When Things Don't Go As Expected - Exodus 4:29-6:12
Things don't always go the way we expect them to. That is never more true than during a wedding. In the one hundred weddings that I have officiated at there has been equipment failure, candles that wouldn't light, children that wouldn't cooperate, eyes that were glazed over, laughter during a prayer, soloists that couldn't be heard, and an organ that died in the middle of the Bridal March. There was an outdoor wedding where a bee dive-bombed the bride, another outdoor wedding where a flea ridden dog decided to come up to the front in the middle of the ceremony and roll around on his back, and of course there have been the veils that caught on fire. In each case the couple did get married and most have gone on to have good marriages and now look back on the unexpected things at their wedding as among their most celebrated memories.
But this is not always the case. Sometimes, when the unexpected comes crashing into our lives it knocks us down . . . hard.
our savings are suddenly lost in a bad investment
our dream home is destroyed
a significant person in our life dies
a spouse walks out
bad weather cancels a gathering we had worked moths to plan
the Doctor says he has bad news
the weather destroys our crop
a vacation is cut short by a car accident
I'm sure you have your own list of unexpected things that have happened in your life. These are tough times and this morning we are going to talk about how to prepare for the unexpected times that will inevitably come into our lives.
Moses and Aaron are sent by God to tell Pharaoh to "Let my people go." The brothers first meet with the elders of Israel. They performed the signs that God gave to Moses (the walking stick/snake; the leprous hand; the water turned to blood). We are told that the people believed and they worshipped.
What a great spiritual high that must have been for Moses and Aaron. They had the joy of bringing good news to the people. The people wept, they worshiped, they rejoiced that God was concerned about them. I suspect that Moses was glad he "signed up" for this duty. But as often happens, right after a great victory in our faith, there is often a great challenge to our faith. Moses was riding a "high" as he went to see Pharaoh. Notice what happens next.
THEY WERE DOING WHAT THEY WERE COMMANDED TO DO
Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’" Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go." Then they said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword." (Exodus 5:1-4)
Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh to request that the Hebrews be allowed a three day religious holiday to go and worship the Lord. This is exactly what Moses and Aaron were told to say in Exodus 3:18.
This raises a question for us. Why did Moses request a three day vacation when we know that the intention was for the Israelites to be set free entirely? Was this a deceptive request?
The answer is no. It is true that the end result would be the complete freedom of the Israelites. This first request was designed to reveal the hardness of Pharaoh's heart. It was common practice in the nations of that time to allow the people to worship their gods in appropriate manner. In other words, the surrounding nations, and even some of the citizenry of Egypt would realize that this request was not unreasonable. It sets the stage to show that God is Just in the actions that He takes against Pharaoh.
If Moses had marched in to Pharaoh and said, "God said to set the Israelites free," most people would have viewed that as an unreasonable request. It would have been a request that Pharaoh could not grant. How could allow his work force to simply walk away? Even some of the Israelites may have been sympathetic to Pharaoh. People needed to see the unreasonableness of what was taking place before their attitudes would change.
Pharaoh's response should not have been a surprise to Moses. Right after God told Moses what to say he also told Moses,
I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. so I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. [Exodus 3:19-20]
Did Moses think all of this would happen at once? Did he think the might acts of God would be the stick turning into a serpent? We don't know. But it does seem that Moses is surprised by what happens next.
THINGS DIDN'T GO WELL
Moses and Aaron were faithful. What happens next is not a result of something they did wrong. They expected resistance from Pharaoh but they did not expect what happened.
Pharaoh was Angry. Pharaoh in his arrogant defiance declares, ""Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go." (5:2) How dare someone dictate to the mighty Pharaoh what he is to do! Pharaoh gave commands . . he was not subject to them! Pharaoh does not only resist the command . . . he retaliates!
