Sometimes God's Word Hardens

April 23, 2018 Series: Exodus Scripture: Exodus 6:29-7:7 by Chris Strevel

Why God’s Servants Become Discouraged (6:29-30)

It is common for God’s servants, whether the old prophets or today’s preachers and pastors, to be discouraged in their ministry efforts. Sometimes sin is the cause of discouragement, such as laziness and prayerlessness, inability to gain the praise of men, fear of men, wrong notions of ministry success leading to frustration and a sense of failure, and neglecting their families. At other times, discouragement is understandable, as when pastors are mistreated or maligned by those they are trying to serve and lead to heaven with the gospel key. Paul thus wrote of the mutual responsibility that church leaders and church members must exercise toward one another. Pastors and elders watch over the souls of God’s people, who must obey and relate to them in a way that their guidance may be a blessing and not a grief (Heb. 13:17).

There are much higher discouragements than the personal and interpersonal varieties. We find three of them in these lines, and they were particular to God’s calling upon Moses’ life. The Lord addressed these with Moses before commencing the battle with Egypt’s idolatry. It would be a very hard battle, and Moses with Aaron would stand virtually alone. Similar discouragements face each believer in Jesus. While we have not the same responsibilities as Moses, who among us does not feel that we are in a life and death battle with sin and that a great gulf seems to exist between God’s promises and our earthly troubles? If we feel these things at all, the present lines will be a great and honest encouragement to us to move forward trusting God and casting our cares upon him.

God’s Word Confrontational

Moses sought to excuse himself from obeying God by pleading inability: “my lips are uncircumcised,” meaning that “I am too weak and unskilled to do this. I went and did what you told me, but Pharaoh did not listen to me. I cannot go again.” Moses was to learn that God’s word is confrontational. It does not flatter men in their fallen conceptions of God, of themselves, and of the world. The prophets were thus told to “eat God’s word,” to take it into their inmost souls (Jer. 15:16). The message might be bitter, but they would be strengthened to fulfill their task by the sweetness of God’s word to their souls. There must be no mistake about this aspect of God’s word. It confronts and casts down every thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). It confronts man’s perverse notions of his goodness and ability. It confronts our notions as to what kind of worship that God accepts. God’s word confronts statism, militarism, perversion, and everything that opposes God’s holy word. God’s servants therefore must not think, as Jesus said, that he came to send peace on the earth, but a sword (Matt. 10:34). He is the Prince of peace, but his peace comes through righteousness, when men are humbled before his majesty, repent of their sins, and made teachable before his word. Until then, there will be war between those who embrace God’s word and those who reject it. We must not excuse ourselves from participation. Of course we are unable to bear the burden of the power of God’s word (2 Cor. 2:16), but Jesus Christ bears us, and thus we must move forward in dependence upon him.

God’s Enemies Powerful and His Servants Weak

The command to return to Pharaoh with God’s word must have seemed a death sentence to Moses. Does the Lord not realize how powerful this man is and that I remain a wanted man? Even if I am not recognized and apprehended, Pharaoh will likely punish such audacity. It seems as if the Lord often gives his servants impossible, even dangerous commissions. “Go preach to these hard-headed people,” he told Isaiah, “But they will not listen.” While you are it, go preach to that valley of dry bones. “Nathan, Go confront David about his adultery and murder.” And to Jeremiah, the burden of the word to him was a death sentence, for his opposition to Jewish rebellion brought to him imprisonment and exile and perhaps death by stoning. Daniel must resist the tyrannical and idolatrous pretensions of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius; John must condemn Herod’s perversity. What! God sends out weak and unimpressive men armed only with his word? Does he want his believing servants to die, for his people to be slaughtered? With us this seems impossible, but we must not measure our duty by our fears or the threats of men but by the power of God and the truth of his word.

When God sent his servants, it was not in nice suits and with a large retinue of powerful friends. As the gospel has gone forth into our lands, it has made notable progress, but sleepy servants and diligent enemies have brought us again to a place where “a man is made an offender for a word” and those who preach God’s word in its fullness and purity and authority will often fall into disdain. The world has aged, but it has not grown wiser but more determined in its hostility to God’s word, especially since it no longer has a cloak for its rebellion. All the old statist efforts to build and rebuild Babel have been exposed again and again – paper money, warmongering, threats, cabals of treason against written and covenanted constitutions. All have failed. God’s word stands true. In this day of Christ’s power, it is to be expected that “no weapon formed against his word and church will prosper,” and that he will eventually expose and topple all who oppose him. He is a King with real authority given to him by his Father to subdue everything to himself. His enemies seem powerful to us, but we must always weigh them in the light of the power and reign of Jesus Christ. Neither Satan nor the flesh want us to see his glory and kingdom clearly, for this would free us from the fear of men, make us laugh with God at all the silly pretentions of men, and then fill us with holy boldness and zeal to speak God’s gospel without fear but with all love and urgency as his ambassadors.

