Exodus 6:9-14, 28-30
And Moses spoke so to the children of Israel: but they listened not to Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.
In these verses we have -
I. A PAINFUL RESULT OF AFFLICTIVE PROVIDENCE. The children of Israel, hard-driven by their taskmasters, and sunk in misery, were so stupefied with sorrow, as to have no longer any heart for their cheering tidings brought to them by Moses. Their despair had its ground in unbelief. They judged Moses a deceiver. They had trusted him before, and they reflected that the only outcome of it had been this unprecedented aggravation of their wretchedness. His fine promises must now go for what they were worth; they were past deriving comfort from them! Yet observe how in all this -
1. They wronged God. God had not deserted them as they thought. He was on the very eve of fulfilling every promise he had made them. We see the error in their case; it would be well if we could always see it as clearly in our own.
2. Made their trials harder. For if trials are hard enough to bear even with faith in the goodness and help of God, how much harder are they to bear without it!
3. Shut themselves out from Divinely-sent consolation. Their despondency led them. to refuse the very message which would have given them relief. How often is the same thing witnessed under severe affliction! There is a kind of perversity in grief, which leads it to "refuse to be comforted." God is mistrusted. The heart abandons itself to its despair. It sinks in gloom and wretchedness. It turns the very truth of God into a lie, and refuses Scripture and Gospel consolations. Unhappy condition! And as foolish as unhappy - for God is never nearer to the suffering spirit, never more ready to hear its cry, probably never nearer bringing it deliverance, than just when it is thus shutting out his consolations, and refusing him its confidence.
II. TYPICAL DISCOURAGEMENTS IN SPIRITUAL SERVICE (vers. 9, 13, 30). Moses was sorely discouraged -
1. At the unbelieving despair of the people. He could make no impression on them. They seemed hardened in their misery. So swallowed up were they in their grief, so crushed with sorrow, that their minds seemed to have lost all elasticity, all power of responding to the gladdest of tidings. This is a difficulty one has often to contend with in spiritual work - the spiritless, despairing condition induced by long experience of misfortune. The city missionary, e.g., has frequently to encounter it in going among the dwellings of the very poor. His heart sickens as he realises how little chance his Gospel has of finding acceptance in homes where all the surroundings are wretched, and where from year's end to year's end, there is being carried on the same heartless, monotonous "struggle for existence." But this insensibility to religion induced by suffering is not peculiar to the poor. Far from it. You will find it wherever men are sore beset with trouble, and have no firm, rooted faith in God to support them under it. Absorbed in "the sorrow of the world," they have no ear for spiritual comfort, and almost spurn it as a mockery.
2. At the prospect of having to go again before Pharaoh. Having failed with the people, how should he hope to prevail with Pharaoh, emboldened as that monarch would be with the success of a previous refusal? The element of discouragement here is the depressing sense of failure. Moses had failed in the part of the work which seemed easiest, and in which on the former occasion he had succeeded; how, then, should he look for success in the more difficult part of it, where previously he had sustained defeat? Observe carefully that on this point Moses' plea was not admitted.
(1) We are bad judges of what is failure. What Moses counted-defeats were not defeats at all, but at most delays. The history of missions furnishes striking illustrations of the danger of too hastily concluding that a work has failed because no immediate fruits are visible. Nothing has been more common in missionary experience (South Seas, Madagascar, Tinnivelly, the Kohls, etc.) than times of extraordinary fruitfulness following upon long periods of seeming failure - ten, twenty, thirty years often passing without a single convert. These were seasons of trial of faith, and had the missions been abandoned, as timid counsellors advised, the whole blessing would have been lost.
(2) It is the doing of our duty we arc held responsible for, not the failure or success which may attend it. That remains with God. The lesson is that in spiritual work there must be no talk of abandonment; no putting of the hand to the plough and then looking back; no flinging away of our weapons because the outlook is discouraging. Our part is to labour on, believing that "in due season we shall reap if we faint not" (Galatians 6:9).
3. By the revived sense of personal deficiencies. "How then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips!" Moses had Aaron, it was true, to speak for him, but there was a certain clumsiness in this method of two men going in, the one to speak for the other, and Moses felt his deficiency only the more keenly on account of it. He seems to have despaired of having any influence with Pharaoh, who would look on him with contempt. Moses forgot that in work of this kind no man "goeth a warfare any time at his own charges" (1 Corinthians 9:7), and that, if God sent him, God would qualify and support him, would give him strength for every duty he had to perform (cf. Exodus 7:1-7).
III. GOD'S UNSHAKEN PURPOSE ASSERTING ITSELF IN THE MIDST OF HUMAN UNBELIEF AND INFIRMITY (vers. 11, 13, 29). This is a most remarkable feature in the narrative - how, high and clear above all notes of doubt and hesitancy on the side of man, and at the very time when things are wearing their most untoward aspect, God expresses himself with perfect decision as to the deliverance of the people. Hope in the hearts of the people seemed extinct; even the faith of a Moses was staggering at the obstacles to be encountered. These fears and tremblings, however, are all on the human side; he who names himself Jehovah is raised infinitely above them, and has clearly in his view not only the certainty of his purpose being fulfilled, but all the steps by which the fulfilment is to be brought about. How should this give us confidence when we are trembling for the cause of Truth! We cannot see the end from the beginning, but Jehovah can, and we can stay ourselves on his knowledge of what is dark to us. It is enough for us to know that no contingency can arise which he is not aware of and has not prepared himself to cope with; that no opposition can erect itself against his counsel, which it is not within his power to overthrow. The counsel of the Lord stands for ever - the one stable fact in the midst of earthly vicissitude and change, of all ebb and flow of human hopes and fears. That surely is enough to lean upon, in the dark and troubled hours of our own and of the world's existence.
IV. FRESH EVIDENCE OF THE SUPERNATURAL CHARACTER OF THE DELIVERANCE, Allusion has already been made to the theory that the Exodus had its origin, not in a supernatural interposition of God, but in some gigantic spiritual movement springing up among the people themselves. The facts in this chapter, if anything of the character of history belongs to them, conclusively dispose of that theory. So far from the people of Israel being in a state of hopeful enthusiasm, ready to make great efforts for their own deliverance, they appear as utterly crushed and broken-spirited - totally "without strength." There was doubtless a profound purpose in God's permitting them to be brought into this condition.
1. It made more manifest the fact that their deliverance did not originate with themselves. And
2. It furnishes a striking image of Gospel truth. We too were "without strength" when, "in due time, Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). There was the want of will as well as of power to do anything of ourselves. God has interposed, and done all for us. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.