Introduction: Exodus 3 concludes with a daunting announcement to Moses that he was to confront Pharaoh as an unwilling, hostile king who “will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him” (Ex. 3:19). How could Moses – and how can we – find resources to persevere in the face of such worldly opposition? The answer, in this week’s notes, lies in that same “mighty hand” by which God compels the mighty Pharaoh to bow the knee. Let us rejoice to know that God’s hand is not short or ineffective when it comes to compelling us, in love, to soften our hearts. We can, by faith, win in our contests against this evil world because God first conquers our hearts, by placing us under the power of His mighty hand of Grace.
Monday: read Exodus 3:18-20 and Psalm 110:1-3. God predicts in Exodus 3:18 that the elders of Israel “will listen to Moses.” This is important. How otherwise could they resist Pharaoh except by unity of purpose and shared resolve? Does this mean that they always saw eye-to-eye? Sadly, no, as their accusing words in Exodus 5 prove: “The LORD look upon you (Moses) and judge you” (Ex. 5:21). But that “rejection” was only temporary: an expression of the panic they felt under Pharaoh’s edict to make “bricks without straw” (Ex. 5:15-19). God was patient with such bitterness, wrung from their anguished souls. But when it came to crisis moments, when to baulk would mean “missing the train” of redemption out of Egypt, God made the elders, along with the Hebrew people as a whole, willing followers. Because of God’s “mighty hand,” Israel actually did worship the LORD with Moses (Ex. 4:31) and followed him out of Egypt!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for His power to move the hearts of His people. Despite their being a “mixed multitude,” with many periods of rebellion and even unbelief, the LORD knew how to make His people “willing volunteers” in the day of His power (Psalm 110:3, NKJV). In the same way, though we are often poor recruits in His army, stumbling up the hill of service to Him with weary, slow obedience, God is, nevertheless, able to keep our feet from slipping unto destruction. Be assured, Christian, despite all your failings, when God takes it upon Himself to “teach you to follow His decrees… then you will keep them to the end” (Ps. 119:33)!
Tuesday: read Exodus 3:18-20. It will be a great comfort for us to see God woo His people out of Egypt. Despite the decades of slavery and the hardening effect of years of affliction, God will restore the lost years and will re-kindle the faith of His people, bringing them to Sinai and declaring there: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex. 20:1). On the other hand, Exodus will also reveal the horror of Pharaoh’s sinful obstinacy. We will discover the truth of God’s sober words in Exodus 3:19: “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels Him.” How terrible for the omniscient God to know the hard-heartedness of man! In a real sense, man’s blind, irrational, stubborn devotion to his own sinful, destructive ways amazes even the all-knowing God. Is that not what we read of our Lord Jesus in the face of His own people’s unbelief in Mark 6:6? “And He was amazed at their unbelief.”
Meditate and Pray: Let us put to good use the amazement we often experience as we contemplate the stupendous blindness of the unbelieving world, by learning to mourn with God over the sinful stubbornness of mankind, as exemplified by Pharaoh. Let us ask God to give us the same persevering patience towards unbelievers as Moses showed towards Pharaoh, as he in God’s name repeatedly and sincerely offered to spare the rod of God over Egypt – but alas, Pharaoh “refused to let God’s people go,” even when releasing them would have saved his whole land!
Wednesday: read Exodus 3:19-20. Throughout the rest of Exodus, God will give ample opportunities for Pharaoh to change his mind and repent and will “give Pharaoh over” to utter condemnation and hardness of heart only when the ruler’s own stubborn sin demands Divine punishment. What Pharaoh will experience, shortly after Moses’ commission, is what some of the old Divines used to call “a time of probation” or “trial.” Just as the LORD “came down” to Sodom and Gomorrah in order to put those cities on trial, to “see if what they had done was as bad as the outcry that had reached Him” (Gen. 18:21), so now He will put Pharaoh on trial before the whole world. God will show how right His judgment is by demonstrating the king’s irrational refusal to submit to His reasonable, just and wise ways. Yes, to be sure, God “raised Pharaoh up for the purpose of demonstrating His power in him” (Romans 9:17); but that Divine power is never arbitrary in its exercise. Rather, it is power waged according to what is just and true, and according to man’s works. Pharaoh received what he demonstrably deserved!
Meditate and Pray: What a privilege for us to be saved from Pharaoh’s pride and stubbornness, as we confess God’s verdict against our sin, in the words of Psalm 51:4: “… so that You are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” May the Lord always give us such a spirit which is “easily entreated” and which keeps short accounts with Him, seeking forgiveness early and often. Amen.
Thursday: read Exodus 3:19-20 and 9:13-17. Pharaoh continually demonstrates the stubborn character predicted in Exodus 3:19. Even after six terrible plagues, every one of which should cause any reasonable ruler to relent and let Israel go, God declares that Pharaoh still “will set himself against God’s people and will not let them go” (Exodus 9:17). In this way, Pharaoh, along with all who refuse God’s summons to repentance and faith, destroy themselves by their own hardened hearts. However, we must also say (as William Harrell puts it) that those who harden themselves in this way do not rob God of His glory, but work out, in their pride and presumption, their own condemnation – that doom to which God has sovereignly and justly appointed them. How does Psalm76:10 put it in the New King James Version? “Even the wrath of men” (and their hard-hearted rebellion) serves to bring praise to God in the end! God is glorified in His rule and power over even the most rebellious!
Meditate and Pray: Let us bow before God’s sovereignty, by which He “has mercy on whom He will have mercy” and “hardens those whom He wants to harden” (Romans 9:18), and let us praise God for having our eyes opened and hearts softened to the good news of salvation, when we deserved to be left to the same hardness which doomed Pharaoh. Moreover, let us ask God to give us contentment with His sovereign will, expressed so well in some verses from hymn # 109 in our Trinity Hymnal:
When doubts disturb my troubled breast,
And all is dark as night to me,
Here, as on solid rock, I rest,—
That so it seemeth good to thee.
Be this my joy, that evermore
Thou rulest all things at thy will;
Thy sovereign wisdom I adore,
And calmly, sweetly, trust thee still
Friday: read Exodus 3:21-22 and Matthew 5:3-5. Our believing hearts can grow fearful when the high-handed rebellion of men distracts and discourages us. Even Moses is thrown for a loop after experiencing first-hand Pharaoh’s refusal to bow the knee to God. He says in Ex. 5:23: Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all. No wonder God gives evidence to encourage Moses and the rest of the Hebrew nation and to prove that He is in control even of the hearts of the Egyptians, in Ex. 3:21-22. God will move the Egyptians to give their wealth to the Hebrews in the Exodus. This “plundering” of Egypt was promised to Abraham in Genesis 15:14 and serves as a reminder that God rules this world, and all it contains, for the blessing, benefit and ultimate salvation of His own people! Let us not fear when the “Pharaohs” of this world defy our God. Even the wealth of the nations belongs to Him, and we will inherit the earth, as those humbled and made meek by God’s grace (Matt. 5:5).
Meditate and Pray: Let us take a deep breath of faith when we are tempted to be so upset with the tongues of unbelievers and remember the words of hymn # 111:
This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!