Mystery of Providence
What some people call childlike wonder, I often call the great questions I cannot answer. Children ask of the deep mysteries of life with each “Why?” This happens in our house quite frequently, The other night this childhood curiosity, or bedtime procrastination as it is also called. Nora was asking about the rotation of the earth upon its axis and its relation to the light that comes from the sun, or in simpler terms, why is it light in the daytime and dark at nighttime? As I explained the realities of the earth with each “why” the answer became harder and harder to answer. These questions always end up with the same answer, “That is the way God made it.” I cannot answer the questions anymore without getting too complicated or I honestly do not know the answer to their “why.” No matter our maturity or simplicity that comes in our life as Christians when it comes to God’s providence we will always be left asking why and with the answer that’s the way God ordained it.
Consider the story of Moses and Aaron standing before Pharaoh. As they confronted him with God’s command, they experienced a different kind of “why.” Pharaoh’s heart grew harder with each sign and wonder, prompting us to ask, “Why didn’t Pharaoh listen?” The answer resonates with the simplicity of a child’s inquiry: “Because that’s the way God allowed it to be.” This concept of divine providence can baffle us, much like a child struggling to grasp complex explanations. Just as our children trust that we have their best interests at heart, we are called to trust God’s sovereignty—even when we can’t fathom His ways. Just as children find comfort in our love, we find solace in God’s unchanging nature, knowing He guides our steps. Today we see this passage shows us God’s means in the story of Exodus, that God’s message and miracles accomplish God’s means.
The dream team has been placed together, Moses and Aaron as the ones who will stand before Pharaoh. Who was charged by God to bring the people of God out of Egypt (Ex 6:13). Moses wants us to see this as an important shift in the narrative that from this point Moses is a new man, he will have moments (Num 11:11-15, 20:10-12). However, we see a clear obedience that previously he was reluctant and unwilling. Now Aaron and Moses do what the Lord commands them (Ex 7:10). The Lord tells Moses that he will be like God to Pharaoh and Aaron will be a prophet. Now this is an important piece that we must understand if we are to understand the next portion of the story of Exodus. What appears to be a battle between Pharaoh and Moses has various layers. Pharaoh in Egyptian culture was the incarnation of two gods Ra and Horus, he was a physical representation of the gods carrying their might and power. God tells Moses that he will be like that to Pharaoh. He will be like God to Pharaoh. Moses is not God, but to Pharaoh, he will take that place.
Why is this important? We need to understand that this is not a battle of two wills, between Moses and Pharaoh but this is God vs. the gods. God says that through Moses and Aaron, He would judge Pharaoh, the people of Egypt, and their gods. Jethro would explain that the Lord is greater than all gods (Ex 18:11). Moses would write in Numbers 33:4 that “on their gods the Lord executed judgments.” The Lord is going to start carrying out these great signs and wonders against Pharaoh, the people of Egypt, and their gods. As we have noted throughout this study the Israelites have been treated horrifically. The Lord is going to judge those who have murdered, enslaved, beaten, mocked, ridiculed, and harassed his people. This is what God had told Abraham in Genesis 15:14, “But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” God will harden Pharaoh’s heart as these signs and wonders are done throughout the whole land of Egypt. Pharaoh did not listen, which brought greater judgment upon himself as he continued to set himself against the Lord, his leaders of Moses and Aaron, and God’s people. God does these things so that Israel shall know him (Ex 6:7), but he also does these things so that the Egyptians shall know that he is the LORD (Ex 7:5).
We need to understand this truth about who God is. When God reveals himself to Moses in Exodus chapter 34, he says that he is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Ex 34:6-7a). However, the next truth God proclaims, in the same sentence is that by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation (Ex 34:7b). That God explains that he is just. Before this the Lord told Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex 33:19). Here the Lord explains that he shows grace and mercy to some and not all. As Paul points out in Romans chapter 9, the Lord shows mercy and hardens whoever he wills (Rom 9:14-18). He does not forgive all transgressions and sins but only some. So who does he forgive, the passage following in Exodus 34 Moses asks for forgiveness for the people because they are stiff-necked people as he asks God to pardon their iniquity and their sin and take them as their inheritance (Ex 34:9).
