2-4-18 — Dealing With Rejection — Exodus 5

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Dealing with Rejection

 

Exodus 5

 

Years ago, I was driving I-95 into Philadelphia when I saw scrawled on the overpass the words, “God lied to me.”  Someone made the effort to go out and buy a can of spray paint, climb up to the bridge, and precariously reach out in front of a constant flow of traffic in order to tell the world that “God lied to him.”

 

As I drove on I wondered, “what happened?”  What tragedy?  What disappointment?  What failure had led this grieved graffiti artist to express this dissatisfaction with the Lord?  Had a loved one died?  Did he lose his job?  Was it something else? We’ll never know.  All he displayed was his theological disappointment and distress.

 

In the fifth chapter of Exodus we find all kinds of people who feel they have been lied to, who feel disappointed.  They have done all the right things, but everything still turned out wrong.  When that happened they began to wonder about God.  Sometimes – so do we.

 

Let’s see what God had to say to them and to us.  Maybe we’ll find some hope to lift our despair.  Let us pray:

 

Lord, it is so puzzling when we do the right things and everything still turns out wrong.  We want the world to make sense, but it still seems so confusing.  Give us eyes to see clearly your will fully revealed.  Open our ears to listen to your Word.  Soften our hearts when they harden with disappointment.  Amen.

 

In the backend of the fourth chapter of Exodus Moses begins to follow the plan for salvation that God had given him.

 

Step one, you may remember was to go to the elders, the leaders of the Hebrew people and tell them what the Lord was going to do.[1]  He was not supposed to do this alone.  He was not to be a Lone Ranger and Aaron was not going to be his Tonto.  This exodus from Egypt would affect all the people of Israel so the people of Israel should be part of the plan and the process from the beginning.

 

Moses did not have much faith in his people.  He did not think they would listen to him.  He said, “They will not believe me or listen to my voice.  They will say, “The Lord did not appear to you.”[2]  God told him otherwise.    He said, “They will hearken to your voice.”[3]  They will listen to you.  Moses was not so sure, but he followed God’s command anyway.

 

To Moses’ surprise the elders did listen, and more than that they responded with worship and prayer.[4]  He could not have gotten off to a better start.  Everything seemed to be falling in place just as God had said.  Everyone felt confident that finally at long last they would be free from the bondage that enslaved them.  So, Moses transformed by the miracle of the burning bush and encouraged by the promise of God marched straight to Pharaoh’s court with a message he was sure would be heard.

 

He was positive Pharaoh would respond well to the message because he was just saying what God had told him to say.  He said through Aaron’s lips, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast for the Lord in the wilderness.”[5]    This is almost word for word the direction God had earlier given.[6]

 

Moses did the right thing.  He did what he was supposed to do. He said what he was supposed to say.  So, imagine his surprise when Pharaoh did not immediately offer to pack a picnic basket for their journey.  Instead, Pharaoh sneered, “Who is the Lord, that I should listen to him and let Israel go?  I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go?”[7]

 

The gauntlet had been thrown, and the contest of wills begun.  To understand what this conflict is really about is to understand who Pharaoh was.  Remember, in Egypt Pharaoh was considered a god.  His authority was absolute.  With a gesture of his hand he could call for the genocidal execution of every Hebrew baby boy and no one would bat an eye and no one would question his right to give such an order.[8]

 

To be sure, there was a plethora of gods whom people worshipped and that was fine as long as they remembered that Pharaoh came first because Pharaoh could kill you.

 

This pattern repeats, by the way, in the New Testament.  Taking a cue from the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh’s, the Roman Caesars took the same tack.  People could worship a wide variety of gods without complaint from the government unless they committed the intolerant sin of declaring that there is only one God.  They saw this as a lack of respect for religious pluralism because it challenged Caesar’s belief that he himself was one of the gods that people should worship. This, Christians would not and could not do. They could not and would not acknowledge or worship Caesar as god.

 

When the early Christian Church declared, “Jesus is Lord”, and “that there is salvation in on one else, for there is only one name under heaven by which we must be saved”; many Caesars unleashed terrible persecutions upon the Church.[9]   They did so because they rightly understood that their understanding of the state was being threatened by the Church’s understanding of God.  The Church believed final authority rested in the Lord. Caesar believed that the authority of the state was more important because they saw themselves as god.

 

In the apparent spiritual renewal that followed the events of September 11, politicians and people seemed to invoke the name of the Lord more often than they used to.  That was a good thing.  What we must be careful of though, is in remembering the order of things.  That is, do we first decide all on our own a political or military path and then ask God’s blessing and then sing “God Bless America”; or do we as the Bible commands, “humble ourselves and pray and seek the face of God? Do we turn from wicked ways and seek the Lord’s forgiveness?”  The order does make a difference, because the Lord only promises to heal our land when we turn first to him in this way.[10]

 

Pharaoh met Moses’ apparently harmless request for a three-day Spiritual retreat with such hostility for exactly this reason.  He rightly understood that this act of worship placed the Lord above him in the scheme of things and that he would not accept.

