God's Providence
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Exodus, chapter 4. In this chapter, we will find Moses' start for the land of Egypt, his arrival in the land of Egypt, and the things that transpired before the wheels were finally set in motion for the deliverance of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt. Notice verse 18:

Exodus 4

18Moses went and returned to Jethro his father in law, and said unto him, Let me go, I pray thee, and return unto my brethren which are in Egypt, and see whether they be yet alive. And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace.
19And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life.
20And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.
21And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand; But I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
22And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my first born;
23And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy first born.
24And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.
25Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.
26So he let him go [that is, God let Moses go] : then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

This paragraph presents a discussion of three sons: God's son, Pharaoh's son, and Moses' son. Each of them was closely related to his individual father, and through the sons God was to deal with the fathers. Therein lies a very important spiritual lesson for every one of us. Moses, even though he had a command from God, recognized the ordinary niceties of life. As was the Oriental custom of not doing anything, no matter how old you were, until the father gave permission for it, he went to Jethro, his father-in-law, and asked for permission to go back into the land of Egypt. Jethro gave that permission. At last every tie was broken and Moses was ready to fulfill the divine call which God had given him.

Moses Prepared to Return

It is interesting to notice how God encouraged him along the way. In verse 19, God said to him, “Go back to Egypt. Don't be afraid, for all the men are dead which sought thy life.” This verse of Scripture is not thrown in as something extra. You see, God had already told Moses to go back to Egypt, so there was no need to repeat the command. But God, knowing the innermost thoughts of Moses' heart, recognized that he was fearful. After all, he had had to flee for his very life. Now God said in so many words, “Moses, I know about your problem. I know that which you fear; don't be afraid. All the men who have sought thy life are dead.”

Every time I read this verse of Scripture, I am reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest, is touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15). He knows our every weakness; He knows our every problem; He knows our every fear. In the midst of a real test, though He will not back down one little bit on what His command may be, He is anxious to encourage. Notice in verse 20 that Moses took his family with him, but he also took in his hand the rod of God. Notice what God said to him in verse 21:

Exodus 4

21And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand…

“Moses, I have put in your hand many wonders.” If Moses had opened his hand, all he could have seen was a rod. But in that rod were all the power and all the wonders that were needed to accomplish everything that was necessary in the land of Egypt.

The Rod of God

I would not be remiss in application if I should draw a parallel between the rod which Moses had in his hand and the rod which we have in our hands today–the Word of God. When Moses went down into Egypt, he took the rod; and God said, “I have placed in your hand, symbolized by that rod, all the wonders that are necessary to accomplish all the divine purpose in the land of Egypt.” I believe with all my heart that we have as great a rod in our hands today as Moses had in his. There is absolutely nothing that cannot be accomplished with this rod in either our own lives or in the lives of others.

This is the first time in the Bible that a man is called into God's service. Whenever you see something mentioned for the first time, you should notice it very carefully, because it sets a precedent for everything that is to follow. When a man is called into the service of God, a number of things are necessary. One of them is that he have the rod of his power. The rod of our power is the Word of God, as the rod of Moses' power was that little stick or shepherd's crook which he carried in his hand.

Notice in the last part of verse 22 what God had promised to Moses to begin with—failure, not success. Often we may say, “If this thing we are doing is the will of God, I cannot understand why it is so hard. I cannot understand why there is so much unhappiness related to it. I cannot understand why things are not going more smoothly than they are, if it is the will of God. I thought that if a person was in the center of the will of God, everything would seem so smooth and everything would turn into a success.” That is not necessarily true. God very definitely called Moses, but you will notice in the last part of verse 21 that He said to Moses, “You go; you stand before Pharaoh. You have a rod in your hand more powerful than anything Pharaoh has ever seen, but I will tell you before you even start that it won't affect him. I am going to harden the heart of Pharaoh.”

