It isn’t very often that we have the privilege of knowing the reasons why God allows suffering in our lives. As we grow in faith and knowledge of the Lord, we come to understand that God always has a purpose for the things that He allows to happen to us. Romans 8:28, one of the most comforting verses in the entire Bible, assures us that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose. Even so, it is exceptionally difficult to see this as we pass through the storms of life and seldom much easier as we look back on those storms in hindsight.
In the events of the Bible, we are sometimes specifically given the reasons for why certain hardships and tragedies come upon the people of God; other times we are not. The Book of Job, for instance, gives us a rare “behind-the-scenes” look at what is really going on in Heaven that is affecting Job’s circumstances here on Earth. We are provided an unusual “God’s-eye-view” and have an insight into the situation that even Job himself did not have at the time. Usually, however, the events (particularly in the Old Testament) are recorded primarily from man’s perspective and the lessons and conclusions to be drawn are left for us to surmise through the Spirit of God’s illumination of the narrative. The reasons why are not often spelled out for us in so many words and, like the events and circumstances of our own lives, we are left with the simple assurance that God has always caused all things to work together for the good of His own.
With this in view, let us take a look at what happens in the Fifth chapter of Exodus. God has called Moses to appear before Pharaoh and tell the king to let the children of Israel go. The Lord has promised Moses that He will both deliver them and bring them into the Promised Land (Ex. 3:8). The results of Moses’ first encounter with Pharaoh is, however, less than encouraging. Not only does Pharaoh refuse Moses and Aaron, not only does he mock them and God, he actually increases the burdens on the Jewish people. The slaves of the Egyptians will now be forced to go and gather their own straw for brick-making; yet they will be required to produce the same output as before. From Moses’ perspective, it sure looks like the plan has backfired and the Lord has let him down:
“And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, LORD, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me?” (Exodus 5:22)
There is an unparalleled sense of discouragement, an unmatched feeling of despair that grips a person when they come to realize (with an anxious heart and queasy stomach) that the task set before them will be far greater than anticipated. The work that was believed to be easy and to be undertaken with leisure now reveals itself to be burdensome and grievous. The task which we hoped to complete in a day has now become the labor of several weeks. Moses knew that this would be no easy matter, convincing the King of Egypt to release his slave-labor force, but the resistance from all sides was something that he could never have expected. By obeying the commandment of God, Moses and Aaron have become the laughingstock of Egypt and despised by the children of Israel. How lonely it can be to truly be in the will of God! Moses had been begrudgingly persuaded by the Lord to fulfill this calling; he knew that it would cost him. But did he have even the slightest inkling of how great the price would be? He has alienated himself from the men of Egypt, become hated by his own countrymen, and now it seemed that even the God Who called him had turned His back to him.
“Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land.” (Exodus 6:1)
Now shalt thou see what I will do… Now. Not only did Pharaoh’s response fail to catch the Lord by surprise, it was part of the plan! Now I am ready to proceed, God responds to Moses. These things needed to happen before God brought deliverance. Why was it necessary that Moses become despised by the Israelites and their burdens increase? First of all, I believe it was important for Moses to learn definitively that it would be God Who delivered the people, not him. He needed to learn to trust God and depend on Him for the mission at hand. I am sure that Moses would have much preferred for Pharaoh to immediately acquiesce to his request and set the Jews free at once. But their deliverance would not be accomplished apart from his development of a deep and abiding faith in God.
Secondly, the increased suffering of the people led to a united position for all the children of Israel. On December 6, 1941, the opinion of the War raging in Europe and Asia was divided amongst the American people. Many people felt that it was the obligation of the United States to come to the aid of their allies while many others felt that it was none of their concern. A war going on halfway around the world was believed by a lot of Americans to have little affect on their daily lives. But all of that changed the next day. When Japan attacked the Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing Americans and destroying American property and equipment, it became clear that this War would have an effect on the United States after all. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a tragedy, but it did serve the purpose of uniting the American people in a common cause. Nobody on December 8th was questioning whether or not the United States should get involved in the War, the War had been brought to the United States!
So it was with the “officers of the children of Israel” (Ex. 5:14). These were the overseers of the general laborers, the “foremen” of the construction sites in charge of making sure everyone else was doing their job. These were not the ones bearing the heat of the day and breaking their backs under the weight of heavy burdens; these were the “pencil-pushers” whose lives were relatively luxurious compared with their less fortunate brethren. If God had not permitted the wrath of Pharaoh to come upon them through the cruelty of their Egyptian taskmasters, would they have been ready to move out of Egypt when the time came? Or would they have been inclined to remain in their positions, enjoying the comforts and pleasures of Egypt rather than setting out for the unknown? We do not really know, but God does. Based on all of the complaining that goes on after the people leave Egypt (e.g., Ex. 14:11, 16:3, 17:3), we can only imagine how much more apt many of these individuals would have been to remain in Egypt had they not been treated so harshly!
I believe that God’s purpose here was to prepare all of the Israelites for their soon-coming deliverance. They would now be united in their desire to get out from under the oppression that was laid upon them and this would set the stage for them all to hearken unto the Lord’s instructions through His prophet, Moses. God often allows similar hardships to come upon the lost sinner whom He is desiring to deliver from the bondage of sin — He allows sin to run its course in the person’s life that they might weary of it altogether and come to Christ and be set free. Until it becomes clear to a person exactly what they need to be delivered from, they will never fully see the importance and significance of their deliverance.