You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. (Shemot / Exodus 7:2–4; ESV)
When we study the Bible we need to not let our knowing how the stories end, get in the way of our learning the lessons God is seeking to teach us. Knowing how stories end may be essential in getting an overall perspective and to encourage us to face similar challenges to the ones we read about, but we need to remember that the characters in these stories didn’t know how things would turn out, just as we don’t know how our circumstances will unfold. For us to learn how to go through the situations of life, we need to carefully observe how the Bible characters went through theirs.
In the case of Moses, we know how things turned out. The people of Israel left Egypt after years of oppressive servitude due to the signs and wonders God did at Moses’ hand. But this didn’t happen in an instant. Pharaoh was far from accommodating; it took much arm twisting, so to speak, on God’s part to secure the release of his people. Have you ever thought what this must have been like from Moses’ perspective?
Moses’ primary role was that of a messenger. He was to tell Pharaoh, king of Egypt, that the God of the Israelites demanded their release. As long as he was able to secure an audience with the king, his task was pretty straightforward: deliver a message, except for one thing. God made it clear right at the beginning that Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to him. This is where we have to stop for a second—don’t jump to the end of the story. Moses knew before performing his assigned task that he was going to get a negative response; yet he did it anyway. But didn’t God encourage him by telling him that it will all work out in the end? Yes, but, let’s be honest. How many of us would that actually encourage? It apparently worked with Moses, because the predicted negativity didn’t stop him. And that’s the point. Even though Moses knew how Pharaoh would respond, he confronted him anyway.
One way to respond to this is to think, “better Moses than me!” This is the viewing-Bible-characters-as-heroes approach. We read the exploits of these men and women and we are wowed by their super-human abilities. We cheer their exploits and perhaps take comfort in our being on the same team as them. But this completely misses the point! These people are to be our examples. While we are not all given the same tasks or scope of influence, people like Moses are showing us what it is like when the reality of God is working in and through a human life. God, through the Bible, is seeking to teach us what it means to know him and to follow him.
One of the challenges I face, and my guess is I am not alone in this, is the fear of negative reactions. Many years ago, for a summer job while in college, I sold encyclopedias door-to-door in the city of Toronto. I lasted two weeks. I actually sold a set at my last door! But I struggled so much with both the anticipation and experience of rejection. What made it all the more difficult was seeing how the successful salespeople didn’t let the reactions of potential customers get to them. Temperament aside, it appears that they really believed (and rightly so!) that if they didn’t get overwhelmed by rejection, and kept at their task, they would be successful. For some reason, I couldn’t fully grasp that and quit.
Whether or not I did the right thing by quitting, I mention this to illustrate how crippling fear of rejection can be. Being successful at selling encyclopedias was not really a priority to me at the time. I got (what I think was) a much better summer job eventually. Still, I have had to face this challenge since then many times, and I share this here, wondering how many of you are debilitated by this same fear.
It’s wonderful when God tells us that things will work out in the end, as he did with Moses, but sometimes he doesn’t. We don’t know how much of a difference this made for Moses. All we know is that he did what God told him to do in spite of anticipating rejection. Anticipating rejection can be a scary thing. But does it need to get in the way?