So Moses returned to the LORD and asked, "Lord, why have You brought trouble upon this people? Is this why You sent me?
him all the soreness of his heart. This portion of the narrative suggests the following reflections: -
I. GOD'S PROVIDENCE OFTEN ASSUMES AN ASPECT OF GREAT MYSTERY TO US. It did so to Moses and the Israelites (vers. 22, 23). They had concluded that now that God had taken up their cause, their trials and sorrows were at an end; but in entertaining so comfortable a hope, they found they were deceived. The first step on the road to the promised deliverance had plunged them into a worse plight than ever. They had almost felt the breath of liberty on their cheeks, when suddenly their hopes are dashed from them, and the situation darkens till in its pitiless rigour it becomes well-nigh unendurable. So God's providence is often to the godliest a sore and perplexing mystery. It is not merely that things are not going as we wish, or as fast as we expect - this need not surprise us, though oftentimes it does - but that Jehovah seems acting contrary to his own perfections, to his character, to his revealed purpose, to the promise on which he has encouraged us to trust. The wicked prosper; the righteous are afflicted (Psalm 37.; 73.). Prayers seem unanswered, and the hopes we had begun to cherish, the expectations we had built upon his Word, are bitterly disappointed. The race seems to the swift, and the battle to the strong of this world, while "waters of a full cup are wrung out" to the saints whom God has pledged himself to bless and to protect. This is what distresses us, and the distress is not surprising.
II. THE MYSTERY WHICH MEETS US IN GOD'S PROVIDENCE ACTS AS A TEST OF CHARACTER. It drove Moses to prayer, but the multitude to murmurings and reproaches. As this storm burst over Israel, the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed (Luke 2:35). Doubters would curse themselves for trusting to one whom, they would declare, they had always suspected of deceiving them; the timid would be heard reiterating, "We told you it would come to this; we saw it from the first!" while the profane would break out into open blasphemies, and the superficial crowd - those who had been most carried away by the enthusiasm - would groan and weep in utter disconsolateness, and pour out rash accusations against Heaven and against Moses and Aaron, who had brought them into all this trouble. Yet with foolish inconsistency they would call on the God they were mistrusting to judge between them and the men who had brought to them his message (ver. 21). Comp. Christian and Pliable at the Slough of Despond in 'Pilgrim's Progress.' Mystery in God's providence, in itself a moral necessity and inevitable, is thus used by him for important ends in the testing and disciplining of character. It brings to light our weaknesses; sifts the chaff from the wheat; educates us to trust; convinces us of ignorance; disenchants us of illusive hopes; leads us to prayer and wrestling with God. Thus it prepares us for further discoveries of the Divine wisdom when the time comes for the veil being removed, and educates us for higher service.
III. THE MYSTERY WHICH ENSHROUDS GOD'S PROVIDENCE ARISES FROM OUR PARTIAL AND IMPERFECT COMPREHENSION OF HIS PLAN. Had God's purpose been simply to get Israel out of Egypt in the easiest way possible, and with least cost of suffering to the people, the permission of this new cruelty would indeed have been inexplicable. But it is not in this way, or for such ends, or on these terms, that God Conducts the government of his world. The error of Israel lay in looking on this one little bit of an unfinished work, and in judging of it without reference to the whole design of which it was a part. For God's purpose was not merely that the people should be delivered, but that they should be delivered in such a way, and with such accompaniments of power and judgment, as should illustriously glorify his own perfections, and print the memory of his goodness on their hearts for ever; while, as regards Pharaoh, his desire was to glorify his power upon him (Exodus 9:16), and make him an example to all after ages of the folly of resisting the Almighty. This being the end, it was obviously indispensable that events should not be unduly hastened, but allowed, as far as possible, to take a natural course. Time and scope must be given to Pharaoh to develop his real disposition, and the development must not be prematurely interfered with. The people must be led by a way they knew not, and in paths they had not known; the way chosen could not be the absolutely shortest, but must include many turnings and windings, and even seem at times to be bending backwards; but the end would be "to make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight" (Isaiah 42:16). And this is truly the explanation of all our difficulties with regard to Divine providence. It is not God who is at fault, but our own haste and shortsightedness, that perceive not all the ends he has in view, nor how wonderfully he is working towards those ends by the very circumstances which perplex and baffle us. We know but "in part" (1 Corinthians 13:12). The thoughts of Infinite Wisdom cannot all be made plain to us. The little that is before us we see, but how much lies beyond which is involved in the hiding of his power! (Habakkuk 3:4.) Our walking must be "by faith;" not "by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). - J.O.
