Moses’ Triple Disappointment
When Moses went to Egypt at God’s command, he told the Israelites that God had seen their misery and had sent him to lead the people to freedom. The Israelites received Moses’ report enthusiastically and worshiped God.
Then Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh to tell him to let the Israelites go. Things did not go quite so well this time. Pharaoh accused the Israelites of being lazy and increased their workload. The Israelites, in turn, blamed Moses for their misery, saying to him, “The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21). Moses, in turn, became discouraged with God and prayed, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me?” (Exodus 5:22)
Moses arrived at the place God told him to go. He did what God told him to do. We tend to expect that God owed it to him to make things turn out well. But at this point, nothing is going well. Moses faces a Triple Disappointment: The prejudice of the Egyptians, the anger of the Israelites, and his own discouragement with God.
The prejudice of the Egyptians: In typical human fashion, Pharaoh assumes the worst about a people whose ways he does not understand, and he treats them accordingly. Pharaoh commands his taskmasters, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words” (Exodus 5:7-9).
In his novel Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck describes a conversation between two men watching those who had been hit by the Dustbowl and by the Great Depression as they move west looking for work in California:
“What a hard-looking outfit!”
“Them Okies? They’re all hard-lookin’.
“…I’d hate to start out in a jalopy like that.
“Well, you and me got sense. Them…damn Okies, got no sense and no feeling. They ain’t human. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and miserable. They ain’t a hell of a lot better than gorillas.” (p. 301)
Whether in Egypt or in the United States, when we look upon a group of people with prejudice, we injure them.
The anger of the Israelites: Moses had come to help these people. They should be grateful, but they are not. They vomit all of their frustration on Moses.
Aristotle once remarked, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” The Israelites are angry at the wrong person and to the wrong degree.
There are many things in life that deserve our anger, but let’s be careful to be angry at the right persons for the right reasons and to the right degree.
Discouragement with God: In his discouragement with God, Moses questions why God sent him. Moreover, Moses accuses God of mistreating the Israelites. Many of us are uncomfortable with expressions of doubt by Moses or by others who are supposed to be our spiritual leaders. But doubt is not entirely bad. Frederick Buechner points out, “Doubts prove that we are in touch with reality, with the things that threaten faith as well as with things that nourish it. If we are not in touch with reality, then our faith is apt to be blind, fragile, and irrelevant.” Moses was in touch with reality. His faith was not blind, fragile or irrelevant.
When we find ourselves feeling discouraged with God, for whatever reason, may our doubts keep us in touch with reality so that our faith will not be blind, fragile or irrelevant.