Let My People Go
March 17th, 1946
LET MY PEOPLE GO
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-17-46 10:50 a.m.
And Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let My people go.
“Let My people go.” God had counted His own. One by one He had numbered them all, given each a name, recorded them in His book. Nonetheless God sent Moses down to Egypt to appear before Pharaoh [Exodus 3:10], and to say for Him, “I have counted My sheep; I know each one by name: not one is to be left behind. Let My people go” [Exodus 5:10].
What did Pharaoh do? What does the world of wickedness always do when the Christian resolves to flee from the City of Destruction? The hard battle just begins. The demand for freedom only caused the oppressors to bind the captives with stronger fetters. The irons with which they were branded were heated hotter. The chains with which they were bound were made more galling. The cords with which they were beaten were plaited heavier. The taskmasters were required to double what heretofore had been produced in the land of sin and in the house of bondage. The people groaned under the unbearable load [Exodus 2:4-19].
This is true in the life of every Christian. One thinks nothing much about sin or temptation so long as the heart is drifting with it. A worldly man once said that the way to overcome a temptation was to yield to it. From his point of view, that was the way out. So long as you drift in sin, live in the world, follow the line of least resistance, surrender before every temptation, you will not find the battle hard. But when you set your mind against evil, when you resolve to break the chain that binds your life, then you will find how doubly oppressive and galling it is. Have you been making friends in the land of Egypt? Have you been learning the socially acceptable, the politely respectable ways of the land of darkness? So long as you share it and stay in it, you will not think much about it. You will think that life around those fleshpots is not so bad after all. But the very minute your heart is resolved to fight it, that minute you will learn that you have chains on your hands. When you demand spiritual freedom, you will learn that you live in the house of bondage, that darkness is in your soul. It is thus with all temptation and sin; the spiritual determination to leave it makes the oppression twice as hard.
God said to Egypt, to Pharaoh, to the land of sin: “My people do not belong down there. Let My people go” [Exodus 5:1-3]. But Egypt did not let them go; rather they made their oppression more miserable [Exodus 5:4-19]. The world is not proposing to let you go either; rather the way to freedom and deliverance is made doubly difficult. God’s people in Egypt’s dark land were unable to deliver themselves. Amid the brick kilns they toiled in tears and agony, crushed, without hope or strength. Their struggle was but a declaration of their bondage, their sorrows but proof of their helplessness. Deliverance must come from without; and come it did through the mighty hand of Jehovah. The Lord God took it upon Himself to deliver His people [Exodus 3:7-8]. And He will do that for you, my brother, if you will let Him. When you start out to fight a battle against sin, when you are resolved to war against temptation and worldliness, make God your General and your Helper. He will stand by your side. He will see you through.
The help of the Almighty came swiftly and terribly. These chapters in the Book of Exodus [chapters 7-12] record the horrible plagues that visited Egypt [Exodus 7:14-12:30], following immediately upon Pharaoh’s refusal to let God’s people go [Exodus 7:1-13]. These plagues are in no sense whimsical or farcical or fanciful. It is not the story of a cat playing with mice. Every visitation has a meaning. Every occurrence was a judgment of God upon the false faiths of the Egyptians. Every one of those plagues was a dagger point thrust into the very heart of a god that was supposed to protect Egypt.
The Nile was a sacred river. It had a sacred name. It was worshiped as a god. But when its waters were turned into blood, they openly flaunted the god of the Nile [Exodus 7:14-25].
The Egyptians had a goddess named Heqet. She had a head like a frog, and her duties were to protect the land from frogs. But the Lord God Almighty covered the land with frogs. Wherever the people went, there were frogs, frogs, more frogs. They could not escape them. They were in their clothing; they were in their beds; they were in the baby’s milk. They were in the meal barrel. They were everywhere, and the goddess Heqet could do nothing about it [Exodus 8:1-14].
The lice [Exodus 8:16-19] and the flies deranged [Exodus 8:20-31], the whole system of Egyptian worship. With punctilious and elaborate purifications the priests went about the worship of their images, only to find the gods covered with lice, the sacred beasts fighting flies, the priests themselves and all the people, the temple courts and all the sacred vessels alive with the crawling, unclean things [Exodus 8:16-31].
