Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire
In the story of the Cross and the Switchblade, a small-town minister, David Wilkerson, is called to help inner-city kids everyone else believed were beyond hope. In 1958, seven New York City teenagers, members of a gang called the Dragons, were on trial charged with murder. After hearing a clear call from the Holy Spirit telling him to go and help the boys, Wilkerson arrived at the courthouse in New York City. His plan was to ask the judge for permission to share God’s love with them. The judge refused his request and Wilkerson was removed from the courtroom. It became a huge media circus, and he left New York City in total failure.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s story, The Hobbit, there is a chapter called Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire which describes how Bilbo Baggins and his friends escaped from extreme peril, only to find themselves in an even worse predicament. The adventurers had been traveling through the tunnels under the Misty Mountains when they were beset by goblins. After a brief and bloody battle, they escaped by the narrowest of margins. But even after Bilbo and his friends got out of the mountain, they were not out of danger, for as they hurried through the forest on foot, they were tracked and surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves. Although Bilbo and his companions managed to scramble up some trees, they were trapped. Soon the goblins tramped out of their mountain stronghold to take advantage of the predicament. They stacked combustible materials at the foot of each tree, and soon there was a ring of fire all around the dwarves. The flames began to lick at their feet, smoke was in Bilbo’s eyes, he could feel the heat of the flames. So it was that Bilbo and his friends escaped from one mortal danger only to find themselves in even more desperate straits.
These two illustrations describe our scripture this morning. Moses had been called by God to go to Pharaoh to tell him to let His people go. He must have been feeling like it was a done deal. And the Israelites were probably feeling euphoric, believing that they were on the verge of being rescued from slavery. But things aren’t going to go quite as planned. In fact, Moses’ first appearance before Pharoah will be a total failure. And seemingly because of Moses’ interaction with Pharoah, the Israelites’ situation will go from bad to worse as they will find themselves in even more dire and desperate straits. Moses and the Israelites are bound to be discouraged by what will happen. God had promised Moses his presence and he had promised the Israelite people that he would bring them out of slavery in Egypt. But like David Wilkerson, things did not go as planned for Moses and like Bilbo Baggins and his companions, things for the Israelites went from the frying pan into the fire. Discouragement can take over our lives and cause us to forget what God had made plain us through his Word and the Holy Spirit. We must be on guard because Satan will try to discourage us to make us forget and not believe in God’s presence and promises. That brings us to our big idea this morning that “We can be encouraged by God’s presence with us and his promises to us.”
Before we begin our study of our scripture this morning, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, give us the power of your Holy Spirit this morning for discernment of your Word. Open our hearts and minds to it, convict us of our sin through it, teach us what you want us to know from it. Give us divine appointments this week to share it with those who need to hear it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This morning we will be studying Exodus 5:1-21. The first point is “Confront” seen in verses 1-5. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says, “Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said, “Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!” Then Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.”
The first word we see is “afterward.” After what? This is referring back to Exodus 4:29-31 which says, “Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.” Moses and Aaron must have been on cloud nine. They had received the full support of the elders which is what Moses was so concerned about at the burning bush. Things could not have started off any better than this. Now it was time to ride that wave of confidence, confront Pharaoh, and rescue the Israelites from slavery.
“This is what the Lord says” signifies that Moses and Aaron are the Lord’s messengers. We can notice a few things here. First, we are told that Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh not Moses and the elders. Jewish tradition states that the elders lost their nerve on the way and backed out or maybe it was just assumed that they did go. Second, Moses and Aaron don’t repeat word-for-word what God told Moses to say to Pharaoh. Exodus 3:18 in the NASB says, “say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So now, please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’” Moses does not ask Pharaoh’s permission but demands he let God’s people go. “Let my people go” asserts that the people of Israel belong to the LORD, not Pharaoh, and they should be free to serve and worship Him. The message was direct and authoritative, almost arrogant probably because of the awesome response Moses had received from the elders and the people. Delivering this message would have taken faith and courage on Moses’ and Aaron’s part because it was not meant to pacify Pharaoh but to test him. The reason Moses gives to let the people go is so they can hold a festival or feast to the LORD in the wilderness. This was also not in God’s original words to Moses. But what Moses and Aaron communicated here was actually not too far off of what the Israelites would have done. Later on, God will establish festivals/feasts with his people, and many will involve sacrifices.
