Moses prayed a prayer of lament, fear, and frustration to the Lord. God had called him unexpectedly to leave the desert mountain retreat where Moses, one-time adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, has found refuge for the previous four decades. Moses had fled in disgrace from a life spent among luxury and power after killing an Egyptian for what he thought was just cause. A voice from a burning bush, the God of his ancestors, had ordered him back to Egypt to rescue the enslaved people among whom he had been born. Moses, after objecting vigorously, had complied, and much had gone wrong. Life and work now were much harder for the slaves; Pharaoh had replied to Moses’ request that the people be released to worship in the desert by decrease their supplies while requiring the same production. The slaves, tantalized by talk of freedom, now worked harder, and blamed Moses for the punishment Pharaoh had enacted.
Moses saw no positive results from his earlier speech to the monarch of Egypt. The people’s lot was worse. Their enemies treated them more harshly because of his work. The people blamed Moses. Moses blamed God, and confessed the futility of his actions:
Moses returned to the LORD, and said, ‘Lord, why have you caused trouble for this people? Why did you ever send me? From the time I went to speak to Pharaoh in your name, he has caused trouble for this people, and you have certainly not rescued them!” (Exodus 5:22-23 NET Bible).
God answered the prayer of Moses firmly. He assured Moses that he would see how God would deliver his people. He reminded Moses that he spoke to his ancestors – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He made a covenant with them to give them a land, Canaan. He heard the groaning of Jacob’s enslaved descendants in Egypt. He told Moses to give the Israelites a message of assurance based on the identity and character of God, and his relationship with their people.
“Moses told this to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and hard labor” (Exodus 6:9).
Have you experienced times of futility in your work when you wanted to pray as Moses did. I have. When we believe that our cause is essential and just, when we sacrifice time and risk ourselves to present it, when we work hard to achieve a goal, and it fails, we too want to ask God why he has caused this problem. We doubt our fit for the situation. Surely someone else would have done it better.
God calls us, as he did Moses, to remember his character, his covenant with his people, and his promises. When we are discouraged, when our spirit is broken, we have trouble hearing that message. God told Moses and Israel, he tells us, to move forward and to act with faith in him. Even when others will not or cannot act, leaders must trust God and do the work God has given them. Opponents may scoff, discouraged subordinates may question, but we must remember the character of our God and commit ourselves to doing his will on behalf of the people he wants to save. We must pray. Prayer reminds of God’s character and power; it gives us freedom to express praise and worship, but also grief and doubt. Moses listened, he believed, he acted, and he led Israel from slavery in an Exodus that still inspires. Pray, my friends. Call for fire to the Lord. Express your fears and doubts; remember too his character and power. Trust and obey.
O God who keeps his promises: We encounter failures in our attempts to do your will, and we want to quit. We doubt your power. We may even doubt your existence. Remind us of your faithfulness. Drive us to your Word, the history of your promise-keeping and liberating relationship with humanity, the light that illumines the path to freedom. We wonder why you trust us, we question how you expect us to fulfill missions that seem impossible – seeking justice, bringing healing to the soul, forgiving the unforgivable. Like Moses, we want to know why you have not rescued. Remind us that you have rescued, and will rescue again. We pray in love through the name of Jesus, amen.