From Slavery to Salvation: God's Mighty Hand

Original Date: 
Sunday, May 8, 2016

Exodus 5:22-6:8 From Slavery to Salvation: God’s Mighty Hand

When the Right Thing to Do Gets Bad Results
Ben ran the numbers again. There was no doubt about it. The other members of the sales team were padding their invoices. They were overcharging customers and padding their commissions in the process.

Ben wrestled with what to do with this information. He hated to be a snitch; but at the same time the customers were being taken advantage of. Ultimately, that was bad business. And besides, wasn’t one of the corporate values—written right there on the poster that hung in every office—to “do what was right for the customer”? Ben decided that the right thing to do, the thing God would have him do, was take the numbers to management. They’d want to know.

So, imagine his surprise when management told him to keep his nose out of other sales people’s accounts. They were invoicing far more money per year than he was, maybe he could stand to learn a thing or two from the way they did it.

Or, again, Sam and Theresa were certain they heard God’s call to the mission field. Their church had affirmed their gifts, they found success in language school, and they had a passion for the people on a remote Pacific Island. So they had packed up their young children and moved overseas, despite the strenuous objections of both sets of grandparents—none of whom were Christ-followers and couldn’t understand why they would make such a radical decision.

Now, one of their children had contracted a rare, life-threatening disease—no one could say for certain if it was the result of living where they were or just a fluke—and they were forced to head back home. Upon their return, their parents say to them: “See, we told you not to go!”

Or consider Bridgette. Bridgette wanted nothing more than to be a mother. Only one problem, she wasn’t married. There’d been a few boyfriends in college, but nothing serious. Then she graduated and started on her career, and there never seemed to be a good way to meet decent men.

Finally, she bit the bullet and created a profile on one of those match making websites. And it worked! She met a guy who seemed great at first. But the longer their relationship went on, the more she noticed that their priorities and goals in life didn’t match up. Even though the match making site had been Christian based, the guy didn’t have much interest in Jesus. He always seemed to have something else to do on Sundays besides going to church, and he was openly contemptuous of her desire to join a couples’ Bible study. Finally, she decided she had to end the relationship.

That was 8 years ago, and there hasn’t been a suitable suitor since. (examples suggested by Philip Ryken, Exodus, p. 161)

These kinds of things happen all the time: A woman shares the gospel with a neighbor only to find a hostility to Christianity; they remain acquaintances, but they never become close friends. An employee refuses to work Sundays, and eventually finds he is being scheduled less and less the other 6 days of the week. A pastor leads a church to be more Biblical, only to see the congregation shrink

It happens a lot. You do the right thing. You do what you are sure God is calling you to do. And the situation only gets harder, not better. Sometimes, following God leads to suffering, not success.

Bricks Without Straw
That was the case for Moses, at least at first.

When we last left Moses he was standing in front of the burning bush receiving his commission to lead the people of Israel out of slavery. Moses was initially reluctant, but God convinced him by revealing Himself as the Great I AM—Yahweh—and giving him the ability to perform three miraculous signs: the staff that turned into a serpent, the leprous hand, and water turned to blood.
Eventually, Moses came around and when his brother Aaron—who was to serve as his spokesman—came to meet him at the mountain of God, he was ready to do exactly what God asked. They went to meet with the elders of Israel—performed the signs before the people—and they too believed.
So it was with quite a bit of confidence in God’s call that Moses walked into Pharaoh’s court for the first time.

It didn’t go well. Exodus 5:1-2:

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 wilderness.’”
2 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.”

