Among the Hebrew slaves, there were likely many who had written-off God’s power and provision. Their families had lived in Egypt for four-hundred years. They had lost hope, refusing to believe that God was capable of liberating them from their atrocious circumstances. Others clung to the promise that God had originally given Abraham. “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions” (Genesis 15:13–14). These hope-filled Hebrews had been awaiting a deliverer, a rescuer, a savior. Finally, Moses arrived with word of God’s promised emancipation.
When Moses, the eighty-year-old new-kid-on-the-block arrived in Egypt, he first went to the leaders of the Hebrew people. “Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites. Aaron repeated everything the Lord had said to Moses and performed the signs before the people” (Exodus 4:29–30). They heard God’s message and watched spellbound as Moses performed the miraculous signs: the staff-turned-to-a-serpent, the leprosy (now you see it, now you don’t), and the Nile’s water-turned-to-blood. “The people believed, and when they heard that the Lord had paid attention to them and that he had seen their misery, they knelt low and worshiped” (Exodus 4:31). Did the slaves sing the same chorus sung by angels centuries later? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV). Like Bethlehem’s shepherds, they bowed low as they praised their Divine Deliverer.
With great confidence, Moses and Aaron probably announced their next move. “Here’s what were gonna do next! We’re going over yonder to Pharoah’s palace to share the good news. Then... we’re out-a here!” “Later, Moses and Aaron went in and said to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival for me in the wilderness ... The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go on a three-day trip into the wilderness so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, or else he may strike us with plague or sword’ ” (Exodus 5:1, 3).
The Egyptian king didn’t exactly reply as they had hoped. “Pharaoh responded, ‘Who is the Lord that I should obey him by letting Israel go? I don’t know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go ... Moses and Aaron, why are you causing the people to neglect their work? Get to your labor!’ ” (Exodus 5:2, 4). “Set the slaves free? No way! Ain’t gonna happen!”
The totalitarian despot wasn’t through. He commanded the Egyptian taskmasters and the Israelite foremen, “don’t continue to supply the people with straw for making bricks, as before. They must go and gather straw for themselves. But require the same quota of bricks from them as they were making before; do not reduce it. For they are slackers—that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Impose heavier work on the men” (Exodus 5:7–9).
“Moses went back to the Lord and asked, ‘Lord, why have you caused trouble for this people? And why did you ever send me? Ever since I went in to Pharaoh to speak in your name he has caused trouble for this people, and you haven’t rescued your people at all” (Exodus 5:22–23). Discouraged, defeated, disheartened, Moses asked “Why?”
Jesus asked the same question. “My God, my God, why?” (Matthew 27:46). Tomorrow, we’ll look at God’s gracious answer to Moses’s, “Why?”