When God’s Way Doesn’t Work (Exodus 5:18-23)

Exodus 5:18-23

18 Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” 19 The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.” 20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
22 Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

This passage of scripture brings to mind one of the sermons I heard while a student at Southern Seminary. Not every chapel sermon sticks in your mind after six years, but this one did. It was delivered by Bob Johnson of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan (metro Detroit) on February 4, 2003 (almost six years ago today in fact). The title of the message was, “When God’s Way Doesn’t Work,” and you can download it at the following link:


What I have to write this morning is borrowed from Dr. Johnson’s excellent message, which still challenges and encourages me as much today as it did when I heard it six years ago.

Moses had been called by God to go down to Egypt, to follow God’s plan, to demonstrate God’s power, and to demand the immediate and unconditional release of the people of Israel from their slavery. And Moses did pretty well. He got to Egypt, he had an audience with the Pharaoh, and he demanded (with a little less courage than we might have wanted to see) that Pharaoh free the people (at least to go and worship). What must Moses have expected? What must the people of God have expected. Here is a guy who has heard from God and who has obeyed God. Here is a guy with the anointing of God upon him and with a mission of God before him. God is with Moses, and Moses is doing what God wants. Clearly, this is going to be wonderful.

But what Moses experiences is anything but wonderful. Instead of watching as Pharaoh’s heart breaks and as he begs for forgiveness from the LORD, Pharaoh derisively asks Moses, “Who is the LORD?” then the Pharaoh proceeds to make life miserable for the Israelite slaves. They are forced to make the same number of bricks as before, but they are no longer given the supplies that they need. It is a terrible situation.

Note: Obedience to God does not always lead to ministry “success.”

Then the situation gets uglier. The leaders of the Israelites come out of their meeting with Pharaoh, and they pretty much curse Moses, asking God to judge Moses for the trouble that he has brought upon the nation. So Moses has gone from being the man that everybody is excited about seeing, the man with God’s plan, and he has become the man who the nation blames for making their lives miserable.

Note: Obedience to God does not always lead to receiving the support of the people of God.

Praise God, after chapter 5 of Exodus comes chapter 6, where God promises Moses that here in a little while, Moses will see God work.

But for you and me, there is something to be learned right here. We often think that, if we do what God wants us to do, everything will turn out perfect. We think that, if we obey God’s commands, we can expect, almost demand, that God bless us with earthly success and worldly happiness. However, a look at this passage of scripture or several others will show you that God’s people often suffer great hardships, not for disobedience, but through obedience.

So, where is the blessing? The blessing of God is the joy and confidence of knowing that what you are choosing to do is the will of God. It is better to obey God and have hardships than it is to disobey God and have ease. God wants us to follow him and prove that worldly success is not more central in our hearts than is his glory.

There is encouragement and fear here. On the one hand, the fear is that we may truly obey God and still find life very hard. The joy, however, is that we can obey God, and even if things don’t look good right now, we do not have to assume that we have missed God’s will along the way. Moses did not wonder if God had really sent him. IN fact, God tells Moses in chapter 6 that he has set things up just so in order to accomplish exactly what he wants.

So, are you following God? Are you obeying his word? Those are the tests. Do not judge your obedience by the signs of worldly success. For sure, if other believers are telling you that you are missing the point, take time to study the scripture and to evaluate your heart; but if you are doing what the word of God reveals, do not assume that suffering hardship is the sign that God is not with you. Hang in there. Be faithful to the word. Walk through the hardships. God is glorified when we, his people, find his glory of greater worth than our comfort.