Both Israel and the Egyptians will not listen and turn and rebel against God. However, to one he shows mercy and grace, and to others, he shows his wrath and judgment (Cf. Ps 106). Only because of his covenant with his people, and his mediator between his people are the people shown mercy. To the ones with whom God has made a covenant, these signs and wonders show God’s steadfast love for his people and how he is saving them. To those who have oppressed and persecuted God’s people these signs and wonders are acts of great judgment upon them (Ex 7:4). So, the gospel message is one of grace and mercy but also judgment. Paul explains the same gospel message can be a sweet aroma of Christ to those who are being saved but the same message can be a pungent fragrance of death (2 Cor 2:14-17). James explains that the Gospel is judgment for those who have not been shown mercy (Jam 2:13). Peter says in Acts 10 that the apostles were sent out to preach the grace and judgment of the Gospel, “And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him, all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42–43). John Owen said, “The most tremendous judgment of God in this world is the hardening of the hearts of men.” Pharaoh set himself against God’s people, his leaders, and God. He is opposed to God’s command. He is opposed to God’s moral law. He stands against God, and thus God sends judgment.
This is no different today, when preaching the gospel, we cannot change a sinner’s heart they are naturally bent towards pride and arrogance. They are radically depraved and opposed to God. The good news of mercy and grace has the stench of death in their nostrils. It is only once the Holy Spirit softens their hearts and opens their ears and eyes that they can see and understand. That grace and mercy can be understood by them. But if they do not listen then this shows more judgment upon them.
The second section of the passage today is the second meeting that Moses and Aaron have with Pharaoh. Previously Moses was told that he was to do signs in front of the people that they might believe (Ex 4:3-9 cf 4:30-31). He had not been told at this point what these great signs and wonders that God would do in front of Pharaoh besides the great act of judgment, the death of the firstborn, that would come upon them if he did not let God’s people go (Ex 4:22-23). The Lord tells Moses that when Pharaoh asks for a sign Aaron was to take his staff and put it down and it would turn into a serpent. Pharaoh did not know who the LORD was (Ex 5:2). He asked for a miracle to be able to prove themselves. Aaron and Moses do what the Lord had told them to do. Pharaoh calls for his magicians, who perform the same feat. Two men are commonly referenced in other sources and 2 Timothy 3:8 as “Jannes and Jambres.” We must not assume these two actions are equal, as we will see that these men are often able to replicate some form of rivaling sign. However, what we see in this instance is that Aaron’s serpent can defeat the serpents of Jannes and Jambres. As we see the Lord’s servants are mightier than Pharaoh’s servants. As is pointed out in verse 13 which shows the providence of God, as things happened exactly how he had explained to them.
In all of this Pharaoh asked for a sign for Moses and Aaron to prove themselves but Pharaoh is unchanged by the display of this sign. That Pharaoh remains stubbornly opposed to God as he had been before the sign. We often think that if there were great displays of signs and wonders then everyone would turn and trust in the Lord, but the truth of the matter is this is not the case. That throughout the Bible signs and wonders serve to harden people’s hearts rather than soften them. Think of the Pharisees who would have seen the death of Lazarus but also saw his resurrection, their response was not to worship Christ and trust in his words, but they sought to be able to kill Jesus and Lazarus (John 11:45-53, 12:9-10). We are warned that false prophets and teachers will do signs and wonders and lead people astray (Mt 24:24, 2 The 2:9). That in the end there will be those who stand before Christ and believe their signs and wonders are evidence of their real conversation, But Christ says that he does not know them (Matt 7:21-23). The author of Hebrews warns us not to pay attention to what we have seen but to what we have heard,
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:1–4)
Pharaoh’s hard heart resulted in not listening to God’s word (Ex 7:13). If faith comes through hearing then not hearing is the continuation of unbelief (Rom 10:17). Moses and Aaron were sent by God and yet Pharaoh did not hear. But God’s word is effective, even if it does not bring about repentance. Isaiah explains,
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:10–11).
God’s purpose in sending Moses and Aaron was to show forth his glory to his people to bring about their salvation and deliverance but also to show forth his judgment and justice over Pharaoh and his people who had oppressed God’s people. God had told Moses and Aaron what he was going to do, and how Pharaoh was going to react. God’s word never returns void to one it is the message of hope, life, and salvation to the other it is a message of judgment and death. The author of Hebrews explains that the people in the wilderness had the good news presented to them but it did not benefit them because they were not united by faith to those who listened (Heb 4:2). Paul explains that mercy only comes through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5). Therefore, let us pray that as we proclaim the good news of the Gospel the Spirit would work in the hearers’ hearts to hear the sweet news of the gospel. This is the mystery of God’s providence as DA Carson explains,
“The mystery of providence defies our attempt to tame it by reason. I do not mean it is illogical; I mean that we do not know enough about it to be able to unpack it.”