8 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”
10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
“Rise, Shine, You People,” the title of the hymn we just sang, is meant to fill believers with thankfulness and confidence to live as God’s people. The opening stanza calls all those joining their voices to stand and live for Jesus, who came to save us from the death and sin that surrounded us with his grace. Jesus, who destroyed the powers of evil and forgave all people, all men and women. The third verse encourages us to arm ourselves for battle against the darkness of this world with songs and prayers. Our mission is to fill the world with the good news, the gospel message that Jesus saved us, gave us life and freedom, and to trust the Holy Spirit to create more believers wherever the Word is shared. The words of this hymn and the music all work together to fill us mind, body and soul with excitement and confidence to live as God’s people, but the effect of this hymn is often short lived as we leave this gathering of believers and enter the unbelieving world. The many hearts that are hardened against believing in God surround us every day wherever we go and whenever we stare at the screens in our hands or in our living rooms at home. Those hardened hearts surrounding us make it hard for us to hold God to his power of deliverance.
Moses was given an even more exciting boost of encouragement from God in the chapters just before the first lesson for today from Exodus 7. Moses grew up in the house of Pharaoh in the land of Egypt, but he was not an Egyptian. Moses was an Israelite or Hebrew, the people enslaved by the Egyptians. When Moses was born, the Pharaoh had called for the newborn babies of the Israelites to be killed. The Pharaoh issued such a horrible command because Israel’s population was growing out of control causing him to worry that they might revolt against him. Moses was spared living the life of a Hebrew slave by the grace of God and after being hidden in a basket floating on the Nile River, he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses lived as an Egyptian till he was forty, when he attempted to stand up for his people by killing an Egyptian slave master beating a Hebrew slave. His attempt failed and left him a traitor to Egypt and rejected by his own people. Moses was able to escape and find a home in Midian as a shepherd where he lived another forty years until God called him to be the instrument through which he was going to free his people from Egypt. God did not call Moses with the hymn “Rise, Shine, You People,” but he did appear to Moses in the flames of a burning bush that would not burn up and he did ask Moses to stand before him as he gave instructions for freeing Israel.
God told Moses that he was going to free Israel through him and with some firm encouragement, Moses listened to God and went to Egypt. Moses was reluctant to follow God’s command to go to Egypt and ask Pharaoh to free Israel because he
spoke with faltering lips.
God listened to Moses excuses and eventually told him that his brother Aaron would go with him and that God would allow them to perform miracles or signs in the presence of Pharaoh to substantiate his claim to let Israel leave Egypt to worship God. When Moses and Aaron finally appear before Pharaoh and he asked them for a sign to back up their request to take their people Israel out of Egypt to worship their God,
“Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake.”
The two brothers were in their eighties standing before one of the most powerful rulers of their time, trying to free their people who had been slaves for hundreds of years and also trying to follow what their God had asked them, but everything seemed to fall flat when the Egyptian magicians’ staffs fell and became snakes, copying God’s sign.
When the Egyptians’ staffs turned into snakes, it set the stage for the long battle ahead. God had warned Moses that Pharaoh’s heart would be hard, stuck in unbelief, and that he would ask for signs, but watching the magicians copy the first miracle must have filled Moses with all kinds of feelings. I picture it like in a movie or from your own life when you get a crush on someone and you go out of your way to make them notice you. You do all kinds of things to show how smart, funny, kind and cool you are, then when the big moment arrives that you’ve been planning to share your feelings with that other person and you’re holding flowers or chocolate or reservations to a really nice restaurant, someone else comes in at the same time and ruins the moment. It’s not the same scale as freeing an entire nation from hundreds of years of slavery, but in the moment when someone steals your thunder, it fills you with feelings of frustration, doubt, confusion, etc.
When the sinful, unbelieving world pushes back against us, it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and lose our hold on God. The Pharaoh’s hardened heart caused Moses, Aaron and Israel many hardships, but the one that did the most damage was the idea that God was powerless to deliver his people. The same hardship is true for us today when the many hardened hearts around us that do not believe in God do all they can to turn us away from holding on to his power to deliver us from our momentary or lifelong sufferings and from our sins and death.
Whether the people surrounding us in person or on screens are telling us to understand the world through the eyes of evolution, to indulge any and every sexual desire or to use our time, talents and money to build our own kingdom, rather than put them toward God’s kingdom, we face a constant and overwhelming threat to stop holding on to God for deliverance. However, the more chilling revelation may be that our own hearts are hardening against God. That we are hypocrites, confessing that we trust God with our mouths, but letting our thoughts, words and actions outside this building reveal something far different. During worship or in the major moments of our lives like when someone gets cancer, divorced or passes away we may spring to action with love and encouraging words of Scripture, but in the small moments of every day are we left apathetic toward the need for deliverance from our living in sin like the unbelieving world around us? Are we standing as God’s people shining the light of his love and message of salvation through Jesus or have the false and temporary miracles and signs of the world made us dim and dull?
After Moses, Aaron and the Egyptian magicians all threw their staffs down and they turned to snakes, God made sure no one watching could mistake that God’s power is the greatest. After the Egyptians’ staffs also turned to snakes,
Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.
Whatever frustrations, doubts or confusion had welled up in Moses and Aaron’s hearts when they saw the Egyptians’ staffs turn to snakes was quickly wiped away when they saw Aaron’s staff swallow up the Egyptians’ staffs. I imagine a slight grin formed on the mouths of Moses and Aaron as they stood before Pharaoh.
The standoff between Moses, Aaron and the Pharaoh was going to be a long battle, but they were sure God was going to deliver his people. Moses and Aaron were confident in God’s power, but after Pharaoh saw his magicians’ staffs swallowed up,
Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
Though Pharaoh’s heart was hard, Moses and Aaron held God to his power of deliverance and God certainly delivered them. The rest of Exodus 7 and the next five chapters detail how much more powerful God is than the Pharaoh and any god of Egypt. God went on to perform his ten awesome plagues against Egypt and finally after the last plague, when God put to death the firstborn son of the Pharaoh, the Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt.
After Israel left Egypt, God continued to deliver his people, eventually delivering all of us from our worst enemy, our slavery to sin. All of us are born sinful. We grow up sinning, thinking, saying and doing all kinds of selfish, perverse, hidden and blatantly wrong things against ourselves, others and God. We are truly powerless on our own to fight against our sins, the suffering they cause and the final punishment for sin, death. Jesus was our only hope to free us from our sins because he was never a slave to sin. As the Son of God, he was born without sin, and as the Son of Man he was born under the law of God, and he kept God’s law perfectly. His life was the trade made for our freedom. It paid the debt to God for all of our sins and Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate miraculous sign that we are free from death and we will be delivered from death to eternal life in heaven.
The hymn “Rise, Shine, You People,” fills believers with thankfulness and confidence to live as God’s people. The hymn reminds us of the great victories Jesus won for us and for all people. We are also reminded that our battle against the darkness rages on in this world, but equipped with the gospel, we are able to fight against sin and unbelief. God’s Word keeps our faith strong in Jesus and sharing the Word brings others to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Many hardened hearts surround us every day, but we are free from them, from sin and from death through our Savior, Jesus. God give you strength to rise and shine as you hold God to his power of deliverance. Amen.