By Joseph Ametepe
And Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, 'Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.' But Moses said, 'It is not right to do so, for we shall sacrifice to the LORD our God what is an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice what is an abomination to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not then stone us? We must go a three days' journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He commands us...' Then Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, 'Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you.' But Moses said, 'You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice them to the LORD our God. Therefore, our livestock will go with us; not a hoof will be left behind, for we shall take some of them to serve the LORD our God. And until we arrive there, we ourselves do not know with what we shall serve the LORD.'" (Exodus 8:25-27; 10:24-26).
When Moses returned to Egypt to be used by God in the rescue of His oppressed people from Egyptian bondage, God specifically made it clear to him that Pharaoh would not let Israel go unless His mighty hand compelled him. With great confidence and conviction of heart, God also declared to Moses that He would Himself stretch out His hand and strike the Egyptians with all the miracles He had purposed to perform. Then after performing all His wonders, Pharaoh would let them go (Exodus 3:19-20). God kept His word to Moses. He began performing His wonders in Egypt. These wonders are also called "the Ten Plagues of Egypt."
After the plagues of turning the waters of the Nile into blood and the plague of frogs, which Pharaoh's magician also performed by their secret arts, came the plague of gnats or insects. Unlike the previous plagues which were first announced to Pharaoh before they were performed, the third plague was unannounced to Pharaoh. So this plague caught him off guard. It came suddenly upon all Egypt. The magicians tried hard to produce gnats by their secret arts, but this time, they were not successful. They failed. Teaching us that God knows how to limit the counterfeit works of the enemy. He permitted them three times to use their secret powers to mimic His work. The first time of using their secret powers to produce a counterfeit of God's work was turning their staffs into a snake, just after Aaron's staff turned into a snake before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-13). They were three for three. Each time the magicians did the same miracle with their secrets arts, Pharaoh's heart became hard. But now, for the first time, the magicians could not duplicate God's work through their magic arts. In fact, they confessed to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19). They saw the hand of God. They realized for themselves that they were up against a great and mighty God. They knew they could not compete with Him. In fact, this was their last attempt to counterfeit God's wonders through Moses and Aaron. After this incident, they would not try again. They clearly understood that they had met their match in God. However, despite the confession of the magicians, Pharaoh's heart was hardened. He stubbornly refused to let Israel go. A fourth plague-the plague of swarms of flies was unleashed upon the land of Egypt. Pharaoh's house and the houses of his officials and the houses of all the Egyptians were full of flies. Imagine that! However, the land of Goshen where the Israelites were residing was spared this plague. As a result of this fourth plague, the land of Egypt was ruined or laid waste (Exodus 8:20-24). It was at this point that Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said to them: "Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land." (NIV)
You see, Pharaoh was complying with God's order to let His people go. However, he was doing so not on God's terms, but on his own terms. He said to Moses and Aaron to sacrifice to their God within the land, that is, the land of Egypt. Moses and Aaron clearly understood that. They knew that obedience must be on God's terms, not on man's terms. The spiritual lesson this story presents us is this: God's people must not compromise on God's purposes for their lives.
From the very beginning, Pharaoh heard loud and clear God's demand. "Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness" (Exodus 5:1). Moses and Aaron also let him know that they were to "go a three days' journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God" (Exodus 5:3). Also, before the first plague of turning water into blood, God again gave a clear message to Pharaoh through Moses: "Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness" (Exodus 7:16). So on three different occasions God specified where His people were to go to sacrifice or serve Him. Pharaoh heard it. They were to go into the wilderness, a three days' journey into the wilderness. But Pharaoh conveniently ignored God's clear instructions and decreed that Israel should go and sacrifice on his terms-within the land of Egypt, not on God's terms-in the wilderness, a three days' journey from Egypt. Moses and Aaron had a choice to make. They could choose the easy path of compromise: "After all, it's no big deal if we sacrifice here in the land." Or they could stand their ground and say: "Thanks! But no thanks! We are not going to compromise on God's purpose for our lives. God has clearly specified to us that, we are to sacrifice to Him in the wilderness. That's where we've decided to go. We will do it on God's terms whatever the consequences. Period!" The latter path is what Moses and Aaron chose to set an example for us: Believers must not compromise on God's purposes for their lives.
