Sometimes, you’re reading the Bible and skimming along in a familiar story, and then STOP. SOMETHING has caught your attention, which you’ve never noticed before. This was one of those moments.
The story of the exodus is familiar enough to me and to most: Moses is sent by God (after some initial reluctance) to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to Canaan. The elders really like the idea – being slaves of the Egyptians kinda sucks, even after they repealed the infanticide law – but the Pharaoh takes a dim view of the enterprise. In response, the Pharaoh makes it so that being slaves of the Egyptians really sucks, and the Israelites take a short-sighted view of the case and complain about Moses stirring up trouble. But God stirs up a whole lot more trouble for the Pharaoh, a lot of people die, and eventually the Israelites leave Egypt not only with the Pharaoh’s permission but with his, uh, you might say, encouragement. But then he changes his mind and drowns in the Red Sea chasing after the Israelites to re-enslave them. Moses, throughout, was the unflappable spokesman for God. Or was he?
Rewind to before the plagues and general mayhem: God sends Moses, Moses speaks to Israelite elders (yay!), Moses speaks to the Pharaoh (boo!), the Pharaoh makes life harder for the Israelites, the Israelites curse Moses, and what is Moses’s response?
Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 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.” (Exodus 5:22-23)
That’s right: on the eve of the most dramatic rescue to that point in human history, the protagonist comes back to God and whinges about how the divine Savior isn’t doing anything! God had told him from the first that the Pharoah was not going to let them go easily, but God promised to compel him with miracles (Exodus 3:19-20). Those miracles had not yet come to pass, but Moses had seen the burning bush as evidence that God could do some amazing things! So Moses could have presumed that things were going along just as God told him beforehand would happen, and that now things were about to get really interesting. Instead he presumes that God is letting him down and not doing his share of the work.
This isn’t a post to beat up on Moses. He was “a faithful servant in all God’s house” (Hebrews 3:2). But reading this passage reminded me of the times I have complained to God that things were getting hard and he “wasn’t doing anything.” As if sustaining all creation and giving me the very breath I can use to complain is doing nothing, to say nothing of all the purposes and plans he is constantly and silently bringing to fruition for our redemption. There’s a big difference between doing nothing and doing nothing that I can see. But when things don’t go the way we want them to, usually for our own comfort, then we’re so quick to say, “God, you’re not doing anything!”
We can be grateful that God is gracious. Though we accuse him of letting us down, nevertheless he forgives us for letting him down in this as in other ways. He is always at work, always active, always bringing his redemptive and gracious plans to completion, whether we notice or not. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his deeds” (Psalm 145:17, NASB). He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to bring salvation to us even while we were his enemies (Romans 5:8-10). He is transforming us through his Holy Spirit which he has given to us (Titus 3:3-7), so that we can learn to trust in his salvation, even when things get hard. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).