Pharoah responds with “Who is the LORD that I should obey him?” questioning God’s authority over the Israelites. The NASB says, “Why should I obey his voice?” This reminds me of what Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. Pharaoh was not one of God’s sheep. “I do not know the LORD and will not let Israel go” proved he was hostile not only towards God’s people but towards the one true God as well. We should not be surprised at this since, in Egyptian culture, Pharaoh was considered a god. In his mind, he was the final authority. Why should he listen to an inferior god? Pharaoh’s reply was scornful, prideful, arrogant, defiant, disrespectful and sarcastic. It revealed the attitude of his heart. Alexander says, “By stating twice that he has no knowledge of YHWH or the LORD, Pharaoh highlights the motif of knowing YHWH.
“Knowing the LORD” is not a matter of having information about him, but about being in a right relationship with him, recognizing his authority and acting in accordance with his requirements. Some questions for us this morning are “Do we know the LORD or do we only know the world?” “Do we recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd or just the voice of the world?” “Are we in a right relationship with God or not?” If you know the Lord and are following him with all your heart, mind and soul this morning, that’s awesome. But if you are not, the great thing is that you can know the LORD today. Romans 6:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The first thing you need to do to know the LORD is admit that we are a sinner. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The second thing you need to do to know the LORD is believe in Jesus and what he came to earth to do. And Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The third thing you need to do is confess Jesus as Lord. That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to “start ‘knowing the LORD’ by admitting I am a sinner, believing in Jesus as my Savior and confessing him as the LORD of my life.”
Moses and Aaron respond and this time it is almost word-for-word what God said in Genesis 3:18. Moses and Aaron don’t back down but now clarify their initial demand. They clarify that Yahweh is "the God of the Hebrews” which was a term that Pharaoh would understand and accept. They clarify that they are asking for a “three days’ journey” which was a reasonable demand. And they clarify that this journey is designed as a time to offer sacrifices to their LORD. Ryken says, “God began by giving his rival a simple opportunity to submit to his divine authority. Was Pharaoh willing to let Israel serve God for even three days or not?” Pharaoh would have no excuse for refusing this request and hardening his heart. They also add one caveat at the end that was not recorded in scripture. They wanted to clarify that they are trying to avoid having the LORD kill them off through plague or a sword.
There are a couple of ways that we can take this statement. Israel had been in Egypt for centuries and had lost contact with the God of their fathers. They were confessedly guilty and needed to be reconciled to the LORD. The only way for them to be atoned was through the shedding of blood, hence the sacrifices to the LORD in the wilderness. MacKay says, “Both plague and sword represent sudden death such as a judgment from offended deities.” Moses may also be appealing to Pharaoh’s greedy economic side. If Israel were killed, then Pharaoh would lose his free slave labor force. It could have also been a prophetic veiled threat. The irony is that the LORD will kill with plagues, not the Israelites but the Egyptians. God had told Moses that his “mighty hand” would strike the Egyptians with wonders and then he would let the Israelites go. This could have been a warning to Pharaoh of what was coming if he didn’t let God’s people go. Pharaoh needed to understand that it was Almighty God who was commanding them to let his people go to sacrifice and worship him and the LORD was not to be taken lightly.
Pharaoh responds by accusing Moses and Aaron of taking the people away from their work and he orders the people to get back to work. This may mean that the elders were actually there with Moses and Aaron, which is why he accuses them of stopping the people from working. It could also in addition mean, that once Moses and Aaron told the people that God was going to rescue them, they stopped working believing that the Lord’s rescue was imminent. We see Pharaoh’s disdain for the Hebrew people as he calls them “people of the land” meaning uneducated, common people or peasants. He knew what Moses and Aaron were proposing would be a major upheaval and was already causing problems. The Pharaoh of Exodus chapter one was worried about the Israelite’s population growth, this Pharaoh sees it as a benefit because it means more slaves to do his work. We can see Pharaoh hardening his heart right in front of us.
