July 26, 2015: Do Hard Times Strengthen or Weaken Us?

Posted on : Jul 23rd, 2015 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Do the difficult times we face in our lives strengthen or weaken us? That’s a very good question.

Last week in our Exodus story we encountered Moses and his brother Aaron going to Pharaoh and asking Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go into the wilderness for three days to make a spiritual pilgrimage during which they could worship God. Pharaoh didn’t take kindly to that suggestion; in fact he made the work load even harder for the Hebrew people. “More bricks. Less Straw!”

I shared with you last week that I bet in retrospect Pharaoh wished he had given them the three days off. That’s because what was to befall him was much, much worse than a three day spiritual pilgrimage for worship. This Sunday our story continues with what was to come: ten plagues.

You have to give Pharaoh credit, he does not give up easily. In fact, he’s a bit masochistic. His refusal to recognize the Hebrew people’s God as a God of grace and justice gets him in deep trouble. And as is most often the case with hard-headed rulers, their stubbornness brings more pain and trouble upon their people than on themselves.

It is interesting to me that even folks who don’t know the Bible know this story. It is usually referenced by people who are going through difficult or trying times in their lives, often one disaster after another. When people reach their “breaking point,” they often refer to this story asking, “What’s next? Locusts?”

I have no idea why “Locusts” is the most remembered of the ten plagues, but it is. Locusts is actually the eighth plague. Maybe #8 is remembered because it is our “breaking point.”   I don’t know. But I do know after all the times I’ve read this story, there is something new that I found this time that puzzles me. It’s this little conversation between God and Moses. God says to Moses, “Look, I have made you like a god to Pharaoh, with Aaron, your brother, as your prophet.” In other words, God has made Moses look mighty impressive. But Pharaoh is not impressed. Then God says to Moses, “I, for my part, will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will show many signs and omens in Egypt.”

Sure enough, after each of nine plagues, Pharaoh appears to be moving toward letting the people go, then changes his mind, and he gets hit with another plague. After the first few plagues, God even says to Moses, “See I told you so!” The way the story is told is with these words: “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, however, and the ruler refused to listen to them, as God had foretold.”

There are a couple explanations for this, but, if you read this at face value, it implies that God is the one that is hardening Pharaoh’s heart; not Pharaoh!!!

Why would God make the Hebrew peoples’ lives so miserable? Why does God keep up this mess through ten plagues? Wouldn’t two or three be enough?

This questioning of “why?” brings us back to my first question: Do the difficult times we face in our lives strengthen or weaken us?

In a similar situation a couple thousand years later, the Apostle Paul addressed this same question with the New Testament Church at Corinth. Corinth was a wild, out-of-control and ­- to put it politely – the Christians were getting the stuffing knocked out of them. So Paul offers them and us these words:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;

perplexed, but not in despair;

persecuted, but not abandoned;

struck down, but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians 4: 8-9

This Sunday we will ask ourselves, “Do the difficult times we face in our lives strengthen or weaken us?” Why?

God Bless!

Dan

 

 ~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Exodus 7: 14 – 24

[The Inclusive Bible]

Then God said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is heavy and stubborn, and he refuses to release my people.   In the morning, go to the bank of the Nile, when he comes down to the water to bathe.   Have with you the staff you turned into a serpent.

Tell him, “Our God, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” Until now you have refused. So now our God says to you: “By this you will know that I am Your God – with this staff I will strike the water of the Nile and it will turn into blood! The fish in the river will die, the water will stink, and it will not be fit for drinking.”

Then God said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, take your staff and stretch your hand over the waters of Egypt – over its rivers, over its streams, over its canals, ponds and cisterns – and they will turn into blood. Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in the wooden vats and stone jars.”

Aaron and Moses did as God told them. In the presence of Pharaoh and all the officials, Aaron raised the staff and struck the water. The entire river turned into blood. The fish in the Nile died, and the river stunk so badly that the people could not drink it. Everything in Egypt was bloody.

But the Egyptian sorcerers and magicians did the same thing with their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and Pharaoh refused to listen to Aaron and Moses, just as God had foretold. The ruler went back into the royal residence and took none of this seriously. Yet, all the Egyptians had to dig for drinking water along the banks of the Nile, for they could not drink the river water.

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