We listened in our previous study to a wonderful volley of “I wills” from Yahweh regarding His promise to save His chosen people. We were reminded that the Lord’s promise to save can always be counted on and that He will perform what He has promised. We were encouraged by the truth that the promises of salvation (regardless of the challenges that we will face in the months ahead) are enough for us to believe that we have entered a promising year. In this study I wish to return to this theme that we might be further encouraged that God indeed will save His people and that He intends to use His servants to do so—servants such as you and me.
Surely one of the most joyous experiences in a church is to witness the baptism of believers. This recently came home to me in a powerful way as a young couple in the church was baptised. A few months prior to their baptism the Lord worked in their lives in a wonderful way to bring them to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. And He did so through the friendship and the testimony of some members of the church. The Lord fulfilled His everlasting covenant in their lives; He powerfully translated them from the power of darkness into the kingdom of His own dear Son through the instruments of some believers. These believers declared the gospel and the Lord saved His chosen. They were faithful witnesses who were blessed to experience a successful witness.
We should be encouraged by this that the Lord is still saving people in our day and that He may indeed use you to do so. In fact, the witness of His people is the primary means that He has chosen for the reconciliation of the world to God through Christ.
In speaking of this witness the apostle Paul wrote,
And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given unto us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s place, be ye reconciled to God.
(2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
We, the church, are commanded by our Lord and Saviour to preach the gospel to every creature and to make it our passion to disciple the nations. We are to be His witnesses everywhere. The Great Shepherd of the sheep will save His sheep through the obedience of His flock; that is, through our witness.
Previously we were reminded of the promise that the Lord will save His people from their sins. And what a glorious promise that is! But as much as we are thrilled about our sanctification (that will culminate in our glorification), we should not lose sight of the equally important truth that the Lord will use our witness to the regeneration and the justification of those for whom Christ died. And since He has promised to save all of His sheep, we can be sure that our witness, in the providential working of God, will be a successful witness. But leaving the results up to Christ, we are called to be faithful witnesses.
In this study we will consider Exodus 6:9-7:7 with a view to learning about the nature of a faithful (and what proved to be in this case a successful) witness. My prayer is that the Lord will use this to encourage us to be more zealous witnesses for Christ and that 2009 will prove to be a year of many baptisms because of many who will embrace the promise of salvation; a promise that they will have heard from us.
And as we do so I pray that you will be encouraged that the Lord can save your loved one, your friend, your neighbour, your enemy, and that He can save you! May we leave here this morning saying, “Wow! what a God—please make me a faithful and even a successful witness!”
An Unsuccessful Sermon
Moses had just preached one of the most promising messages ever to be delivered to anyone. After the Lord had reassured Moses (6:1-7) He commanded him to now reassure the children of Israel about God’s promises of salvation. Moses therefore declared,
Thus saith the Lord: I will deliver you. And lest there be any doubt about this, hear me well for I am saying “I will” seven times! Yes, count on it. I know that things are looking bad right now and yes I am well aware that your afflictions have increased ever since Moses spoke to Pharaoh on my behalf; nevertheless, I will redeem you.
Imagine hearing such a sermon. You have reached the lowest of the lows; your hope is nearly gone and then a man of God (which is precisely how Moses is designated in the title of Psalm 90) stands up and says, “I have a Word from God and that Word is salvation! You will be freed and you will be restored to the Promised Land. All of the promises that you have ever heard about God’s covenantal faithfulness to His people are soon to be realised. You will experience an outstanding deliverance from oppression and you will be God’s people in a very close, precious and intimate way for He has said, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people. My faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will now be realised in your life as well. Count on it!’”
I wonder how you would have responded? Perhaps we imagine that we would have said, “Amen, hallelujah! The Lord is good and we can count on His Word.” But the reality is that, for many, the response would be more like that of the children of Israel who turned a deaf ear to this good news. In other words, Moses’ wonderful, truth-filled sermon was unsuccessful, as our text clearly reveals. “And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage” (6:9).
