Obstacles to Hope
Every person can understand the value of hope by seeing the obstacles the Hebrews faced.
From Parade magazine comes the story of self-made millionaire Eugene Land, who greatly changed the lives of a sixth-grade class in East Harlem. Mr. Lang had been asked to speak to a class of 59 sixth-graders. What could he say to inspire these students, most of whom would drop out of school? He wondered how he could get these predominantly black and Puerto Rican children even to look at him. Scrapping his notes, he decided to speak to them from his heart. "Stay in school," he admonished, "and I'll help pay the college tuition for every one of you." At that moment the lives of these students changed. For the first time they had hope. Said one student, "I had something to look forward to, something waiting for me. It was a golden feeling." Nearly 90 percent of that class went on to graduate from high school.
I think that the Hebrews in Egypt had a similar experience. They were running low on hope. Here are some of the obstacles they faced.
Obstacle I. Accusations
A. Way back in my youth pastor days I was asked by a parent to keep an extra close eye on her son. He had gotten into legal trouble and she wanted to have a witness in case any other problems arose. I guess that I never gave the mother an answer one way or the other, but I did start paying extra close attention to her son. After a while it reached me that she was spreading rumors about me. This really tripped me up because I thought I was doing what she wanted and now she was making some false accusations against me. It was not the kind of thanks I was looking for while helping her family.
B. This has to be akin to what the Hebrews were feeling. They had been making bricks. It does not say they were doing an exceptionally good or bad job. They were getting their work done. When Moses arrives he tells the Hebrews that God has heard their prayers and he is going to free them from their life of slavery. The next step is to go request from Pharaoh time off. Rather than joyously granting their request he asks Moses, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go." In vv. 7 & 17 Pharaoh calls the Hebrew people lazy.
C. Moses shows up and announces to the Hebrew people that he is the man to rescue them from slavery, and the response from Pharaoh is these people are lazy. That is the message that Pharaoh gave to Moses, and it is also the message that he gives to the Israelite foremen. Can you imagine being a Hebrew leader when Moses comes and announces that God has heard their prayers and he is concerned about his people? This had to be a great sigh of relief. They might have even started packing, knowing that they would be leaving soon. Instead, they get the message from Pharaoh that they are lazy. This seems to be heading in the opposite direction from where they thought they were going.
D. Perhaps you can identify with the Hebrew people. You felt like God was going to do something amazing in your life and the first step takes you backward. Maybe you have needed to mend a relationship and rather than being welcomed with open arms you face ridicule and belittling. It does not seem to be the kind of reward you should be receiving. You are doing what God wants you to do and yet you face this kind of trouble.
Obstacle II. Extra work
A. In high school gym class we were all required to run a mile. That was four times around the track. I have always been slow when it came to things like that. I was one of the last ones to complete that mile run. When I got done I was exhausted. I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest and my lungs were going to explode. I was ready to collapse. As soon as I got done the gym teacher said that was not good enough I would have to do it again. I think she gave me a few minutes to catch my breath and then I started over again. The thing that really sticks out in my mind is that I had tried hard to get it right the first time. I had given it my best effort. I knew I would not be able to better myself if I tried again.
B. Rather than bringing relief to the Hebrews, Moses actions cause Pharaoh to create more work for them. The Hebrews made bricks. This is probably some of how the Egyptians were able to build some of the things they did. It was built using Hebrew labor. Straw would be mixed with the mud as a binding agent. The straw would make the bricks stronger. Up until this time the straw had been provided for the Hebrews, but now that Pharaoh has decided that they are lazy he sends out the command that they are to come up with their own straw.
C. Now rather than packing bags and getting ready to move out of Egypt they are being told they are to continue what they are doing, and oh, now they can find their own straw. I can imagine this caused the level of hope to get just a little bit lower. The hopes and dreams that Moses planted in their head had to be slipping away a little bit at a time. Rather than getting better, things were getting worse.