Pharaoh doesn’t see things the way Moses does. He has gods of his own, he does not recognize the God of Israel. Nor does he have any intention of obeying this foreign God. Moreover, he’s not all that interested in allowing anybody else to worship and obey Him either. Philip Ryken writes:

Although Pharaoh was an extreme case, his example shows that a man who opposes God ultimately oppresses God’s people. Unbelief is partly an intellectual problem: The unbeliever does not know the Lord’s name. It is partly a spiritual problem: the unbeliever refuses to obey the Lord’s will. But often it is also a social problem: the unbeliever does not care for the Lord’s people. (Exodus, p. 146)

So now a bad situation for Israel gets worse. The rest of chapter 5 reads like a Dilbert cartoon about the miseries of middle management. Pharaoh tells the Egyptian overseers to take away the straw for making bricks. At that time, straw was an essential ingredient in brick making. The Egyptian overseers tell the Jewish foremen that the brick making quota isn’t changing. The people scour the countryside for stubble, but production inevitably declines. So the Egyptian overseers respond by beating on the Jewish foremen. And when the Jewish foremen go to Pharaoh to complain about their treatment—after all, it’s the Egyptians who took the straw away-- Pharaoh’s answer is essentially: “tough cookies.”

So, when the Jewish foremen run into Moses and Aaron, you can about imagine what they had to say: “Thanks a lot Moses! Slavery was bad enough, but thanks to your meddling and grandiose notions of leaving Egypt, these Egyptians are like as not to kill us!”

Moses did what he was sure God was calling him to do, and it has led only to suffering and not success. So, Exodus 5:22, now Moses is passing on the complaints of the people to God:

22 Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

“This isn’t the way I thought it would go, Lord! I only wanted to do the right thing! I was just trying to serve you! Why have things gotten worse?”

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever done what you were sure God wanted you to do, only to have it backfire and make things worse? Have you ever done the right thing, only to suffer for it?

If so, then what God has to say to Moses is something you need to hear. Anybody who has ever served God only to get mixed results needs to hear God’s answer to this complaint. Exodus 6:1-2:

6 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.”
2 God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD.

God does not apologize to Moses. Neither does He say that Moses misunderstood, and did the wrong thing. Nor is He surprised by Pharaoh’s reluctance. He’s not defeated by Pharaoh’s hard heartedness, He expected it!

And His answer to Moses is: “I am the LORD.” I am Yahweh. I AM WHO I AM.

And the answer to Moses’ struggles is found in who God is.

When Moses and Aaron first approached Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s response was: “Who is the LORD?” Now God says “I am the LORD.” And it is because of who God is that Pharaoh is going to let them go. By God’s mighty hand, Pharaoh is going to change his mind.

In this passage God says “I am the LORD” at least four times, and He makes at least four references to His hand or arm. God wants to make it clear that He has not taken His hand off the steering wheel. He is still sovereign, and Moses can keep on doing what he has been called to do because things are going to work according to God’s plan.

And the message to Moses applies to us as well. I’ll put it like this: God’s hand works God’s salvation in God’s way to ensure it is all to God’s glory. Philip Ryken says:

Exodus is a God-centered book with a God-centered message that teaches us to have a God-centered life. Whatever problems we have, whatever difficulties we face, the most important thing is to know who God is. We are called to place our trust in the One who says, “I am the LORD.” When there is trouble in the family, and we don’t know how to bring peace, he says, “I am the LORD.” When a relationship is broken and cannot be mended, he says “I am the LORD.” When nothing seems to go right, and it is not certain how things will ever work out—even then he says, “I am the LORD.” (173)

So what does God tell us about Himself this week that can help in the midst of our difficulties? In Exodus 6:3-8 God says five things about Himself that we need to know.

Never Forgotten
First, we see that The LORD is Rememberer. The LORD does not forget. Verses 3-5:

3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself fully known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.
Verse three seems a little odd at first. God says that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not know His name. They did not know the name YHWH. Yahweh. The Great I AM. On the one hand, that makes sense. When God speaks his name to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3, it is obviously a big moment. We saw that a couple of weeks ago. This is the most important name in the Old Testament. So, it seems like that might have been the first time anyone heard that name.

But, on the other hand, it seems strange since the name “LORD” appears more than 100 times in Genesis, including times when the patriarchs call God “LORD.” So what does this mean?
It’s possible that the name appears in Genesis retroactively. We believe Moses wrote Genesis, so it would make sense that he would use the name of God that he knew throughout that book. After all, it is the same God he is writing about.

But a more likely explanation is that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew the name Yahweh, but they did not fully grasp all that it meant. They knew God as God Almighty (which, by the way, is the Hebrew El Shaddai) but they did not fully understand all the implications of who God is.

