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This blog post is Part 15 of a series entitled "From Fear To Freedom" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN. 

Message Date: May 26, 2024

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Have you ever felt like no matter how hard you try to do what is right, you find yourself consistently coming up short? Just when it appears the sun is shining on your face and things are looking up, you round the corner to see the looming rain clouds just up ahead… and as you look around, you realize you are all on your own… without an umbrella! I know I have sure felt this way before. It feels like I take one step forward and then two-thousand steps backwards.

I presume Moses felt this way as he journeyed back to Egypt. He has finally agreed to obey the will of God and take a meeting with the Pharaoh. So, he pays a quick visit to his father-in-law, packs up his family and his life of 40 years, and begins the trek across the hot, desert terrain. And mid-journey, Moses quickly comes to the realization of this very truth: The right thing… is often too the hard thing. When we last journeyed with Moses, he was in route to Egypt where, astonishingly, we learn he is just about to die!

Exodus 4:24-26

When Moses’ wife, Zipporah, exclaims to him, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me,” it is obvious she is not happy. Circumcision was an act of obedience for the Hebrew, not the Midianite, which she was. Performing this act is obviously something of which she is disgusted. But what is interesting here… she knew exactly what to do and how to do it! So, she gets the job done and saves the life of her husband. This tells me the two of them must have discussed this act at some point. I presume, however, the two disagreed on this act of obedience and Moses, rather than assuming his role as the spiritual leader of the home and following God’s command to circumcise his son, chose instead to honor his wife’s wishes. And such a decision of disobedience almost cost him his life.

Zipporah is hardly mentioned again after the “bridegroom of blood” incident. We do not know for sure, but it appears the two of them live estranged from this point on. Moses’ wife and children are only mentioned one more time after this moment. It is clear his children do not rise to a position of leadership in the nation of Israel. And it appears that his family does not even live with him during the time Moses leads the nation of Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness over 40 years, and eventually to the Promise Land. Additionally, it seems from this moment forward that Moses journeys on without the support of his family. How disheartening this must have been for this 80 year-old man. Now, Moses finds himself having no friends in Egypt. Jethro, his father-in-law, is not even mentioned in this moment. And his family, it appears, has deserted him. Moses, just as was the case 40 years ago, is once again in the middle of the desert realizing just how very lonely leadership, at times, can be. I wonder if you have found yourself in such a place as this – not being along, because the Lord assures us He is always with us – but, nonetheless, due to circumstances, or even as is the case with Moses, because of a choice of obedience, feeling incredibly alone?

As I have continued to study the life of Moses, and too, as I have been in a place of leadership in my life for so very many years, I can attest: Leaders must often make decisions others will not understand. Leaders must often do what others will not. Leaders must often set into motion events that, even close friends and family, will resent. It’s interesting, people want to follow a leader who motivates and inspires them. But true leadership is about really, really hard choices and circumstances and often on-the-fly decision making involving many layers to which others are not always privy. And sadly, I have experienced people will turn on a leader when the said leader must lead others in a direction they would rather not go. People will misunderstand. People will judge. People will complain. People will turn away. Think about Jesus… He made decisions that were right, but too decisions that undeniably placed Him at odds with so very many people. And too such decisions undoubtedly left him with a full understanding of the sting of loneliness. In His most difficult hour, everyone deserted Him.

So… in route to Egypt, Moses took some pretty big blows. God almost takes his life, and now he is journeying alone. But y’all… all of this makes what happens next all the more sweet and special for this 80 year-old man.

Exodus 4:27-28

God must have known what it was that Moses most needed in this moment. As a matter of fact, God had already told Moses that his brother was in route to meet him. Remember this?

Exodus 4:14-16

I find this to be truly amazing. Before Moses even knew that he would be in need of his brother, God knew. I’ve already told you how fascinating it is that there are so very many special nuggets for us to grab along the way in this story. Hands-down this is one of the sweetest ones! And, Church, what a great reminder for us today:

God is concerned about my concerns.

