In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
We’re still relatively early in the book so, plot-wise, most of what’s happened has been setting-the-scene. Chapters. 1-2 introduce us to the situation of the nation of Israel, the person of Moses, and God’s intention to deliver Israel through His servant, Moses. Moses, who was born to Hebrew parents, was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, but runs away from Egypt to Midian after killing an Egyptian. While in Midian, Moses marries a Midianite woman (Zipporah) and settles into his new life as a shepherd. Chaps. 3-6 outline God’s call to Moses to participate in the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. God appears to Moses in the famous burning bush episode and tells him to return to Egypt to confront Pharaoh with the news that God will deliver the Israelites.
Today’s passage essentially serves as a recap (or bookending) of the call and thus serves as a good point to review some of the main things that we’ve looked at.
Firstly, let’s review again the significance of the phrase, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” found in 7:3. It’s a phrase (along with equivalent phrases) that is found throughout the Exodus account. The problem that apparently arises is the conflict between Free Will and Determinism. Again, we don’t want to get too distracted by this philosophical conundrum – if you’d like to discuss it further, we can certainly do so. But what we want to remember is that the Exodus account is not addressing this issue.
What we are probably seeing in the repeated use of this phrase or idea is not a statement on this philosophical puzzle, but rather a statement about the sovereignty of God. In a world where every culture has its own god or sets of God, and in a nation (Egypt) where Pharaoh is identified as a god, the rescue of the Israelites from Egypt is not just a political struggle, but a cosmic one. It’s not just an issue of people vs. people or nation vs. nation, but rather one of a presumed god (Pharaoh) vs. the one true God (YHWH). Yahweh’s statement “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart,” then, is a claim (one which will ultimately be substantiated) of superiority and sovereignty over the gods of Egypt.
This theme of sovereignty is expressed once again in God’s call to Moses. Specifically, I’m referring to Moses’ reluctance towards God’s call or, more precisely, his doubt regarding the efficacy of God’s call. Moses says to God:
30 But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”
We can see that this is a re-statement of the conversation that Moses had with God at his initial calling, back in chapters 3 and 4. In chapters 3 and 4, we see this back and forth conversation between God and Moses, God telling Moses to go and Moses repeatedly responding, “but wait…”
In both the initial conversation (ch. 3 & 4) and this summarizing conversation, we can see God’s response is simple. God says, “it is my work, not yours.” God says that Moses will be successful not because of Moses, but because of God.
A couple of conclusions can be derived from this Exodus theme. One of those has to do with salvation by grace alone – we talk about this quite a lot. We are saved by grace, through faith. Not by works, lest anyone should boast. We are saved, chosen, not because we are better than…
The other consideration is this. Consider Moses’ repeated contention that he does not speak well.
6:30 But Moses said to the Lord, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”
This is a restatement of his previous refusal in chapter 4:10…
4:10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
Indeed, Moses’ logic makes sense. Why would God send someone who doesn’t speak well, who lacks confidence, to represent Himself and the nation of Israel before Pharaoh – the most powerful person in the world? Doesn’t it make more sense to choose someone more skillful, more talented, more self-assured?
Now it’s important to note here that we are departing from what I think the text is actually doing (in a strict sense) to my personal reflections on the story. And in my reflections, it occurs to me that oftentimes, in Christian circles, we tend to limit God’s effectiveness in us and through us to those things that (we think) we are already good at. We call these things our “giftings.”
I could very much be wrong about this, but it seems to me that we often talk about God using us or calling us only within the realm of those things that we consider (whether it’s actually true or not) our strengths.
Are you good with administration? God must be calling you to be the church secretary. Are you musical? God must be calling you to be on the music team. Are you good with kids? God must be calling you to work in Sunday School or youth group.
The converse is also true. God must not be calling me to teach because I’m not a very good speaker. God must not be calling me to a hospitality ministry because I’m introverted. God isn’t calling me to anything because I’ve just got too much on my plate right now.
Call me cynical, but it sounds an awful lot like we sometimes use “church-talk” like “giftings” simply to do only those things that we feel like doing. Or to only respond to God when it’s convenient. This is why I find things like spiritual gift tests and inventories to be spurious at best, and dangerous at worst. Because it’s not about us, it’s about God.
Now obviously I may be over-stating it here, and of course we don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. The point that I really want to make here is simply that God can work through us whether or not we think He can. Because it is God working and not us. It is God’s strength and not ours.
Once again, Exodus is not about Moses rescuing the Israelites. Exodus is not Moses’ story. It’s God’s story. It’s the story of what God did, and by extension, does. The theme, as it’s expressed in the story of Exodus is that salvation, redemption, deliverance is about God. It takes awhile for Moses to figure this out. And most of us are still trying to figure that out.
The last point that I want to make, the final theme that’s demonstrated in this passage, has to do with the words at the beginning and the end of this passage.
28 Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, 29 he said to him, “I am the Lord. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.”
And 7:5 closes with:
5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”
It’s the phrase, “I am the Lord” that I want us to pay attention to. It’s important because for Moses, for the Israelites, for Pharaoh, this is all new. Sitting on the other side of revelation, we think we understand what that means, but do we?
In the story of Genesis, we see God’s calling of Abraham, who is to become the father of God’s nation. We know that God speaks to, interacts with, and guides Abraham and the patriarchs. But as a people, their knowledge of God is only in its barest infancy. It’s in the book of Exodus that God reveals His personal name to Moses and to Israel. It’s in the book of Exodus that God gives the Law.
The story is not just about rescuing the people – for lack of a better term, this is just a plot point. Rather, the story is about learning who God is. It’s about a people, indeed it’s about a creation, that has been separated from God because of sin. It’s not just a story about rescuing people from death, but restoring them to life.
The bracketing statement, “I am the Lord” is crucially important (in my opinion). Because it’s not about what we do, what you or I can do, but about what God does. And what God does is to demonstrate His superiority, His absolute sovereignty over all of creation. The whole Exodus story, the account of redemption, our place in the story is finally not about what we do or what we get, but about who God is. It’s God’s story.
So Now What…?
I think this is often where we stumble in our Christian faith, and therefore our Christian walk.
When we reduce Christianity to what we get out of it, “getting to heaven” or avoiding hell, I think we run the risk of missing the point. When we reduce it to “getting to heaven” or avoiding hell, we still make it all about ourselves. This, I think, is actually the devil’s greatest strategy – which goes all the way back to the garden.
The devil never, I think, asks us to choose between God and the devil – for who in their right mind would actually choose the devil. He is always trying to get us to choose ourselves. He is always trying to get us to take our eyes off God and focus on ourselves. To focus on our goals, our desires, our pleasures, our insecurities, our anxieties, and our fears.
And I wonder if that’s the reason (or one of) so many people misunderstand Christianity. Because they think that it’s about what you get vs. what you have to give up, or what you have to do vs. what you’re not allowed to do.
Now it’s not as if we have all the answers about God (and life and the universe). But what we need to know, God chooses to reveal Himself to us. He reveals Himself to us in his creation, He reveals Himself through His word, and He reveals Himself to us through His son. He reveals His grace and mercy, His justice and holiness. He reveals His love for us in all that He has done and does to deliver us, to redeem us, back to Himself.
So, though I know I’ve said it before (and a lot), we remind ourselves that this, the book of Exodus, is God’s story. This same God who declares and demonstrates Himself as God before the Egyptians and the Israelites, for the deliverance of His people – this is the God that declares Himself to us.