Wednesday, October 10, 2012

“Here’s What To Tell the Israelites” -- Exodus 3:16-18

Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.  So I said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ They will pay heed to what you say; and you with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt and you will say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So now, please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’”

In the beginning of this section of Scripture, God repeats both what Moses is to tell the Israelites about Who He is and also his concern about them and their afflictions under the Egyptians.  And God says Moses is to tell them “God has decided to bring them out of Egypt and lead them to Canaan, the land of milk and honey.”

Now notice God’s word to Moses.  God says to him, “They will pay attention to what you say to them and their elders will join you when you go before the king of Egypt.”  Not only is God going to be with Moses, but also He will see to it that others will join him in his task for God.  Have you ever noticed that God seldom wants us to work alone?  He provides for us the helpmates that we need – be it our spouse, family members, board members of our church or mission, supporters of the cause, and prayer-partners.

God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh “God has met with us and we want to be allowed to go three days’ journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to our God.”  This instruction presents me with an ethical dilemma.  Was God telling Moses to lie to the Pharaoh, to be deceitful?  Or, do I simply not understand the text?

As I studied this, I learned that perhaps I did not fully understand the mind and character of a loving God.  Let me explain.  Wayne Jackson, in an article entitled “Did God ask Moses to be deceitful?” on his website, “Christian Courier” suggests that of course
God knew that Pharaoh ultimately would refuse the Israelites permission to go into the wilderness to worship, and eventually stubbornly resist their leaving Egypt.

Jackson continues,
“But one must bear in mind that knowing is not the equivalent of coercing. Second, Jehovah allows man the freedom of choice — to obey or to disobey (Joshua 24:15; Isaiah 7:15-16; John 5:39) — even though he knows what course the person will pursue. God’s love for humanity provides options of obedience — even in the face of resolute disobedience.
“It is entirely consistent with the love of God, therefore, to offer an incremental test of obedience, in preparation for more difficult challenges in the future. If Pharaoh had obeyed the Lord in such a small request (a three-day excursion to worship), he might have “softened” his heart, instead of hardening it, and thus been spared the heartache that followed — including the death of his son and the destruction of his army. Thus, as Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser, Jr. observed, “Here we can see God’s tender love and concern for Pharaoh” (Kaiser, et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible, Downers Grove, IL, 1996, 138).
“But the king of Egypt [as we shall see later] stiffened his neck and declared that the people of Israel would not be released from their labor (of making bricks) — not even for only three days; instead, their burden would be increased. They would be required to gather their own straw in the making of bricks, with the production quantity not diminished (Exodus 5:1-9) . . .. It is hardly necessary, therefore; indeed it is entirely foolish, to accuse the “God of truth” (Psalm 31:5) with deception.”

The Question & Answer page of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church website adds this insight on this question:
“God came to Pharaoh by the mouth of Moses, leader of the Israelites, Pharaoh's Hebrew slaves. The Hebrew slaves were led by God, via Moses, to ask permission of their ruler to go three days journey and worship Jehovah-God. God directed the asking of a modest request. The Israelite request in the Name of their God also let Pharaoh know that their worship was different than the worship of Egyptians and other pagans. The Israelites were not allowed to act in a manner that encouraged anarchy, such as by just secretly marching off. Nor were they allowed to worship as fallen man willed. They had to go to meet with God at the appointed place and worship as God prescribed.
“Pharaoh refused all the requests and resisted all claims of God upon the Hebrew slaves. Was Pharaoh right? No! Was he innocent and being a just and wise ruler? No!
“It is a mistake to suppose God intended to deceive Pharaoh. God forbids the practice of deception and deceit. It ought rather to be seen that God entered into the desperate case of the Israelites. God did not enter into an earthly controversy over traditions, but into a religious issue with Pharaoh. God tells Moses to call Jehovah the God of the Hebrews, in Pharaoh's presence, because His grace and the true, restored knowledge of God as Creator, Provider, Judge, Savior, and Covenant-Keeping Author of the Covenant of Grace are peculiar to the Hebrews. All the rights of kings must give way before the religious rights of their subject people to worship God according to God's prescriptions.
“Pharaoh denied any need on his part to limit his rule when God has summoned His people to worship . . .. Jehovah sent Moses with a message that challenged Pharaoh's will in an orderly, non-anarchical manner.
“Pharaoh, step by step, hardened his heart and dealt deceitfully with Moses, Israel, and God until God used Pharaoh's greed to drown him and all his army between the walls of the Red Sea. God shed no saving grace upon Pharaoh, but rather hardened his heart. It was never an issue of 3 days versus an Exodus. From beginning to end it was an issue of whose will would be done—Pharaoh's or Jehovah's.
“Below is a quotation from the esteemed John Calvin (Harmony of the Law in Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Leviticus, Vol 1, pp. 78-79) on Exodus 3:18, which also may be helpful:
““The sum of the message is, that they should seek permission from Pharaoh to go and sacrifice; but lest they might be thought to do so from mere unfounded impulse, they are desired to premise that God had met with them and had given them the command . . . .
When Pharaoh refused the reasonable request of the Hebrews, God brought his people out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, but that does not make the request to Pharaoh "deceitful." Pharaoh bore responsibility for his refusal, and in the process God's determinate will was accomplished. God was not deceitful, but kept his promises to Israel.””

Thank goodness for men and women of God who have been given insight into some very difficult passages.  Once again, we can see why while Scripture may sometimes appear to be contradictory – as in God never lies and He never expects us to, yet it ‘seems’ like here He is – through prayer and further study, the answer to our confusion emerges.  The lesson for us here is to have kept our trust in God’s Word through the exercise.  My prayer is that it be so for us.

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