Tomorrow, being Independence Day, we are thankful for our country and for the freedoms and advantages of Democracy, and it is time for us to be proud of what is the best in our country. It's also a time for political promise making, the head of the November elections. They always seem to have a lot of promises, but can the politicians really make our country better?
I remember promises made by politicians several years ago, for instance, during the election campaigns in 1992. Maybe you can remember them as well. One person, running for the nomination of his party, Forbes promised us a flat income tax. Maybe you can remember Buchanan promising to be the most pro-life president ever to be. And Lamar Alexander promised to put our children's education into control of local government. And, certainly you remember a governor from Arkansas who promised to lead our nation in the age of information and the age of possibility. Now, all of them had their dreams for making America a better place, and it's no different with the current slate of campaigning for the Fall elections.
Many years ago, a new king had come to rule over the country, and he wasn't very nice. He didn't have promises, he had threats. Either he didn't know about the contributions of Joseph to the welfare of Egypt or he simply did not care. This king decided to drive Hebrews deeper and deeper into an oppressive slavery. Taskmasters were set over the Israelites to make sure they accomplished their burdensome labors. According the Scriptures, their labors built two supply cities. We'll be looking at several verses in Exodus, chapter 1, first of all, and several other different chapters in that book. I invite you to open your Bibles to Exodus 1:13, 14. The Scripture records (Exodus 1:12,14) ...So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field.
And so it's under these circumstances that God raises up a deliverer, Moses. But when God actually called Moses to be His spokesman and leader, Moses was at his lowest point in life, at least from the world's standpoint. Well, after all, what would forty years of tending sheep do for you?
In Exodus 3:11, But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" Moses even described himself in this way (Exodus 4:10): ..."O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant: but am slow of speech and slow of tongue." If it had been forty years before, Moses would have jumped to the occasion, "Yes Lord, I'm your man!" But instead, the words that came out sere: "O Lord, please send someone else!" And only reluctantly does Moses follow the Lord's commands.
As predicted by God, Pharaoh proves himself to be very harsh, very cruel, and very stubborn, not unlike a certain former ruler in the middle east today. In exodus 4:21 God had warned Moses ahead of time, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go." And sure enough, we see that Pharaoh challenges Moses' request to let the people go. "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go. I do not know the Lord," he said, "nor will I let Israel go."
And, just because Moses makes this request, Pharaoh make life even more difficult for the Hebrew slaves. In addition to making the bricks, he commands them to find all the materials for making them. Previously the Egyptians supplied the straw and the building materials. But now, the Hebrews had to do it, and they had to make the same amount of bricks as before. Ancient Egyptian documents reveal that the Pharaoh by the time of the exodus most like was Amen- Hotep.II. A very cruel kin, and ruthless as a conqueror. Early in his reign he returned from a military campaign with seven Canaanite princes as captives. As he sailed up the Nile to his capitol city, Thebes, he suspended these princes from his ship with their heads down. And when he reached Thebes, he hanged six of them on the wall of the city and carried the seventh to the Nubian capitol, Napato, where he received the same treatment. So, secular records agree well with the Scriptures on the extremely harsh, cruel and stubborn Pharaoh who intensified the oppression of the Israelites.
The Scriptures record all together about twenty such statements about Pharaoh's heart being hard and stubborn.
Follow with me as we look at the descriptions of Pharaoh's heart in several different chapters and verses. First of all, we look at Exodus 7:13. This is after the miracle of the rod turning into the snake. And the Scriptures say: And Pharaoh's heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. And then after the plague of water turning into blood, it says in Exodus 7:22, it says,...Pharaoh's heart grew hard. After the plague of frogs was over, it says in Exodus 8:15, Pharaoh...hardened his heart. And after the plague of gnats, or lice in Exodus 8:19, it says, ...But Pharaoh's heart grew hard and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had said. And then came the plague of flies and Pharaoh asked for relief. And of course Moses prayed and the flies were gone. But the Scripture says in Exodus 8:32, But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go. Then all the livestock of Egypt were destroyed. This is Exodus 9:7, and it describes Pharaoh after that: But the heart of Pharaoh became hard, and he did not let the people go. This hardness of heart is really getting hard.
And then came the plague of boils. Exodus 9:12. But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses. The plague of thunder and hail. Exodus 9:34. This time it says, ...he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart , he and his servants. So, the heart of Pharaoh was hard. Neither would he let the people of Israel go. In Exodus 10:20, the plague of locusts. This time it says, But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, And after the plague of darkness, Exodus 10:27, But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart , and he would not let them go.