I. OUR SURPRISE THAT CHRISTIAN SERVICE SHOULD BE A FAILURE. It is a matter of surprise —
I. THAT CHRISTIAN WORKERS HAVE FREQUENTLY TO CONTEND WITH THE OBSTINACY AND RIDICULE OF MEN IN HIGH POSITIONS. We imagine that ridicule is almost the severest trial the Christian worker has to endure. Thus we see that it is not the Divine plan to shield men from the ridicule and insult incurred by their effort of moral service, but rather to give grace that they may endure as serving Him who is invisible.
Why is it that Thou hast sent me?
I. OPPOSITION. It may seem strange that any opposition at all should have to be encountered in the prosecution of God's work; yet it has been so in every age, especially when its success affected any of the worldly interests that men hold dear. The reformer, the patriot, the philanthropist, the man who strives to battle with injustice, and to leave the world better than he found it, may always lay their account for opposition. Such is human nature, that it may be taken for granted that those whose vested interests arc to be touched will resist change. Pharaoh may, in this respect, be taken as a type of the enemies of philanthropic and Christian work. As Moses and Aaron had to contend with the selfishness of the Egyptian king, so, when our popular leaders have sought the emancipation and elevation of their fellow-men, their efforts have been thwarted by the cupidity of some time-serving official, or the prejudice of some petty aristocrat. Luther had arrayed against him all the forces of Charles V. as well as the emissaries of the Pope. Calvin had to remonstrate with the king of France in favour of religious liberty for his oppressed subjects. Savonarola manfully resisted the tyranny of the Medicean rule in Florence, and paid the penalty with his life. William of Orange contended successfully for the liberation of the Netherlands from the Pharaoh of Papal domination. Instances without number might be adduced from history illustrative of the opposition encountered in the long struggle for human rights. There was a high-handed Pharaoh ever ready to step in and say, This is not for the good of the people, and I will not let it be done. Nor need we be at all surprised at this, when we reflect that One greater than all the philanthropists, reformers, and martyrs, had to endure the contradiction of men in the discharge of the noblest mission the world has ever known. The Lord Jesus came to proclaim principles which, if acted out, would put an end to injustice and oppression. He was opposed on every hand, and so will it be with all who follow in His steps. If you oppose the evil of the world, the world will oppose you. If you resist oppression, the oppressor will resist you. Moses, from the moment he struck at Pharaoh, had trouble to his dying day, but he emancipated a nation and left an undying name. Let no opposition, then, deter you from the right.
II. MISREPRESENTATION. This additional sorrow was experienced by Moses when the King of Egypt met his demand for the release of Israel by insinuating that his action was prompted by selfish ambition. "Why do ye, Moses and Aaron, let (or hinder) the people from their work?" As if he had said, The people are content, if you would only let them alone. You are stirring up this agitation for your own interest. Indolence lies at the bottom of the movement. "Ye are idle, ye are idle." From this absurd charge it is obvious in what light Pharaoh regarded the whole question. He looked at it from the side of self-interest. He was not accustomed to look at the moral side of things. He judged every one by his own low moral standard. Now, in all this, have we not a picture of what is going on every day round about us? Some noble soul, stung at the sight of oppression and injustice, raises his voice in protest from no other motive than to see justice done. The oppressor, smarting under the rebuke, cries out in impotent rage, What have you got to do with it? Why do you hinder the people from their work? You are agitating for some selfish purpose. "Ye are idle, ye are idle." You are interfering. Attend to your own affairs. Such is the style of argument which the philanthropist and Christian worker have oftentimes to face. They have to appeal to men destitute of religious feeling, who recognize no interest higher than their pocket. There own motives are of the earth earthy, and they judge others accordingly. One regrets that there is need for this style of remark, but the spirit here condemned is still prevalent among us. I have known a devoted evangelist well-nigh crushed in spirit on having the taunt flung in his face, that he was engaging in Christian work for a living. Such insinuations are a sore annoyance to the sensitive labourer, and well if he can bear them for conscience sake.
