'You are to say everything I command you, tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go’ Exodus 7:2
Brothers and sisters, we turn our attention again to the wonderful story for the Exodus. Over the past few weeks, we have heard God call Moses in Exodus 3, remind Moses to trust Him in Exodus 5 & 6, and now, this morning, we see this come to a head as God asks Moses to obey. Now these three are in fact not separate, as if you can hear, trust, and act independently of each other. For obedience is the sign that you’ve really heard God’s call. Obedience is the sign that you actually trust God. However, before we get to Moses, we must begin by asking who is called to obedience? Is it just Moses who needs to obey? Is it just the Israelites? Is it just Jesus, or just His Church? No, Scripture claims again and again God is the Creator of all people, and therefore all must obey Him. As astonishing as it may seem at first sight obedience to God is just as necessary for Pharaoh as it is for Moses. Pharaoh is being called back to the Lord. Pharaoh is being told that God will be with Him—whether He likes it or not—and that call and presence, through God’s chosen people, is a call to obedience.
Now, don’t think that obedience to God is the opposite of freedom. Obedience to God is not a siding with oppression but a siding with life. Do not be misled, that obedience to God somehow limits our true freedom. Living God’s way always leads to more happiness, always means we are more fully ourselves. It is rebellion, it is disobedience, which is a denial of our true selves, and which always leads to injustice for others, as is all too clear in Pharaoh’s case. In turning away from his Creator, in setting himself up as a god over all the people in Egypt Pharaoh became the oppressor, the one who denies the rights of those he governs. The sure indication of a tyrant, or a state who does not recognise the Lord, is when there is a refusal to practice justice toward the powerless, towards those who are at the bottom of the pile. It is the God of perfect love, the God of perfect freedom, the God who created us and calls on us to obey Him, who loves all people and thus demands justice for all. Therefore, in turning away from the Lord we are always turning away from true love, and away from true justice. In passing, here is why, social, economic, and political justice is always a Christian responsibility, for fighting for these things is ultimately a turning back to the God who commands that we love others. Pharaoh has turned away from God, has ceased to obey his Creator, and thus increasingly will not listen to those who would correct Him. Pharaoh has hardened his heart against God, and this has led him to lash out against those who remind him of the God who he is ignoring. Whenever people—whether followers of God or not—act for liberation; we always see a negative response, we always see a greater political repression. We have, in the course of our study of Exodus, already thought about Rosa Parks. When she stood for liberation in the United States the crack down was brutal. We have, in the course of our study, already thought about William Wilberforce. When he stood for liberation in the U.K., he was vilified and attacked. Acts of witness toward the God of justice always leads to greater repression, always leads—at least initially—to a greater hardness of heart. You might have noticed that we have, in verse 3, a troubling truth: we have God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. It seems to be a limit to Pharaoh’s freedom, it seems to be making him do terrible things; however, in fact, it is only a confirmation of what Pharaoh has already chosen. We have seen through the action of Exodus, that first Pharaoh hardens his own heart, that first Pharaoh chooses his own way over God’s way, but then we see—almost in response—God confirming this free choice by hardening Pharaoh’s heart. It seems as if, the very demands of obedience, the very cries for justice, the very request for freedom, leads the oppressor—Pharaoh yes, but also United States racists in the case of Rosa, and slave owners in the case of Wilberforce—to even harder hearts; that the freedom to choose, is increasingly eroded by the oppressors’ own dark deeds. God calls on Pharaoh to return to Him. God calls on Pharaoh to obedience, and when he refuses the only response is justice. Justice against the tyrant, and justice against those who support him. However, before justice falls on Pharaoh’s head, God gives him and his court the chance to turn back; and for this someone else must be obedient.
My daughter Amelie is approaching her fourth birthday and we often ask her to pass messages from parent to parent. For instance, I may be in the garden and Natalie wants me to know dinner is ready and so she asks Amelie to go and tell me. In order for me to hear the call to come in Amelie must be obedient, Amelie must go. Moses has heard God’s call, now Moses must obey, He must go. Moses obeying God, Moses witnessing to God, Moses speaking for God, is how God will warn Pharaoh, how God will give Egypt the chance to turn back from its oppressive and disobedient ways. God always works through His people, and He always gives those acting against Him repeated chances to turn round. If Moses does not go there is no chance for Egypt even if God will find another way to save His people. Moses has been called, we’ve seen that. Moses has been reminded to trust God, we’ve seen that too. However, now Moses must go. Verse 2, God says to Moses: ‘You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.’ ‘Let my people go’ is the cry we know well and it is Moses’ job to obey and deliver it. We know—and so does Moses—that Pharaoh will do no such thing, and so God sends Moses with signs to back up his spoken word. But for Pharaoh and his court to hear, for Pharaoh and his court to see, Moses must go, Moses must obey. Rosa Parks went, she obeyed. William Wilberforce went, he obeyed. In both cases each of them must have known what the initial response would be. Doing the right thing, doing the godly thing, doing the obedient thing, almost always leads to a negative reaction, but we’re called to do it anyway. Jesus was obedient to God the Father, He always spoke up for love for true freedom and the rights of the oppressed; and look what happened to Him. We are not in control of the reaction, we are only in control of our own response to God’s call. Will we be obedient? Yes or no?
Despite Moses’ previous excuses, now he does not hesitate, verse 6: ‘Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them.’ Moses obeyed—though it may have meant persecution and death—and because of his obedience Pharaoh and Egypt were given the chance to turn back, were given the chance to be obedient, before justice rightly fell on their heads. Moses knew that if God wanted His people free, then free they would be; the only reasons for the long and tortuous route, is so that Egyptians have a chance to change their mind, and so that Israel can see the power and faithfulness of their God. But for any of those things to be true, Moses must obey, Moses must go Moses must speak and so Moses went. For each of us here there will be at least one call from God. Therefore, for each of us here, we must make a choice: will we obey or not? Whether that is to tell someone who does not follow Jesus about His loving call that each of us must turn to Him; or whether that is to stand for the rights of an oppressed person or people, each Christian is called to go, and we must obey. We are not promised an easy ride. Rosa Parks was arrested and persecuted; William Wilberforce was attacked and vilified; and plenty of Christians before and since have suffered much worse simply by being obedient. No, we are not promised an easy ride. We are simply promised that God will go with us and that eventually—whether in our life time or not—God will have the final word. Love and justice will win out, freedom will victorious. Ours is not to worry about the results, ours is simply to obey, and find—in our obedience—freedom for ourselves and freedom for others. Sisters and brothers, you are being called by God to go, to cry out with Moses ‘let my people go’, you only have one decision to make will you obey or will you not? Amen.(from Fr Mike).