Most leaders can relate well to the life of Moses. God called him from birth to do a great work, and then used every circumstance in his difficult life to prepare him for that work. He was raised in Pharaoh’s palace by an Israelite mother, giving him the best that both the Egyptian and the Israelite worlds had to offer. He learned Israel’s story, the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This would give him a passion to see the deliverance of his people so that they could live out the promises that God made to the Patriarchs. His secular education and his time in the palace taught him about governance and leadership. His exile to the desert in Midian taught him the necessary skills that it would take to survive during Israel’s wilderness years. Though he had no way of knowing it at the time, God was using Moses’ every experience to prepare him for the future. Looking back on my own life, I marvel at how God has used both the ordinary and extraordinary circumstances of my life to further His purposes.
I would like to focus on one particularly poignant moment in the story of Moses that speaks to leaders. While wandering in the Midianite desert, Moses received a word from the Lord that would forever alter his destiny and the destiny of the Israelites. It was God’s will that His people be set free, and He intended to use Moses to secure that freedom. The details of the story are familiar: a burning bush, a booming voice, and a divine revelation. Moses was initially insecure and felt ill-equipped for the task, but God assured him that He would go with Moses. The deliverance of Israel would be wrought by the power of God, not by the abilities of Moses.
First of all, we must acknowledge the courage of Moses. Pharaoh was thought to be a god, directly descended from Amon-Ra, the Sun God. An inscription by a Pharaoh on an ancient Egyptian temple reads: “I am that which was, and is, and shall be, and no man has lifted my veil.” Moses seems to have overcome his initial insecurity, journeys to Egypt, looks the most powerful man in the world in the eye, and confidently insists on his people’s freedom. If you want to experience God’s best for your life, you must be willing to do bold things. Polite, passive faith will not get you from where you are to where you need to be.
Moses relays this word from God: “Let MY people go…” Pharaoh may be their captor, but he is not their owner. The people belong to God. The Psalmist words it well when he says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (Ps. 24:1).” You can only experience true freedom when you realize that God and God alone is the one who owns you. Nothing and no one has any power or right to control you and to keep you captive. You are no longer a slave to fear or lust or addiction or performance; you are a child of God, a sheep in His pasture, a citizen of His kingdom.
In the abhorrent days of American slavery, freedmen (former slaves who had been granted freedom) had to carry papers with them to show anyone who questioned their freedom. That’s why you must carry God’s word, whether it’s leather-bound, on your smartphone, or hidden in your heart.. to remind yourself and everyone else: I’m free because God’s Word says I am free. I believe the cry of God “let my people Go” is still resounding this day. He longs for His people to experience total freedom from everything that is keeping them from experiencing His best for them. As leaders, we are to speak boldly to those experiencing bondage and remind them that they belong to God and should no longer willingly subject themselves to those things from which they have ALREADY been set free.
In light of the supernatural phenomena surrounding the call and the bold re-assurance that Yahweh made to Moses, one would expect Pharaoh’s reaction to Moses’ demand to be much different. God spoke it. God promised it. Thus, Pharaoh should immediately relent and give into the inevitable will of God. However, as we all know, the story does resolve so easily. Moses entered the court of Pharaoh and boomed: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness (Ex 5:1).’” The Egyptian monarch sneered: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go (Ex. 5:2).” In Pharaoh’s mind, he is a god and ancient Egypt has at least 80 deities. He has checked the mental registry of the myriad of gods, and can’t find a “Yahweh” or “Adonai” anywhere. Don’t worry- Pharaoh will get real familiar with the God of Israel in the very near future.
Not only does Pharaoh refuse to let the people go, he actually makes their current situation harder. He presumes that they have too much free time since they are meeting and dreaming about freedom and increases their work load. Straws were necessary to make bricks (archaeologists have discovered bricks made of straw in ancient Egypt confirming the accuracy of the Bible here). The Israelites had previously been given straw to make bricks. Pharaoh now commands that they find their own straw, but still requires them to make the same amount of bricks. This leads us to another difficult truth- Sometimes, it gets worse before it gets better. The enemy doesn’t want you or your people to go free, so he will attack your family, your marriage, or your health. He will do whatever he has to do to distract you from God’s plan for your life. He knows if he can get you focused on your pain that you will forget your promise.
This interchange sets the scene for an epic battle of wills. It is God’s will for Israel to go free. It is Pharaoh’s will that they stay. Which “god” will prevail? Will it be the Yahweh of Israel, or the seemingly omnipotent Pharaoh of Egypt?
As you are likely aware, God responds to Pharaoh’s obstinance with the Ten Plagues. What you may not be aware of, however, is that each of the plagues were direct affronts on the Egyptian Pantheon. God prepares us for this truth when He proclaims: “Against all gods I will display judgment (Ex. 12:12).” In other words, there is something bigger going on here than initially meets the eye. This is not simply God finding a way to let his people go. This was a showdown between Israel’s God and the god of their captors.
In the first plague, God turned the water of the Nile to blood. This is a fitting first strike for the Nile was the heart of Egypt. The Nile was worshiped as the bloodstream of the chief Egyptian God, Osiris.Take that, Osiris. Israel’s God can literally turn your “bloodstream” into blood.
In the second plague, frogs were released throughout the land. When God withdrew the plague, the frogs died and were piled in heaps. Frogs were sacred animals to the Egyptians, and killing a frog was a capital offense. Frogs were associated with Heket, the god of fertility. But, Heket is unable to control the number of frogs or protect the thousands that are killed. Israel’s God is greater than Heket.
This pattern continues. Geb, the god of the earth, couldn’t stop the dust being turned into gnats. The god Khebri was a beetle but couldn’t stop the invasion of insects. Hathor, the cow-god, was believed to have nursed the Pharoahs when they were infants, but she is powerless to stop the disease that kills the livestock. The Egyptian god of healing, Imhotep, couldn’t prevent boils. Nut, the goddess of the Sky, couldn’t stop the hail. Osiris, the god of agriculture, couldn’t prevent the damage of the locusts. Amon-Ra, the sun god and believed to be the Father of the Pharaoh, can’t stop the darkness.
These aren’t just interesting facts that will help you defeat your opponents in Bible Trivia. They are tangible reminders that our God is greater; our God is bigger; our God is more than capable to deliver us. Opposition will come. The temptation to compromise will come. But, you must remember that God has no rivals. God has no equals. There is no one beside Him and there is no one besides Him.
Thus the Exodus story is a narrative that confirms the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things (Is. 45:5-7).”
Whether you are fighting to save your marriage, to take your city, or to grow your church, you need to know that you serve a God who is infinitely greater than the forces that wish to keep you captive. The Ten Plagues were designed for Israel to know, for Egypt to know, and for YOU to know that we serve a God who is more than able to deliver His children. Your captor may seem strong, but God is stronger.