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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:Moses' labors fail so that God may receive the glory
Text:Exodus 6:1a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Text: Exodus 6:1a "Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh.'"
Scripture Reading:
Exodus 5:1-6:13
Ephesians 6:10-14a

Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise" Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 33:6
Psalm 130:2
Psalm 90:8
Psalm 35:1,4 (Psalm 115:6 After public profession of faith)
Psalm 18:1,10
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Lord God, we'd heard two weeks ago, had picked up a particular tool in order to accomplish a particular task. The Savior had to come into the world to crush Satan and pay for sin. As next step to reach that goal, God's covenant people Israel had to be delivered from their bondage to Pharaoh. The tool God in wisdom picked up through which He'd perform this deliverance was the man Moses - the refugee in Midian, the prince with the tarnished record. Moses hadn't wanted to be the tool in God's hand, and so lodged no less than five objections to God's choice. But God made no mistake, God insisted on using Moses -broken tool though he was- and so Moses had gone..

But the tool God was pleased to use wasn't just broken; he was a sinner. We heard it last week; God met Moses at his campsite and sought to kill him. Only the blood of Jesus Christ could cover Moses' sin, and deliver him from the just judgment of God. The fact that Moses escaped God's sentence confronted him, confronted Israel, confronted us all with the need for the blood of Jesus Christ, confronted us with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, the tool of God's choice had to continue with the task God laid on him, had to go on to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh on God's behalf - for the needed Savior had to come..

Now the question arises whether God's tools -broken though they be- are effective. That is: do God's tools really accomplish what sovereign God wants them to accomplish? We have our tasks in God's kingdom - be it as parents or as tradesmen or as teachers or as office-bearers. You too, Janine (and Harry as well), receive a task in God's kingdom - be it in your work, be it in your home, be it in the church. You -like we all- are sinful, need forgiveness of sins so much. Given our sinfulness, given our brokenness, can we really be of any value in God's hands? Does human brokenness, our brokenness, not get in the way of God's purpose?

We act as if it is so. In any case, we criticize ourselves and each other aplenty - be it in our homes, be it at work, be it in the church. But the Lord, brothers and sisters, Janine and Harry, would have us know that the opposite is true. He impresses upon the church of the Old Testament -and so of the New Testament too- that it's exactly when the tools are shown by human standards to be hopelessly inadequate that the Lord's glory is pointed up through His work. As Paul says to the Corinthians: God's strength is made perfect in our weakness (II Cor 12:9f).

I summarize the sermon with this theme:

Moses' labors fail so that God may receive the glory.

The ineffectiveness of Moses
The effectiveness of God

1. The ineffectiveness of Moses

"Now," said God to Moses in the words of our text, "now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh." That little word "now" is the key that opens up for us the passage we read from Exodus. What situation, then, is referred to by that word 'now'?

The reference is to a particular point in time. And this point of time was black, very pessimistic. That's evident from the words of Moses to which God responded with the words of our text. According to the last two verses of chap 5, Moses had turned to the Lord in prayer, and said,

"Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all" (Ex 5:22f).

We hear in that prayer a great amount of disappointment, of grief, of frustration. Moses' labors have come to nothing.. Though God had promised to work deliverance -and so move the history of the world forward another step to the coming of Jesus Christ- the tool God chose to use had done more harm than good. We shall do well to size how ineffective this tool was.

Moses and Aaron had gone to Pharaoh. They'd addressed the royal god of Egypt in the name of the God of heaven and earth. "Thus says the Lord God of Israel," they'd intoned, "'Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness'" (Ex 5:1). But the king of Egypt had not quickly nodded his 'Aye, aye, Sirs' and let the people go. Sarcastically he'd asked just who the Lord might be, and told Moses and Aaron to get back to their burdens. Here was failure number one; obeying God's command had borne no fruit..

But that initial disappointment hadn't deterred Moses and Aaron. For the Lord had earlier told Moses that Pharaoh wouldn't voluntarily let the people go; God would have to compel Pharaoh. So Moses and Aaron had gone on the offensive again, and with courage replied back to Pharaoh. "The God of the Hebrews," they insisted, "has met with us." From his meeting with this God Moses knew full well that God was not to be trifled with; not only had the miracle of a burning bush proven the point, so had God's attack at the campsite! So, Moses and Aaron continued,

"let us go three days' journey into the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword" (vs 3).

But that plea too had fallen on deaf ears. The king of Egypt in cynical impatience had sent the ambassadors of the Lord God of Israel out of his palace, and back to their labor. Failure number two.. And we can imagine the thoughts in Moses' mind and in Aaron's too; had they perhaps taken the wrong tack in approaching Pharaoh? Should they have used different words? Then sure, it's wonderful to do God's bidding, wonderful to be tools in God's hand.. But their efforts are totally ineffective.. Though servants of God, they're failures.. Feelings we can relate to so well..

