Why do I suspect that many believers today would have opposed Moses?
Yes, sadly they certainly exist. There are way too many believers today who – if they lived back at the time of the exodus as recorded in Exodus 1-15 – would actually have sided with the pagan Pharaoh and stood against God’s chosen leader, Moses. They would have happily submitted to the dictates of Pharaoh while accusing Moses of being a troublemaker who should just sit down and shut up.
There is no question whatsoever there would be Christians like this. I encounter them on a regular basis. And we have especially seen this over the past year and a half where states everywhere have locked us down and shut us up. Far too many Christians it seems have welcomed the draconian lockdowns with open arms. Hardly any of them are talking about the vital importance of religious freedom and the loss of our most basic of liberties.
The only real question worth exploring is this: Why are so many believers acting this way? Why are so many folks who call themselves Christians actually siding with pagan rulers while attacking and criticising other believers who think that freedom matters, that church matters, and the like? Why are so many defending and seeking to exonerate Pharaoh while turning on Moses? Well, let me offer some possible reasons for all this.
For many of these folks, it seems that the only biblical text on civil government that they know of is Romans 13:1-7. But the truth is, there are numerous passages that speak about the state and about how God’s people should relate to it – in both Testaments. The biblical Christian never just cherry picks one text at the expense of all others, but compares Scripture with Scripture and offers the full counsel of God.
Related to this, their understanding of the Romans 13 text is often deeply flawed. Far too many of them read into this text – again, while ignoring other texts – believing that the State has absolute power and is to be always obeyed and never resisted.
But the state has delegated authority, and it is to come under God and his values. When Jesus confronted the pagan leader Pilate, he certainly reminded him of these basic truths. But I have written often about this. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/05/15/the-state-is-not-absolute/
When we hear Christians defending the state and chastising other believers, they usually dish out the same old lines. The reasons to disobey or resist are often summed up in a well-worn phrase about this can only happen when the state commands us to do that which is sinful, etc. I may even have said things like this in the past as well.
But that really does not get us very far. Indeed, because it is an extra-biblical moral norm that we have put together, it often serves as little more than a cliché, and it does not accurately deal with all the biblical material on this issue. The truth is, Scripture records plenty of times when God’s people had to defy and disobey the powers that be – and for all sorts of reasons. See this article for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2021/03/24/12-biblical-cases-of-civil-disobedience/
And then we will have these believers claim that the churches are not being singled out here, but everyone equally is facing severe lockdown restrictions. Um, no, not even close. Simply looking at the situation here in Victoria easily disproves that.
Far too often while churches have been fully locked down, or allowed to open with very stringent restrictions, plenty of other groups have been allowed to remain open or to function with much less onerous restrictions. We have had all sorts of things deemed to be “essential services” including pubs, sporting events, hardware stores, even brothels and mass protests (eg., the BLM march), etc.
It would be one thing if everyone were being treated equally here, but they are not. Churches – which really are an essential service – have faced massive shutdowns or restrictions. Even today a large church auditorium that can hold say 3 or 4000 people can only have 50 worshippers in at a time!
But these Pharaoh defenders will still claim that this is no big deal. We can “do church online” they will chant. Yeah right, as if the biblical ideal of Christian fellowship and corporate worship that God expects of his people is just a never-ending series of Zoom or Skype meetings with everyone cowering in fear in their own homes. Good grief, when will believers get some backbone here?
We have so many cowards in the pews and the pulpits who will never stand up for anything, but just sheepishly submit to whatever the secular state tells them to do. They will never dare rock the boat, and as such they have effectively lost any real witness to the surrounding culture starved for truth and examples of biblical courage.
Right now Christians in places like Communist China ARE defying the authorities and continuing to meet for Christian worship, knowing full well that arrests, torture and death will likely be their fate. Yet here in the West except for a handful of brave church leaders, most are cheerily going along with whatever the State tells them to do – no complaints whatsoever. They seem far keener to fully obey the pagan state in all things than the living God.
And I personally know of some of these rare brave pastors who are languishing in jail right now for daring to put biblical worship ahead of the anti-Christian bigotry of the secular left State. Consider Melbourne pastor Paul Furlong. His story is told here, along with how we can help this terrific brother in Christ: mailchi.mp/9786fe6f0398/update-pastor-paul-furlong-imprisonment-4938141?e=58ea942ea7
Christian leaders like Paul are the real champions here, not all the cowardly and compromised Christians who never seem to stand up for what really matters. And of course if and when they ever do wake up to the reality of the ongoing war on religious freedom, it will be far too late. Why am I always reminded of the words of the brave German Lutheran pastor, Holocaust survivor, and resistance leader, Martin Niemoller? He famously said this:
“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
Moses and Pharaoh
Since I have used the exodus story as the backdrop to this article, let me close with a bit more discussion about it. Of course it needs to be said that in one sense it was a unique, one-off event. It was meant not just to deliver the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage, but it was part of the bigger, long-term purposes of God to see the Messiah come to planet earth.
So while it is unique, it is also paradigmatic, and can serve as a model for all believers. Exodus and new exodus themes are found throughout the New Testament. It is appealed to over and over again not just in the Bible but throughout history. The original exodus event gives us important principles about the vital nature of freedom and the place of resistance to tyranny and tyrants.
The Jewish political philosopher Michael Walzer wrote about the great influence of the exodus story in the Bible: Exodus and Revolution (Basic Books, 1985). In it he argues that the Old Testament exodus event has inspired and spurred rebellions and revolutions of all kinds for millennia now, and it is a dominant theme of Western political thought.
Getting back to the events described in the opening chapters of Exodus, notice how compromise was attempted by Pharaoh. Having stripped away the basic rights and freedoms of the Israelites, after he had some power encounters with Yahweh via Moses, he tried to do what tyrants so often do: he sought to throw a few snippets of freedom back to the people.
He hoped that such compromises would be enough to keep them forever enslaved in Egypt. Thus in Ex. 8:25 for example we read about how instead of allowing the people to leave Egypt, Pharaoh told Moses: “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” Moses of course rejected this compromise offer.
I am amazed at how similar all this is to the current government overreaction to the Rona and the way so many Christians have responded. So many of our most fundamental human rights and liberties have been stripped away from us by power-drunk leaders, and every now and then, to keep the masses happy, a few crumbs are thrown back to us.
Here in Victoria we see this happening all the time. These power-hungry rulers in effect are telling us this: ‘We are generous and gracious leaders, therefore we will now allow you two hours out of your home each day, not just one. We will allow you to travel 10 kms from your home, not just 5. Are we not so very kind and wonderful?!’
And the really shocking thing is that the masses seem to fall for it every time! They actually think the government is to be applauded and adored for these measly measures. That shows just how cavalier so many have become concerning our basic freedoms which are being stolen away from the people. As I have said before, the appalling reaction of the sheeple has bothered me even more than the tyrannical powers of our tinpot dictators.
All this, it seems to me, shows us why far too many believers, if transported back to Egypt some three and a half millennia ago, would actually have sided with Pharaoh, and resolutely opposed Moses. Scary stuff indeed.