Moses faithfully preached good news to a people who were in desperate need of it. And no doubt Moses expected them to respond with great faith. He expected for them to believe this “gospel” and to begin packing their bags. But they did not. You see, they had become so obsessed with their oppression that they could not lay hold of the promises of God. And thus they listened to Moses as those who felt mocked by the message.
Rather than being awed and wowed by the gospel promises, the children of Israel were overawed, overwhelmed by their circumstances; they just could not see the wood of God’s promises because they were so obsessed with the trees of Pharaoh and his cruel entourage.
They probably responded to Moses as those who felt hopeless and who were probably resigned to this outlook. Moses’ message sounded great, but it was too good to be true. In the words of Phillip Ryken, “They were enslaved to their slavery”—just like so many unbelievers today. They were thus resigned to live out their days in joyful and believing misery—just like a lot of us.
The word picture here (“anguish of spirit”) is that of one who is “short of breath.” That is, they were so wearied by the oppression that they just were not able to believe this good news. They were “disheartened because of severe oppression or perhaps they were beaten down and therefore losing heart” (John Currid). Even though Moses was all pumped up about this message his sermon fell on deaf ears. Have you ever been there?
Think about the times that you have been so blessed by God and you have sought to share this with others. Perhaps someone you know has been facing a very difficult time and as you enthusiastically tell them about the promises of God they merely give you a polite smile all the while refusing to believe anything that you have to say. I have certainly been there; many times.
The fact of the matter is that we can know the truth, believe the truth and thus proclaim the truth and still come away unsuccessful in our attempts to convince others of this truth. What do we make of this?
First, we should not be surprised for salvation is of the Lord. Second, we should not be disheartened for we don’t know the future. Third, we should not lose heart for we don’t know what the Lord is doing behind the scenes. Fourth, therefore, we must keep on with the sermons, for truth is truth regardless of the response of others. We are called to be faithful and to leave the results in God’s hands.
An Undaunted Saviour
I love the scene that follows! Moses preached a great sermon, one that was full of promises, and the people rejected it outright. But almost immediately the Lord spoke to Moses and told him to preach the same message of deliverance once again to Pharaoh.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land. And Moses spake before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips? And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.
Now try to picture this: Moses had been mocked by Pharaoh, and he had now been once again rejected by his own congregation. And yet now the Lord commanded him to start the process all over again! Why? Because the sovereign Lord is the Saviour and He would not be thwarted!
Yes, even when man disbelieves and is unfaithful, the Lord is faithful. You see, the Lord is not unfaithful; He knows those who are His and He will save them. “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).
To be a “successful” witness will require that we keep at it. Contrary to a slogan I recently read—“If you don’t succeed then try, try again and then quit. You don’t want to look like a fool!”—the gospel witness calls for persistence if we will enjoy success.
But we should also note that, according to v. 13, the assignment did not change one iota from the original; even in the face of Moses’ excuses (v. 12).
The writer will return to this excuse later (vv. 28ff) but notice here that Moses seemed to be repeating the same excuse from chapter 4. He felt like an unsuccessful servant; that he was unsuitable for the task. Regardless, the Lord just kept on commanding him, Aaron, Pharaoh and the children of Israel in line with His promises. The Lord would succeed!
An Unpromising Status
At this point in the narrative there is a jolting change from the tension of God’s confrontation and command to Moses to what seems to be an unconnected genealogy.
These be the heads of their fathers’ houses: The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel; Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi: these be the families of Reuben. And the sons of Simeon; Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman: these are the families of Simeon. And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari: and the years of the life of Levi were an hundred thirty and seven years. The sons of Gershon; Libni, and Shimi, according to their families. And the sons of Kohath; Amram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel: and the years of the life of Kohath were an hundred thirty and three years. And the sons of Merari; Mahali and Mushi: these are the families of Levi according to their generations. And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years. And the sons of Izhar; Korah, and Nepheg, and Zichri. And the sons of Uzziel; Mishael, and Elzaphan, and Zithri. And Aaron took him Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon, to wife; and she bare him Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. And the sons of Korah; Assir, and Elkanah, and Abiasaph: these are the families of the Korhites. And Eleazar Aaron’s son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bare him Phinehas: these are the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families. These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom the LORD said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies. These are they which spake to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: these are that Moses and Aaron.
