Exodus 1:12-14 says
12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.
Two interesting points from the above passage are that the more the people of Israel were oppressed, the more they multiplied and that the Egyptians were in dread of them. The word dread could also be translated abhorred or loathed. As believers we should not be surprised when we see evidence of both the favour of God on our lives and at the same time we seem to have all sorts of difficulties. It is because we have an enemy that loathes us and is in such dread of our success that he tries to overcome us with problems. But by God’s grace, those difficulties can spur us into even greater victories.
1 Peter 4:12-13 says:
12Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
Whether or not you are facing a fiery ordeal at the moment, the chances are you are going through some type of difficulty, but take heart because your Heavenly Father is going to use those difficulties that the enemy has sent to propel you into a more glorious blessing. God sees the misery of His children and always has a rescue plan!
Exodus 2:23-25 (ESV) says
the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
God heard the groans of His people. Verse 25 above says God knew. It actually means He had an intimate knowledge of their suffering. It was as if He was personally suffering with them. Exodus 3 elaborates a little further. The Lord spoke to Moses and told him:
Exodus 3:7-8 (ESV)
“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey,
The word suffering in Exodus 3:7 could also be translated “pains”. Whatever pain or suffering or difficulty you are experiencing today, the Lord is not distant. He knows your pain and He has a rescue plan for you just as He did for the people of Israel 3500 years ago.
Now God sent Moses and Aaron to tell the elders of the people of Israel that He had heard their cries and had a mighty plan of deliverance. They even showed them miraculous signs to prove that they were speaking on behalf of God Himself.
Exodus 4:31 says the people believed and they bowed their heads and worshiped. So they began to believe that things were going to change. Believing God led them to worship Him. That was a good response!
Actually God told them He had great plans for them. He was going to take them to a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:17) and not only that, they were not going to leave empty handed- they were going to leave with plunder: silver, gold and clothes from the Egyptians (Exodus 3:21-22).
Now just as God gave the children of Israel a promise to take them to a land flowing with milk and honey and even to give them the plunder of Egypt, so God has given us promises. Hebrews 4 tells us we also have this promise to enter God’s promised land today just as the children of Israel did and He calls this land His “rest” (Hebrews 4:1). The writer of Hebrews encourages us not to waste time because we can enter this rest “today” (Hebrews 4:7) and says that once there, we will be able to rest from our labours just as God rested from His on the seventh day of creation (Hebrews 4:10).
Let’s go back to the children of Israel in Egypt and look again at what their oppressive labour was because God wants to deliver us from the same labour today, enabling us to enter His rest. Exodus 1:11,14 says
11So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.
14and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field.
So they built cities for Pharaoh and they worked in the fields. Exodus 5 also tells us that the Israelites had daily quotas of bricks to make from straw. However after Moses had told Pharaoh that God was commanding him to let the people of Israel leave Egypt in order to worship Him, Pharaoh increased the burden on the Israelites even more. Now they were required to keep up with their brick-making quota but the Egyptians were no longer going to supply the straw. The Israelites would have to find their own straw and still make the same number of bricks (see Exodus 5:7-8). Pharaoh’s reasoning is revealed in Exodus 5:9:
9Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.”
He reasoned if the Israelites were so distracted by their burden of onerous labour, they wouldn’t have the time to pursue God’s plans. And he was right because Exodus 5:12 says
12So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw
The enemy has the same reasoning today. He wants to get us to spend our time on fruitless labour, on building cities and empires, but not for the Lord and to send us here and there searching for stubble to use to build his bricks, preventing us from pursuing God’s plans for us.
But when Moses cried out to the Lord, the Lord reiterated His promise, nothing had changed, He had not forgotten His covenant and He was still going to take them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. However whereas the first time Moses and Aaron had spoken to them the people had believed, this time Exodus 6:9 says they “did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labour.”
Nevertheless if we read the rest of the story, we see that God was faithful to His word. Through a series of mighty miracles, Moses did lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, though it would be his successor Joshua who would finally take them into the Promised Land 40 years later.
Just as God had a great plan for his beloved Israel, so He has great plans for each one of us, His beloved children. He is calling each of us to pursue life in His Promised Land called “rest” today and He is pouring out His blessing and favour on us there. But though the land is called rest, it is not a place of inactivity. Once the Israelites entered Canaan they had to take possession of it but they could not take it all immediately. They had to take the land bit by bit. The Lord told them He would go ahead of them to drive out their enemies but they would have to take possession of the land as they increased in number:
30Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. (Exodus 23:30).
Today He has given us a big inheritance with a lot of land and little by little He drives out our enemies and gives us more and more territory as we increase in maturity. Don’t be surprised when the enemy tries to distract and discourage you from your God-given goals with harsh labour. That has always been his plan, but Jesus’ wants to train you to maturity, facing each battle in His Peace without anxiety but in faith by prayer and thankfulness (Philippians 4:6) trusting Him for the victory. Jesus said
28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
The writer of Hebrews tells us to make every effort to enter Jesus’ rest (Hebrews 4:11). It takes effort because our natural tendency is to worry and run around trying to solve our problems ourselves. So instead today let's run to Him with our difficulties, pains and burdens. He promises to give us rest. Let's stop searching for the enemy’s stubble and seek instead the Lord’s wisdom, His solutions and His guidance. Let's be encouraged, let's be thankful and full of faith. He is our Good Shepherd so let Him lead us into His good plans for our lives today.