How did they stand their ground and not compromise on God's purposes for their lives? Well, in responding to Pharaoh's decision to sacrifice within Egypt, Moses first employed his knowledge of the Egyptian culture. After all, he had been raised in Pharaoh's household for years. He knew through and through the cultural norms of the Egyptians and what was offensive to them. Equipped with that knowledge, Moses told Pharaoh: "That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the LORD our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us?" (Exodus 8:25-26 [NIV]). Personally, I do not think Pharaoh would have cared if the Egyptians stoned the Israelites. He had been treating them cruelly and harshly with a cold and callous heart. It would have been his pleasure to see some of them die at the hands of the Egyptians. The Hebrew word translated "abomination" or "detestable" (Hebrew: to'ebah) also means "loathsome," "repulsive," "repugnant," "disgusting." These are strong words revealing the Egyptians' hatred of practices that could flare up emotions leading to detrimental actions against the Israelites. In fact, way back in the days of Joseph, it is known that the Egyptians did not eat with the Hebrews, for that was loathsome to the Egyptians (Genesis 43:32). Also, "Every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians" (Genesis 46:34). If such was the case, Moses says to Pharaoh, "Sacrificing in the land of Egypt is not a good idea. It will put us in a bad light before the Egyptians to incur their wrath."
But please here is what I don't want you to miss. Moses' uncompromising stance was not solely based on his knowledge of the Egyptian cultural preferences and practices. Moses' unmovable stance was more importantly based on God's clear instructions to him. It was settled on what God had specifically said to him. In other words, it was rooted on God's righteous standards. Notice what Moses said to Pharaoh and how he said it: "We must go a three days' journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He commands us" (Exodus 8:27). Notice he said, "we must go a three days' journey into the wilderness." What confidence! What conviction! What courage! Here was Moses standing before the most powerful ruler of his day. But he did not cower. He did not compromise. He did not cave in to the pressure of Pharaoh. Calmly and coolly, he stood his ground based on what God had commanded him. He would not compromise on God's purposes for Israel. In fact, he left no room for compromise on what he knew was God's purpose for their lives. He slammed shut the door of compromise.
Please understand that this is not the only time Moses stood his ground before Pharaoh. During the ninth plague of darkness, which came upon Egypt unannounced, Pharaoh called Moses and made a lot of concessions to him. These concessions were very appealing. They would have lured most of us into compromise. Listen to Pharaoh's concession speech to Moses: "Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you" (Exodus 10:24). Earlier, Pharaoh had stubbornly refused to let Israel go. But now, he gives them the green light to go. Earlier, he had threatened Moses with these words: "Thus may the LORD be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go" (Exodus 10:10). But now, he is telling Moses, not only the old, but the little ones can go. What a great relief it must have been for Moses! Pharaoh now permits them to go and serve the Lord. He is now willing for them to take their children and families with them. "Israel, Let's go now! What else do we need? We have the permission to go. We have the freedom to take our entire families with us. We are free to take the most important thing in our lives-our families. As long as we have our families with us, let's go. Let's leave this oppressive land." Moses could have also said: "I've had a lot trouble with Pharaoh. This is a good deal. Our families our going with us. We can leave our flocks behind. Pharaoh, I accept your offer to go with our families and leave our flocks behind."
But that's not what Moses did. He knew better. He knew he must not compromise on God's purpose for their lives. So with great confidence and conviction of heart, Moses responded to Pharaoh with these uncompromising words: "But Moses said, 'You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice them to the LORD our God. Therefore, our livestock will go with us; not a hoof will be left behind, for we shall take some of them to serve the LORD our God. And until we arrive there, we ourselves do not know with what we shall serve the LORD'" (Exodus 10:25-26). Notice the courage of Moses! "You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings...not a hoof will be left behind." Moses says: "Pharaoh, let this be clear to you. For us, worshiping the Lord involves making sacrifices and offerings to Him. We will offer animal sacrifices to Him. So please make no mistake about this. In addition to our entire families, we are also taking all our flocks whether you like it or not. Not a hoof is to be left behind. Understand that! That's our stance! That's our position!"
One question remains to be answered! How could Moses stand his ground consistently and courageously before the most powerful man of his time? The answer is this. When situations of compromise came into Moses' life, he slammed shut the door of compromise. He stood on God's word. He settled it in his heart that he would choose God's way, not the easy way of compromise. What about us?
We live in an age of compromise, tolerance, and political correctness. Believers in Jesus Christ are finding it harder and harder to remain true to God and His righteous standards to which they are called. It's far easier to blend into the way the world does business than to dare to be different-that is, living according God's righteous standards found in the Bible. It's far easier to bend to the cultural preferences and practices than to stand our ground on God's truth. We need to ask ourselves these honest questions: Do I cave in to the pressure of the culture in which I live? Do I easily cower to peer pressure? Do I choose the path of compromise to avoid being branded as "narrow-minded," or "bigoted," or a "fool" or a" fanatic?" Or do I, like Moses and Aaron, calmly and coolly stand my ground in the strength of the Spirit, trusting that God will take full responsibility for my commitment to my God-given convictions? The choice is ours to make. May God's Spirit help each one of us to live as people who refuse to compromise on His purposes for our lives! And when we fail, let us be quick to confess our failure to Him and look to Him for His cleansing, forgiveness and renewal!