18 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. (Exodus 3:18-20 NIV)
God tells Moses in the appearance at the burning bush that he (Moses) is to tell Pharaoh that the people of Israel are going three days into the wilderness to sacrifice to Him. But that isn’t quite true. They are leaving Egypt and God promises to take them to a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
Is God lying? Exaggerating? Deceiving?
Looking at commentaries on this passage, none accuse God of dishonesty or trickery. Some even make Pharaoh a greater villain by casting him as a religious oppressor who will add to his crimes the wrong of denying them the worship of their god.
One controlling relationship here is the contrast between the elders – who will listen to Moses – and pharaoh who will not.
I bring up the subject of God’s apparent treachery or dishonesty as we tend to do the same. At times we do not believe God has dealt fairly with us. We accuse God of withholding blessings. We think that the Lord of Love has not loved us as much or how we ought. If we have not thought such thoughts we will. If we have not, in the darkness, pondered the possibility that God cannot be trusted it is quite possible such a day will come.
But the accusations stem from our limited knowledge of God’s greater purposes and deeper desires for us. God is working not just for my good but for my wife’s good, my children’s, my neighbors’ good, etc. It is nearly inconceivable that God could be working for the good of the billions of people in the world AND for the good of creation, of nations and groups as well. It is mind-boggling.
This passage is not honestly about this subject except to the degree that it catches my attention as seeming to suggest God wants Moses to fib to Pharaoh. But it is also clear here that God knows Pharaoh will not honor even this limited freedom let alone the release of an entire people. The invitation here is to be like the elders who listened and who, even in often limited ways, believed.
O God of the Exodus who delivered your people… may I never accuse you where I cannot understand. May I not allow my lack of understanding to cause me to judge you, even in my heart. May I listen to your voice and to that of your servant. May I respond even with what little faith I sometimes have. Amen.