I find this moment with Moses to be so encouraging and reassuring to us today as followers of the Christ. And specifically for anyone today who finds themselves feeling misunderstood; feeling alone… Will you receive this today? God is concerned about your concerns. He knows what you are thinking right now. He knows your hurt. And if your circumstances are fighting right now to convince you that God is not involved, that God does not care, and that God is not intimately aware of your situation, receive this today… God knew long before Moses ever knew that Moses once again would find himself standing all alone in the desert somewhere between Egypt and Midian. God knew that Moses’ wife and family would not understand this life-call he was now to fully embrace. God knew Moses would find himself once again seemingly questioning everything… God sent Moses’ brother to him before Moses even knew that he needed him… and before Moses was concerned, God was ahead of his concerns. And today, the same is true for you!

Whatever your situation; your pain; your brokenness; whatever lies your loneliness tries to convince you is right, let God's Spirit consume you with these truths today: God is working ahead of my pain. God has not left me on my own. God is intimately aware of the lies competing for my allegiance. God is concerned about my concerns. And God longs to give me what I need. Now… here's what we have to keep in mind: What I want may not be what I need. Hear this again! What I want may not be what I need. This is why my prayer must continue to be, “God, Your will be done.”

So…Moses met with his brother in the wilderness. And it appears that his brother, Aaron, is the first person to whom Moses tells everything about what has happened since his encounter with God on the mountain. This must have truly been a special reunion for these two brothers. And then, look at what happens…Verse 31 is one of my favorite verses in the entirety of this moment in history because it is both convicting and humbling.

Exodus 4:29-31

For 400 years, again let this reality sink in… for 400 years the nation of Israel has been as a prisoner in Egypt, as slaves, workers, and recipients of whips and beatings and pain. It is hard for us here in America to even wrap our heads around the brutality of what it really means to be a slave to another. Nonetheless, this was their reality; every day; at every moment; living as “property” owned by the state of Egypt. Yet… even amidst this pain and humiliation and weariness and, potentially fear over being found out as to this very meeting with Moses and Aaron, the elders of the nation of Israel do what…?Scripture tells us two things that happen here. And it is these simple, yet powerful acts that can be so very moving for us today. And, oh, how I pray this for the Church, this church, today. I hope you see this!

The hope for the Church:

1. Believe.

It is truly amazing how just three simple words can possess so very much weight! Do you see them in verse 31: “And they believed…”! Remember, this is exactly what God told Moses would happen! Look back at the encounter God had with Moses around the fire on the mountain:

Exodus 3:16-18

Oh, how this must have thrilled the heart of this 80-year-old man! God told Moses this is precisely how the elders would respond. And they did! Why I so hope this for us each is because this is so very true: How I believe shapes how I live. My beliefs shape my convictions. My beliefs shape my passions. My beliefs shape my intuition. My beliefs shape my choices. My beliefs shape the way I treat others. My beliefs shape my obedience. How I believe shapes how I live! Look at the way one lives, and in doing so, you can unmistakably see how one believes. And this is so very true here in this moment with Moses, Aaron, and the elders of the nation of Israel. Their beliefs shape what happens next. What does happen next? Well, #2: They…

2. Worship.

You know… when you come to a place of true belief in something or someone, of trusting, of fully trusting, in this case, in the ability and power and plan of God, your heart can’t help but be thankful; full of gratitude; exuberant in gratefulness. And even when there is a monumental task of uncertainty before you; a difficulty beyond reasoning; an incomprehensible journey ahead… as is this case with Moses in this moment…when one’s beliefs are at peace, then no matter the challenge before you, there is peace. And with such peace, there is the ushering in of worship. True. Authentic. Selfless. Real. Worship.