What is the significance here? Why is the story interrupted at this point when it will be picked up again in v. 28? No doubt one reason was to provide chronological verification for the historicity of the exodus. And another reason was to substantiate the Hebrew “legitimacy” of Israel’s two leaders, Moses and Aaron. But I also believe that there is a very practical reason for this genealogy; that is, this genealogy was intended as a means to encourage God’s people that we too can be successful in our witness to the salvation promised by God.
As we look at this genealogy we find encouragement that, regardless of our frailty, in spite of our unspectacular heritage, despite our less than promising beginnings, the Lord can use us to accomplish the most otherwise incredible feats.
Moses and Aaron were human beings; and like us they were fallen ones. These men whom God called to proclaim and to lead this great salvation of God’s people were not members of some super race but were instead ordinary sinners like us. But because of Yahweh they were used in a mighty way to further the purpose of God. Believer, be encouraged that He can use you; He can use our church to accomplish His promise of salvation. In fact, He has no other plan!
Yes, the Lord can us you and me in the salvation of His people. Consider the following.
At the end of the genealogy (vv. 26-27) the writer (Moses) says three times that Moses and Aaron came from this line of descendants. “Yes,” he seems to be saying, “the famous men known and respected by the children of Israel [keep in mind that he wrote this many years after the Exodus events] were actually as common as dirt. And if God can use them, then He can most certainly use you! If God can deliver His people through such feeble men then be sure that the future security of His people and of His purpose is safe and sound.”
The genealogy begins with Reuben and then moves to Simeon and then to Levi. It would seem that Moses had the genealogical records before him as he was writing but as he reached Levi he traces his and Aaron’s line to their tribal progenitor. Some famous names are then mentioned in connection with this genealogy. But what we should not miss here is the fact that from the opening names, many infamous ancestors are mentioned.
The first three were men with less than an enviable prospect. In fact, they had all three been disinherited by Jacob as he called his sons together for his blessings before he died (Genesis 49). These men were scoundrels, and Levi, along with Simeon, was of course infamous for the innocent blood that they had so cruelly shed. We also read in this list of Nadab and Abihu (guilty of false worship) and of Korah who would later lead a rebellion against God appointed authority. And yet in spite of these genealogical skeletons, Moses and Aaron were chosen by God to lead the children of Israel to deliverance. This same Moses and Aaron were chosen and used by God to confront Pharaoh and to demand the release of the chosen nation of God. Though they had a very unremarkable, and even an unenviable and unlikely status, God used them for His glory.
Be encouraged by this that the Lord uses jars of clay to proclaim the most glorious message and the reason is so that all the glory may go to Him alone.
An Undeniable Salvation
God will bless the witness of His church—count on it! We need to reflect, seriously and deeply and reverently on God’s commitment to His promise and purpose of salvation. You see, His character is the guarantee of His plan. That is, we have a genealogy (and it is tainted with sin) He does not!
An Uncertain Servant
Moses was still not quite comfortable with his calling, and so he again raised his familiar objection: “And it came to pass on the day when the LORD spake unto Moses in the land of Egypt, that the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, I am the LORD: speak thou unto Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say unto thee. And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?” (6:28-30)
As mentioned previously, these verses pick up from the break in the narrative created by the insertion of the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. The writer now returns to show us what God says (promises) to that same Moses and Aaron. Again, the purpose of the genealogy seems to be to show us just how human these deliverers were and thus how great our God is!
We should note that Moses was suffering with a sense of insufficiency about this task. And I would suggest that at one level this is a good thing. As Paul would later write, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). Whom indeed!
An Unsuccessful Servant
As noted earlier, Moses had had little (if any) success up until this point. And as the saying goes, “Once bitten, twice shy.” I imagine that this is precisely how Moses was feeling.
I can relate. I often have a wonderful feeling of elation upon preaching the riches of Christ and His promises only to have those feelings dashed as people reject the ministry and message. (Of course, it is often when I feel that I have failed most miserably in my preaching that people seem to respond most positively!)