To underline just how badly they'd failed, consider the instruction of Pharaoh later that day. Vs 6:

".the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers, saying, 'You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves..'"

And that command was coupled with the explicit instruction that in no way must the Israelites accomplish less work then before. Pharaoh's conclusion was so logical; if those slaves had time to brood on a feast in the desert, then they obviously had too much time on their hands.. See there the result of Moses' and Aaron's labors; Pharaoh piled the work on their people.. Failures indeed.

The result in turn was predictable. Vs 12 records that "the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land" in their desperate search for straw. In the process, of course, families were divided - and that will surely have produced outrage among the Hebrews. And since daily production had to remain as it was (despite the fact that many had to leave the kilns to collect straw), the slave-drivers down the ranks of the hierarchy took it out on those under them, with as ultimate result that the masses on the bottom of the pile were beaten and whipped by their own brethren in the desperate bid to produce more, more, more.. Of course, more outrage amongst the Hebrews..

Look, there come "the officers of the children of Israel." And no, they don't come to Moses, the chosen tool in God's hand. They pass by that would-be deliverer -failure that he is- and go straight to Pharaoh. Vs 15, they cry out to Pharaoh that he's oppressing them cruelly and without cause. They complain that though they're worked to the bone, and can't produce what's demanded, they're nevertheless beaten for failing to meet an impossible target. But Pharaoh knows no pity. "Idle you are, idle! That's why you talk of a sacrifice. Out and get to work!" "And the officers of the children of Israel saw that they were in trouble.."

Outside the gates of Pharaoh's palace the "officers of the children of Israel" bumped into Moses and Aaron. We can hear the venom in their voice, we can see the darkness in their eyes, as they lay the blame for their misery directly at the feet of Moses and Aaron - those tools of God's choice.

"Let the Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us" (vs 21).

You, you are the cause of this misery!

Regard for Moses and Aaron? An acknowledgement that they'd tried their best, and certainly didn't intend this outcome? O no. Here's rejection of the tools of God's choice. In fact, the fault for the misery of the people is attributed completely to Moses and Aaron. Failures they are, total failures!

No wonder Moses turned to the God who sent him, and in prayer told Him his frustration with his failures. Vs 22:

"Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all" (Ex 5:22f).

Lord, You say You're going to deliver this people, and You promise to use me as a tool in Your hand for the good of this people. You give me a task, Lord, in Your kingdom, but Lord, it all comes to nothing! I've done what You told me to do, but You haven't blessed it. Lord, things are so much worse for Your people now than they were before! All I've done is damage..

Again, congregation, how well we can understand Moses' frustration. We know that in our marriages, in our homes, in our work, in church we have a task in God's kingdom, are tools that God would use for the benefit of the spouse, of the children, of the people at work, etc. But time and again we're confronted with the reality that even our best efforts do not produce the result for which we long; time and again we see our work falling apart around us.. How, we wonder, shall our labors ever help to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus Christ!

Before we move on, congregation, to our second point, I need to remind you of the apostle's word in Eph 6. Paul writes that

". we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (vs 12).

I mention these words in order to draw out that Moses was not up against simply the man Pharaoh - flesh and blood. Pharaoh was, to the minds of the Egyptians (himself included), none less than a god. So there is something understandable about Pharaoh's dismissal of Moses' request; why should he, the god of mighty Egypt, listen to the God of some slaves! Yet ultimately, congregation, the god behind Pharaoh was none else than the devil. After all, there are no gods beside the one true God of Israel. Moses' wrestling was not with the king of Egypt, a human like himself; Moses wrestling was with Satan and his demons, those principalities and powers and spiritual hosts of wickedness. And over against the prince of darkness and his demons, truly, what can people do; Satan will do all he can to frustrate God's plan of salvation. God had placed Moses in the midst of the battle of the spirits; no wonder he looks so much like a failure, ineffective..

We come to our second point:

2. The effectiveness of God

Once God had graphically shown to Moses and Israel how ensnared they were in Pharaoh's bondage, in Satan's bondage, shown how ineffective any person is in breaking that bondage, God utters the words of our text. "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh." Notice how God moves the attention away from the tool and its ineffectiveness and puts the spotlight directly on Himself. And God proceeds to explain to Moses just who He is.

Vs 2: "I am the Lord." The term appears in our translations in capital letters, and that's to say that the Hebrew uses here the name 'Yahweh'. At the burning bush God had already told Moses that this was His name. And the point of the revelation at the burning shrub had been that God is faithful to His promises; as He promised Abraham that his descendants would serve in a foreign land, so it happened - He was faithful. And that other promise spoken to Abraham would come to pass too; after so many years God would lead this oppressed nation out of their bondage. But as it was, God had never demonstrated conclusively that He was a God upon whom His people could rely. That's why God says to Moses in vs 3:

"I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord I was not known to them."