Israel Called God's Son

There are a number of references to the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, so let me answer any questions that may arise in your mind by saying that if we should examine all the Scriptures relating to the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh, we would find that God says that He hardened Pharaoh's heart, but He also says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. There is no contradiction between these two statements. God simply has a law that he has never revoked, and when that law is broken, individuals have to reap the results. Because God made the law, God can be said to have hardened Pharaoh's heart. Because Pharaoh broke the law, Pharaoh can be said to have hardened his own heart. So God said to Moses, “Don't think you are going to be successful; you will not be. You will fail, but I want you to see that even though you will fail in the very beginning, the important thing is to deliver the message. The first thing that I want you to say to Pharaoh is, 'Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn'.”

This is the first time the nation of Israel was called the “son of God.” God had entered into a new relationship with this nation that had been in bondage in the land of Egypt. God said, “Israel is My son; therefore we are going to deal in sons. Say unto Pharaoh, 'Let my son go, that he may serve Me; and if thou refuse to let him go, behold I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn'.” God was saying, “Either I have My son in complete service to Me, or you will not have your son, Pharaoh. Either you let My son go so that he can serve Me, or I will slay your son.” Pharaoh's son was important to him. God's son, Israel, in this case, was important to Him.

Moses' Disobedience

That lays the groundwork for the next paragraph, which some people seem to think has no particular connection with what has gone before. It is somewhat of a jolt when you come to it in this passage of Scripture. You think, “Why has this particular thing been injected here?” But it is not out of place. We are talking about sons. Moses' son was standing in the way of Moses' following God. His love for His son, his compassion for his son, the understanding that he wanted to have of his son, were standing in his way. It was a very serious thing–so serious that God stepped in front of Moses and laid hold on him and meant to kill him.

That is an interesting verse; stop and think about it for a moment. You will be amazed at everything that is involved. We are not told the details. Perhaps the Angel of the Lord stood in front of Moses as he and his family were riding through the wilderness on their way to Egypt. Perhaps the Angel of the Lord, with drawn sword, stood before him and was ready to kill him as the Angel of the Lord, with drawn sword, stood before Balaam and was ready to kill him (Numbers 22:23). Maybe that is what happened; I don't know; no one does. Maybe the Angel of the Lord struck Moses down from the ass he was riding so that he fell to the ground, writhing in pain, with the pallor of death upon his face. Anyway, however it may have happened, there was every indication that Moses was dying, and his wife saw it; she knew God was going to kill her husband.

She knew the sentence of death had been passed upon him, and she knew that if the life of her husband was to be saved, she had to do something, so she circumcised her son herself. As she did, she said to her husband, “You are a bloody husband to me.” All of this put together and considered very carefully–listen carefully to what I am saying–indicates that Moses was deliberately disobedient to the revealed Word of God for two reasons. First, he had a wife who did not want to go along with him in the things of God, so he backed down; and second, he did not want his son to endure any physical suffering. Because he did not want him to suffer, he deliberately refused to obey the command of God.

God's Covenant With Abraham

How do we know that? Well, turn, please, to chapter 17 of the book of Genesis, verse 9. God entered into a covenant with Abraham, and not only with Abraham but with Abraham's seed as well:

Genesis 17

9And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
10This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: Every man child among you shall be circumcized.
11And he shall circumcize the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you.
12And he that is eight days old shall be circumcized among you, every man child in your generation, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
13He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcized; and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
14And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcized, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

This was a command which God had given to Abraham's descendants; Moses was well aware of it, yet he refused to obey it. First, Zipporah, his wife, said, “I'm not going to permit it.” Zipporah was not Jewish, and she said in so many words, “That may be what you believe, but I'm not going to permit it.” Moses, to keep peace in his household, went along with her suggestion, refusing to obey the Word of God. Because it did involve a certain amount of physical suffering, Moses was reluctant to insist on it.

You may say, “Oh well, what difference did it make?” It made so much difference that God said, “I will kill Moses if he does not do it.” You may say, “That is awful; why would God do such a thing?” How could God feel so seriously about it? Does He feel so seriously about such things today? This is not to suggest that circumcision is a rite for us today; it is not. It was related to Israel, not to us. But God feels the same today as He felt then about obedience to His Word.

