The third problem is that Exodus 9:16 reports the word of God to Pharaoh in which He says, “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Now that would seem to suggest that the determination of God went back not merely to God’s appearance to Moses on the mountain, where God said He was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart, but even before Pharaoh was born. What God is saying there is that he brought Pharaoh into existence at that particular time in history in order to demonstrate His power. That is what Paul refers to in Romans 9, where he is arguing about the ways of God. He quotes Exodus 9:16 and then says, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (v. 18). What that means is that God is sovereign in the matter of salvation. He doesn’t owe us anything. He saves us and that’s all of grace, and we thank Him and we praise Him for it. But He doesn’t have to do that. And if God chooses to pass over people, that is His prerogative. We can’t have any claim, any protest whatsoever, because He doesn’t owe us anything.
Moreover, the ultimate reason that all this happens is not that good come to us, but that God be glorified. Now that’s very hard for people to think today, because we all think in terms of our own well-being. We want what we want. Of course Pharaoh was getting what he wanted. He was operating exactly how he wanted to operate, and God let him go his own way. But what we find in Scripture is that the bottom line of it all is that God will be glorified as God. That’s why Paul pulls this out from Exodus and puts it into Romans 9, and says God is going to be glorified in all of His attributes, whether we like it or not. His justice and wrath are going to be glorified in the way He handles sin. And His mercy and compassion and grace are going to be glorified in the way He handles those who are being saved.
Now in the context of Exodus, God demonstrated His power, wrath, and justice in judging Pharaoh. And He demonstrated His mercy in the way He saved Israel, the one as important as the other.
The outcome of Moses’ appearance before Pharaoh ended in disaster—at least, in apparent disaster. Instead of letting the people go as Moses had demanded in the name of God, Pharaoh actually made their lives harder. They had been making bricks, and they had been provided with straw for the bricks. Now, however, they are not going to be provided with straw anymore. They have to go gather it themselves. And because that took time and diffused the labor force, they weren’t able to produce as many bricks as they had before. Yet the quota was the same. And the Israelite foremen who were immediately responsible for the slave gangs that were doing this were beaten by their Egyptian masters because they hadn’t met the quota. They went to Pharaoh and they complained about the unfairness. But of course that was a pointless complaint, because the whole point of it was that it wasn’t fair. That’s what Pharaoh was trying to do, to be as unfair as he could. Moses and Aaron lost their credibility as a result. At the end of the chapter the foremen turning upon them, saying, “May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his servants and have put a sword in their hands to kill us.”
That rejection of Moses by the people must have seemed like a death to Moses because there was no doubt at all that he had failed. You see, he wasn’t fooling himself in this respect. God had sent him to Pharaoh, he had gone, and Pharaoh had not responded as he should have. Not only that, but the situation had gotten much, much worse. He must have been feeling at that time that it would have been far better if he had never come.
Actually, he was learning something that was very important. We would say that he was dying to his own self-esteem in order that he might become more useful in God’s hands. If there is a lesson in the story, that is it. F. B. Meyer is very valuable here. He says, “[Moses] died to his self-esteem, to his castle-building, to pride in his miracles, to the enthusiasm of his people, to everything that a popular leader loves.”1 (When you see political figures running for office, you know exactly what we’re talking about.) Meyer again says, “As he lay there on the ground alone before God, wishing himself back in Midian, and thinking himself [very badly treated], he was falling as a corn of wheat into the ground to die, no longer to abide alone, but to bear much fruit.”2 As long as we are full of ourselves, even in small things, we are no use to God. “Useless” is the right word for it. But when we die to self, we become vessels fit for His service.
Not long after I prepared this study, I came across the latest spring issue of The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter, in which she always has an article. In it she described how she is often asked to speak to young people who are considering being missionaries, and her reply to their question of how she came to know the will of God.
The first thing was to settle once and for all the supremacy of Christ in my life, I tell them. I put myself utterly and forever at His disposal, which means turning over all the rights: to myself, my body, my self-image, my notions of how I’m to serve my Master. Oswald Chambers calls it ‘breaking the husk of my individual independence of God.’ Till that break comes, all the rest is pious fraud. I tell these earnest kids that the will of God is always different from what they expect, always bigger, and, ultimately, infinitely more glorious than their wildest imaginings. But there will be deaths to die.3
That’s exactly what Moses found, and that’s the great lesson of the story.
1F. B. Meyer, Moses: The Servant of God (New York: Revell, n.d.), 49.
3Elisabeth Elliot Gren, “The Supremacy of Christ,” The Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter, March/April 1993, 1.