When it feels worse (Exodus 5:14 – 6:1)

What do you do when evil won’t let go?

Open Exodus 5:14 – 6:1.

Remember the time you tried to sort things out, only to make it worse? Moses knew that feeling.

He delivered God’s message to Pharaoh: “Hands off my people! Release them to celebrate with me in the wilderness.”

Pharaoh reacts like any self-serving tyrant: he comes down like a ton of bricks on those who dare to imagine themselves outside his control.

To stop them dreaming about freedom under YHWH, Pharaoh tightens his control over them. They won’t have time to dream of holidays and festivals:

Exodus 5:17–18 (NIV)
17 Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are — lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ 18 Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”

It’s crushing. Hoping for liberation has only made their situation worse. The Israelite foremen cannot meet the targets. They’re the meat in the grinder. They turn against Moses (5:21).

Moses passes the complaint to his up-line:

Exodus 5:22–23 (NIV)
22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 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.”

It’s a familiar feeling:

  • King David heard his foes declaring, “There is no salvation for him in God” (Psalm 3:2).
  • Israel was constantly threatened, needing God to save them (Psalm 22:29; 25:20; 31:2, 15; 39:8; 40:13, and so on).
  • Even Jesus felt troubled when God wasn’t saving him in his hour of need (John 12:27).

Yet, the Bible is the narrative of salvation:

  • God saved the Hebrews from Pharaoh’s tyranny.
  • He saved Israel from extinction when their enemies conquered them.
  • He saved Jesus from death’s grip.
  • He will save his world.

God knows how to rescue his world from its enslavement to evil, back under his governance. Through the ruler he has appointed, his kingdom will come. His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

For many today, salvation means individual rescue, a ticket to heaven when you die. That’s not what salvation means in Scripture. God is saving, rescuing, delivering his whole world from evil, to be the kingdom of his Son.

That doesn’t happen all at once. The salvation of God’s world has not been completed yet. Our hope is that God will save his world, delivering it from evil, into his reign, through  Messiah Jesus.

That’s the message God gave to Moses. The NIV misses the point, but the ESV captures the sense of two kings in conflict. Ten times, Pharaoh will be humiliated — publicly shown up as powerless to rule over river, land, or sky, over insects, animals, or people.

When he’s sick of being humiliated, Pharaoh will use his power to force the Israelites to leave. Ultimately, Pharaoh’s hand is subject to God’s hand:

Exodus 6:1 (ESV)
The Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

The source of Israel’s misery was Pharaoh’s heavy hand. But when this conflict is resolved, Pharaoh’s heavy hand will be driving YHWH’s people away from his grip.

Evil doesn’t easily release its grip from God’s world. At times it feels like evil’s heavy hand is even strengthening its grip.

But God knows how to save. 2000 years ago, the strong hand of death lost its grip on the world. The tyrannical hold is broken.

Jesus knows how to release his world from evil, to bring it back into his hands. The hope of his kingdom defines us.

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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