Seven full days passed after the LORD had struck the Nile. Exodus 7:25
In the normal course of life setbacks happen. In anything worthwhile—relationship, innovation, discovery, research, and/or career path—experience dictates that setbacks are part of the process.
The good news is that setbacks can be overcome. The question is, what will we take back to the drawing board from the experience?
The Hebrew people lived in Egypt approximately 400 years. Best estimates say they spent the latter 150-200 years of that time in slavery. Harsh, forced, heat of the desert, menial task slavery, with brutal task masters.
The people cried for deliverance and God heard their prayer. Appearing to Moses, God gave a message to take to the Hebrew people—He would fulfill the word spoken long ago to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Tell the people “I have observed what has been done to you in Egypt and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt” to a land flowing with milk and honey. With great power and miraculous signs, God promised to set His people free (Exodus 3:16-20).
Moses and Aaron shared God’s plan with the elders of the people. What hope! What joy! What encouragement! Advancement and advantage is theirs. God is acting to relieve them of their misfortune! They prayed and worshiped (Exodus 4:31)! But the people had hardly raised their heads than—setback!
The work became harder and the taskmasters more brutal (Exodus 5:12-21). Moses cried out to God. The people cried out to Moses. The promise was reiterated. God would deliver. But the setback had taken its toll.
Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery. (Exodus 6:9)
The brutal reversal of their earlier hope became the miserable norm. But then, not long after setback #1, God turned the Nile into blood. Just maybe… Moses had mentioned the plan included signs…
Yes! The God of the Hebrews was mightier than the Egyptian god of water!
The people certainly thought “Now? Now can we go? Surely this is the sign from God.”
But seven full days passed (Exodus 7:25).
Seven more gut-wrenching days?
Seven more gut-wrenching days.
Compared to 200 years, what is seven more days? But these weren’t any ole days. These were days after encouragement had been given and hope had been renewed. But now…
When hope becomes desperate, even small setbacks can be magnified to overwhelming proportions. The people were miserable—in a place they did not belong. Seven full days passed before the next move. It must have felt like a perfect eternity. Little did the Hebrew people know they had nine plagues to go. Little did they know about the desert sojourn.
Setbacks can be caused by others, such as Pharaoh’s hardheartedness causing the plagues. And setbacks can be self-inflicted, such as an 11-day journey (Deut. 1:2) that takes 40 years. Regardless of their cause, setbacks happen.
For those in a miserable job situation, hope can be seen in the advances and setbacks of the Hebrew slaves. In Scripture’s 20-20 hindsight, each new setback revealed that God never stopped working to deliver His people from their oppressive circumstances. Likewise, God never stops working to deliver us from our oppressive circumstances, even amid setback after setback.
Through faith, we can survive a setback. It’s what we do during and after that makes the difference.
Seven is a perfect number, a perfect time for repentance, a perfect time for faith to grow. James says we should count it all joy when we have setbacks of any kind “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
As faith grows, we are not overwhelmed by slowdowns and hold-ups. Instead we rejoice in them because we are certain of God’s presence and promises. God orders our steps and our stops. Setbacks are nothing more than another step forward in God’s perfect plan.
Father God, setbacks are difficult. I’m already in a pit and more burdens are increasingly difficult to bear. I’ve lost hope so many times. Am I causing my own delay? Who will rescue me from this? Jesus, help! Paul, Peter, and James all wrote about the joy of difficult circumstances. I confess I’m not there. Please give me the grace to trust You Jesus, wholeheartedly, to overcome the desperation for release, to find joy in this affliction. And please do not delay ordering my steps out of this pit. In Jesus’ Name. Amen