Text: Exodus 4:18-31
Even when we can’t explain it we know that God is the one who guides every detail of our lives. In good times and bad, He is the one who is working all things out for a purpose.
There’s a word for that. It’s “providence”. Providence is God’s foreknowledge, goodness and sovereign power providing all that is needed to accomplish what He has planned. And it’s this providence of God that we see in the life of Moses.
Four aspects of God’s providence in our text…
1. God grants power to overcome obstacles to the mission (vv. 18-20)
God, in His providence and His timing, assured Moses that all who sought to kill him in Egypt were dead. Moses was no longer a fugitive. This probably gave Moses the confidence he needed to bring along his family. God removed one obstacle of fear.
One after the other, God was removing the obstacles that would hinder Moses from his mission. Not just as a response to Moses’ fears, but because God is sovereign, He was working all things together well in advance, even when Moses didn’t know it. And the one of the clearest evidences here of God’s providence in removing obstacles is found at the end of v. 20. “And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.” Before now, it was called Moses’ staff. Now, it’s God’s staff. There was nothing magical about this stick. Instead, it became a symbol of God’s power over His enemies and faithfulness to His people.
God removed every obstacle to the mission. Moses could not speak well; God gave Him the words. Moses feared for his life; God assured Moses the people who were after him were dead. And Moses had no power; God performed miracles through him, represented by this staff, to remind Moses God is with Him.
To know God is with you is to know that every obstacle in life can only be an opportunity to see God’s power at work.
2. God sovereignly moves upon hearts to accomplish His will (vv. 21-23)
Some 20 different times in Exodus is this idea of the hardening of pharaoh’s heart. Sometimes it says pharaoh hardens his own heart. Sometimes it just says his heart was hardened. And then there are a handful of times, like we see here, the Bible says that God hardens pharaoh’s heart.
But if that’s the case, how can God hold pharaoh responsible? There are a couple of answers: One is, pharaoh is not innocent. He is not starting with a soft, pliable, godly heart, and then God comes in and hardens it. No. Pharaoh, like all of us, was born in sin. Added to that, Pharaoh was a wicked man already. That’s made clear all through Exodus. God did not take a good man and turn him bad. God took a bad man and let him stay bad, and used the situation for good.
God sovereignly moves upon the hearts of men to accomplish his will – whether to harden or to soften (see Romans 9:14-18). This gives us the theological underpinning for the beautiful and mysterious doctrine of election. For those who are saved, it is because God moved upon your heart. If you have chosen to follow Jesus, it is because Jesus chose you first. Not because of your will or your works, but because of God’s mercy. None of us deserve God’s kindness, so God would be just if He saved no one. For God to save anyone is incredible mercy and amazing grace.
3. God corrects and guides according to His Covenant (vv. 24-26)
Now we come to a brief, but very strange text. There are lots of unanswered questions about these verses that scholars still debate to this day. So let’s focus on what we do know: For whatever reason, Moses did not circumcise one of his sons. Maybe it was because he was raised in Egypt and the Egyptians looked down upon the practice. Maybe Moses thought it wasn’t necessary. God was angry and was about to bring some serious correction and judgment because of Moses’ disobedience. His wife Zipporah took the initiative and circumcised their son instead, and because of her actions, God did not bring the judgment He had intended.
Moses had failed to follow this covenant instruction, and God was about to “cut” him off (Genesis 17:14). Just as Pharaoh prevented Israel from worshiping God, Moses was in effect preventing his lineage from entering into covenant worship by not circumcising his son.
Now it seems strange, even contradictory, that God would set out to kill Moses right after He chose him to go on this mission. But God is making a couple of things clear to Moses. God is holy, and is not to be trifled with. And before Moses is going to lead God’s covenant people anywhere, Moses must first obey that covenant himself. A leader cannot lead others where he is not willing to go first. And a man who would lead God’s people must first have his own heart submitted to God.
This isn’t cruel. This is loving. A loving parent disciplines his son. How much more will God discipline those He loves. The question is, will we receive the benefit of that discipline by repenting, by submitting every area of our lives? In God’s providence, He corrects us and guides us according to His covenant, according to His word. Because He loves us, and He is good.
4. God provides the help and favor of others (vv. 27-31)
Even before Moses protested to God at the burning bush about not being able to speak, and before God told Moses his brother Aaron could help, God had already spoken to Aaron to meet Moses.
Not only did God provide Moses help, but now God gives Moses favor with the Hebrew people. The people who once rejected Moses as a leader, now accept him. The elders hear the message, they hear about the mission, they see the miracles, and they believe. After 400 years of slavery, they would finally be free. At that moment, they realized God is faithful. And they believed – not only in Moses, but they believed God.
In His providence, God not only provided the help Moses needed, but God provided favor with the people, so that they would hear the message and believe that Moses was sent by God. Just as God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he softened the heart of His own people.
And God is the one who gives us the help we need today. We have one another. We have the church. When one is weak, the other is strong. One has a gift that serves the need of another. We are not saved to live isolated lives. We are saved to live in community with one another, reflecting the unity of Christ, and caring for one another with the love He has given to us.
Let that comfort your heart today. Before you ever have a need, God already has the supply. Before you ever have a problem, God already has the answer. Before you ever face the trial, God is already providing the strength you need. Trust Him. Follow Him. And watch His providence meet you at every turn.