Scholars are somewhat split on this exchange between Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh. Most agree that they went into Pharaoh’s court highly confident of the outcome, maybe too confident and a little cocky. Some say that they went off script instead of retelling Pharaoh exactly what God said the first time. But others say that this would have been the negotiation technique of the day. But this is not the point of the narrative. The point of the narrative is “whom will the Israelites serve, Pharaoh or the LORD? The Hebrew word for “serve” and “worship” are the same. The struggle here was not between Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh but between God and Pharaoh. Ross says, “The purpose of the Exodus was to bring the Israelites from an oppressive, deadly servitude to Pharaoh into a freeing, life-giving servitude to God. Life is not a question of serving or not serving. It is a question of whom we will serve. Joshua 24:15 says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” We all have to decide whom will we serve and worship. Will we serve and worship the LORD or the world and its gods? It is an important decision for each one of us. That brings us to the second next step this morning which is to “commit to serving and worshiping only the LORD for the rest of my life.”
We aren’t told what Moses and Aaron were feeling after their audience with Pharaoh, but we can surmise that they were discouraged by Pharaoh’s rejection. Moses and Aaron had been called by the LORD to be his messengers and Pharaoh had pretty much thrown them out on their ear, dismissed and disgraced. They probably felt a lot like David Wilkerson when the judge had him removed from the courtroom. Moses and Aaron just needed to remember a couple of things. One, God said he would be with Moses. Exodus 3:12 says, “And he (meaning God) said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” Two, God had promised to bring his people out of slavery. Exodus 3:17 says, “And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’” Three, God was sovereign and omniscient. He knew what was going to happen. Exodus 3:19-20 says, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.” Moses and Aaron were probably discouraged by Pharaoh’s response, but they didn’t despair. They had God’s presence with them, his promises to them and they knew his sovereign plan, and they could be encouraged by that no matter what Pharaoh said or did. (BIG IDEA)
Once, Moses and Aaron had confronted Pharaoh with God’s message and he had rejected it, Pharoah makes a command decision which would move the Israelites’ predicament from the frying-pan into the fire. Our second point this morning is “Command” seen in verses 6-14. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says, “That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.” Then the slave drivers and the overseers went out and said to the people, “This is what Pharaoh says: ‘I will not give you any more straw. Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.’” So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, “Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.” And Pharaoh’s slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed, demanding, “Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?”
Pharaoh didn’t waste any time after his audience with Moses and Aaron. On that same day he commanded the slave drivers and the foremen over the Israelites to no longer give the people straw to make the bricks but to keep the daily quota the same. They would have to gather the straw themselves, which would require more time to make the bricks, making it impossible to meet the daily quotas. “On the same day” made it clear that the increased workload was Moses and Aaron’s fault. Ross says, “Pharoah had to break his opponents’ will in two ways: One, by making the oppression worse, and, two, by undermining Moses’s leadership.” It seems that the straw needed to make the bricks had previously been supplied for the Israelites, probably by some other slave populace, making brick production more efficient. This command shows how spiteful Pharaoh was toward the Israelites. He didn’t care about efficiency, only humiliating the people because they wanted to worship their LORD. We also see what Pharaoh really felt about the Israelites. He has already called them “peasants” and now he calls them “lazy.” In Pharaoh's mind they didn’t want to work which is why they were crying out to go and sacrifice to their God. His command was meant to make the work harder on the Israelites causing them to be too tired to care about worshiping and too tired to pay attention to Moses’ and Aaron’s lies. What lies? The lie that they would be allowed to leave Egypt to worship their LORD. The lie that their LORD was going to rescue them. This was a cruel and unusual punishment of the Israelites.
Interestingly, it would have been normal in that time for Pharaoh to allow the foreign slaves opportunities to worship their gods. They would have allowed them to go off to do this so as not to offend the religious sensibilities of the Egyptian people. The Egyptian people would have been put off by certain animal sacrifices that the Israelites would have performed. But we see that Pharaoh was in no way going to let Moses take the people to do what would have been considered normal. He didn’t hear the LORD’s voice and his heart was not inclined toward God, becoming more hardened by the minute. Pharaoh’s commands followed the chain of command from himself to the Egyptian slave drivers to the Israelite foreman to the Israelite slaves. Just like Moses and Aaron in verse one said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says”, the slave drivers and the foremen said, “This is what Pharaoh says.” This was another example of the conflict being between God and Pharaoh. Ryken says, “Pharaoh put himself in the place of God and explicitly attempts to usurp God’s rightful place. The Hebrew word for “foreman” literally means “to write.” The Egyptians kept meticulous records of everything including their building projects. The Israelite foreman would have been men who could write and keep the people producing the daily quota of bricks.