Look again at verse 31:

Exodus 4:31

And once arriving at such a place, all one can do is as the elders of Israel did - - “…bow and worship.” So… we are finally at that moment when Moses stands face to face with the Pharaoh! Let’s read:

Exodus 5:1-23

God told Moses this would happen! He prepared Moses that the heart of Pharaoh would be hardened. Remember this:

Exodus 4:21

So the obvious question, “Why? Why does God harden the heart of Pharaoh?” Have you ever pondered this thought? God has commissioned Moses, calling him out of the Midian desert to go stand before the most powerful man on the planet and to tell him, after 400 years of brutality against His chosen people, to let the nation of Israel finally be free… God empowers Moses to go by miraculously speaking to him through a bush that is set ablaze while Moses is standing barefoot on the mountain of God… God too provides Moses with some pretty supernatural tricks up his sleeve - - a staff that turns into a snake - - a hand that turns leprous - - a body of water that turns into blood… God affords Moses all of this as He tells him to fearlessly walk into the palace of the King of Egypt and demand freedom for the Israelites… However… God throws in one more twist… “By the way, Moses… Pharaoh is going to tell you, ‘No!’” Surely Moses is thinking, “What? Wait a minute! Did I hear you correctly, God? You are telling me after all of this, the man is going to say, ‘No?!’” 

Well, we are actually going to dig deeper into this as this study, From Fear to Freedom, continues. And we are actually going to see, do you know this… the Scriptures tell us that Pharaoh himself hardens his heart against God and the nation of Israel on two occasions! So, Pharaoh is not innocent in this process. And we will see this come to fruition later in the study. But, we do know, and God makes it vividly clear to Moses that God first hardens the heart of the King of Egypt. So, again, I ask, “Why?” I am of the belief that the answer to the “Why?” is revealed in the way in which God responds to Moses. Though God has proven Himself faithful over and again in the story; though God has performed one miraculous event after the other in the story… saving Moses from death as an infant by protecting him hidden among the reeds; allowing Moses to be rescued by the daughter of the man who wanted every male Hebrew baby dead… granting Moses a safe passage to Midian even though he should have been held accountable for the murder of an Egyptian; speaking to Moses through a burning bush and empowering him to leave the past behind and begin his new journey as the one to stand before the Pharaoh; using Moses to perform the supernatural act of a staff to a snake and back to a staff, of a leprous hand back to a clean hand; of turning the waters of the Nile blood red; and then giving Moses the support of and belief in his ability when communicating to the elders of the nation of Israel God's plan…

God has given Moses a most amazing life-story! God has done all of these supernatural things in the life of Moses… but yet we still see that Moses is a man vacillating between trust and fear! Think about it… as quickly as Moses returns from speaking to Pharaoh, here we find him at the end of Exodus chapter 5 once again standing before God questioning everything:

Exodus 5:22-23

It is obvious that Moses is still a man struggling deeply with fully trusting God. So, again I ask, “Why?”  Why does God harden the heart of the Pharaoh? Well… I am of the belief that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart for one very important reason:

To conform the heart of Moses to align with the heart of God.

Let me explain…God wants Moses to trust in Him. Period! Not to trust in any circumstances; not to trust in his own abilities; not to trust in his brother, Aaron; and not to place trust even in the nation of Israel’s elders. God wants Moses to fully trust Him. And God is using the defiance of Pharaoh to do exactly this. And what God, I am confident, wants you and me to gain from this story is the same: God desires that my allegiance for Him is founded upon my trust in Him. Not in what God can do for me or even what God can do through me. Instead, my allegiance for Him is founded upon complete and total adherence to Him; the person of God; I AM.

After Moses returns to speak with the Lord, obviously speaking from a posture of fear and an extreme position of distrust in God, look at how God responds to Moses:

Exodus 6:1-8

Church, do you notice what God says on 4 occasions?! Look at it: 4 times God says to Moses, “I AM!”  In verse 2, verse 6, verse 7, and verse 8 God says, “I AM!” In Exodus 6:2, God says, “I am the Lord.” In Exodus 6:6, God says, “I am the Lord. In Exodus 6:7, God says, “I am the Lord.” In Exodus 6:8, God says, “I am the Lord.” 4 times y’all God says, “I am the Lord!” God is proclaiming to Moses over and again, “Moses, your focus is on the wrong place.” Y’all, this is a pattern we see over and again in Scripture – God directing and leading His people to keep their eyes on Him! For example, in the book of Isaiah, we read that the prophet is broken over the moral position of his nation. One day he looks toward the sky, and he sees this:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 6:1

This is the exact perspective Isaiah needed to continue leading well. As suddenly as he fixed his focus on God, his entire outlook shifted. In the book of Hebrews, Paul writes on several occasions exactly this proclamation as to where our focus is to remain:

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. Hebrews 3:1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2a

Church, there is no #1 bestseller, no life-Coach, no family therapist, no spiritual guru that can give to you what spending time fixing your eyes and heart and focus on God can give to you! Nothing! 

