Is everything going well in your life? Or do you encounter trials and do you struggle with problems and obstacles? I dare to say, you do! And you would not be alone! The question is, How do you deal with setbacks? Do you view them as just being temporary and passing, or permanent and lasting?
When God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush and announced that He would use Moses to free Israel from Egyptian slavery, Moses did not believe him. So God convinced him through a set of miracles that it would happen as declared, and finally Moses reluctantly followed God’s command and returned to Egypt. God told Moses very clearly that there would first be obstacles—Pharaoh would not let Israel go until he was forced to do so by a mighty hand. God even told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and multiply His signs and wonders in the land of Egypt (Exodus 7:3).
When Moses still doubted that the Israelites would believe him, God also told him that the elders of Israel would listen to Moses (Exodus 3:18), and this is exactly what occurred at first (Exodus 4:29-31).
But then things did not go too well, it seemed. When Moses and Aaron demanded of Pharaoh to let Israel go, Pharaoh’s response was to plague the people even more severely. The people were not prepared for this setback, and so they complained to Moses (Exodus 5:20-21), and Moses was likewise caught off guard and complained to God (Exodus 5:22-23). God gave him encouragement, which he passed on to the people, but now they did not listen “because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9). And so, Moses, being frustrated, told God that Pharaoh would not listen to him either (verse 12). But God commanded him to carry out his pre-ordained task of bringing Israel out of Egypt (verse 13).
Moses, under inspiration, announced to Pharaoh that terrible plagues would be poured out if he were to refuse to let Israel go. They would even culminate in the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:23). But as God had predicted, Pharaoh hardened his heart time and again, and God allowed it (Exodus 7:3, 13-14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 34-35; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10). As a consequence, God did pour out plagues on the land, as He had announced through Moses and Aaron. This God did because of three reasons, which He clearly revealed to Moses: The Egyptians would recognize that He was God (Exodus 7:5); God’s name would be declared in all the earth (Exodus 9:16); and Israel would also know that “I am the LORD” (Exodus 10:2).
After the initial “setbacks,” it seemed that now everything would run smoothly. Didn’t Israel just have to wait until Pharaoh would give in? Not so! First, the people were still enslaved and they still had to suffer because of their cruel affliction; and then, they too were affected by the first three plagues. Only beginning with the fourth plague, God would protect Israel so that His plagues would not come near them (Exodus 8:22-23; 9:26; 10:23). God’s protection culminated of course during the Passover night when He would not allow the destroyer to touch the Israelites in their houses when He saw the blood on the doorposts, while all the firstborn in Egypt would be killed.
Finally, Pharaoh relented and allowed Israel to leave. They did so full of joy and boldness and thankfulness. But right afterwards, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart once again so that he pursued Israel with a huge army (Exodus 14:4, 8). Israel’s reaction to this new setback was telling: “So they were very afraid… and said to Moses, ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, “Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?” For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness’” (Exodus 14:10-12).
Moses responded that God would fight for them (Exodus 14:14), and He surely did. When the Red Sea opened, Israel “went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground” (verse 22), but when Pharaoh and his army followed them, the waters of the sea returned and drowned them all (verses 27-28, 30; Psalm 136:14-15).
NOW, when the people of Israel saw the great work which God had done, they feared and believed God and His servant Moses (Exodus 14:31). Sadly, it did not last long. A few days afterwards, the people did not find water in the wilderness, or only bitter waters which could not be consumed (Exodus 15:22-24). And so, they started complaining again about this new setback and their misery. God helped them and made the bitter waters sweet, but the same pattern would continue throughout their journey. When obstacles or setbacks occurred, the people forgot God’s mighty hand, which works miracles, and only focused on their seemingly hopeless condition.
Are we that different today? If things do not work out right away or in the way we expect or hope, are we falling into despair? Do we take into consideration that God may work things out in a very special way, which we do not quite understand yet, for HIS glory?
It is human to become frustrated in the face of setbacks. But notice how the sons of Korah addressed such a set of circumstances in their lives: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God… My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, ‘Where is your God?’… When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me… Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance” (Psalm 42:2-5).
Let us have the same mindset, knowing that when we go through fiery trials, we are never alone, and that God will intervene for us in HIS due time. Whatever setbacks we may encounter—they are temporary, and God knows about all of them. Let us have faith in Him and His doing, and let us allow Him to fight our battles in His unique way, and He will!