Moses asks Pharaoh to let his people go so they can travel three days into the wilderness and then offer sacrifices to their God. Sounds like a reasonable request to anyone who believes in the God of Abraham, but it doesn’t sound reasonable to Pharaoh. Pharaoh gets angry. If the people have so much idle time on their hands that they can offer sacrifices to some nameless God, maybe they need more work to keep them busy. He instructs his overseers to stop providing straw for the making of bricks. Let the Hebrews gather their own straw, wherever they may find it. That ought to keep them busy.
The Hebrews send representatives to Pharaoh to ask why he’s doing this horrible thing, and Pharaoh explains his decision. Too much time on your hands. Got to keep you busy. Which, of course, makes the Hebrews angry. With Pharaoh? Yeah. But mainly with Moses and Aaron for creating this hardship for them.
In the middle of this story, we get a little genealogy lesson, showing that these people are direct descendants of Abraham and Isaac — people under the covenant that God made with their forefathers. People who, I guess, should remember that God has promised to bless them.
It’s times like these that the difference between God’s timetable and man’s calendar starts to show up. God says, “Hey! I made a promise a mere 400 years ago. How is it that you’ve forgotten all about it?” And man says, “We’ve been locked in slavery for the past 400 years. God has obviously forgotten all about us.”
To us, 400 years seems like a very long time. In all honest, 4 days can seem like a very long time and 4 months or 4 years can feel like an eternity when we’re praying for something and waiting for God to respond. It’s tough to wait. I’m not all that good at it, but I’ve been praying to get better. Trusting in God isn’t easy. I mean really trusting in God when you’re unemployed and penniless and the rent is due and the utilities are about to be shut off, or you’re waiting and waiting and waiting to get pregnant, or you’re praying for God to send you a spouse who’ll love and honor you.
Really trusting in God when everything looks bleak and you can’t see a way out is hard. But you know what? I think it’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, there would be no power in the choice we make to trust in Him. To wait and believe and not let Satan or other people shake our faith. Because there will always be somebody out there ready and willing to take a whack at your faith. Somebody who’ll laugh at what they consider your naivete. Somebody who’ll roll their eyes at you for hanging on and hanging in. Somebody who’ll tell you that the only person you can count on is yourself.
We struggle against the whispers of Satan and the advice of well-meaning friends and relatives every day, and that’s when we’ve been praying for something for four weeks. We start to believe that God has forgotten us after a month or two. Imagine toiling in bondage for 400 years. I wonder whether I’d have a firm grip on my faith under those conditions.
Maybe this is why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he wouldn’t let his people go. Maybe the Hebrews needed a reminder that everything comes from God. If Pharaoh had just let the Hebrews go the first time Moses asked politely, Moses would have been the hero of the day. The Hebrews might have patted themselves on the back for negotiating their own freedom. But God wanted them to know that He was the one who set them free. That this act was part of the promise He made centuries earlier. So their freedom had to be difficult to win. They had to face setback after setback so they’d recognize God’s hand in the eventual outcome.
It’s funny that I’d read these two chapters today and find this lesson hidden among the verses there. I had this very conversation with my friend Jackie just a couple of days ago. It’s times like this that I think maybe God’s trying to tell me something …