III. INGRATITUDE. Another discouragement which the Christian worker has often to face, arises from the ingratitude of those whom he seeks to serve. One would have thought they would have enthusiastically hailed him as their deliverer; but, instead of that, they flung back his efforts into his face, and ungratefully taunted him with making their condition more bitter than it had been. They said, Ye have put a sword into Pharaoh's hands to slay us. But how true is all this of Christian work still. The effort to break away from old surroundings originates new pains, and the blame of the new pains is apt to be laid at the door of the man who suggested the change. It is impossible to break off from a long-established evil custom or practice without a painful wrench. It is impossible to deliver a sinner from the consequences of his sins without making disagreeable revelations to him of the wickedness of his heart, which often increases his pains a thousand-fold. The attempt to make things better has often the tendency to make them worse for the time being. And this is a great source of discouragement to the worker. It may cost the drunkard many a pang to throw aside his cups; but he must not reproach the man who led him to see the evils of intemperance. A physician is not cruel because he probes a wound deeply and pains the patient; and he would be an ungrateful patient who would reproach the physician for an operation, however painful, which saved his life. The man who aims at permanent good need not therefore be surprised if he incurs temporary reproach. In the early days of Christianity, the apostles were called men who turned the world upside down.
IV. FAILURE. This is another experience for which the Christian worker has to lay his account; and it would be the saddest of all if the failure was final. But it is not final, it is temporary, and only apparent. What we call failure may arise from our —
1. Impatience to see results. From the very nature of the work, results do not readily manifest themselves. In manual labour we see the results of our exertions, and can measure our progress from time to time. Take the building of a house. The mason sees the edifice gradually rising before his eyes, and can calculate more or less exactly the time when it will be finished. But in Christian work it is altogether different. You cannot measure results. You have different kind of material to deal with, material that does not readily lend itself to a physical test. You cannot apply the moral test as you can the physical. It is true you may see fruits in changed lives and improved morals, the redress of grievances and the establishment of purer laws; but all that takes time, and the man who laid the foundation of the improvement seldom sees its completion. Now, it is this which makes us so impatient, that we are apt to misunderstand the slowness of the progress. We do not see the improvement we expected, and we draw a wrong conclusion and call it failure.
2. Inability to interpret God's method of working. In Christian work we have not only to lament our lack of results, but in many cases present appearances are positively against us. This, too, gives our services the impression of failure. Had Moses been able to interpret the meaning of events, he would have seen that the increased burdens were the first indication of success, for if Pharaoh had not dreaded that his power was drawing to an end, he would not have demanded more work. It is not easy to acquiesce when things are going against us. Few indeed can look below the surface and read events aright, and this lack of discernment accounts for many of the fancied difficulties of Christian service.
(D. Merson, M. A.)
II. THAT CHRISTIAN WORKERS HAVE FREQUENTLY TO CONTEND WITH THE DISCOURAGEMENT OF A FIRST DEFEAT, AND APPARENT FAILURE. Never be disheartened by apparent failure, it may be but the shutting of a door, which will open wide upon your next approach.