To put it another way: Yahweh, the LORD, is God’s Salvation name. This is God’s covenant rescue name. This is the name guarantees that they have not been forgotten.
God made a covenant. He made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And He remembers those promises. They guide His decisions. They shape His choices.

We talked about this a few weeks ago, at the end of chapter 2, when it said that God remembered His covenant. That doesn’t mean that He forgot it. It doesn’t mean that He overlooked it until something jogged His memory. Rather, it means that it was never out of His mind. Instead of forgetting His promises in the midst of the hustle and bustle of ruling the world, it means that all the hustle and bustle of ruling the world has taken place in the light of this covenant.

When God sees His people groaning in slavery; when the slave drivers are taking away their straw and beating their backs, God has not forgotten. He remembers.
And the same goes for us. There may be times in your life when it seems like God has forgotten about you. Times when you are doing the right thing—the thing you are sure that God wants you to do—and it only makes things worse. And you wonder: is God paying attention? Does He remember me?
You can be certain: God does not forget. He has not forgotten His promises.

Outstretched Arm
Second, The LORD is Redeemer. The LORD will carry out His plan. Verse 6:

6 “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.

God reiterates His plan to free the Israelites. Three times in this single verse He says “I will.” “I will bring you out…” “I will free you…” “I will redeem you…’

Really, He’s saying the same thing three times. Redemption is a financial term. When you redeem something, you turn it in for some value in return. You redeem your recyclable aluminum cans. You redeem your coupons.

In a culture that has slaves, redemption has to do with release from slavery. It’s the price paid to secure a slave’s freedom. And here, God takes the responsibility of Israel’s redemption on Himself. But he does not intend to pay Pharaoh off with gold or silver, rather He is going to redeem Israel “with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.”
This is about a God who is strong enough to accomplish what He says He will do. I love that image of God’s “outstretched arm.” God’s arm is not too short to save.

I always enjoy the Geico commercials. The ad agency that handles the Geico account must be a fun place to work, because their commercials are always so clever. And one of the more recent Geico commercials is the one with the alligator at a restaurant. When the check comes, he tries to reach for it, but he can’t quite get there. His arms are short. The tag line is: “When you have alligator arms, you avoid picking up the check. It’s what you do.”

But the point here is that God does NOT have alligator arms. He is capable of reaching out His arm and setting Israel free. And rather than pay Egypt off with gold, He is going to pay them back with “mighty acts of judgment.” Their mistreatment of Israel is now going to come back on their heads.

And the point for us, of course, is that God’s arm is not too short to accomplish His purposes in us. Just because you do the right thing and it doesn’t necessarily bring great results, that doesn’t mean God is incapable of carrying out His plan. It might just mean that His plan involves more than our immediate comfort.

Your God
Third, the LORD is Relator. The Lord wants to have a relationship with you. Verse 7:

7 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.

“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” This is the essence of a covenant relationship. Israel is going to belong to God. And God is going to belong to Israel.
In one sense (or more), Israel already did belong to God. Everything belongs to God. And, Israel was in the Abrahamic covenant with God.

But God is saying something deeper is going to happen. When God rescues Israel from Egypt, He is going to enter into a special relationship with them that will be formalized at Mount Sinai. And this covenant is going to be even more special because God is going to such lengths to rescue them from their slavery.

They belong to Him because He made them. Just like every nation in the world. But now they are going to belong to Him because He purchased them, He redeemed them. He chose them, from all the nations of the earth, to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).

“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” The LORD was relator. He wanted a relationship.

And He still does. He wants to be in a relationship with you. And if you are in Christ, then this covenant promise applies to you. Though you already belonged to Him by right of creation, when you put your faith in Jesus you belong to Him by virtue of the redemption at the cross. You are not your own, but have been bought at a price. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
God wants us to know Him. He wants us to be in a relationship with Him. And our relationship should not be defined by whether our obedience to Him pays immediate dividends, but that we know His love and love Him back.

He is not just a big cosmic vending machine, that if we do certain things we will always get predictable results. He is the God of the universe who wants to be in a relationship with us.