Because of the command from Pharaoh, the Israelites scattered throughout the land of Egypt to gather “stubble” to make the bricks. The people had to “scatter” to find their own straw which kept them from encouraging each other and getting their hopes up to go on a three-day journey to worship the LORD. By making them work harder and keeping them apart Pharaoh thought he could make them forget about their God and wanting to worship him. Most commentators note that this was not the season for straw, so the people had to gather the “stubble.” It would not have been the best stuff to make bricks with. There must have been good straw in storehouses that would be used in the off season, but this good straw would not be made available for their use. The stubble would have made bricks of inferior quality compared to the previous ones, but Pharaoh doesn’t seem to care. This is another sign that Pharaoh was just oppressing the people on his cruel whims and because he could. As a labor policy, this was completely irrational showing his hard heart. The Israelites were not meeting their daily quota, so the slave drivers pressed them to complete their work quotas like they had before. This led the slave drivers questioning the foremen about the shortfall and “beating” them for good measure. For the Israelites and especially the foremen, their life, their work, their enslavement had gone from bad to worse, from the frying pan into the fire.
Again, we aren’t told what the Israelite slaves and foremen were feeling after having to work twice as hard to make their daily quotas and then being beaten for not making it. But we can surmise that they were pretty discouraged. God had sent Moses and Aaron to them to let them know that the LORD had seen their oppression and was going to bring them out of slavery. And all they had gotten from it was exhaustion, working harder and harder day after day and being beaten. They were probably feeling like Pharaoh had gotten the last laugh. They probably felt a lot like Bilbo Baggins and his friends who had escaped from one mortal danger only to find themselves in even more desperate straits. In their discouragement they needed to remember a couple of things. One, that the LORD had seen them and was concerned for them. Two, that the LORD had promised to rescue them. Even though the Israelites were discouraged by Pharaoh’s barbaric response to Moses and Aaron’s request, they could still be encouraged. It had only been a short time since they had bowed down and worshiped the LORD. Now they needed to remember and be encouraged that God’s presence was with them, he had made promises to them, and his sovereign plan would be victorious no matter what Pharaoh did to them. (BIG IDEA)
After the people were not being able to meet the daily quota of bricks and slave drivers had beaten the foremen, we notice how the foremen reacted. Our third point this morning in “Complaint” found in verses 15-21. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says, “Then the Israelite foremen went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.” Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.” The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
The foremen, after being beaten because the Israelites failed to make their daily quotas, complained and it is important to notice who they complained to. First, they took their complaint to Pharoah. The foreman seemed to have enjoyed a somewhat amiable and privileged relationship with Pharoah that they could just go and plead their case with him. But they must have been naïve to think that the slave drivers had given these commands on their own authority, and they blame Pharaoh and his people for the Israelites not making the quotas. Also, notice that they call themselves Pharaoh’s “servants” or “slaves” three different times showing how much power Pharaoh had over them. The real problem here is that instead of turning to the LORD, who they were just bowing down to and worshiping, they turn to Pharaoh. This reminds us of one of the major themes of this passage: Who were the Israelites going to serve, God or Pharaoh? They must have had a rude awakening as Pharaoh accused them twice of being lazy emphasizing that their laziness was due to their desire to sacrifice and worship the LORD. He was arguing that they didn’t necessarily want to worship; they just didn’t want to work. He was mocking and belittling the worship of their LORD as laziness. He was demoralizing them, and they were literally being beaten down. He ordered them to get back to work and reiterated that they would not be given any straw and must still produce their full quota of bricks. Pharaoh continued his ingenious plan to turn the people against Moses and Aaron. They were the ones who went to Pharaoh asking him to let the people go and make sacrifices to the LORD. They were the reason Pharaoh was being so harsh towards them. After bringing their complaint to Pharaoh and being ceremoniously rejected they realized they were in trouble because the beatings would continue. Talk about being discouraged as they realized things had gone from bad to worse, from the frying-pan into the fire, especially for them.
