Brief Notes

Bargaining with
Pharaoh (3):
Retreating Unto
the Lord

2 January 2024

Only when we
truly see that we can
do nothing will we
also see that the Lord
can do everything

When Moses first went in to Pharaoh, he boldly declared,

“Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness! ”

But Pharaoh replied, very simply,

“Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”
— Exodus 5:2

Suddenly, Moses lost all of his boldness, and meekly asked Pharaoh,

Please, let us go three days’ journey into the desert and sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”
— Exodus 5:3

Pharaoh, however, would not listen, but instead only increased the burdens upon the Children of Israel (5:6-9).

At this point Moses became quite discouraged:

So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.”
— Exodus 5:22-23

In fact, Moses was learning the lesson that, regardless of how much he had seen or knew, even regardless of the fact that the Lord had appeared to him and commissioned him, nothing would avail until the Lord Himself came in to deal with the situation directly. This is something every genuine servant of the Lord today must also learn: regardless of how much we may feel we have, or know, or have experienced, we cannot serve the Lord apart from the Lord Himself.

Fortunately, instead of giving up, Moses, so to speak, “retreated” unto the Lord, as we see in his speaking above; this is a real turning point in the book of Exodus, as it should be in our own experience as well. That is, when we meet with such failure, after attempting to serve the Lord in ourselves, it should cause us to give up laboring by our own strength and instead “retreat” unto the Lord. We may even, like Moses, complain to the Lord (cf. Ps. 55:17, NASB).

And when Moses spoke to the Lord in such a way, the Lord did not rebuke him; instead, He replied,

“Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh.”
— Exodus 6:1

In brief, Moses first had to see what he could do, which was nothing (cf. John 15:5); only then would he see what the Lord could do, which was everything.

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul was a servant of the Lord who surely learned this same lesson:

Therefore I am well-pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions and distresses on behalf of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am powerful.
— 2 Corinthians 10:10

And in a famous statement of his own, Martin Luther expressed the same thought in this way:

God made the whole universe out of nothing, and if you’re willing to become nothing, then maybe He can make something out of you, too.

Perhaps nothing frustrates the Lord so much as our own strength to serve Him in our self-confidence and self-trust. Even our sin and our flesh can be exposed and dealt with more easily, but we still insist on serving God based upon what we feel we can do, not on what He can do and desires to do through us. How we all, like Moses, need His cross and His breaking in this regard!

May the Lord gain so many servants in these days, who have learned the lesson of their own impotence to serve Him, and are thus truly weak in themselves, yet powerful in Christ, so that His word may go forth again in this country in a prevailing way!

Sent to our mailing list on
— 2 January 2024 —