After Pharaoh enhances his harsh treatment of the Hebrews, denying straw but requiring the same amount of production, the Israelite foremen do what we naturally do—blame God. They could not believe God could redeem. Remaining in their hard labor was preferable to trusting God for the impossible — turning suffering into good, liberating from bondage, proving love through seasons of hardship. What keeps you from believing God loves you in Christ today? Could it be the same reason these Israelite foremen doubted? If so, the same cure for their unbelief is available to you.
Last year, planetary scientists Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin announced their compelling theory that a true “Ninth Planet” exists. You may remember that in 2006 Pluto was demoted from a real planet to a planetoid, an asteroid. It was because Pluto’s cover was blown. It is just too small to explain the power some force is exerting on our solar system. Our planets do not orbit in the perfectly circular way we presented them in our third-grade science projects. Their orbits are ovals, shaped like eggs. At times, they pass very closely to the Sun and at others they are far away. Even the Sun is affected by some mysterious force causing it to tilt at six degrees on its axis. These Cal Tech researchers have concluded that ‘Planet X’ is the explanation. They believe it is about the size of Neptune and ten times the size of the earth and takes twenty thousand years to orbit the Sun elliptically. So, when it is close to one side of the Sun and planets are on the other side, they orbit out farther from the Sun but do not fly away. When Planet X is farthest away from the Sun and planets are on the opposite side, they are drawn closer to the center of our universe. Brown and Batygin argue that though it cannot be seen, a ninth planet must exist because the effects of its force are clearly observed.
Thus, we have a new expression in our language, “a ninth planet” to describe those occasions when we feel the effects of an unidentified force. Sometimes it is a human force, as when new policies start coming down mysteriously to your local office until you discover there has been a change in management. It can be physiological, as when a sickness requires a battery of tests to find the infection producing it. It can also be spiritual, as in the case with these Israelites. Their disbelief in the good news Moses and Aaron proclaim is bizarre. Their decision to gather stubble rather than cry out to the Lord is ridiculous. Their choice to return to Pharaoh rather than cry out to the Lord is crazy. And blaming Moses and Aaron for their troubles is offensive. What could possibly explain such irrational unbelief? It requires us to ask what causes it, because the same force exerts influence on us. We must identify it so that we may lay it before the Lord and be freed of it. Let’s get at it by observing three declarations made in this passage.
In response to the Israelites’ doubt voiced by Moses, God responds with a series of statements. Between verses 1–8 of this passage, God says “I will” seven times. Each time he says this phrase, it implies one of three actions on his part: redemption, possession, or liberation.
Redemption. In verse 6, God says “I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
In the old world, redemption meant a financial transaction. It might be a transaction between a master and a slave in which they agreed to some terms that would be financially profitable enough for the master that he could agree to allow the slave his freedom. In fact, in the book of Philemon, Paul is primarily advocating to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, a slave who has escaped Philemon’s rule. Paul asks Philemon to release Onesimus and he (Paul) will pay whatever necessary to attain his redemption. Therefore, when God says that he will redeem the Israelites, he means that he will personally pay the price necessary to do it.
Possession. In the very next verse, God names another part of his plan of redemption for the Israelites: “I will take you as my people and I will be your God” (8). God is not simply in the business of freeing the Israelites from slavery; his intention is to bring them out so that they can be his people and he can be their God, a prevalent theme throughout the entire Bible.
Liberation. God’s final purpose statement in this part of the text comes in verse 8. He says, “I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession” (8). God’s plan is not only to free the Israelites; it is not only to be their God. He is freeing them to restore identity and dignity to them and to fulfill the covenant he made with their forefathers. In essence he is saying, “become my people and I will make you into what you were created to be.
Despite God’s decisive words in verses 6–8, the Israelite people respond in a way with which we can often relate—unbelief. Verse 9 shows us the Israelites’ response: “Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.” The Israelites’ hearts were downcast because of their many years of bondage so that they could not believe when salvation was announced to them.