God’s Vow
Fourth, the LORD is Rewarder. The LORD does promise that a relationship with Him will be worth it. Verse 8:

8 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.’”

Right now, it might not look like following God is worth it. Right now, that’s only leading to bricks without straw and whips across their backs. But God has promised a special land—good and spacious and flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8)—and He will deliver (I almost entitled this section: The LORD is Realtor—the promised land is important throughout this story). For those who have the foresight to play the long game, and not look just to their immediate circumstances—the promise of reward is coming.

He says, again, “I am the LORD.” No mistaking it. It’s like He’s signing His name to these promises. Because of who He is, it is going to happen.

He also makes another reference to His hand here. He says: “I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham.”

That expression, “uplifted hand,” makes me think of the courtroom, where we are asked to raise our right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. So that got me wondering, why do we lift our hands when we swear an oath? What is it supposed to signify?

One theory I found said that the tradition of raising the right hand comes the courts of medieval England. Back then, it was common to brand criminals. Rather than fill their prisons with people who committed petty crimes, they would take a branding iron and mark them for life. A “T” for theft or an “A” for arson and so on. And the place, supposedly, where they would put the mark would be inside the thumb of the right hand. So, this theory goes, if you had to testify in a court of law, the judge would ask you to raise your right hand so he could check if you were a criminal or not. Thus, supposedly, he would know how seriously to take your testimony.

It’s an interesting theory, but I’m not sure how much it holds water. Obviously, the practice of raising a hand to swear an oath existed before medieval England. You can see it right here in the Bible. It even shows up in Genesis, when Abraham tells the king of Sodom that he raised his hand and took an oath. (Genesis 14:22) My own theory is that raising your hand is a way of calling God to serve as a witness. You are telling Him that He can judge you if break your word.

But that, of course, doesn’t completely explain what God is doing by swearing an oath with an “uplifted hand.” Is He swearing by Himself? Inviting Himself to judge Himself if He breaks His promise? Swearing an oath means something different with God than it does with us. But I think what is happening here is that God is again reminding us that His mighty hand is strong enough to do what He says. (cf. Isa. 62:8) He will deliver the land, because there is nothing and no one strong enough to stop Him.
And the promise for us is that if we continue to follow His will for us, He will not fail to reward us. There is a promised land waiting for us. The rewards may not be immediate, but they will come.

Then You Will Know
Then, fifth, the LORD will be Renowned. The LORD will be glorified. I didn’t say anything about the second half of verse 7. Let’s look at it now:

Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.

Here is God’s purpose in all of this. Here is God’s ultimate goal. He wants the Israelites to understand that He is the LORD. He wants them to be very clear that He is the one who is bringing them out of slavery. He wants the glory.

You see, if Aaron and Moses had walked into Pharaoh’s palace and said: “Let my people go” and if Pharaoh would have immediately said: “Oh my. How selfish I have been! Of course, no one should be a slave to another; by all means, take your people and go...” If that had happened, God would not have been seen as all that necessary to the process. The people would have assumed Moses had set them free, or even that they had freed themselves. They would have quickly forgotten about God.

But God does not want to be forgotten. God wants to be known. God wants everyone to see that we are better off with Him than without Him.

Or, again, let’s skip ahead a chapter, to Exodus 7:5. Here God says:

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.”

When Moses and Aaron first approached Pharaoh, Pharaoh’s dismissive answer was: “Who is the LORD?” Now, God is making it clear: Pharaoh is going to find out exactly who the LORD is.
God’s hand works God’s salvation in God’s way to ensure that it is all to God’s glory.

So, what is the lesson for us?

I think this passage is calling us to continue to trust in Him. Even when we do the right thing and it doesn’t seem to work out in our favor, even when answering God’s call seems to bring more suffering than success, we need to continue to trust in His mighty hand. He has not taken His hand off the steering wheel, He is in control.
He hasn’t forgotten you.

He has a plan which He will carry out.
He wants to have a relationship with you.
It will be worth it in the end.
He is going to accomplish His purposes in a way that leaves no doubt that He is at work.
So trust Him. Keep trusting Him and do what He has called you to do.