’s yard. The only problem is, we were leaving the next day and that particular day it was pouring down rain. So, I was raking leaves in a downpour. And I can still remember this man, he would come and look out the window and he’d, “Ha, Ha, Ha.” He’d laugh and he would tell his wife something, you know, “That lunatic out there raking leaves.” But I had to have that money for the final payment. I made it. I got that ring, stuck it in my pocket. We headed to Atlanta to spend Thanksgiving with her parents. And everything was working just right on schedule. And, I imagined her response. Did you guys imagine the response of that gal you asked to marry you? I love to hear these stories from some of you who have told me. I could imagine her throwing her arms around my neck and just, you know, jumping up and down with glee and saying, “Yes,” a hundred times. And I’d just eat it all up. Do you know this story? Well, finally, I got her alone. And I got that proposal and it all just came out just perfectly and it ended with the words, “Will you marry me?” And her face turned pale and she got this look in her eyes and she said, “I don’t know!” No hug. To this day, I’m convinced I talked her into marrying me because I said, “You’re wearing this, put it on.” Oh, man, we have so many illustrations in our lives where we think we’ve got everything mapped out and then someone doesn’t respond. I can imagine Moses walking into the courtroom with his chest full of confidence and he looks up at that Pharaoh and he says to Pharaoh, “Let My people go, God says.” And Pharaoh says, “Who is your God,” and makes their bondage even worse.
I want you to notice the reaction, first to Pharaoh. “Then the foremen of the sons of Israel” - verse 15 - “came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying ‘Why do you deal this way with your servants? There is no straw given to your servants, yet they keep saying to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are being beaten; but it is the fault of your own people.’ But he said, ‘You are lazy, very lazy; therefore you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ So go now and work’”. You see, Pharaoh is offended that they would worship someone other than him. That’s the whole problem. “So go now and work; for you shall be given no straw,” - verse 18 - “yet you must deliver the quota of bricks.” Verse 20, “When they left Pharaoh’s presence, they met Moses and Aaron as they were waiting for them.” Can you imagine this? The text indicates that Moses and Aaron were stationed somewhere, perhaps, down a corridor there in the palace and they were waiting to hear the response of Pharaoh. And they come storming down this hallway and they turn the corner and they walk face to face, they walk right into Moses and Aaron. And they unleash incredibly painful words on them. Verse 21, “And they say to them, ‘May the Lord look upon you and judge you, for you have made us’” - literally, stink - “in Pharaoh’s sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.” “Moses, Aaron, you have made our bondage worse. May God judge you.”
Put yourself in his shoes. Here he is doing what God has told him to do. And there you are living in a way that God has commanded you to live. And what do you get? The dashing of expectations. The pain of rejection. Misfortune. You would say to God exactly what Moses is about to say. In fact, if you are following along in your notes, you need to jot down two words, because he is going to ask two questions, basically one word each. The first question is, “Why?” “Why?” Verse 22, “Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘O lord,’” - underline - “why hast Thou brought harm to this people? Why didst Thou ever send me?” He is going back to the burning bush. In effect, he is saying, “God, why did you ever send me? I told you, at the burning bush, that I was not the man for the job. Why did you ever force me? Why did you ever talk me into it? Why did you ever send me? Why me?” I don’t believe that there is a question posed to the throne of God any more than the question, “Why?”
God’s answer for him is the same answer for you, if you are at a point now where you are asking God, “Why?” It is an incredibly profound answer. Verse 1 of chapter 6, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh’”. Did you catch that? “Moses, I have brought you to an end of yourself and to an end of YOUR ministry so you will see now what I will do. This isn’t going to be won by a trick, with the rod or the staff. Pouring the water out into blood will not really accomplish what needs to be accomplished. It will be done by ME,” says Yahweh.
But, I want to give Moses the benefit of one thing. And, in fact, I think you ought to underline this in your text. Verse 22 of chapter 5, I missed it but I want to go back. The first phrase, “Then Moses returned to the Lord”. And I like that because Moses was giving God an opportunity to answer him. Men and women, without a doubt, Christianity is filled with the ruins of very bitter people who have difficult things land on their doorstep and they chuck it all. They never go back to the Lord and even ask, “Why?” They simply respond with, “Well, God, if that’s what’s going to happen when I give you the reigns of my life, when I do what I think you want me to do, forget it. I’m gone.”
But Moses did go back and God’s answer then comes to him in the form of six, “I am’s.” Get your pen out, I want you to underline these. Six times God will say, “I am the Lord.” Verse 2, “God spoke further to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Lord’”. “You want to know the answer to the question, ‘Why?’ It is the answer of, ‘Who.’ Just know that I am a sovereign God. I am Yahweh.” Verse 6, “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord’”. Verse 7, “and you shall know that I am the Lord”. Verse 8, last part of the verse, “I am the Lord”. Verse 29, “I am the Lord”. Chapter 7, verse 5, “I am the Lord”.