In recent years, research has shown us that trauma has lasting physiological effects on the brain of those who experience it. It literally rewires brain function in a way that enables people to function despite deep hurt and loss. A friend who works to rescue women from sex trafficking recently told me that 75 percent of women who are brought out of their bondage will eventually return to their pimps. We hear a statistic like that and our knee-jerk reaction is shock. How could someone willingly place themselves back in such damaging circumstances? After hundreds of years of slavery, the Israelites must have experienced similar psychological and physiological effects. They must have decided in their hearts that God really wasn’t going to save them and that Pharaoh really was their true master. As people who are often unable to believe in redemption and liberation when it is declared to us, we often return to the only pattern of life we know—unbelief. In essence, we give up. We stop believing God will, or even can, answer our prayers.
This is why God must enable our belief. This is what is meant in the hymn “Cry No More” when it says “Though we have not faith to seek him, Christ himself will draw us near.” We can only be healed of this kind of lack of faith by Jesus working in us. In this final section, I want you to see how the “I am” statements of Jesus in the gospel of John coincide with the “I will” statements God declared to Moses in Exodus.
In regard to redemption…
God says, “I will bring you out” (6:6) … Jesus says, “I am the door” (John 10:9).
God says, “I will free you” (6) … Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5)
God says, “I will redeem you” (6) … Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25)
In regard to possession…
God says, “I will take you as my own people” (7) … Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11)
God says, “I will be your God” (7) … Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)
In regard to liberation…
God says, “I will bring you to the land” (8) … Jesus says “I am the true vine” (John 15:1)
God says, “I will give it to you as a possession” (8) … Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48)
Jesus is the true fulfillment of all God’s promises. When we struggle to believe that God will make good on what he has said he will do, Jesus says it is done.
A number of years ago I received a letter from a friend who is on the mission field about her struggle with unbelief and how God is bringing her through it.
Hey Pastor Robertson,
I hope you are doing well! I am in the States for counseling still and will finish up in three weeks. I wanted to share with you a little bit more about what the Father has been doing in my life. I shared with you part of my story of past abuse and thought that I was healed of it when I moved to the mission field. On the mission field, I began remembering traumatic events that I had blocked out for years and began having flashbacks (I’ve heard that it is common for the stress of cross-cultural living to have this effect). I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD and have been walking through the trauma of my past.
My counselor told me that I was fixing my eyes on the Son so much that I was unable to actually walk through the pain. She said that I immediately go to His sovereignty in the midst of suffering, cling to the cross and the joy of His redemption that I forget to actually suffer. I told her that my pastor at my home fellowship trained me so well to trust in His unchanging love for me regardless of circumstances, that I don’t know how to do anything else. I hope that this accusation is encouraging to you! I am walking through the pain now and still clinging to Him, understanding more and more each day how much suffering is a gift. Thank you for being a wonderful leader that speaks the truth and gives us a glimpse of His heart in your sermons and leadership. I miss the mission field and cannot wait to return and see how He is going to use my suffering for His glory.
Blessings and thank you for everything!
She gives her pastor far too much credit. What she has experienced is the gracious working of Christ in her heart to enable her to believe God’s promises despite circumstances that would try and sway her to the contrary. I have experienced in my own life and in friendships many instances in which faith seems to vanish. Depression and hopelessness take over in our hearts and cause us to lose sight of God’s promises and actions in the past. Our faith may not be restored over night; it may take years, but when we place ourselves in worship each week, even if it’s just going through the motions, we are in a place where Christ will work in us to restore us to belief.
In the same way, like the father of the boy with an unclean spirit (Mark 9), we must cry out to Christ and say, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Cling to Jesus. He is the answer to all God’s promises and the only one who can deliver us from bondage to sin.
This Sermon in Short is a summary of the message preached by Dr. George Robertson in the morning services on February 19, 2017. Click here to see the full service and the sermon in its entirety.
 Sarah Knapton, “Mysterious ‘Ninth Planet’ May Have Caused Entire Solar System to Tilt,” The Telegraph (20 October 2016).
 “Cry No More,” words by Johanna Anderson, music by Dan Forrest: 2015 Beckenhorst Press. Sung in the morning service by Amy Patton.