 

Moses should have expected this.  God had warned him that Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened for exactly that reason.  In fact most of the hardhearted people I’ve met are the way they are because they have placed themselves, their needs, their desires above those of others and even above those of God.   That’s why Pharaoh said; “I don’t know the Lord, so why should I listen.”  People with stone hearts don’t crack easy and they don’t wear down quickly because they are afraid that if they let go of anything they have they will in the end have nothing.

 

Jesus recognized that human tendency to hold tightly to what we have when he taught the parable of the talents.  You remember the Master had given three servants various degrees of wealth and then judged them according to their willingness to use and invest those gifts in others.  Two did well, but the last buried it and would not let it go.  As a result, Jesus said, “that which he has shall be taken away, and he will be cast into the outer darkness where men weep and gnash their teeth.”[11]

 

Pharaoh’s identity was wrapped up in wealth and power.  He would let either of those go, so he would not let people of Israel go.  Rather than telling Moses to have a nice time and come back refreshed, Pharaoh increased the work quota and told the people they would have to find their own straw to make the bricks.  No excuses would be accepted.

 

Pharaoh’s intent was to divide and conquer.  Moses had come to him with the backing of the people.  They were excited and enthusiastic at the prospect of even a little freedom.  Their revival service had gone well and people were talking about the Lord once more.  But, Pharaoh would test the limits of their faith.  He didn’t think it would last.

 

You never know the measure of faith until it is challenged.  Faith is easy when the sun shines and the skies are blue.  In fact, it is hardly even necessary in times when everything is going well.  It is when things are not going well that the muscles of faith are flexed.  That is why James said, “Count it all joy when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  Blessed is the one who endure trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown which God has promised.”[12]

 

Sadly, but predictably the people of Israel did not pass this first test of their faith.  In a contest between Pharaoh and the Lord, they thought Pharaoh held all the cards, and that the Lord was powerless to do anything about it.  Moses message from God had not brought them the immediate liberation and satisfaction they had imagined, nor did they see any hope on the horizon.  Instead, their faith in God had brought them only greater challenges.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going; but they weren’t going anywhere.  They were still stick in the mud.

 

So, they did what people have always done when the message of God does not work out to their satisfaction – they blamed the preacher.  “The Lord look upon you (Moses) and judge, because you have made us offensive in the sight of Pharaoh.”[13]  They said, “Moses, this is all your fault.”

 

You know what Moses did?  He turned to the Lord and said, “Lord, this is all your fault. Why have you done this?  Why did you send me?  You have not delivered your people at all.”[14]  He might just as well have spray painted on a pyramid, “God – you lied to me.”

 

That’s the way he felt.  Maybe you have felt the same way at one time or another.  If you have, don’t feel too bad.  You’re in good company.  Throughout the scripture we find great men and women of God, people who we today venerate as being giants of faith, shake their fists at heaven and shout, “Thou hast deceived me Lord, and I was deceived.”  Jeremiah lamented, “I have become a laughingstock, everyone mocks me.”[15]  It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I did the right thing, but everything has turned out wrong.

 

How did God respond?  He declared, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”  Well, that’s not exactly what the Lord said, but the meaning was the same.  What he said was; “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” He didn’t exactly use those words either, but you get the drift.  What God said was, “Now you shall see what a shall do.”[16]

 

Liberation, salvation is not like instant coffee.  Sometimes it takes time to brew it right.  The good things in life do take time, and when we think about it we know that is true.

 

That’s why we tell our children to hang in there with their education.  We believe those long years will pay off.  It is why our financial planners tell us to invest for the long term because they know that kind of investment pays off.  It is why marriage ceremonies in a church include the words “till death do us part”, because we believe that good marriages take time to build and that the time invested will pay off.  It is why God tells us to hang in there.

 

The Bible says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be.”[17]  We are all works in progress.  The world we live in is a work in progress.  Sometimes it looks likes like a mess. Sometimes it feels like it is never going to get done.  Sometimes it feels like nothing is going right or that we will never get to where we want to be.  That is exactly why faith is so important, because the Bible says “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen.”[18]

 

From those mud pits in Egypt the people could not even envision the Promised Land.  It was too far away.  Freedom was too great a dream.  But, they did get there.  It took time, but they did arrive.  So, shall we.  All we need is a little faith, a little assurance of things hoped for, and a little conviction that things not seen will be seen.  Then we shall understand and be fully understood.[19]

 

Gracious Lord, you have told us that “all things work for the good with those who love you and are called according to your purpose.”[20]  Grant us the patience to see the fulfillment of that promise.  Through Christ and in Christ we pray.  Amen.

 

[1] Exodus 3:16

[2] Exodus 4:1

[3] Exodus 3:18

[4] Exodus 4:31

[5] Exodus 5:1

[6] Exodus 3:18

[7] Exodus 5:2

[8] Exodus 1:16

[9] Acts 4:12

[10] 2 Chronicles 714

[11] Matthew 25:14-30

[12] James 1:2, 12

[13] Exodus 5:21

[14] Exodus 5:22

[15] Jeremiah 20:7-13

[16] Exodus 6:1

[17] 1 John 3:2

[18] Hebrews 11:1

[19] 1 Corinthians 13:12

[20] Romans 8:28

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