Thursday, March 3
Reader: “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord?”
Response: “And you have done nothing to rescue them!”
Scripture: Exodus 5:10-23 (Pharaoh had just claimed the Israelite were lazy.)
So the slave drivers and foremen went out and told the people: “This is what Pharaoh says: I will not provide any more straw for you. Go and get it yourselves. Find it wherever you can. But you must produce just as many bricks as before!” So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt in search of stubble to use as straw.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian slave drivers continued to push hard. “Meet your daily quota of bricks, just as you did when we provided you with straw!” they demanded. Then they whipped the Israelite foremen they had put in charge of the work crews. “Why haven’t you met your quotas either yesterday or today?” they demanded.
So the Israelite foremen went to Pharaoh and pleaded with him. “Please don’t treat your servants like this,” they begged. “We are given no straw, but the slave drivers still demand, ‘Make bricks!’ We are being beaten, but it isn’t our fault! Your own people are to blame!”
But Pharaoh shouted, “You’re just lazy! Lazy! That’s why you’re saying, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to the Lord.’ Now get back to work! No straw will be given to you, but you must still produce the full quota of bricks.”
The Israelite foremen could see that they were in serious trouble when they were told, “You must not reduce the number of bricks you make each day.” As they left Pharaoh’s court, they confronted Moses and Aaron, who were waiting outside for them. The foremen said to them, “May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!”
Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!”
We have subtitled this Lenten season as “A Journey to the Cross.” In John Bunyan’s immortal book, Pilgrim’s Progress, he paints the life of a Christian as a pilgrimage. “From dust we came, to dust we will return (Gen.3:19). In observing Ash Wednesday yesterday, we were again reminded of the transitory nature of this life and the ultimate triumph accomplished by Jesus’ journey to the cross. Jesus did something about our dust. We’d all agree that life is indeed a journey and that it is not a smooth one without difficulties. Such is not news to anyone. But what about this journey, this pilgrimage?
In this pericope our attention is drawn to the familiar story of the Exodus. Moses had been obedient to the Lord which ironically resulted in greater difficulty for his people, reminding us that walking in the Lord’s path will not necessarily make things easier! In this account it seems God is purposely making things worse. But did you notice from the Israelite foremen’s perspective, the trouble was Moses, not God. Moses was the one to blame!
So what did Moses do? He did what we all do, he went to God and complained! “Why are you allowing this to happen [to us and to me] and why don’t you do something about it?” This question is eerily relevant today. Did you ever notice how easy it is to assume God thinks and acts the way we would? After all, he sees what we do and has the power to do something about it. We’re thinking, “If I had God’s power, I’d do something about it!” Oftentimes it would appear he doesn’t do anything to alleviate the situation. Why his reluctance to act? What is God getting at? What do we do then?
While it’s not exactly the same situation, what I’d like us to remember is that in Jesus’ reconciliation journey, never forget that on the cross he cried to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In those hideous moments of pain and alienation, he experienced to the ultimate of what the Israelites in this passage and all of us undergo from time to time on our earthly journey―a sense of abandonment by God.
I ask again, is there a deeper purpose in God seemingly not acting in an overt way? I’m wondering if the point isn’t that our God would teach us to continue to trust him even in the most difficult of situations, even unresolved or worsening circumstances. As much as we want calm, “sooner than later” resolutions, the focus of God’s concern may be in teaching his people to trust even when things grow worse, even at times that end with death. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to one of God’s children. It appears God’s highest concern is in making a holy, trusting people regardless of whether or not he alleviates the situation. Of course there are many times when God’s hand changes things for the better.
In this passage God is challenging his people and Moses to grasp the true cost of following him. The kingdom of this world will always clash with God’s people. The ruler of this world is the devil so why should we be surprised? As tough as it may be, and for the Israelites, it was awful resulting in some beating deaths. Regardless of what comes your way today, keep trusting God. He has already been through the waters of death leading to the Celestial City. God’s glory lies ahead!
Music: “How Firm a Foundation” arr. Dan Forrest, Men’s Ensemble
O God, give us patience when the wicked hurt us. O how impatient and angry we are when we think ourselves unjustly slandered, reviled, and hurt! Christ suffers strokes upon his cheek, the innocent for the guilty; yet we may not abide one rough word for his sake. O Lord, grant us virtue and patience, power and strength, that we may take all adversity with good will, and with a gentle mind overcome it. And if necessity and your honour require us to speak, grant that we may do so with meekness and patience, that the truth and your glory may be defended, and our patience and steadfast continuance perceived. In Jesus’ name, Amen. ―Miles Coverdale, 1488-1568, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayer, p.44