Second, we see that the foremen take their complaint to Moses and Aaron. Our scripture says that when the foreman left Pharaoh, they find Moses and Aaron waiting for them. The Hebrew is better translated that the foremen were “waiting” for Moses and Aaron meaning that they went “looking for a fight.” We see the heart of the foremen here. They attack Moses and Aaron, blaming them for their trouble. They also curse them calling down God’s judgment on them. They were hard-hearted believing that Moses was the reason for their oppression instead of believing that he was God’s instrument to end their oppression. Stuart says, “It is noteworthy that the foremen did not state that they had lost faith in Yahweh. They apparently thought that Moses and Aaron could not have properly represented the case or handled it well and thus had disobeyed Yahweh.” Pharaoh’s strategy to break the Israelites will and to drive a wedge between Moses and his people was working like a charm. The foremen were discouraged and had allowed bitterness to grow in their hearts. It caused them to sin against Moses and Aaron by lashing out and cursing them. Discouragement is a human emotion. It is not a sin to be discouraged but it can cause us to sin as it did to the foremen. It’s important for us today that we don’t allow discouragement to set in and cause us to sin. Discouragement can us to doubt God. It can cause us to doubt God’s people. It can even cause us to lash out at others and curse them. The foremen had been kicked out of Pharoah’s presence just as David Wilkerson had been kicked out of the courtroom and things had gone from the frying-pan into the fire for them just as it had for Bilbo Baggins and his friends. Discouragement caused them to forget God’s presence and his promises instead of being encouraged by them. (BIG IDEA).
The devil once had a yard sale. He put out all of his tools with a price sticker on each one. There were a lot of them, including hatred, envy, jealousy, doubt, lying, pride, and lust. Apart from the rest of the tools was an old, harmless-looking tool with a high price. One of the devil’s customers asked about this high-priced tool. The devil said, “Why, that’s discouragement.” The customer asked, “Why do you have such a high price on it?” The devil responded, “That’s one of my most useful tools. When other tools won’t work, I can pry open and get into a person’s heart with discouragement. Once I get inside, I can do whatever I want. It’s easy to get into a person’s heart with this tool because few people know it belongs to me.” It’s said that the devil’s price on discouragement is so high that he’s never been able to sell it. As a result, he continues to use it. And he often uses it with his oldest tool: “Did God really say that?” “Are you sure he’s called to do that?” “Wow, you sure have made a mess of things, haven’t you?”
Charles Spurgeon talking about the life of Moses concludes with these words: O servants of God, be calm and confident. Go on preaching the gospel. Go on teaching in the Sunday-school. Go on giving away the tracts. Go on with steady perseverance. Be ye sure of this, ye shall not labor in vain or spend your strength for nought. Do you still stutter? Are you still slow of speech? Nevertheless, go on. Have you been rebuked and rebuffed? Have you had little else than defeat? This is the way of success.… Toil on and believe on. Be steadfast in your confidence, for with a high hand and an outstretched arm the Lord will fetch out his own elect, and he will fetch some of them out by you. Only trust in the Lord and hold on the even tenor of your way.
There are going to be times where we don’t understand why things aren’t working out the way they should. We’ve been called by God to do his work in this world but we may be thrown out on our ear or our lives may feel like we are going from the frying-pan into the fire but don’t be discouraged and don’t despair. Don’t let discouragement cause you to sin against God or others. God timing and plans for our lives and this world are perfect. He promises to always be with us and to never forsake us and we know that his promises are true. That brings us to our last next step which is to be encouraged by God’s presence with me and his promises made to me when discouragement comes my way.
As the ushers prepare to collect the tithes and offerings and the praise team comes to lead us in a final song, let’s pray: God, we thank you for Word. It is true and powerful. Let it transform us to know you better each day. Help us to commit to serving and worshiping you only. And when discouragement come our way, encourage us with your presence and promises so we don’t sin against you or others. In Jesus’ name Amen.