God’s Encouragements to Moses (vv. 1-2)

God’s Authority Confirmed: Moses a God to Pharaoh

To encourage Moses, God told him that he was “god to Pharaoh.” Moses the shepherd a god to Pharaoh? Pharaoh was looked upon as the manifestation of the divine on earth and worshipped as such by his fawning courtiers. However, the servant of God armed only with the word of God is more powerful than the strongest king. It took faith to believe this, faith that only God’s word could create and sustain, and it takes no less faith to believe it now. Do you mean that the church, since she is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), the chief defender and preacher of God’s eternal word is more powerful than all other men and institutions? Yes, for Jesus Christ has all authority and power in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18). In a sense, and here we can only tremble, how it goes with the kings and nations of the earth is directly related to their response to God’s word. The Governor of the nations has no other standard by which to judge men and nations in their civil capacity than his revealed law (Deut. 4:6-8). Therefore, the church of Jesus Christ and her ministers must be very bold in proclaiming his counsel and calling upon them to kiss the Son, bring to the enthroned Mediator their gifts, and to obey him (Ps. 18:43-44; 72:10; Dan. 7:13-14; Rev. 1:5). The word proclaimed has more power to define destinies and topple kingdoms than all the words and plans of men. That we do not see more of this is to be assigned to our lack of faith and faithfulness, not to any diminished power on God’s part, for he will exalt his Son.

God’s Help Provided: Aaron a Prophet for Moses

If we find it hard to walk upon faith’s lofty plains – that God’s word is his power unto salvation, that nothing can withstand its power, and that we must patiently proclaim it, for in time, it will bring to nothing all the kingdoms of man – how much more was Moses astounded by such claims? Wait – Lord, if your word is all that you say it is, then why did Pharaoh not immediately bow to your claims? To encourage him further, the Lord gave Moses more tangible help. As Moses was God’s prophet, God would give Moses a prophet – his brother Aaron. This removed Moses’ complaint – that he could not speak. Aaron would speak for him. It also encouraged Moses that he was not alone in this battle, for his brother would be with him. The Lord has now greatly expanded the boundaries of his church, as the forces of the Gentiles are converted unto Jesus (Isa. 60:5,11), and the army of preachers and pastors, the army of believers who are going everywhere “evangelizing the word” (Acts 8:4), must constantly spur us on to do our part. Whether we are in the center of the battle or on the margins, God has called us to stand faithfully in our little corner, and he has placed us in a body to help one another. Thus, we are told “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:23), as well as to hold up drooping hands and lagging spirits (Heb. 12:12). We cannot fight this battle alone or isolated in spirit or negative in attitude toward the body of Christ. The life of our Savior is too beautiful and magnificent to be enjoyed except in the loving, serving communion of his saints!

God’s Deliverance Promised: Pharaoh Will Send Israel Out

Your mission will be successful, the Lord told Moses. Pharaoh will send you out! My people will not steal away as runaways and vagabonds, but they will be sent away, almost as the lords of the land. And since the Lord sent no army but only his word, then Moses is to depend upon the arm of the Lord alone to give him success. This is the ultimate safeguard against the despondency that affects God’s servants. We must define success as faithfulness to God’s word. We cannot dictate results. We must live by his promises and leave the results to him. If we keep his promises before us, then we learn that our only responsibility is to trust and obey. He does not call us to read the tea leaves of statistics and likelihood of success but to walk humbly before him (Mic. 6:8). If we abide in his word, which is the chief mark of his true disciples (John 8:31-32), then we shall bear much fruit under his blessing and according to his wise timing and will. The important thing is that we should not measure our chances of success by our assessment of the enemies’ strength or trust worldly methods but rather give ourselves completely to the word and to prayer, as the apostles did, then move forward in faith and obedience.