III. THAT CHRISTIAN WORKERS HAVE FREQUENTLY TO CONTEND WITH THE MISAPPREHENSION OF THOSE WHOM THEY SEEK TO BENEFIT.
IV. THAT CHRISTIAN WORKERS HAVE FREQUENTLY TO CONTEND WITH THEIR OWN MISCONCEPTION OF THE DIVINE METHOD OF WORKING, AND THEIR INABILITY TO RIGHTLY INTERPRET THE MEANING OF EVENTS IN RELATION THERETO. Lessons:
1. Not to be discouraged by apparent failures in Christian service.
2. Not to yield to the scorn of the mighty in our attempt to improve the moral condition of men.
3. To interpret the reproach of the slave in the light of his augmented slavery, and not to be dismayed by it.
4. To prayerfully study daily events so as to find God's purposes of freedom developing themselves therein.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. Because the workers had been Divinely sent, and prepared for their toil. They had been instructed by vision. They had been enriched by life's discipline. They had gathered impulse from holy communion with heaven. They were invested with the power to work miracles. They were given the message which they were to deliver unto Pharaoh. We cannot but wonder at this failure.
2. Because the workers had received all the accompaniments necessary to their toil. They did not go a warfare in their own charges. All the resources of heaven went with them.
3. Because the workers had arisen to a moral fortitude needful to the work. Once they were cowardly, and shrank from the mission, but their cowardice had broken unto heroism; their tremor was removed by the promise of God. Hence we should have expected them to have succeeded at once, as a brave soul is never far from victory.
II. OUR SORROW THAT CHRISTIAN SERVICE SHOULD BE A FAILURE. It is a matter of sorrow, because —
1. The tyrant is unpunished.
2. The slave is unfreed.
3. The workers are disappointed.
III. OUR HOPE THAT THE FAILURE OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE WILL NOT BE ULTIMATE.
1. Because the Divine call will be vindicated.
2. Because service for the good of men cannot ultimately fail.Lessons:
1. Do not be alarmed at the temporary failure of Christian work.
2. The apparent failure of Christian work answers some wise purposes.
3. Those who occasion the temporary failure of Christian work are liable to the retribution of heaven.
4. Let Christian workers hold on to the word and promise of God.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
2. God's faithful instruments though they do retreat of weakness, yet it is unto the Lord.
3. God's faithful ones under pressures may charge God foolishly for doing evil to His people.
4. In such workings of flesh, the Spirit may humbly expostulate with God by prayer.
5. Sad events in ministering may make God's servants question their mission.
6. In such questioning, souls may humbly deprecate the frustration of their ministry (ver. 22).
7. The evil doings of men may turn His servants sometimes to expostulate with God.
8. Wicked men will do worse and worse notwithstanding God's instruments come and speak in His name.
9. Evil instruments may be permitted of God to oppress, and He not at all deliver.
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
Great Thoughts.All along the history of humanity there are great epochs, where some upward step marks a new era of civilization, such as the invention of the printing press. Yet the environing circumstances did not encourage such inventions. Every adventurer into the realms of the unfamiliar met at once with opposition. It was a square issue with such men whether their inward light or their outward environment was to prevail; and the greater the opposition the firmer their determination. Had Livingstone surrendered to circumstances, he would have remained a factory hand all his life; it was because he defied his surroundings and conquered them that he rose to eminence. It is a doctrine of fatalism that we are what our forefathers, our climate, and other influences have made us. One might say: "How can I be better? I am a child of godless parents, surrounded by thoughtless people, driven by business, wordly minded — such is the atmosphere in which I live." But such was the atmosphere in which John Lawrence, Governor-General of India, found himself when he first trod the streets of Calcutta. He set his face like a flint against luxury, intrigue, profligacy. He took up the challenge of circumstances. With indomitable will he fought, crushing mutiny to-day and righting an injustice to.morrow, until his patient heroism won him the title of the Saviour of India.
(Otto Von Gerlach, D. D.)
(G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)Isaiah 53:1 came to his mind as sent from above, and they were followed by a dream. He thought he was standing near a rocky boulder, and trying with all his might to break it with a sledge-hammer; but blow after blow had no effect — there was no impression made. At length he heard a voice, which said, "Never mind, go on; I will pay you all the same, whether yon break it or not." So he went on doing the work that was given him, and was content.
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