And those are just some of the statements as to how stubborn Pharaoh became. It wasn't until all of the first-born boys among Egypt were dead that Pharaoh finally let Israel go. And even then, he changed his mind after a few days and he set out with his army to pursue the Israelites. That's what God said would happen. Scriptures says in Exodus 14:4, God is speaking to Moses, "Then I will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord,"
About ten of the statements say that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. How do we understand that with our view of God today, especially when Jesus said, "If you have seen Me you have seen the Father." (See John 14:7-9) We can't imagine Jesus hardening anyone's heart.
Well, I believe that this is Scripture's way of saying that God started the process that ended with Pharaoh's heart being hardened. He simply started the process by confronting Egypt's king with His demand to let His people go. One thing that is very telling is Exodus 12:12. God gives the reason for all of the plagues that struck Egypt. He tells us the purpose of the plagues. God said in Exodus 12:12, "For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord." "I will execute judgment on the gods of Egypt."
Since in those days, power enforced were the principles that inspired people's worship of any god or pagan god, God was speaking a language that the Egyptians could understand and know that their gods were false and powerless in the face of the God of the Israelites.
And evidently Pharaoh didn't like the religion of his slaves being more powerful than his own religion and his own gods. God knew how Pharaoh would react. But God made the request anyway. God made His demands. God challenged Pharaoh. God confronted Pharaoh. Make no mistake: Pharaoh is the one who really hardened his own heart. Even the heathen interpreted it that way. Much later on, after the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant in a completely different story, they said in 1 Samuel 6:6, talking among themselves, "Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts?" They knew what happened. They knew that Pharaoh was stubborn and that he hardened his heart simply by saying, "No" to God's demands.
I invite you to notice the patters with me of what is happening here in Exodus. First, the Lord chose Moses as His spokesman and leader at a time when Moses was the least confident in his own abilities. Moses, after all, was an old man in his eighties. Secondly, notice that the Lord chose the worst time in the history of Egypt as far as the succession of Pharaoh's: this was the most stubborn Pharaoh to present His request. And third of all, notice that the Lord led the Israelites on the hardest escape routes. Right in front of the Red Sea and captured if you will, enclosed by the mountains. Why?
Why? Why would god do things in such a way? Have you ever wondered why God chooses the most difficult of circumstances as the time to act on behalf of His people? What is it that god is trying to say? What does God want us to learn from this? What is the message that He has for us?
I believe that God chooses all these things on purpose so that he can show His people that He is bigger and wiser and more powerful than the worst circumstances. Nothing is impossible for God. In fact, God has a pattern of choosing the most difficult things in all of life to demonstrate His power and His wisdom.
For example, Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Isaac when Abraham is 100 and Sarah is 90 years old. That would surely make the news today. Remember how God picked Joseph, a teenage slave to make him a great leader. And, God used Moses, when by Moses' own admission, he was the meekest man in all the earth (Numbers 12:3). That really wasn't a compliment in those times. And God did this when the most stubborn Pharaoh was ruling Egypt. Also, God took the Israelites through the desert and inhospitable environments, the worst place to take a whole community of people, a multitude of people. And then 40 years after the exodus, God chose the worst time for the Israelites to cross the Jordan river into Canaan. It was at the spring flood time when the Jordan River was the widest and the deepest. And for Christians, the greatest example of all. After four thousand year more or less, after so many thousands of years of sinful history and degradation, and when humanity was at its worst, Jesus comes into the world to communicate the gospel.
So, what is the pattern? In the book of Exodus, God seems to pick the most difficult of circumstances to show His power and His authority and His wisdom and His love to His people and to the heathen as well. God must really delight in astounding both His enemies and His people at the same time. He fights evil using the smallest number. He uses the weakest people. He chooses the ones who are the most down and out, the slaves, the elderly, the young, the few, the weak. God picks the smallest numbers against the greatest odds. Actually that is a theme we see throughout the rest of the Bible.
Remember the story of Gideon leading three hundred against thousands of Midianite and Amalekite soldiers. Three hundred. You remember a small boy named David beating the giant, Goliath. And there was the story of Jonathan and his armor-bearer. Just two men are God's instruments for routing an entire army of Philistines. I like Jonathan's words in 1 Samuel 14:6: Then Jonathan said the young man who bore his armor, "Come. Let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few." Did you catch that? "Nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few."