Importance of Obedience

Turn, please, to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 10, and notice how the Lord Jesus Christ Himself recognized that this very thing can still arise in Christian homes, in so-called Christian families. May I ask, without implying that it is true in any of your lives, are you afraid to obey the Word of God because of the disruption it might cause within your own family? Are you an individual who soft-pedals what you know God wants you to do, for the sake of peace? Listen to these words; the Lord Jesus Christ said:

Matthew 10

34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.
38And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

You understand that these words do not apply to a Christian home where both husband and wife, parents and children, are wholly surrendered to the Lord. These words do apply when this is not the case. If one obeys the Word of God and the other does not obey the Word of God, then one is set at variance against the other. If it is the man who obeys the Word of God and it is the woman who does not, there is no basis for agreement. If it is vice-versa, there is no basis for agreement. If it is the parents who are willing to obey the Word of God and the children who are not, then Christ is said to set them one against the other. If the children–it happens sometimes–are willing to obey the Word of God and the parents are not, then opposition is there.

What is one's responsibility in that case? Look at verse 37:

Matthew 10

37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.

This is not a suggestion that children should not be obedient to their parents, but it is a definite statement of fact. If love for a father or mother stands in the way of an individual's obeying the revealed will of God, then he is not worthy to follow the Lord. That is what it says. Or, as it was in Moses' case, a parent that loveth son or daughter more than God is not worthy of Him. Moses was going to serve God. He was going to become the greatest statesman the world has ever known. He was going to become a great deliverer. But God had had him forty years in His school of training on the backside of the desert, and still one thing was lacking.

Does that shock you–that a person can be that close to God and be exposed to God's will and plan and purpose to the extent that Moses was and still have some things in his life that were not right? Remember that it is possible. Just because an individual is a mighty spiritual giant does not necessarily mean that everything is right; but he cannot continue as a spiritual giant, and he cannot be the leader that God would have him be, unless things get right.

Danger In Continual Disobedience

Moses reached the place where God said to him, “Either make this thing right or your life comes to an end.” Does God do that sort of thing today? It might be wise for us to turn to I Corinthians, chapter 11, to refresh our memory. It presents a truth that I believe is badly neglected in this day and time. This chapter deals with matters of continued disobedience to the Word of God. God said:

I Corinthians 11

30For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
31For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
32But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

You get the gist of the passage? God says, “You are my children. There are certain things that are not right. You have the opportunity of making those things right; but if you don't, I will enter the picture and will make those things right. My chastening hand will fall, and my chastening hand will take one of three forms: weakness [which is a reference to a lack of spiritual power], sickliness [which is a reference to poor physical health], or sleep [which is a reference to death].” God said, “When I enter the picture because of continued ignoring of My Word, this is what happens.”

Moses had ignored the Word of God in this particular thing. If you will read carefully the passage at which we looked and do some thinking about it, you will find that the big issue was Moses' wife. Moses had learned the truth of what the Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew, chapter 10–that sometimes the greatest foes that a man has in his living for the Lord are the members of his own household (verse 36). It can be either man or woman, woman or man. Moses was not fit to be God's servant in this great task which he had before him until this thing was made right.

I believe with all my heart that if it had not been made right, this is the last we would have heard of Moses. It would have been the end. But Zipporah, even though she was not willing to obey the Word of God, knew enough to know that she was responsible. Even though she had been quite willing to say, “You are not going to circumcise our son, no matter what you think about it,” when she came face to face with making a decision between obeying God or losing her husband, she was ready to obey God.

I hope it doesn't come to that, but sometimes it does. Sometimes God has to bring parents through the sickness and near death of their children to the place where they are willing to do what God wants them to do rather than lose those who are near and dear to them. It happens.

An Illustration of God's Providence

Let us go back now to Exodus, chapter 4, because this was the last thing that God had to do to Moses to get him ready to do the job that needed to be done. In verse 27, the Lord said to Aaron:

Exodus 4

27…Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him.
28And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD who had sent him, and all the signs which he had commanded him.