D. Maybe you have heard the old saying, “Don’t ever pray for patience because God will give you more by trying yours.” This is what we often see happening. It will get a little worse before things get better. If you need surgery, you will feel worse, and then hopefully you will feel better.
Obstacle III. Beatings
A. In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” George Bailey finds that a large bank deposit has been lost, so he ends up in a bar and he prays, asking God to help him out of this mess. When the deposit was lost he became angry and chewed out one of his children’s teacher. The teacher’s husband enters the bar and when he realizes that is George Bailey he hits him in the mouth. George walks away from that incident saying, I pray and my answer is a slug in the jaw.
B. I have to think that the Hebrews were maybe of this sort of opinion. Moses came as the answer to their prayers. Moses makes an appeal to Pharaoh for the release of the slaves, but Pharaoh refuses and calls them lazy. He also adds more work. Now in v. 14 when they fail to meet their quota of bricks the Hebrew foremen are beaten. Thinking that they are being mistreated they go to Pharaoh to ask for relief. The answer is the same Moses had received, "Lazy, that’s what you are— lazy!” v. 17. It might seem like they are getting beaten as an answer to their prayers.
C. I have read stories of Christians who are alive today in other parts of the world who are beaten because of their faith. They live in a place where Christianity is illegal and when they openly practice their Christianity they are put in prison and many times they are beaten. They experience many difficulties in their life because they have chosen to follow Christ. It would be easy for these believers to simply say it is not worth it. There is too much being taken from my life for me to continue to follow Christ.
D. When you are persecuted or beaten for doing what is right it can be tempting to throw up your hands in surrender. I think that this is where hope kicks in. We know that we have a God who is bigger than any of the situations we are faced with. We know that God understands our trials. We must continue to keep our eyes focused on him. He needs to be the source of our hope. He can carry us beyond the struggle we are faced with.
Obstacle IV. Dislike
A. One time many years ago I had a couple who came to me for premarital counseling. By the time we had gotten to their third counseling session it was obvious to me that they were lying about some things I had asked them to do. I decided that in our next meeting I would confront them about the lie. This was not something I wanted to do? I like people to like me. I knew this had the potential of creating some dislike. It was not really something I wanted to do.
B. Even as Moses and the Hebrews are dealing with Pharaoh they probably wanted to be liked by the Egyptian people. Yet when Moses goes to Pharaoh he requests freedom for the Hebrew slaves for a few days. This causes Pharaoh to become upset with Moses and the Hebrew people. He is irritated to the point of calling the people lazy and putting more work on their shoulders.
C. Perhaps the biggest surprise is how the Hebrew foreman treats Moses as he attempts to secure their release. These men do not like the way they are being treated. They have been given extra work, and when they don’t complete their normal quota they are beaten. They plead their case before Pharaoh who tells them they are lazy. They get angry and that anger is turned on Moses. When they find Moses they tell him, “"May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us." They believe that Moses is supposed to help them, but things have gotten harder rather than easier.
D. This might be an indication of how a person has misplaced their hope. If the only place for a person to find hope is in other people, they will likely be disappointed. We need to be putting our hope in the Lord. People might be able to help, but God is the only one who can really provide hope for us. It is not going to come anywhere else. Real hope can only come from God.
E. We should be asking ourselves where we are putting our hope. I think that our natural inclination is to put hope in things besides God. It is not natural for a person to put their hope in God. This is more of a decision that develops into a discipline. We need to be constantly reminding ourselves that our hope is in God. It is not in the things of this world.
I read a book many years ago that stated that our natural tendency is to put our hope in people, places, positions and possessions. We get into trouble when this is where we place all of our hope. These things will never satisfy. Perhaps the Hebrews were placing their hope in a person, Moses. He did not even do what they thought he should do.
Maybe you can identify places in your life where hope has been misplaced. Maybe you have been hoping in the wrong things, or maybe you have lost hope because God has not worked as quickly or in the way that you had hoped. This is not the time to lose hope. It is a time for hope to be restored.
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your savior I can assure you that Jesus is the best place for you to put your hope.