Thursday 28 October 2010

Opposing God (Exodus 5)

Exodus 5 is about opposition towards God's people and opposition towards God.

Chapter 4 ended with Moses' return to Eqypt and his acceptance by the elders of Eqypt. Upon witnessing the signs given by God, and hearing the LORD's concern for their suffering, the people of Israel "bowed down and worshipped" (4:31). 

Now the scene opens with Moses and Aaron confronting the King of Eqypt. The scene is familiar to fans of the popular Dreamworks cartoon, "Prince of Eqypt", where Moses cries out before Pharaoh, "Let my people go!" Except that isn't quite what Moses says. Verse 1 reads, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: 'Let my people go'". This is what the LORD says - or as the King James renders it, "Thus saith the LORD".

Moses and Aaron are spokesmen for God. Moses may be an Israelite, but Israel are God's people. It is God who is speaking to Pharoah. And it is God who will save his people from slavery to Pharaoh.

1. Deceptive opposition

Pharaoh initially appears dismissive of the claims of Moses. "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and will not let Israel go" (verse 2). He doesn't seem at all threatened by the warnings of Moses (verse 3), but rather is concerned about the fall in productivity of his slave labour force (verse 5).

It is worth contrasting Pharaoh's attitude with that of his predecessor. Chapter 1 tells us how the previous king was worried about the growing number of Israelite settlers within his nation, that they might join a foreign nation and overthrow his rule. Conversely, the current ruler sees this slave nation as an integral and abundant workforce.

Still, both have something in common. When Pharaoh says that he "(did) not know the LORD" (verse 2), we are not to think that he had never heard of the God of Israel. Rather he was choosing to ignore the claims God, the same way the first king, "who did not know about Joseph" (1:8), chose to ignore the contributions of the once Hebrew slave, turned prime minister and saviour of Egypt. Both rulers wilfully set aside counsel and better judgement to justify personal vendetta and ambitious gain for power.

Pharaoh turns out to be a cunning fellow. He immediately ("that same day", verse 6) commands that the Israelites be denied straw used in their production of bricks, yet the slaves must still meet all their daily quotas. Pharaoh doesn't simply say, "Get back to work!" He cracks the whip and forces the Israelites to work harder as a sign of punishment.

The Israelite foremen, thinking there has been a misunderstanding, approach Pharaoh in an attempt to clarify the situation. "Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, 'Make bricks!' Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people'" (verses 15-16).

Their complaints fall on deaf ears as Pharaoh accuses them of laziness. Yet in the same breath, he reveals the true reason for their harsh treatment. "That is why you keep saying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD'" (verse 18).

We need to see that Pharaoh wasn't merely acting in ignorance; still less, reacting in foolish anger. His goal isn't simply to lash out at these rebellious servants, but to cause dissension within their ranks. By the end of the chapter, we find the the Israelite foreman turning on Moses and Aaron in anger. "May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us" (Verse 21).

2. Unexpected opposition

Moses and Aaron were obviously caught off-guard by the foremen's rebuke (verse 20 - "Moses and Aaron (were) waiting to meet them"). Weren't these the same Israelites who so warmly received them earlier as men from God (4:31)?

Yet the very next scene records Moses accusing God of making a mess of things.

"Moses returned to the LORD and said, 'O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.'" (Verses 22-23)

The people turn on Moses. And Moses turns on God. In effect, Moses says, "It's all your fault, God! You have just made a bad situation, worse!" 

And yet, God had repeatedly told Moses to expect opposition. "But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go" (Chapter 3, verse 19). What is more, Pharaoh's stubbornness is itself, ordained by God, "I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go" (Chapter 4, verse 21).

3. Opposing God: Deceived by the enemy

This account is therefore a picture of opposition. But it is not simply the opposition of world or of the devil against God. The bible reveals our opposition against God's will and God's word.

We see this through Pharaoh, who doesn't merely set himself up against God position. He attempts to usurp God's place. Firstly, the king of Egypt establishes his own voice as authoritative over the Israelites, "This is what Pharoah says..." (verse 10). God may have sent Moses as his spokesmen, "Thus saith the LORD", but Pharaoh sends out the slave drivers and foremen with his own competing instructions, "Thus saith Pharaoh!" At each turn, the king denounces and dismisses God's will by challenging God's word. Even the order given for the Israelite punishment is so that they work harder and pay no attention to these "lies" (verse 9) spoken by God.

Secondly, we hear the true allegiances expressed from the mouths of the Israelite foremen not towards the God of the Hebrews, but towards the king of Eqypt. "Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw. Your servants are being beaten." (Verses 15 to 16). The Hebrew word "ebed", here translated "servants", is the same root for what is rendered as "worship" in Chapter 4, verse 23. There God says Israel is his firstborn son; the purpose for which Pharoah is to release God's firstborn son, is that Israel might "worship", or "serve" God. Yet here, the Israelites saw themselves as slaves in service to their Egyptian masters who ruled over them in fear and force. God's purpose in redeeming Israel is that they might worship him as his firstborn son.

The chapter ends not with Pharaoh, nor the Israelites, but with Moses. Here, the servant of God's will; the spokesman in God's name, questions the faithfulness and reliability of God's word. "Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all." (verse 22) Meaning: "I've done all you asked me, God! I've done my bit, but you haven't kept your end of the bargain."

4. Overcoming Satan: Trusting in the Word of the Cross

What does this mean for us as Christians in the New Testament? 

In the book of Revelation, John records his vision of the great cosmic war between God's angels and the devil in Chapter 12, there portrayed as an enormous red dragon. Satan is defeated in battle - "he was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him" (Chapter 12, verse 9).

Heaven rejoices in victory! But what John hears next are words of warning issued from heaven to the inhabitants of the earth. "Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short." (Verse 12).

Satan, who leads the whole world astray (verse 9), sets his sights on man - specifically, the people of God (Chapter 13), precisely because he is a defeated enemy. Hence, the devils ploy in attacking Christians is never simply to cause discomfort or pain, but ultimately to lead them in rebellion against God.

How are we to stand against such a determined and deceitful enemy? The voice of heaven answers: through the cross of Christ and proclamation of Christ.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: 
"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. 
For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; 
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
(Revelation 12:10-11)

For Christians, it is God's word fulfilled in Jesus that establishes our true hope in the face of suffering, even death; and the testimony of this same word that overcomes even the evil one.