"Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him!" Exodus 5:2
James Smith, 1859
This was Pharaoh's insolent question, when the Lord sent Moses and Aaron to him, to ask him to allow Israel to go and hold a feast unto him. God treated him with respect, and appealed to him as a rational, intelligent, and accountable being. This is just how God treats sinners now. He sends them mild and loving messages. He speaks to them as a man would speak to his friend. His words indicate a loving heart, and intimates that he is reluctant to inflict punishment. Pharaoh was rude, insolent, and proud, and uses the most insulting terms in his reply.
Just so do lost sinners, or at least if they do not so speak, they so act. Their conduct is a decided, deliberate insult to God, and it is astonishing that he bears with them as he does. But he is slow to anger, and of great kindness! His long-suffering is surprising, and his mercy is great unto the heavens.
But to the point. The Lord sends a message to sinners, a message full of love—a message breathing mercy—a message on the reception or rejection of which, man's salvation depends. Instead of receiving the message and acting upon it at once, the sinner arrogantly asks, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him!" Let us look at the question a little.
"Who is the Lord?" In his nature he is the self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God. He is the only independent and naturally immortal being. He is the author of our existence, the preserver of our life, whose glory is the great end of our being. He supports all creation, rules all worlds, and will judge every man according to his works. He has stamped his name upon creation—but has fully revealed himself in the gospel of his grace.
He is the God of mercy, who displays mercy, delights in mercy, and waits to show mercy to the vilest of our race. He gave his Son to make an atonement for sin, on the ground of which atonement he can pardon any sinner, in perfect accordance with his justice, and be honored in doing so. He therefore sends word to us that he is ready to forgive, desirous of being reconciled, and that if we confess our sins, and accept of mercy on the ground of the atonement of his Son—that he will freely pardon us. Every sin shall be forgiven. Every fault shall be forgotten. Every offence shall be buried. He will place to our account the perfect work of his Son, and we shall be made the righteousness of God in him. He is willing to forgive and forget all the past—if we will but be reconciled, be at peace with him, and obey him for the future. He proposes no hard conditions, it is only, "Believe in Jesus, and be saved. Confess sin, and be forgiven. Submit to, or accept the righteousness of God, and be justified."
But how do the majority of sinners treat such love? How do they act when they receive such a message? Very much like Pharaoh, they ask, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him!"
"Who is the Lord?" He is the God of justice. Who has a right to punish sinners. Who is bound to punish you, if you live and die opposed to his will, and rejecting his mercy. He is bound by every principle of moral government—bound by his righteous law—bound by the perfections of his own infinitely holy and perfect nature. He has already threatened and pronounced the doom of all impenitent sinners.
Not only so—but from his natural hatred to sin, and to induce a beneficial impression on sinners, he has at times punished sin even in this world. He once deluged the world with water, and destroyed every intelligent being inhabiting it, except eight people. He destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by the opposite element, raining fire from heaven, and consuming the whole of the inhabitants, except Lot and his two daughters. He drowned Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea. He caused the earth to open and swallow up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and their company. He sent his angel and in one night he slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians, who were encamped against Jerusalem.
And he has declared that "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." "Upon the wicked he will rain snares, fire, brimstone, and a horrible tempest, this shall be the portion of their cup." Yes, he will punish them "with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."
This, sinner, is the God you despise, whose laws you break, and whose anger you dare! This is the God whose goodness you abuse, whose mercy you slight, and whose favor you despise. This is the God before whom you must shortly appear in judgment, and to whom you must give an account, answering for every vain thought, idle word, and sinful action. This is the God respecting whom, by your conduct you have, like Pharaoh, arrogantly asked, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?" Truly, it will be a fearful thing to fall into the hands of this living God! For then will be fulfilled in their uttermost meaning, the words of the prophet, words enough to make one's ears tingle, and one's heart quake. O may the Holy Spirit apply them, while we quote them!
"The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies! The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished!" Nahum 1:2, 3. And who are the guilty? Every obstinate sinner. Every unpardoned soul. All who are ignorant of God as revealed in his Son, and all who refuse to obey the gospel, which requires repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is his own words, "He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power!" 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.
Ah, the sinner will then no longer proudly boast, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him!" But, while tormented beyond description or conception, will be obliged to admit the justice of his doom, being filled with unutterable dread, by the sight of his infinite magnificence and glory.
Dear reader, how will it be with you in that day? What will be your portion? How is it with you now? What is your portion now? If now you believe in Jesus—if now you take God for your portion—all will be well with you then, and well with you forever. But, if you have not, "Repent, and believe the gospel," "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." O may the goodness of God lead you to repentance—repentance unto life! Amen.