Obedience and Opposition
Imagine standing at the edge of a river, the line between safety and uncertainty. The moment before you is pivotal, the weight of a decision hangs in the air. Such was the scene for Julius Caesar in ancient Rome, as he gazed at the Rubicon River. The choice he faced was monumental: to cross the river with his army would mean defying the authority of the Roman Senate, ushering in a new chapter in history. In that tense moment, Caesar’s words echoed, “Alea iacta est” meaning “The die is cast.” With those words, he drew a line in the sand, a point of no return. It’s a vivid illustration of the power of decisive action, of drawing a line that calls for allegiance. In today’s passage, we see how various people respond to God’s word and promises.
Moses had given his excuse to the Lord when the Lord spoke to him in the burning bush incident. The Lord’s anger was kindled because of Moses’s questions that were raised. God planned to pair the sinful prophet, Moses with the sacrificing priest, Aaron. The Lord told Moses that day that Aaron was coming to meet him (Ex 4:14). Now the timeline of all of this is quite interesting The Lord tells Moses that Aaron is coming out to meet you (vs 14). The following verses seem to appear that Moses returned to Midian, and then left Midian to head towards Egypt, where they stopped at the lodging place along the way (vs 24). Then after all of this Aaron comes and visits Moses at the mountain of God (Horeb; cf. Ex 3:1). Often we ask questions that are not the focus of stories, eg dates, times, periods, and intervals. The Bible does not provide us with all of these details, so we are left to speculation. In this instance, I am inclined to point out that the fact that Aaron is coming to meet with Moses can be true in both instances, especially when we realize the all-knowing God tells Moses this. Although Aaron might not at that very point be on his way to the mountain, he would be coming to meet Moses soon. The Lord speaks to Aaron to go and meet Moses in the wilderness. I do not seek to spend a large portion of time on this but here are a few quick thoughts. The Lord spoke to Aaron, that again it seems the silence of God was absent since the days of Jacob. However, the Lord speaks to Aaron. The second interesting thing to consider is that Aaron knew (unless for the sake of brevity is not included) Moses. They had some form of relationship even after these eighty years in different houses and parts of the world. The last interesting comment is that what seems to take Moses a large amount of time to obey God’s word, Aaron is responsive, “so he went.” Compared to Moses’ response, “Please send someone else” (vs 13).
Aaron and Moses met in the wilderness. Moses tells Aaron all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses, including the signs that the Lord had commanded him to perform. At this point, we need to see that these two brothers become a unified (generally) team as the Lord had told Moses earlier in the chapter. It is most likely at this point Moses’ family heads back to Midian (cf. Ex 18:2-5). Moses and Aaron gather the elders of the people (sons) of Israel (vs 29). We see this as God had told Moses in chapter 3. On another side note, we see that Israel as a people had their structure of leadership, which is found in the elders. Without switching to a sermon on church government we need to note that this is the terminology used by the early church to speak of leaders who are to oversee and govern Christ’s church. The practice of the church was to see continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament; thus the Westminster Confession can call Israel the church under age (WCF 19.3). The people of Israel are gathered together and Aaron speaks the word of the Lord as God had told Moses (vs 15-16). In chapter three we are told what Aaron spoke to the people of God, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:16–17). The Lord told Moses that he has given him three signs if the people did not listen to him. From what is recorded in chapter four we see that the people of Israel did not listen immediately because the signs were performed. Now we are not specifically told who performed these signs in front of the people, the Lord told Moses that Aaron would speak, and Moses would do the signs (4:16-17). However, in chapter 7 it is Aaron’s staff that is turned into a serpent. Aaron is the closest subject in the sentence, so many have suggested not only did Aaron speak but also, he performed the signs as well. We are not specifically told and therefore should be cautious to make comments with grand certainty. This does not seem to phase the Psalmist who explains, “[God] sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham.” (Psalm 105:26–27). Both Aaron and Moses performed signs.
The People Believed (vs 31)
Verse thirty-one is tremendous and concerning. Now, we are told earlier (vs 8-9) that if they do not listen to Moses then after the signs they will believe. The fact that we are told that they performed the signs indicated that they did not listen at first. Yet the outcome was that the people did believe, eventually. This is a similar response to Abraham (Gen 15:6). However, Abraham believed in faith seeing from afar the promises of God that he would be a father of nations. The people, on the other hand, standing before Moses and Aaron did not have the same faith as Abraham, Abraham believed because he heard the promise, and the people believed because they saw the signs. This will be a great danger in this generation of Israelites (Num 14:11-12, Dt 1:32, 9:23). Their belief is based on what they see rather than what they hear. They will see the fruit of the promised land but will look at the problem through their eyes rather than their ears, they will seem like grasshoppers to the giants in the land, and therefore not believe in God’s promise. This will be their fault in the famous golden calf incident, they want to be able to see a god to go before them because they cannot see Moses (Ex 32). The people believe because they see signs, not because they obeyed God’s word.
