In Exodus 4, Moses returns to Egypt and meets up with his brother, Aaron, as the Lord instructed and told him what God said and what they were to do. Then they gathered the elders of Israel and spoke to them and performed the signs, and they believed. They worshipped God for hearing their cry (vs. 27-31).
But things didn’t go quite as well when they petitioned Pharaoh to let the people go into the wilderness for a few days to worship, sacrifice, and feast. Pharaoh asked who God was, saying he didn’t know Him, and asked who Moses and Aaron were to relieve the people from their labor. So he made their labor harder by withholding straw for making bricks yet not lowering the quota of bricks to be made. They blamed Moses and Aaron for this (5:1-21). “And Moses returned unto the Lord and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all” (vs. 22-23).
What’s interesting about Moses’s reaction to what happened is that he’s surprised when he shouldn’t be. Exodus 4:21 reads, “And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go” (KJV). While I have my theories about why it happened this way, I’ll not pretend that I actually know. What I do know is that God plainly told Moses that even after performing the signs, Pharaoh would not let the people go.
And again, I find Moses at eye-level. The anger he felt when his hope was depleted. The potential embarrassment and feeling of failure he might’ve had when his actions changed nothing. Seemingly forgetting what God had said and feeling overwhelmed by what was actually happening. I’ve been there—confused, hurt, wanting to yell at God. Things going the way God planned but not the way I wanted. Maybe you’ve been Moses and me; maybe you’ve been there too.
If you have, you know this to be true: Once you’ve made it through, once you’re out of the valley glancing back on it with a sigh of relief, you know God better. Love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4), and God is love (1 John 4:8), and we begin to realize just how patient God is with us. That He lets us stomp and scream and shove Him and beat our feeble hands against His chest. We see just how faithful He is (Hebrews 10:23) even when we’re not. It’s not easy to see all of that at the bottom, but that’s where we experience it the most.
Moses spoke to the Israelites again, but this time, they didn’t listen (6:9). God told Moses to speak to Pharaoh again (6:21, 29) and told him what to say. Aaron threw down his staff, and it turned into a snake, but Pharaoh was unimpressed because the local magicians could do the same, even though Aaron’s snake swallowed the rest. But Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and the next day (per God’s orders), Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh were at the river when God instructed Moses to have Aaron stretch out his rod over the river so that all the waterways would turn to blood. And so it was, but the magicians did this too, as they could do the next plague: frogs (7:1-8:7).
Pharaoh said if Moses and Aaron could get God to take away the frogs, he’d let the people go. So they asked this of God, and God did it, but Pharaoh’s heart hardened still, and he didn’t let Israel go. The next plague, Aaron hitting the dust and it turning into life/gnats, could not be done by the magicians. Still Pharaoh did nothing. So the fourth place, swarms of flies, came but we’re not in Goshen where God’s people dwelt. Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to go and sacrifice, but Moses said it be an abomination to the Egyptians and they’d be stoned. Pharaoh told them to go, just not far, and asked Moses to plead for him, so Moses did. God removed the flies, but Pharaoh’s heart continued to harden, and he wouldn’t let the people go (8:8-32).
Before each plague, God gave Pharaoh a chance to change his mind and let the people of Israel go. Each time Pharaoh wouldn’t, but every other plague, he asked Moses to ask God to stop it when he could’ve avoided it altogether. True to what God said, Pharaoh’s heart greatly hardened. He had pride, anger, bitterness, even hypocrisy when he turned to Moses and Aaron in private. His hatred caused him to act stupidly and not heed God time and again.
Here, reader, is where honesty hurts because, frankly, I can relate to our villainous Pharaoh. My sins have never caused a series of plagues, but not letting go of my sin hurts me every time. Holding onto my anger and bitterness instead of God’s promises has pulled me down to low points. Pharaoh’s abuse of his power and other people led him to high stakes, but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that we play the low stakes version every time we sin or are reluctant to go the way God wants us to. The only difference between us as believers doing this and Pharaoh as a non-believer doing this (disregarding the scale of it completely) is that we are doing it while trying to walk with God instead of turning away from Him, and that makes a large difference.
At this point, Moses is seeing God’s plan unfold relatively quickly. We have no reason to believe he understands parts of the plan any better than he did before, but after his initial outburst at God before the plagues, we don’t see him doubt or get mad again. We are about halfway through the plagues, and we no longer see Moses wavering because he appears to fully trust God. He’s merely a vessel watching God work to free His people.
By Carrie Prevette