Before we shake our head at Pharaoh, we need to realize that this same thing happens today. We read God's commands and say "Why should I have to listen to the Lord?" Undoubtedly there is something in your life where God's command has conflicted with your desires and you put your back up and say, "Why should I have to do what God says?" Why should I forgive? Why should I keep my promise? Why should I tithe? Why should I put God first? Why should I build others up rather than tear them down? Why should I repent? A.W. Pink writes,
The Bible tells man that he is a fallen creature, unprepared to die, unfit for the presence of a holy God. The Bible tells him of the wondrous provision of God’s grace, and presents a Savior all-sufficient for his acceptance The Bible warns him faithfully of the solemn issues at stake, and asks him how he shall escape if he neglects so great salvation. The Bible tells him plainly that he that believeth not shall be damned, and that whosoever’s name is not found written in the book of life shall be cast into the Lake of Fire. But these solemn verities are but "vain words" to the skeptical heart of the natural man. He refuses to receive them as a message from the living God addressed to his own soul. But let him beware. Let him be warned by the awful case of Pharaoh. If he continues in his unbelief and obstinacy, Pharaoh’s fate shall be his — God will surely bring him into judgment. [Pink p. 68]
The People Were Punished. Pharaoh's conclusion, was that the people were getting lazy. So he increases the work load of the people. Apparently they made their bricks with clay and with straw to give the bricks more stability. In the past, the straw was provided for them. Now they not only would have to fulfill their quota of bricks . . . they had to find their own straw!
So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, "Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw." (Exodus 5:10-14)
The thing that was the most difficult for Moses was the fact that the very people he came to save had to endure hardship because of him. He wanted to help them . . . no make life more difficult. Moses felt guilty. We know the feeling. We have all felt the pain of feeling that someone else was suffering because of us.
we are careless with a tool and another is hurt
we forget something we were supposed to do and someone else has to pick up the slack
we drink or do drugs during pregnancy and our baby pays the price
we give bad directions and another gets lost
we express our convictions and split a church
we vent our frustrations and wound someone we love
The Leaders Were Bitter. The foreman are not happy about the change in circumstances. They run to Pharaoh and plead their case. And then they strike out at Moses and Aaron.
When they [the foremen] left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, "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." [Exodus 5:20-21]
Instead of being applauded, Moses and Aaron were shunned. Instead of being respected, they were despised. The leaders were vicious.
Moses was Discouraged and Confused. The leaders attack Moses and Aaron and they are confused. God had told them that Pharaoh would resist, but apparently they did not expect the backlash that they received from the people. It is always more painful to be criticized by those you are seeking to help.
In his pain, Moses approaches the Lord with these words of accusation,
"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." (5:22,23)
You know what often happens in difficult times. Well-meaning people do something really stupid. They try to shield God from responsibility. They say things like, "God had nothing to do with this circumstance". Or even worse, "There was nothing God could do!" They proclaim that God has given us our freedom and therefore bad things are our fault.
It is true that most of the time God does not send the bad things that come into our lives . . . but He does allow them. God could keep those things from happening. Sometimes He does. We've all had a "close call" in life. We give God credit in those times. We know that there is ALWAYS something God can do. If He chooses not to intervene He does so for a reason.
Moses is right to go to the Lord. He knows that God is ultimately the one behind what it happening. It may have been Pharaoh's command, but he gives that command with God's permission.
We can only speculate but let me suggest some possible reasons God allows this increased burden to the Hebrews.
Without increased discomfort many of the people may have been unwilling to leave Egypt and would have rebelled against the leadership of Moses.
Without these difficulties Moses and Aaron would not have realized their absolute dependence on the Lord.
Without these trials there would have been no stage on which to demonstrate the superior power and character of Almighty God to the Egyptians and to the world.
But it is a lot easier to see God's plan in hindsight than it is to see it in the midst of the storm.
HANDLING THE UNEXPECTED
So, how do we stand in the unexpected times of life. I see three things.
Run to the Lord, Not Away from Him. When things don't go as expected it is easy for you and I to revert to our childish ways. Do you remember those days when a friend would make you mad as a child? You wouldn't talk to them, you wouldn't acknowledge them, and you worked hard to show them that you didn't need them. But you knew even then that all that pretending wasn't helping your sadness over a broken relationship.
As we get older we often don't get any smarter. When things don't go well we get mad at God. We pout, we grumble, we withdraw from the church, we put our Bible out of sight, we refuse to pray. And we are acting like children! When times are tough we must run TO the Lord, not away from Him. These are the times we need the fellowship of believing friends. These are the times we need to comfort and direction of God's Word. These are the times we need to talk to God rather than give him the silent treatment.