And furthermore, God either wipes out His strongest enemies or He converts them. The early Christian church feared a formidable foe the religious persecutor, Saul of Tarsus. No Problem for God, though. God just converted him.
The message seems to be that there is nothing that God cannot do.
Why is this message presented in the bible? I think it is because sometimes we get so discouraged and we begin to think that we could never beat the odds that stand against us. We might even think sometimes, "Wow! God sure has His hands full when it comes to me and my problems!"
In the book, In the Presence of Angels, Tim Crosby writes about an amazing story. It's a story about the late Josephine Cunnington Edwards and her brother. Josephine grew up with quite a few brothers, but Bill was the wild one in the family. As a boy he refused to be baptized. For fifty years he smoked, drank, and swore up a storm. Now, Bill wasn't a harsh or evil person. He was kind to animals and gentle to old people. He was honest. He didn't lie or steal or cheat as far as Josephine knew.
But he had had some misfortune in his life. Once a jealous man at a party beat him up and left a hole in his face under one eye. Partly because of the troubles he had been through, Bill somehow wanted nothing to do with God.
While Josephine was serving as a missionary in Africa, she devoted every Thursday as a day of fasting and prayer for her brother, Bill.
Around 1951, Bill's wife, Mary, learned that she had terminal cancer. During one of their regular weekly prayer services, the Voice of Prophecy staff prayed for her, and she was miraculously healed. After that she became the head deaconess in the church in Tampa, Florida.
Sometime in the early sixties, Josephine led out in the Week of Prayer at the small church in Athens, Alabama. She asked the group to pray for Bill. They began with a consecration service in which they confessed sin and as a body of believers came into one accord. Then a man named Frank jumped up and asked the folks to pray for his wife, who had terminal heart disease. Everyone, even the children prayed. In answer to those prayers, the woman was healed.
The next week, Josephine received a letter from Mary. Mary had come home from church one day to find her husband, Bill, throwing all of his tobacco into the wastebasket, saying, "I'm never going to touch that again." Then he poured his liquor down the drain. That's when Josephine's prayers became more fervent. "You've gone so far, Lord; now take him all the way."
A few months later, Josephine move to Idaho to teach at Gem State Academy. She had not gotten completely unpacked when Mary called her up. "Josephine, are you doing something special out there?"
"Yes," she replied, I've been praying."
Mary burst into tears. "The Lord has answered our prayers," she said.
This is how it happened: One day Mary heard Bill make a funny noise and walked over to find his face bathed in tears.
"Bill," she cried, "what's the matter?"
He couldn't talk for a while. Finally he said, "Go call the pastor, ad I will tell you while he's coming. I was sitting here reading," he said, "when I heard the door open behind me. I turned around, and oh, Mary. It was the Lord! I knew Him by the nail prints in His hands. No picture can ever portray the love in His eyes. Mary, if you saw the Lord, you could never refuse Him anything that he asked. He said to me, 'Bill, I have a special request to make of you. I have fifty years of prayer for you to answer for. Your parents went to their graves believing that they would never see you in the kingdom. Bill, I would love to have a grand surprise for them when they get to heaven. Won't you give your life to Me, so I can present you to them there?"
Shortly afterward, Bill was baptized. One glimpse of Jesus' face was enough to change the course of a lifetime.
How long will it take us to realize that God can del with the biggest, most difficult obstacles or our lives? Sometimes we are the obstacles! And like bill, we need to look into the face of Jesus and see His love for us. We need to see the God, Who has patience, love and forgiveness for us even when we are the problem, and then allow our hearts to be melted by what we see.
I think I know why God chose to free His people during the most difficult of circumstances. Just as God freed the Israelites, He can free us from the power of sin and from ourselves. Just as God waited and waited for Josephine's brother, he waits for us, and He gives us time. And when we invite Him into our lives, he wants us to have the fullest confidence in Him in spite of the circumstances around us.
So, whenever you begin to doubt whether god can save you r use you, remember God's awesome, undefeatable power. Remember that God can work with us no matter how down and out we are. Remember the Exodus.
Hymn of Praise: #619, Lead On O King Eternal Scripture: Isaiah 40:21-23, 26 Hymn of Response: #509, How Firm a Foundation
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last updated July 5, 2004 by Bob Beckett.