Moses would soon come to realise that God was moving to provide an irresistible salvation, an unfailing deliverance. After all, the success of the task was not dependent upon Moses; it was fully in the hands of God. That is why He repeated the theological encouragement recorded in v. 29, “I am the LORD.” In other words, the Lord was saying, “Moses, I know that you have recently faced some serious rejection but be encouraged in the fact that I, and not you, am in control of this thing.” In other words, the Lord was encouraging Moses to be faithful because He was!
An Unworthy Speaker
“Uncircumcised lips” was a way of denying either physical or moral ability; but perhaps here it was a play on words which included both. “Uncircumcised lips” does not refer to some stuttering syndrome but rather it refers perhaps to Moses’ conclusion that he was unable to speak well. Perhaps he was referring to the fact that he was unworthy to speak such a message. Perhaps the rejection of his sermon led to an introspective conclusion that it was entirely his fault and that perhaps if someone else was sent with the message then the salvation of the chosen people would be successful. I can relate to this and perhaps so can you.
This scene reminds me of when Isaiah “saw … the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” and his response was one of deep conviction. He cried out “Woe is me! for I am undone [lit. “I am a failure”]; because I am a man of unclean lips.” Now consider that here was a prophet of God (a faithful one at that) who was confessing his unworthiness to be able to speak for God. And yet the Lord sent an angel to Isaiah with a coal from the altar, touched his lips and Isaiah symbolically cleansed. His response then was “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:1-8ff). You see, only once Isaiah was cleansed by grace did he feel that he could speak for God. And so it was for Moses. I would maintain that the continual revelation of Yahweh to Moses was an indication that Moses has been cleansed by grace and thus he was qualified to proclaim the message of salvation and he was qualified to be used of God to lead others to it. Is it so with you?
Let us take heart from this episode that it is right and correct to feel unworthy to speak for God but if we have been clothed in the righteousness of Christ then we can (and must) do so. But further, let us note that we should come to this task with a sense of fear and trembling (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5) for it is an awesome responsibility to speak for God.
An Unchanging Sovereign
What Moses heard next was exactly what you and I need to hear; that God is sovereign over all and that when things don’t look good, they are going to end up good. Here we have the battle of the gods with the certain victory of the God!
And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgements. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.
What the Lord here said to Moses is essentially what He had said to him in chapter 4: “You will stand before Pharaoh and demand, in my name, that he let my people go. But I will seemingly be working against you as I harden his heart that he will not let you go.” The word here for “harden” means “stubborn.” But this stubbornness was the result of God’s sovereign working; and His working has a purpose. The hardening of Pharaoh would result in the hallowing of God’s name. Through various signs and wonders the Lord would bring Egypt to its knees for these would be acts of judgement. The nation of Egypt would be forced to acknowledge that Yahweh, not Pharaoh, was God.
We often wonder why life does not turn out the way that we desire. As one singer wrote, “God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good.” Bad grammar, but a true sentiment nonetheless.
Yet in it all we need to reckon upon the reality that God is doing a good work in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. Moses needed to know this and so do we.
We should note here that the effect of God’s powerful signs (in response to Pharaoh’s rejection of the message) was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And such a promise no doubt included the fact that many of the Egyptians would have been converted as a result of this.
Therefore, be encouraged that even when our witness looks unsuccessful, it may indeed be laying the groundwork for an even greater work of salvation. In other words, sometimes it takes a tragedy for the salvation of a soul.
The world needs to see the hand of God and thus the church may have to suffer for this to occur. What are you willing to endure, to suffer for the hallowing of God’s name, for the furtherance of His Kingdom and the accomplishing of His commanded will?
An Unhesitating Submission
As this scene draws to a close we are once again reminded of the human leaders that God has chosen to redeem His people: Moses and Aaron. These two men were at this point, in their eighties (7:7). They had had many years of walking with the Lord, and at least for Moses, there had been times of disobedience in the face of God’s clear commands. He had sought through various excuses to get out of this calling and even again as late as 6:12 he fell back to this hesitant behaviour. But all of that was now history for without any further argument Moses and Aaron unhesitatingly submitted to the Word of the LORD: “And Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they” (7:6).