However, all is not bleak and lost. Their response in worship is not based upon them seeing signs but upon hearing the word. We see this clearly when Moses records that “they heard.” They had cried out to the Lord at the end of chapter 2 because of their slavery. They now had finally heard back from the Lord, and after some time of what must have seemed like silence, the Lord answered them. After years of tears, turmoil, and pain, they hear that the Lord not only visited them but also has seen their affliction. Now, we might hear this and in our pain and suffering want to cry out, so what? What are you going to do about it, God? When will this end? Why haven’t you done anything about it yet? However, this is not the response of the Israelites, they bow down and worship. The first response was one of prideful arrogance towards God, whereas the second one of the Israelites was humble reliance. There is no other response than man can have when they are confronted with the realities of who God is. That we shall always seek to bow down before God. Actually, that is what worship is, that there is something or someone which the worshipper believes to be worthy, honor, or renown. God is worthy. The people also realize that they are unworthy, once they hear that God has visited them and seen their affliction they realize they are unworthy compared to God. This is what we should do in our worship of God. When we worship God we are not adding glory to his name but declaring that God is all glorious. When we worship God we are not adding worth to God but proclaiming that God is worthy.
We will look more at this passage as a whole but we shall see briefly Pharoah’s response in contrast to the people of God. Moses and Aaron speak to Pharaoh saying, “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). However, just as the Lord had told Moses, Pharoah did not listen. Moses and Aaron did not come to Pharaoh on their own authority but declared that the Lord had commanded Pharaoh to let his people be God. This is understood by Pharoah’s response when he says, “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). Pharoah’s response has two main parts to ignorance and opposition.
Pharaoh questions God’s identity by asking “Who is the LORD?” Pharaoh understands that Moses and Aaron come with the authority of the Lord, but Pharaoh does not recognize the name. But he also states that he does not know the Lord. God will show Pharaoh and the Egyptians his might and his power so that they will know the Lord (Ex 7:5). But we also need to understand something, just because someone says that they do not know the Lord, does not mean the Lord does not exist, nor are they not held responsible to not listening or obeying God’s word. I can get pulled over for speeding, although I truly am ignorant that I was breaking the speed limit. My ignorance does not make me guiltless. So to all those who are ignorant of who God is. Paul explains in Romans chapter 1, that men suppress the truth, that what can be known of God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them through his eternal power and divine nature through creation (Rom 1:19-20). They knew God but did not worship God nor give thanks to him. Pharaoh can claim ignorance, however, that does not make him guiltless.
Pharaoh understands the request very clearly, and he refuses to let God’s people go. He opposes God’s command, basing it upon his ignorance. He does so boldly refusing to let God’s people go. He asserts his own authority and claims to be higher than God’s authority. This is again exactly the reaction of the people in Romans chapter one, not merely to be neutral to God in their ignorance, but that they are opposed to God in their ignorance. They worship creatures, rather than the creator, they opposed God’s created world and give up natural relations for unnatural ones, they oppose God’s righteous decree practicing things that should not be done (Rom 1:24-32). There is no neutrality principle in God’s world. There are only sheep and goats, there is no third category. Pharoah blatantly refuses to let God’s people go and as we will see next week that his actions place more of a burden upon God’s people.
There is a line in the sand ever before us, let us remember that our response has eternal implications. Just as Aaron obeyed, we too can choose to heed God’s voice and respond with swift obedience. Just as the people believed through hearing, we too can anchor our faith in the Word, finding assurance not in the signs we see, but in the promises we trust.
And let us steer clear of the path Pharaoh chose, the path of ignorance and opposition. Let us not let the illusion of our own authority blind us to the supremacy of God. Instead, may we stand before the Lord in awe, recognizing that the line we cross is not one of mere allegiance but of surrender, embracing God’s call to follow Him wholeheartedly.
The line is drawn. Will we be among those who, like Aaron, walk in obedience? Will we join the faithful who, like the Israelites, believe through hearing and worship in humility? Or will we stand as opponents, like Pharaoh, refusing to acknowledge God’s rule? May our lives bear witness to our decision. May our hearts echo the truth proclaimed by Joshua, “Choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh 24:15).