 

The Reasons God Sends His Word (vv. 3-5)

To Harden His Enemies (v. 3)

The Lord did not withhold from Moses the difficulties facing him. I am sending you to Pharaoh, but he will harden his heart. This is a strange reason for God to send his word, and many find fault and entangle themselves in an inextricable maze. Why would God send his word only to harden? Would this not bring immediate discouragement to Moses? And if God intended to harden Pharaoh’s heart, is not God to blame for the rebellion that precipitated his judgments? First, whenever God speaks of hardening or blinding men with his word (2 Chron. 18:21-22; Isa. 6:9-10; Matt. 13:13-14; 2 Thess. 2:11), he does this judicially. That is, the inability to hear and believe God’s word is a judgment upon men for their sins. It is deserved, and any tracing back of God’s sovereignty that diminishes man’s guilt is the height of impiety and can only be remedied by sincere repentance. Second, God’s word is a double-edged sword, and this is reflected in its double purpose, as Paul taught. It is an aroma of life to those who believe it, but God’s word pronounces death to the unbelieving and disobedient (2 Cor. 2:16). God’s word is thus the dividing line and the refiner’s fire by which every man, nation, institution, and age will be measure and purified. Did you believe God’s word and yield to it? Did you hold fast to what once you professed, or did you allow the evil one to come and pluck away my word?

But for God’s quickening, illuminating power, none would believe until it was too late that God’s word is the standard by which all will be judged. So dependent are we upon his power that the apostle said that God must “give us the love of the truth that we might be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). This means, heaven help us, that we are constitutionally disposed to disbelieve God and to rebel against him. Nothing will change this until God gives us the love of his truth. Until he does, sin will continue to deceive and blind us, so that we “go from bad to worse” (2 Tim. 3:13). Thus, only the sighted, those renewed and quickened by the Spirit of truth, will be at peace with the hardening function of God’s word. They accept it as just for God to do this, for they have stood before his majesty and bowed before the cross of Christ.

Yes, they confess. I was hardened and deserved to be more hardened, until God’s word destroyed me in hell forever. But God in mercy gave me a love for his truth that I might repent and come to Jesus, his only truth. And now, all I want to have and hold and obey is God’s truth, that I may abide forever with my Savior, for I know that his word will bring me safely over the stormy waves of life into heaven’s harbor. For all others, God’s hardening declaration will be met with resistance and even condemnation. It is not fair. God is thus made the author of sin. These are the devil’s excuses, for he, too, has been hardened. He keeps these objections against God’s justice and righteousness boiling to keep men from smelling the stench of hell’s fires.

To Prepare the Way for Judgment (v. 4)

God revealed to Moses something of his higher purposes. He would harden Pharaoh’s hearts so that he might bring his wonders and signs to humble Egypt, and his judgments to punish Egypt for its many crimes against heaven. Even in those dark ages of the world, the Lord held men inexcusable for their idolatries and rejection of his word. National sins cast long shadows, and God is the righteous Judge. He was under no obligation to tell Moses these things, but Moses was about to join a heavenly battle and become a chief witness for the prosecution, so to speak. He must stop thinking of his encounter with Pharaoh so personally, as if all that mattered was his own fears and survival. And do we not often make the same response and excuses? God says to shine his light, and we think first and foremost of what others will think of us and what we might lose if we turn bold witnesses for God.

We should instead call to mind that God has many reasons for sending forth his church with his word. He is gathering all things under Christ’s headship (Eph. 1:10). He is rebuking men and nations for their crimes and sins. He is leaving the wicked with no excuse and covering for their sins. Through his word, he bears witness of coming judgment, and men will remember his word in that hour, although too late. The Lord has revealed to us the great diversity of his purposes, or at least the shadow of his ways. He has also made it so much clearer that we are wrestling against higher spiritual powers of wickedness (Eph. 6:10-11) and that his word is our main defense and offense against these evils. Therefore, like Moses, he calls us to enlist in his service, to lay aside our personal fears, and to recognize that there is a larger conflict occurring in which we must fight manfully. This is not for the great ones only, but also for the lowly disciple of Christ who resolves to speak of his Savior to friends and family, for the Christian father who opens the Bible and prays warmly with his family, and for the Christian in the workplace who refuses to participate in the rude jokes and blasphemies of our age. We must remember in each of these settings that God sends his word not only to quicken to repentance but also to prepare for judgment. We do not control his purposes. It is enough for us to know that his word will not return to him without giving life or working death (Isa. 55:8-9). One way or the other, he will prevail. His word is forever established in the heavens, and the counsel of his heart will stand.