There is no God-substitute. Period.

And when you choose to fix your eyes on the Lord, you then begin to see everything - - every hurt, every mess, every discomfort, every set-back, every sting, every lie, every brokenness, every disillusionment, every letdown, every disappointment, every loss, every fragmented dream, everything… you begin to see every single thing about your life from a different perspective…from a changed perspective; from a glass half-full perspective; from a better perspective; from a new perspective… from a God perspective!

After all that God has done for Moses in his life-story, this 80 year-old man still has so very much to learn about keeping his focus on God. What is fascinating is that these words God uses to tell Moses who He is are precisely the exact words God uses when speaking to Moses the first time at the burning bush:

Exodus 3:14

At the burning bush, God does not spend time convincing Moses to place his trust in anything God will do. No! Instead, God states that you, Moses, are to place your trust in the truth that I AM. So obviously God knows something to which we as the readers are not privy about the heart of Moses; about Moses’ ever-lingering fear. God knows that Moses is a man, even after this incessant display from God of all of the miraculous events that have happened in his life since birth of which I detailed for you earlier…God knows that Moses is a man still ever in need of dying to the stronghold of fear in his life. And so… God hardens the heart of the King in order to soften the heart of Moses. God hardens the heart of the King in order to draw the heart of this man Moses into complete allegiance in and reliance upon God.

And in doing so, what God is accomplishing is this: He is continuing to draw Moses to Himself. He continues to show Moses that He, God, I AM, is the one in whom Moses can completely and without reservation trust. Not in his circumstances. Not in a changing of the situation. Not in offering a remedy to these present challenges. No, God, I AM, is the answer. Let’s pause for a moment. And in doing so, I implore you to answer 3 questions as it relates to your personal journey in this series thus far:

What is God saying to me? What is God desiring of me? What is God requesting from me?

If I can be vulnerable with you for a moment, I will share with you what God has been saying to me … and I too presume He is desiring that you come to a similar resolve in your life. God has shown me in this journey From Fear to Freedom that He is not satisfied with only some parts of my life. He desires them all. I can see over the past 4 months since we began this study how God has revealed to me some very specific areas of my life that I had not yet brought under His will. The more I have journeyed with Moses, the more I have come to see that, just as Moses, there have been several areas of my life in need of a “circumcision” - in need of being cut away from me so that God can have complete and total allegiance of me. 

You see…As humans, we are almost always guilty of pursuing a remedy to life’s problems. Not that anything in and of itself is wrong with such a pursuit. But I do believe there are times when we can be so very concerned about pursuing a remedy, we miss the opportunity to rest in the hope found simply in the Almighty God, I AM. And what we see from God when we do this… is that He, I AM, takes care of the details – I AM does what only He can do. And the end result for you and for me is that we get to rest in the experience knowing we are safe in the very supernatural and capable hands of I AM. So, after telling Moses 4 times, I AM,” God then says it again to Moses. Look at the end of Exodus chapter 6:

Exodus 6:28-29

Now we see that God has repeated 5 times to Moses the same message He delivered to him at the burning bush. And then, after telling him 5 times “I AM,” 8 times God tells Moses, “I will!”

Exodus 6:1

Exodus 6:6

Exodus 6:7

Exodus 6:8

8 times God tells Moses what He will do! And do you see how all of this is possible for God? God will do all He says He will do because of this one certainty: God is I AM.

Do you know when the battle from fear to freedom is won in the heart of the follower of the Christ? I can tell you… It is not won merely as you view your enemies wave a white flag in defeat. It is not won when you peruse the battlefield with the realization that you are the last one standing. Instead… victory is yours for the taking at the moment you say, “I believe. I believe I AM will do what He says He will do.” And… It is at the instant I say “I believe” when my faith becomes the true catalyst that propels me from fear to freedom… and leads me into true authentic worship of I AM.


Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.