When I read the account of Pharaoh in Moses' day resisting the commands of God, I see an attitude that is all too typical of our reactions to His will at times. Here are the facts:
- God is clear in His requirements of us (as revealed in the New Testament).
- God is merciful in His love and wants us to be spared the ultimate consequences of our mistakes.
- He shows us the way to live that will bring us the greatest joy here and for eternity.
- But, in our ignorance and self-centeredness, we are often determined to have our own way, as is illustrated by Pharaoh.
As God began to show His power with signs through Moses, Pharaoh began to seek compromises. Let's consider Pharaoh's proposals to compromise and also look at modern efforts to do the same.
1. Pharaoh's reactions to God's instructions are typical of man today.
God was specific in what He asked Pharaoh to do (through Moses and Aaron) - "The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days' journey into the desert and sacrifice to the LORD our God" (Exo. 5:3). Today God is still specific in His expectations:
- "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3).
- "He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16).
- "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:14).
- "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).
- "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10).
- "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another" (Rom. 12:9,10).
- Etc. The New Testament abounds with specific instructions for our words, deeds, and thoughts. It's our duty to learn what God expects, believe it, and diligently obey.
In Pharaoh's case, his spirit of rebellion is seen - "Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go" (Exo. 5:2). Many rebel against the Lord in our day. They reply similarly to Pharaoh though making use of different words: "No way am I going to pattern my life after a 2000-year-old book! I don't see any reason in it! I don't think it is necessary! I've got my mind made up, and this is right for me even if the Bible says otherwise." Essentially, are they not saying: "I'm not going to give up or give in or settle!"?
Pharaoh also clearly manifested a vindictive or vengeful attitude - "You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. And you shall lay on them the quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it. For they are idle; therefore they cry out, saying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Let more work be laid on the men, that they may labor in it, and let them not regard false words" (Exo. 5:7-9). Many today have a vindictive attitude toward Christianity. They want to punish believers when they speak against social norms (e.g., regarding homosexuality, tolerance, etc.). They view the Bible as a book of false words and believers as ignorant fools.
When God brought plagues upon Egypt, Pharaoh suggested compromise, but he habitually went back on his word after a plague passed. Consider the evidence:
- 1st promise: "Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, 'Entreat the LORD that He may take away the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the LORD'" (Exo. 8:8).
- 1st broken promise: "But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said" (Exo. 8:15).
- 2nd promise with a compromise: "Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, 'Go, sacrifice to your God in the land.' And Moses said, 'It is not right to do so, for we would be sacrificing the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God. If we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, then will they not stone us? We will go three days' journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He will command us.' So Pharaoh said, 'I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away. Intercede for me.'" (Exo. 8:25-28).
- 2nd broken promise: "But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also [after the plague was gone]; neither would he let the people go" (Exo. 8:32).
- 3rd promise: "And Pharaoh set and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, 'I have sinned this time. The LORD is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. Entreat the LORD, that there may be no more mighty thundering and hail, for it is enough. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer" (Exo. 9:27,28).
- 3rd broken promise: "And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the LORD had spoken by Moses" (Exo. 9:34,35).
- 4th promise (a partial promise): "So Moses and Aaron were brought again to Pharaoh, and he said to them, 'Go, serve the LORD your God. Who are the ones that are going?' And Moses said, 'We will go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast to the LORD.' Then he said to them, 'The LORD had better be with you when I let you and your little ones go! Beware for evil is ahead of you. Not so! Go now, you who are men, and serve the LORD, for that is what you desired.' And they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence" (Exo. 10:8-11).
- 4th broken promise: "Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste, and said, 'I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. Now therefore, please forgive my sin only this once, and entreat the LORD your God, that He may take away from me this death only.' So he went out from Pharaoh and entreated the LORD. And the LORD turned a very strong west wind, which took the locusts away and blew them into the Red Sea. There remained not one locust in all the territory of Egypt. But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go." (Exo. 10:16-20).
- 5th promise (an expanded partial promise): "Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, 'Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you'" (Exo. 10:24).
- The terms of the promise were unacceptable to Moses (since animals were needed to sacrifice) but Pharaoh will not bend: "He would not let them go" (Exo. 10:27).
The spirit of compromise seems to be a rebellion prompted by the determination to stay in control. There is still a desire to do as we want as long as possible. Pharaoh and his country were eventually broken (after ten plagues), though it was needless. He relented and let them go (cf. Exo. 12:29ff), but he would have been wise to submit to God's will from the beginning! Even then he later changed his mind (short-lived remorse) and decided to pursue Israel (cf. Exo. 14:5-7). What about us? How many today (even self-proclaimed disciples) refuse to obey Jesus' words in Matthew 16:24,25 - "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it"? It is difficult to turn loose of self and submit to another. Many humans will not yield to another until there is a realization of their own complete helplessness. And that is a critical point we need to reflect upon some more.
We will conclude this study in our next lesson.