The English has here "God Almighty"; the Hebrew uses the words El Shaddai. The point is that the Lord did not show to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob what the true content of the name 'Yahweh' really was; He showed them instead what the true content of His name "El Shaddai" actually was. So Sarah, for example, could bear a child when she was ninety; surely a work of "Almighty God".

Now God says to Moses: I am Yahweh, I told you that at the burning shrub already. But now I'm going to spell out what it means that I am Yahweh. I will show you that I actually do what I say I will do. I have told you that I will deliver My people; okay, now watch Me, for I will do what I say I will do. I will demonstrate, I will spell out, that I am indeed Yahweh; I will make certain that you can know from My action who I really am. So you go, Moses, and tell My afflicted people to keep their eyes open so that they may see My identity from My works. Tell them that Yahweh will bring them out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and will use His almighty power to deliver them from their bondage. Tell them that I will redeem My people with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment, and Israel shall be My people and I will be their God. When you see these things come to pass, lift up your heads, for then you will all know that your redemption is at hand; I am Yahweh.

We realize that the Lord spoke a most rich word to Moses, and Moses in turn had to speak a most rich word to Israel. Given that behind Pharaoh was none less than Satan, this word is more rich yet! People, even a tool like Moses, can accomplish nothing in terms of working deliverance for God's people - neither from Pharaoh's bondage, nor from Satan's. But God is El Shaddai, God Almighty, and on top of that He is Yahweh, He does what He says He will do. So, despite the ineffectiveness of people in producing redemption, the redemption shall yet come to pass; it is for God's people to watch and see the salvation He works.

And what happened? O yes, the Pharaoh hardened himself so much. But the exodus eventually did happen! Though Israel was so stuck, so absolutely enslaved to a hardened and oppressive Pharaoh (symbol of Satan that he was!), God yet delivered His own. With a mighty hand He broke Pharaoh's heart so that he drove the people out, laden with the wealth of Egypt. Just as He'd promised God broke Pharaoh's iron will, his mighty power - broke Satan's hold on the people. So it was that on the other side of the Red Sea, Israel did not sing of their own ability and achievements, and they didn't sing either of Moses' abilities and powers. Rather, they sang of who their God really was,

"The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him." (Ex 15:2f).

We understand: all of it together foreshadows the work of redemption God would accomplish in Jesus Christ. What did people contribute to the triumph of Christ over sin and Satan? We know it well; people's contribution came to nothing. As the step towards Christ in Ex 6 is the work of God alone, so the work of Christ Himself is the work of God alone. God did not need the man Moses as He moved the history of the world along to the coming of Jesus Christ, and He did not need the labors of man to overcome the prince of darkness on Calvary either. Human labor is ineffective, and that fact points up in turn how effective the work of God is.

Precisely there is the point of it all, beloved. We look at people, we look at ourselves and what we can mean in God's kingdom. But to look at people is to look at weaklings, is to look at brokenness. God would have us take our eyes off this earth, off of people. It is God who works, works relentlessly and successfully to move the history of the world to the coming of Christ - be it in the Old Testament to His first coming, be it today to His second coming. Satan's opposition may hinder us, but definitely does not hinder the saving work of an almighty covenant God.

And we? Yes, this almighty and faithful God of the covenant does use tools, keeps on using people. You, too, Janine and Harry, have a place and a task in God's kingdom - as we all do. But notice what the Lord moved Paul to say in Eph 6. He tells the saints of God that we don't wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness, Satan and his demons. Then he adds this command, "Stand therefore" (vs 14). Paul's point? The battle ultimately does not depend on people. People don't have to do the fighting, defeat Satan. People are too weak for that. It's for people simply to stand still and watch God fight the battle. This God is El Shaddai, almighty to save; Christ is today seated at God's right hand as King of kings. And this God is Yahweh, faithful to His covenant; Christ carries out perfectly the Word of salvation God first pronounced in Paradise already. So His plan shall certainly unfold; despite the oppression of sin and Satan, despite all our weaknesses an
d failures, history -like it did in the Old Testament- shall move to the second coming of Jesus Christ.

So we carry on with the tasks God gives us in His kingdom. Though what we accomplish seems to us so little, and our ineffectiveness stares us in the face, we don't loose heart. We know: our God is most powerful, He gets things done. And if He in the process of doing His work gives to us a place and a task in His kingdom, it is well; in our weaknesses we shall do what is given to do. And we'll leave the accomplishment of the task to our sovereign and faithful Savior and Lord. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:,1a.htm

(c) Copyright 2000, Rev. C. Bouwman

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