In every plague either a presiding divinity is attacked, a blow is dealt to the priesthood and the sacrifice, or a sphere is invaded which some deity should have protected.
Last of all, the Lord God Almighty challenges the sun god himself, the Jupiter and the Zeus of Egypt [Exodus 10:21-23]. Their great god of all the gods was named Ra, the god of the sun. Their sacred city was dedicated to him. Their king, representative of the divine courts, incorporated the god’s name in his own, Pha-Ra-oh, Pharaoh.
What did Jehovah do? He just covered the land with darkness. He blotted out the sun [Exodus 10:21-23]. And where was Ra? Where were the priests of Ra? Where was the earthly king under Ra? We are reminded of Psalm 2:4-5: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure.” It was a contest between the Lord God Almighty who lives and reigns in heaven and the false gods of sin and darkness in this world [Exodus 12:12; Psalm 77:13-15].
If I had just one comment to make on these plagues, it would be this: “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31]. Woe to the nation or the people or the individual who runs counter to the will of God! To him are added all the plagues written in the Book of the Revelation; all the vials of wrath are someday to be poured out on him [Revelation 22:18]. Woe betide the man who forgets God or who pants after some counterfeit deity! So God’s people were down in Egypt, away from Canaan’s land where they belonged. They were in the land of sin and darkness, in cruel bondage with hard-driving taskmasters. They were unable to worship God as they ought; they were helpless in their slavery. The Lord God, therefore, sent Moses to lead them out of bondage into the glorious liberty of a Promised Land [Exodus 3:7-10]. Then, as now, when we begin leaving our sins, when we begin forsaking the land of Egypt, when we begin drawing closer to God, when we begin moving toward Canaan, the world, the flesh, and the devil do everything in their power to compromise us. Here is the first compromise: “And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land” [Exodus 8:25]. Just stay where you are. You can worship your God here in Egypt, here in slavery, here in compromise and darkness, just as well as you can out there where God sends you to sacrifice. Why make a break with Egypt? Why break with the old crowd? With the old habits or the old life? If you feel you must serve God, go ahead. Stay where you are, as you are, and just add worship to the routine of your present life.
What about that? Some say that may be true—that one may be a Christian, redeemed and in possession of eternal life, and still be dwelling in Egypt, in bondage and in slavery to the world—saved from the penalty of sin but not from its power. But I cannot refrain from this observation, if such a thing can be true: that if a Christian can live in the world and be a part of it, he is of all men most miserable. No Egyptian taskmaster was ever more merciless and cruel than the sin that blinds and binds and grinds in the soul of the believer. The case of no Israelite was ever more hopeless or helpless than the groaning, agonizing Christian caught in the web of the world. The Christian in Egypt is powerless, unable to worship God as he ought, unable to lead others to Christ. His prayers are like sounding brass; his testimony is like a clanging cymbal [1 Corinthians 13:1].
God calls us to come out. Our Heavenly Father never intended that we who are His spiritual children by regeneration [John 3:3, 7; Titus 3:5], should live in the haunts and habits of sin [Romans 6:6]. The children of Israel were to come out that all creation might know “how that the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” [Exodus 11:7]. In this great act of separation, God said to Pharaoh, “I will put a division between My people and thy people” [Exodus 8:23]. There is to be a distinction between us and the world. We are not to be joined to them; we are to be separated from them. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? … Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” [2 Corinthians 6:14-17].
But what about the possibility of the improvement of Egypt? Maybe we can refine the ways of Sodom and Gomorrah. Egypt suggests that we take things that are of the world, worldly, that are of sin, sinful, and refine them, make them nice and respectable. Let us dress them up, make them socially acceptable, then remain in Egypt and enjoy them. Who wants to shoot craps in a back alley or play for money in the underworld? No, no, by no means would we do that ! But we can refine this thing. We can reform the whole procedure. We can turn the money into prizes and play games for it. We can legalize horse racing, buy parimutuel tickets, and enjoy the rewards of the winner. Gambling is all right. Just reform it, refine it, dress it up, but don’t give it up. Egypt says the same thing about liquor. The sot in the gutter is an offensive sight, but don’t refuse to drink on that account. In beautiful glasses, daintily served, learn to drink the appetizing cocktails. The elite in Egypt do it. Why should you be different? Don’t leave. Don’t separate yourself. Just stay as you are, where you are, and worship God in the land.
