Bricks Without Straw—But God Is Faithful
Sometimes situations get worse before they get better. How do we react before God when we pray? Do we ever feel that we are not only not receiving an answer but also that things seem to be getting worse? Pharaoh's response to Moses was that the Israelites were getting too much "free time" and that it was allowing them the opportunity to get distracted from their work. When the Israelites received Pharaoh's harsh response to Moses' request that they be allowed to hold a celebration to worship God, it was certainly a test for Moses. For all of the details that God had told him, God did not reveal this as being part of the plan. Part of being a good leader is the ability to "turn the other cheek." God allowed Moses to be subject to the anger and bewilderment of the Israelites. But it was all with a purpose in mind.
God wants to make certain that His people understand clearly that He IS God. So we read references to Himself such as "I AM WHO I AM" (the literal Hebrew has no definite tense—"I Be Who I Be"—denoting past, present and future). God has always existed and will always exist. Here we read of God introducing a new name that He had not revealed earlier to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. (It is used in the book of Genesis, but this is apparently because Moses, who wrote the book, was inspired by God to use it in relating the stories of the patriarchs). The newly revealed name is Yahweh (the exact pronunciation of which is unknown). It is essentially the name "I Be Who I Be" in the third person—that is, "He Be Who He Be"—and has been variously translated as "the Eternal", "the Ever-living" or even "the Self-Existent One." (Jesus later revealed that He was the one the Israelites worshiped as the great "I AM"—see John 8:58 and supplementary reading below.)
God was preparing His people to understand that He was not some passing fad. The miracles that they were going to experience were a demonstration of His power and supremacy. Most biblical scholars today, if they accept that the events of the Exodus took place at all, approach it rather skeptically, claiming the plagues that came upon Egypt, for instance, were not miraculous in nature. They claim that these were merely natural phenomena exaggerated in the scriptural account. Biblical historian Eugene Merrill counters: "They [the plagues] must be understood for what they were—unique but genuinely historical outpourings of the wrath of a sovereign God who wished to show not only Egypt but his own people that he is the Lord of all of heaven and earth, one well able to redeem his people from the onerous slavery they knew under Pharaoh and to make them, by covenant, his own servant people" (Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 1987, p. 65). The Israelites were so encompassed with the "gods" of Egypt that they needed to understand that His ultimate intervention would exceed anything that man could do through sorcery, magic or false worship. Most of the plagues would be a direct attack on the "gods" of Egypt. Indeed, Jethro will afterward remark, "Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them" (Exodus 18:11).
If only mankind would simply believe God! The things of man are temporary. The things of God are eternal. So while mankind may let us down, God has been, is, and will always be our loving God!
Supplementary Reading: "Who Was Jesus Christ?" The Good News, March—April 2002, pp. 30-31.