I believe that answer is fundamental in our theology. In our lifestyles, it is an understanding of who God is. If you went out on the street today and you asked ten people, “Do you believe in God?” Eight out of ten would say, “Yes.” But, if you went out on the street and you asked ten people, “Who is God?” You would get ten different answers. I really believe that the crack in the foundation, the thing that makes the church stumble, the thing that creates confusion and ineffectiveness is, at its very basic root, a lack of understanding of who God is. A. W. Tozer writes that the first step downward, in any church, is when it surrenders its high opinion of God. Is God a God of justice? Then He would demand in us lives of honesty and integrity. Is God a God of grace? If that is who God is, then He demands lives of love motivated by grace. If God is a God of holiness, then He would demand His children to be holy and pure. And that’s why I go back to the thought that the problem in our lives, ladies and gentlemen, is that we really have surrendered our high opinion of who God is. He is a compromising, half-deaf, half-blind God who compromises with our lives. Oh no. He is Yahweh. Because we have surrendered our high opinion of God in our Christian world, we, not only as individuals, struggle with the day to day trials, but the church is losing ground. Warren Wiersbe writes in his book, The Integrity Crises, these sharp and painful words. “For nineteen centuries the church has been telling the world to admit and confess its sins. Today, in the twilight of the twentieth century, the world is telling the church to face up to its sins and to begin living what it preaches.” For nineteen centuries the message has been questioned but now the messenger is suspect. Why? It goes back to our view of who God is. We have a light view of Him and so, when we hear of Him and when we hear His word, we are convicted but we are not changed. We are challenged but we are really not converted. Because when we take a low opinion of God, we take a low opinion of God’s word. And so, in our society today, this book is being questioned and debated and dissected and disobeyed. Why? Ultimately, we do not know who God is. Isn’t it interesting that you would think that God would give to Moses a better program, a more effective plan? But, He doesn’t. The church has, far too long, been impressed with growth rather than truth, with programs rather than purity. Why? Because we have reaped a generation that knows very little about God. And we ought to be concerned, men and women, that we, like Peter, become the bastion for the truth, as a church, that we present to our young, to the next generation, a pure truth, theology, that is, who God really is in His character. What God is doing is giving Moses a lesson in theology proper. He is saying, “I am Yahweh.”
Moses asks a second question. And this is typical, we ask the same thing. God tells Moses in verse 11, “Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the sons of Israel go out of his land.” And, I think, Moses is probably wondering, “Now, Lord, were you there the last time I was in the courtroom? Did you forget what Pharaoh said? Do you want me to say the very same thing again?” “But Moses spoke before the Lord,” - verse 12 - “saying, ‘Behold’” - “Look” - “the sons of Israel have not listened to me; how then will Pharaoh listen to me, for I am unskilled in speech?” That’s the second question.
And God’s answer will come back at least ten times. He will say these words, “I will”. Verse 6, chapter 6, “I will bring you out,” - not you, Moses. The “how” is not related to your strength. The answer is My strength. “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians”. Underline these as we go along. “I will deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” The word “redeemed” there, is the word “reclaim,” used in the beautiful story of Boaz and Ruth, where Boaz reclaims or redeems his bride. God is saying, “I will reclaim My bride, My nation. I will do it because I am the Lord.” Verse 7, “I will take you for My people, . . . I will be your God”. Verse 8, “I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, . . . I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.” Chapter 7, verse 3, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart . . . I” - will - “multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh will not listen to you, . . . I will lay My hand on Egypt, and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am” - Yahweh, because - “I” - will- “stretch out My hand on Egypt”.
There is no better answer, if you question, “Why? How?” God says, “I am who I am and, because I am who I am, I can do what is best for you.” You see, ladies and gentlemen, you need to understand and I don’t want you to miss, if you get anything else, get this, because I believe this is at the root of the problem when we question God, God’s reputation is at stake. If He said He will, He will. And, if He doesn’t, He has far greater to lose than you do because He has broken His word. God is telling Moses, “I will bring you out of Egypt. Bank on it. Trust Me. My word is true and I have the power and the strength to back it up. I’m going to do it.” What a beautiful place to be in as a minister of Christ, as a person who is trying to impact your community and your courtroom for God. You bank on the fact that God will do what He wants and what He wills. He is powerful enough for the job. “Moses, I am the Lord. And because I am Yahweh, because I am who I am, I can do what I say I will do.”
Let me give you one point, by way of application. It’s very simple. Affliction produces wisdom. Affliction produces wisdom and, in turn, wisdom then understands the value of affliction. Wisdom recognizes the invisible hand of an all-powerful God and, in that afflicted state, when we return, like Moses, to God, He gives us a lesson of His character and there is the greatest wisdom. “The fear of the Lord” - Solomon said - “is the beginning of . . . wisdom”. The reverential trust and understanding of who He is will allow you and me to face the hardships of life without growing bitter. “Because of who I am, I will do what’s best for you.”
William Cowper, in a time of great discouragement and despondency, got so deep in discouragement, let me quote, “He tried to put an end to his life by drinking poison. God graciously led someone to find him and relieve him and he was delivered.” Evidently, his stomach was pumped out. “And, as soon as he recovered and got back home, he ordered a coach to take him down to the Thames River where he planned to jump. The driver of the coach held him back. Frustrated, that evening he went home and fell on a knife and the blade broke.” Can’t even die. “So, he put up a rope in the basement and he put his neck in the noose and he jumped. And a friend came in before he strangled to death and took him down. Finally, Cowper got out his Bible and he flipped it open to Romans, chapter 8. And, in the depths of his sorrow, God met him there and he went to his knees.” Later, as a man of God, he wrote these words that you’ll recognize, “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.”
In the storm, in the chaos, there in the midst of your affliction and troubled heart, He is Yahweh, He is all-powerful. And, because He is all-powerful, He is bound and capable of carrying out His work when He said He would do nothing for you other than that which would bring about spiritual good. You ask, “Why?” He introduces Himself. You ask, “How?” He introduces His power. Let’s pray.