The answer of Moses is definite and positive: “No, no. God told us to get out, and we will go as the Lord our God commanded us. Our manner of serving God is different. We will not stay and remain in this bondage” [Exodus 9:1]. And assuredly, if you are a child of God, you will come out, for God says, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate” [2 Corinthians 6:17].
The first compromise the world offers the Christian is, “Stay where you are” [Exodus 8:25]. The second compromise is just a little further along. It is, “Do not go very far.” Look at it in Exodus 8:28: “And Pharaoh said, I will let you go … only ye shall not go very far.” If you are determined to do this thing, if you are resolved to move out from these sins, if you are resolved to go with the Lord, be reasonable about it. Don’t be an extremist. Don’t get fanatical. Don’t go all out. Go just a little way, not very far [Exodus 8:28]. Go just a little way from Egypt, not very far toward Canaan; just a little way from sin, not very far toward God. Stay around close enough so you may watch it from the sidelines at least.
Egypt admits we should have religion. All of us should belong to the church, certainly. It is the decent and respectable thing to do. But do not get into the program of the church very much. Do not let your religion stand in the way of the things the world invites you to do. Get a religion and join a church that lives on the borderline of sin and the world. Satan says he has some nice, fine churches that do just that—churches with pretty things to look at and sweet things to hear—churches that smile at all the worldliness among its membership. If you have just enough religion to get to church once a week on a Sunday morning, what more could one ask? That is it ! Just go on Sunday morning. Just dabble your toes in it, just get your feet a little wet. Just go a little way, wade around the bank. Don’t shove off out into the deep for God; stay close to the shore of the world. That is what Satan says. That is what Egypt says. That is what the world says. That is what Pharaoh says. “Do not go very far.”
But what does God say? And what does Moses, the great noncompromiser, say? “Not so, not so. We are not going just a little way. We are going all the way our God commands us, for God has said, Let My people go” [Exodus 10:3]. Oh, that God had a people who would go all out for Him—people who are not afraid to be called fools and freaks and fanatics for Christ’s sake; more Pauls and Johns and Simon Peters who would lay their lives on the altar of devotion and consecration!
Does the world make this compromise in sincerity? No, not at all. Neither did Pharaoh. It was his purpose all the time to keep God’s people bound in slavery. Then more plagues came. Terrible plagues. All Egypt broke out with boils—boils all over them [Exodus 9:8-11]. They could not sit down. They could not stand up. They could not lie down. They could not do anything but groan and urge boil-covered Pharaoh to find some way out.
Then came the hail. Hail mingled with fire. The very heavens dropped great stones of ice on the heads of the Egyptians. The cattle were killed; the crops were beaten into the ground. The very trees of the field were ruined [Exodus 9:18-26]. Then Pharaoh called Moses and said: “It is too much. We can stand it no longer. Come here, I have a third compromise.”
Pharaoh introduced his third compromise by asking Moses a question: “You go, serve the Lord just like you have desired; but who are they that are going?” [Exodus 10:8]. The great noncompromiser replied: “We are all going. The young are to go, the old are to go, our sons are to go, our daughters are to go. Our flocks and our herds are going” [Exodus 10:9]. Then Pharaoh compromised: “No, not that. Just some of you go. Leave your babies and your wives and your flocks and your herds, leave them here in the land of Egypt and just some of you go” [Exodus 10:11].
That is the devil’s way. The Lord says, “All of you go.” But Satan whispers, “Oh, no. Just some of you.” Satan hates family religion. He does not like for the whole family to go to church.