To Reveal Himself as the Lord (v. 5)

It is amazing how quickly the lamp of faith burns out if we do not keep its wick continually trimmed with these truths! God says that his word will either quicken to salvation or prepare the way for judgment, but we give up or learn to keep our mouths shut. Sometimes we know these truths, but our pride fills us with disdain for drowning men to whom we should be reaching out our hands with gospel ropes of hope and love. And thus, we, professing servants of God, professors of his eternal gospel, become a significant part of the problem. We blame the blind, but we are the children of light. If we keep our mouths closed, we have no one to blame but ourselves for the rising tides of lawlessness. If we would keep God’s charge and go everywhere speaking the word, we might instead see the rising tide of Christ’s kingdom in our day, for the light always scatters darkness, especially when its light is fueled with the fervent prayers and obedient lives of God’s people.

“The Lord is known by the judgments that he executes” (Ps. 9:16). God does not rule the world in such a way as to leave men in the dark as to the reality and causes of his judgments. He sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh’s court to bear witness to his authority and power, so that when the judgments against Egypt and against Egypt’s gods began falling, they would know that they were being judged by the true and only Lord. This came to exact fulfillment when the Egyptian magicians were forced to confess that what they saw was the hand of God against them (Ex. 8:19). Now, we might in our angry bitterness ask the Lord to consume his enemies with a lightning bolt (Luke 9:54), but he wants them to know that he has done this. He will be revealed as the righteous Judge to whom all are accountable. Thus, when we consider our own day, we have a twofold mission: to preach the grace of God in Christ and to preach the judgment of God against unrepentant sinners (John 16:8-12). The evils that are happening to us are not random. “The curse causeless shall not come” (Prov. 26:2). Remember that God is working patiently toward his enemies and wisely in his church to help our confession of truth, meek and loving lives, and patient endurance of hardship to bear witness to his sovereignty, holiness, goodness, and authority over men. All will know and bow to the Son as the only Lord and Savior, the Judge of all men and nations.

 

The Word Strengthens God’s Servants (vv. 6-7)

These encouragements instilled Moses and Aaron with fresh courage and zeal for their Master. They did as he commanded them. And thus we find that all our encouragement and strength to obedience is found in hearing the word of God, which we have so much nearer and in greater fullness than they did. If they with such limited light received strength to return to Pharaoh’s court and to command him in the name of the Lord, what strength should we find in the completed Scriptures? They are Christ’s living voice, so that as we abide in them, we shall be strengthened by his Spirit to walk in power and to bear much fruit (John 15:1-8; 2 Pet. 1:5-8; Eph. 1:16-17; 3:16-17; Col. 3:16). The great tragedy of all the ages since Christ’s ascension and enthronement, and particularly of our age, is that we simply did not take Christ at his word. We have not done our duty and spoken with boldness and confronted men and nations prophetically because we ourselves have not eaten the word. We have lost the ability to confess with David, “My heart breaks for the longing that it has for thy word at all times” (Ps. 119:20). We do not eat it, feast upon God’s “exceeding great and precious promises,” and thus find ourselves famished for hope and encouragement, even though we are sitting at the table with a great feast spread.

To remove the last possible excuse – great personal weakness – Moses recorded his and Aaron’s ages: 80 and 83 respectively. This was not to venerate them as fountains of wisdom but almost to ridicule them as old men about to undertake a task more fitting for heroes than for men past their prime. But God intentionally uses weak instruments. Until we get this into our hearts and heads, there will be no moving forward again. God does not use the slick and packaged and staged but the lowly, despised, and weak. This is a church age of shows, staged worship of sight and sound, and all manner of other artificial stimulation. Why is this? Because the faith of God’s people is not feeding upon the word. And so, we have grown weak and lost hope. But here we learn afresh that God is not looking for a “few good men,” as the saying goes, or for the strong and proud. He is looking for those who are of a humble and contrite heart, and who tremble before his word (Isa. 66:2). These are the ones whom the Father is seeking to worship him (John 4:23). How do we become such men and women? By taking his word seriously, taking it into our hearts, praying over it, eating it, thinking about it, obeying it, and dying for it.

Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. In what way is God’s word a burden?

2. What has been the fruit of the church not proclaiming Christ’s authority over civil governments?

3. What must we remember about God and weak instruments? Why is “victory out of weakness” the consistent dynamic of his kingdom? How can you remember and practice this dynamic?

4. What does Moses being a god to Pharaoh teach us about the power/authority of God’s word? The role and expectations of the church in the world?

5. What is the main definition of success for God’s servants?

6. Why does God send his word to harden his enemies?

7. What is meant by God’s word “a double-edged sword?” See 2 Cor. 2:16.

8. Why can only the “sighted” accept this truth? What about themselves and about God lead them to accept it? How is “God’s mercy in Christ” the “solution” to this stumbling block?

9. In what way is judgment related to God’s sending of his word?

10. Why does God want his enemies to acknowledge his authority and judgments?