Verse 6 of chapter 7 is a wonderful testimony concerning these men: “Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they.” The repetition of “did” is for the sake of emphasis. These men were nothing less than emphatically obedient!
We should note here that this is the last chapter in which we read of Moses offering up excuses to not obey. He would no longer complain about his “uncircumcised lips” and he would no longer seek to get out of this difficult assignment. Moses (and Aaron) had truly heard the LORD and thus they were prepared to face a stubborn Pharaoh and a sullen congregation. They were trusting Yahweh to do what He had promised; they were trusting Him to save His people. Will you?
Let us quit with the excuses and begin to declare the gospel promise to all and sundry; let us believe God and thereby submit to our calling, to be witnesses of the resurrection.
An Unusual Strength
“And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh” (7:7). “Fourscore” is 80; thus, Moses was 80 years old and Aaron three years his senior when these events unfolded.
I used to think of their age as making them basically a little over middle aged, for Moses at least lived to be 120. But as I studied this text I was reminded that, when Moses wrote Psalm 90, he declared that man’s allotted years are 70 and if “by reason of strength” they might attain “eighty years” (Psalm 90:10) they should count themselves blessed by God. Thus it seems that even though these men were indeed still forty years away from death, they were unusually strong for being octogenarians. And perhaps there strength lay in their obedience to the Lord.
The world is filled with weaklings, with those who live in their own strength and thus disobey Christ.
Many years ago I met a man who was quite impressed that he was in good physical shape. He had been a champion body builder and even though he was in his early forties he was still sporting such a physique. He spent hours every week sculpting his body and his efforts had paid off.
He showed some interest in the gospel and we began to meet regularly for Bible study. He once commented that he thought it was funny that he was being instructed by a “pencil neck.” But as the demands of the Scriptures came to bear upon him, he quit following the Lord. With all due respect, what good is a bull’s neck physically when you have a toothpick neck spiritually? What I am saying is that the truly strong are those who drop their excuses and who obey the Lord in a world that is hostile to grace. Strength is not measured by how much weight you can lift but rather by how much weight you can live under!
May the LORD give to us the strength to go forth with the message of salvation and proclaim it before unbelieving congregants of people, before hostile pharaohs and may He show Himself strong to save, for the glory of His name.
An Unstoppable Seed
As we come to the end of our study it would be helpful to return to the genealogy of chapter 6. We should note that genealogies in the Bible are not merely recorded for the purpose of chronological accuracy, for proof of lineage and for practical encouragement, but they are primarily there for the purpose of chronicling the redemptive plot of Scripture.
Ever since Genesis 3:15 there had been the outworking of the promise of God’s seed who would come to crush the seed of Satan. Therefore the genealogies are a record of the unstoppable seed.
Sometimes the genealogies chronicle the story of Satan’s seed as it combats the Savour’s seed. But in all cases they record the progress of the story of redemption as God’s Seed marches on—in spite of sin and tragedies and obstacles. Thus here we have a record of the unstoppable seed of Messiah. His people would survive the Egyptian bondage, they would be led to salvation under the leadership of these fallen men and they would eventually one day bring forth the Saviour of the world. In other words, God would succeed and so there was no reason to be derailed by an unsuccessful sermon or a recalcitrant Pharaoh.
Amminadab and Naashon were in the genealogy of Aaron and they were also in the genealogy of Christ (cf. Matthew 1; Luke 3)! Thus this genealogy serves not only to encourage us that God uses the fallen in His mission; but it also serves to encourage us that His Seed is unstoppable and thus He will bring to pass His covenant!
Believer, be encouraged that our witness will indeed be successful, even when apparently it is failing.
As we focus on this being a promising year let us apply these promises not only to our own sanctification but rather also let us apply this promise to the salvation of others. Let us believe God and give heaven no rest until our loved ones are saved: our colleague, our neighbour, our friends, etc. Let us go forth and proclaim the gospel message of salvation from sin, and by God’s grace expect to see the enslaved set free to the good of their eternal souls, to the delight of our hearts and to the glory of God. May 2009 be the year of both a faithful and a successful witness.