In our own church we have a special entrance in the educational building for children. On any Sunday you can see fathers or mothers, or both, drive down, stop at that entrance, open the car door, leave their little boy or girl, and drive off. When the Sunday school hour is finished, they drive by that same entrance, pick up their children, and take them home. When I see that, I think in my heart, now that pleases the devil very much. He likes that. He has whispered into the home of those parents: “If you feel that you must do something about the church services, it is all right to take the little boy. But just take him; don’t go with him.” The devil knows that when that little boy grows up to be a man, he will not continue to attend church services. He will do what his daddy does. He is going to Sunday school just as long as they make him. But someday, when he is grown up and can do as he pleases, like daddy does, then he will cut out that church business. It is not even worth a strong man’s time. So Satan compromises us out.
Oh, for the spirit of the great noncompromiser ! “Not so,” says Moses; “we are all going. Every son, every daughter, every father, every mother. The Lord loves family religion. The Lord God has called us all. And all of us are going” [Exodus 10:9].
Then came two more plagues. The east wind brought the locusts. “And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt” [Exodus 10:12-15]. Imagine that! Nothing alive but the clouds and swarms of green locusts. But the Lord is not done yet.
After the locusts came the darkness, pitch darkness, thick darkness, darkness that could be cut with a knife. “They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days” [Exodus 10:21-23]. Who could live in a world like that? Barren because of the boils and the locusts; black as midnight because of the blotting out of the sun. It was then that Pharaoh sent for Moses and offered his fourth and last compromise.
Pharaoh called unto Moses and said: “You go, serve the Lord, only let your herds be stayed. Let your whole family go with you, only leave your substance behind. Go empty-handed” [Exodus 10:24]. What did the great noncompromiser say? Moses said: “Not so, not so. We shall go but we shall not appear before the Lord our God empty-handed. When we go, everything we have goes. When we come before the Lord, we must have sacrifices and offerings to lay at the altar of our God. Our cattle must go with us; there shall not a hoof be left behind. With what we possess we must serve the Lord. Everything goes” [Exodus 10:25-26]. This last and fourth compromise that Pharaoh offered the people was subtle indeed: “If you are determined to go worship God, leave everything you have behind. Leave your business in the world, leave your social life in the world, leave your money in the world, leave everything you have in the world and go just yourself. Go empty-handed” [Exodus 10:24].
Why would Satan say that to us? Simply because he knows that a church cannot be run without God’s people putting their lives into it. We must sing, dedicating our voices to the Lord; we must give, dedicating our money to the Lord; we must serve, dedicating our time to the Lord; all of us have kingdom responsibilities, and whatever our talents are, we must dedicate them to the Lord. A church cannot operate without people to support it. Satan knows that if he can get our people to attend church services but leave their offerings behind, leave the gift of themselves behind, leave their possessions behind, then he can defeat our service to God. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” [Luke 12:34]. If we leave our possessions, undedicated, behind in Egypt, then our appearance before the Lord is but half an appearance, the presentation of an empty shell.
The dedication to God of everything we have and are makes possible a dynamic missionary, evangelistic, denominational program. Religion means something to us, to God, and before the world when we refuse to offer unto the Lord “that which doth cost us nothing” [2 Samuel 24:24]. It is the sacrifice, the supreme offering, the self-denial that counts. When we appear before the Lord, we should come with an offering in our hands. Sometimes it is the poor widow’s penny that represents the greatest devotion and self-denial; it is not the size of the gift but the spirit of love and sacrifice represented in it [Luke 21:1-4]. “We are to give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; we are to bring an offering, and come into His courts” [Psalm 96:8]. Not to do this is to succumb to the fourth compromise: to go, but to leave our substance behind [Exodus 10:24].
When God said, “Let My people go,” their reply was: “Lord, here we come, all of us; our children, our brothers, our sisters, our families, our offerings, everything we have and are, here we come to be Thy servants in Thy everlasting kingdom” [Exodus 10:24-26].
May the Spirit help us as we get hold of this thing for which the Lord got hold of us [Philippians 3:12]. May the Spirit help us to follow the leadership of the great noncompromiser who went all out for God.
LET MY PEOPLE GO!
I. Pharaoh’s compromises
1. Stay where you are
2. Do not go very far
3. Some of you may go
4. Leave your offerings behind
II. God’s plan for Christian is to escape bondage