These two verses you may read hurriedly and not think much about them; but it would be well to think about them. They are a marvelous illustration of God's providence in directing the affairs of men. Remember that one of the reasons that Moses gave for not wanting to go down into the land of Egypt was, “I don't know how to talk, and I'm afraid.” God said to Moses, “That is really not true. I will go ahead; you don't need to worry about that, but I will give you Aaron, your brother, three years older than you, as a mouthpiece; and I will arrange things so that when you start down to Egypt, Aaron will meet you.” Here is an illustration of how God is able to work at both ends in any set of circumstances.

When God Works On Both Ends

We should always keep that in mind in our praying. You see, here was Mt. Moriah, the mountain of God. Here was Aaron, down in Egypt, and here was Moses over in Midian. God started Aaron on his journey and started Moses on his journey at just the right times. Because God is never one minute too early or one minute too late, they met at the mountain of God, exactly on time. This is an illustration of how God can work at both ends.

Many have been the times in the course of the years when I have been burdened to speak to someone about some spiritual problem. Maybe it concerned the salvation of his soul, or maybe it was some other spiritual problem. I learned the lesson a long time ago that God is able to work on both ends. Many have been the times when I have prayed, “Lord, if it is time for me to see him, if it is time for me to say the things that need to be said, You have him at home, or have him in his office, or have him at such and such a place, by the time I get there.” I don't even have to call and make an appointment, because I have already made one with God. You don't have to call and make an appointment with the individual. Time and time again when I have gone to that person, he will be at that particular place; and many times he will say, “You know, you are lucky to catch me here. I am very seldom here at this time.” Well, I wasn't “lucky.” He may not have known it, but God was working on both ends. He was burdening my heart, and he was moving on him.

Many times people ask whether I will call on certain individuals; I am always glad for people to do that, but I never promise that I will do it on the date they set. I always say, “I will when God gives me the opportunity.” I don't mean by that that I am just shunting it off into the corner; I simply mean that there is no point in my going to see anyone unless it is ordered of God. Then I seek the mind of the Lord, and just as God started Aaron from the land of Egypt to meet Moses at Mt. Moriah as he promised Moses he would do, when I go, there is the person I need to see, exactly on time.

When you are praying for God to work, don't pray only for yourself. Pray for the person at the other end of the line. Pray that God will deal with him at the same pace that he deals with you. That is why some of our endeavors result in failure. Sometimes our heart is open to the Lord, and we ourselves grow so rapidly, spiritually speaking, that when we try to deal with someone, he is not the least bit interested in what we have to say. He is absolutely unconcerned, and sometimes rude, and we cannot understand. Well, you see, we just haven't been praying right. While we have been running sixty miles an hour, he has been traveling ten. What we need to do is to pray the the Lord will accelerate his speed of growth so that when we do give him the truth we have in mind, he will be ready to accept it. It may be wise to remember, so that we will not be disappointed to the point of discouragement, that unless God works on both ends, rarely is there any success. But God is able.

Result of Meeting God's Conditions

We notice in verse 28:

Exodus 4

28And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD who had sent him and all the signs which he had commanded him.
29And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel [that is the first step] :
30And Aaron spake all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses [you see, Aaron had already set to work] , and did the signs in the sight of the people.

That is, Moses and Aaron did the signs in the sight of the children of Israel whom they gathered together when they entered into the land of Egypt. If you will look at the first nine verses of chapter 4, you will recognize the three signs which they performed: the sign with the rod of God, the sign with the hand in the bosom, and the sign with the water that was poured out on the ground and turned to blood.

Notice in verse 31 how God times things. The people believed. That is the very thing Moses had been afraid would not happen. Oh, how he fretted and how he fumed about it! He said, “God, they won't believe. There is no need in my going down there; they won't believe a thing that I do or say.” God said, “Yes, they will.” Because Moses met God's condition, the people believed, and they gave real evidence of it:

Exodus 4

31…when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.

God did even more than Moses was expecting. Moses was not expecting the people to listen to him, but they did. They not only listened to him, but they thanked God for sending Moses. That is how God works. They praised the Lord for the deliverance which God had provided through his servant.

In this fourth chapter of the book of Exodus, we have learned what it means to be called into the service of God and what it takes if that service is to be fulfilled.

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