Moses is a good pattern for you and me. When unexpected times come we should express our heart to the Lord. We can admit our pain, our frustration, and our confusion. But in those times we must also come with the belief that the Lord is Good . . . even when we don't understand.
Resist Drawing Premature Conclusions. Moses thought that the plan of God wasn't working. How silly isn't it? God has told Moses several times that Pharaoh was going to resist. He told Moses that He would have to tighten the screws on this ruler before he would cry "Uncle!" And yet, when Pharaoh reacts with antagonism and force, Moses is surprised.
Does that sound familiar? It should. God's Word warned us of what was ahead,
WHEN they arrest you (Matthew 10:19)
All who desire to live a Godly life WILL be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12)
We must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of God [Acts 14:22]
No one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. [1 Thess 3:3-4]
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.[1 Peter 4:12,13]
Consider it all joy WHEN you encounter various trials and temptation [James 1:2]
In the world you will have tribulation [John 16:33]
Paul tells us of his many trials. The book of Hebrews tells us of all the things our forefathers endured. We read about the trials of Job, Habakkuk, David, Elijah, Abraham and others. Why does it surprise us when life becomes difficult? Our Lord has already told us that this would happen! But He has also told us that nothing will separate us from His love. He has told us that He has overcome the world. He has told us that every sacrifice for His names sake will not be forgotten.
God reminds Moses of two truths we can hold on to in the unexpected times of life.
The Unchanging Nature of God's character (Exodus 6) God's answer to Moses is simple, "I am the Lord". Moses needs to remember who is really in charge. God tells Moses that there is no reason to be intimidated by Pharaoh. God knows exactly where the ruler is and knows what is happening with the leaders of the Hebrews.
God loves us. He is more committed to our growth than we are. His love is not fickle. His hands are not tied. In difficult times we must remember who we belong to. We belong to Almighty God! We belong to the one who is faithful and true. The God who works everything for His good. The God who brings treasures out of rubble and life from death. We would do well to focus on His character rather than our problems.
The Unwavering Trustworthiness of God's Promises. God tells Moses,
Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. "Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and
I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
I will free you from being slaves to them, and
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
I will take you as my own people, and
I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And
I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.
I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD. [Exodus 6:5-8]
I'm sure that Moses and the people of Israel wondered how in the world God could ever fulfill these promises. But He did. And we may wonder how God will fulfill the promises He's made to His children. But He will. There is not a single promise that the Lord has made that He has failed to bring to bring to pass. We must trust the promise more than the appearances or circumstances because we know that appearances are often deceiving.
Keep Doing What is Right (6:13f) God doesn't explain the "whys" He simply sends Moses back to Pharaoh. It's a good adage: When in doubt you are never wrong to keep doing what is right.
In the unexpected times of life we must remain steady. We must keep doing what is right. We must continue to pray, continue to study God's Word, continue to worship, continue to trust, continue to obey, and continue to reach out to others. God calls us to trust Him even when the way is unclear.
Unexpected times come in our lives. Sometimes the unexpected things are delightful surprises that we acknowledge as gracious gifts from a loving God. As we grow in our faith we come to see that even the painful surprises are gracious gifts from a loving God. They are things designed to
and to put us in a position for God to be glorified through us
There is a good chance that there are people here today who are dealing with the hard blows of unexpected circumstances. To you I say, "Hang on, friend! Trust the Lord. He will not let you down."
And there are others of us who are not going through difficult times. Life is good. We are basking in blessing rather than struggling under a burden. This message is just as relevant for you. If you do not prepare for the unexpected times they might make you bitter, hard, and turn you from the Lord and not to Him.
In our community a civil defense siren sits next to the firehouse. One the first Tuesday of the month at 10:30 the siren sounds. Isn't that silly. Of course it's not. You don't try to put up a civil defense siren when you hear a tornado is coming. It's too late then. You can't fix a siren when the storm is bearing down on you. It's too late. You have to prepare the siren in the good times so that it is in place and ready to go in a time of crisis.
The same is true for you and me. We must develop a faith that is real. We must pursue a faith that is in the Lord and not in what the Lord can do for us. We must trust Him and not our feelings. And the only way to do that is work at developing an honest, deep, consistent and solid relationship with the Lord now.
Are you coasting? If so, you are wasting valuable opportunities! If we don't prepare our anchor in the sunshine, it will not be ready to hold in the storms.