Summary: To help people persevere through the difficulties of discipleship to the victories it provides.


Exodus 5:1-10, 20-21

As if by enchantment Moses materialized from Egypt’s shimmering sands: from a forty year exile; resolute in a God-given commission to liberate Israel; performing signs that convinced their elders and the people. Eye-blinding lightning and ear-splitting thunder wouldn’t have dazzled the slaves more. On his promise they pounced, stroking it like a long-lost lover. Jubilation resurrected dreams long since buried by sorrow and unanswered prayer—and with wild expectation they bowed in worship.

Supercharged by success in convincing Israel, Moses and Aaron anticipated a quivering Pharaoh to as readily comply when confronted with God’s ultimatum: LET MY PEOPLE GO! To instead find Pharaoh a drenching Niagara to their erupting Vesuvius. Not only not convinced, but not even impressed. Not only unaware of Israel’s God, but unconcerned about his demands. And not only unfazed by Israel’s drudgery, but hostile to their ecstasy.

From their conflict emerges a classic and still-relevant spiritual truth: obedient discipleship invariably costs before it pays. This is seen in the initial and ultimate results of God’s demand.

A. Note The Initial Cost To Israel

Everything got worse for them, though clearly in the right, and easier for Pharaoh, as clearly in the wrong. Far from emancipating his slaves, and aiming to break their will, he instituted more devastating servitude, and so ruthlessly enforced it that Israel considered Moses a false prophet. He who had seemed all-lion to them proved all-lamb to Pharaoh. The charisma that stimulated them merely amused their master. The man they saw as a rising he viewed as a shooting star.

And, when news came that already back-breaking work would become more degrading, Israel flogged their declared liberators with undisguised scorn. Venting their rage at Pharaoh, they savaged the brothers who dared raise, only to dash their hopes. The misery so long known assassinated the incipient hope Moses momentarily wrenched from despair only to leave them knocking at locked, unopened doors.

No matter that Moses and Aaron pleased with them, urging patience; or exhorted them, encouraging faith. No matter that the brothers guaranteed ultimate freedom from the king’s pulverizing cruelty if Israel persevered in faith.

NO MATTER! Israel’s fragile will broke beneath Pharaoh’s scepter—and they viewed God’s promise as a delusion and the brothers as heartless charlatans. In as somber a mood as the scorn in Pharaoh’s eyes, Moses speculated darkly: he hadn’t wanted to come at all, and knew now he was right; he knew his introspective nature would be a hindrance, and it was. Why, oh why, had God sent him to Egypt to look the imposter to Israel and the fool to Pharaoh? Why had God commissioned him in the desert, with no one present, then failed him in Egypt, before the entire court?

Questions and perplexities that are so real and relevant we can put ourselves in his place.

We note that Peter obeyed Jesus when told to put his nets into deep water, only to make a catch that threatened his boats Luke 5:6-7; and that the disciples obeyed Jesus when told to cross the sea to Capernaum, only to face a storm that threatened their lives Mark 6:43, 48.

That puzzles us. We can understand being corrected when wrong, and disciplined for our sins—but should we suffer when God calls for OBEDIENCE, and we COMPLY?

How often we discover that the powerful spiritual jolts that spin our inner generators merely GROUND and BLOW against other peoples’ obstinance. The convictions that pierce our souls merely RICOCHET off them like arrows off stone.

“If I’m convinced, why aren’t they?” we ask. “If I can see the light, why do they remain in darkness?”

Like Israel, we begin to wonder: should obedience be this difficult? Like Moses, we begin to ask, “God, is obedience worth the price?”

B. Note The Eventual Payment To Israel

Envy Pharaoh before Moses returned to Egypt: his influence as a world statesman; his building programs; his mastery of 2 million slaves. Envy him before Moses returns, for you’ll never envy him again.

Look beyond the first appearance of the lowly slaves before Pharaoh to a year later. Who wants to be Pharaoh then: after God had marched his devastating death march through the Egyptian pantheon, demolishing the nation’s religious infrastructure? Who would be Pharaoh a day AFTER the Exodus, with his personal reputation shattered; his nation a vast mortuary from Memphis to the cataracts; with slaves insolently departing; with his own people begging to stuff their pockets with gold and jewels?

And who would be Pharaoh the day AFTER the battle of the Red Sea, with his troops dead in heaps, and leather-lunged Hebrews on the far shore mocking contemptuously; with Miriam leading those sturdy women as they jangled tambourines and danced among the people, shouting, “The horse and his rider he has cast into the Sea!”

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