Mistreating People is a Really Bad Idea: Exodus 3

Mistreating People is a Really Bad Idea

Exodus 3

Mistreating people--made according to God’s image—is a really bad idea. But it is far more serious to mistreat men, women, and children with whom God has entered into covenant. God watches the mistreatment of people. But when we mistreat His covenant people, especially those under authority, vulnerable, or physically weaker, God comes down and implements retributive justice on those responsible. It’s a pattern we can trace in Scripture. 


The God Who Sees

The first appellation given to God in Scripture is that He is the One who sees (אֵ֣ל רֳאִ֑י):

“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’” Gen 16:13

 God Sees What is Good

Israel’s God was not a faceless deity, with eyes that could not see. Though God is invisible (1 Tim 1:6-17), He is depicted in Genesis 1-2 as the One who saw what was tov (וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֹֽוב׃), what was good, that is, what was good for mankind, what was helpful and beneficial for them.[1] God knows what is good for people and what is not helpful or beneficial (“evil”) to them (Gen 2:17). God is wise. We can trust His wisdom, His evaluation of what is beneficial for us and what is not helpful to us. The apostle Paul hit the nail when he wrote, “the only wise God.”[2] God knows best. And He provides[3] the best as well.

God Sees and Comes Down

When God saw the condition of the people in the days of Noah, he saw how great man’s wickedness had become.[4] He came down in the form of a destructive flood. When God saw the people building the tower of Babel, he saw that the common language employed to build the tower and its effects[5] would not be beneficial to them.

“But the LORD came down[6] to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come let us go down and confuse them…’” Gen 11:7

When God was made aware of the condition of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, He followed the same pattern:

“I will go down to see if what they have done justified the cry that has come up to Me.” Genesis 18:21

See the pattern? God sees and comes down to investigate. Based upon His divine investigation, He takes serious measures to prevent further harm to people for their own sake. God sees. God comes down. He causes upheaval and thwarts people’s destructive plans by confusing their language. God’s trip into time-space was ultimately beneficial to the human race.

God Sees the Mistreatment of His People

The same God saw the suffering of His people (Exodus 2:24-25). The people with whom He had established a covenant were being mistreated by their captors. As slaves, in submission to their task masters, they were vulnerable and helpless. So, they cried out to God.[7]

The same pattern occurred. God saw. God came down. God implemented justice.

“I have have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey.” Exodus 3:8

Coming down was a big deal, a serious step on God’s part. Mistreat men or women with whom God has entered into covenant, and we can be assured that God is watching and that He will come down.

God is not an idle or helpless bystander. He visits the guilty, the ones responsible for the mistreatment, with retributive justice.[8] He even removed His mistreated people from the presence of their abusers and brought them to a better place, a good land, a land beneficial to them—flowing with milk and honey.[9]

God is Watching Bullies

So, if anyone is responsible for mistreating God’s people, especially those under their authority, are vulnerable, or are weaker physically, such as children or women, they must realize that they are being watched by an all-seeing and just God. The mistreatment might be done in private; but it is not hidden from God.

He sees the mistreatment, the shouting, the angry attitudes, the foul moods, the biting and cruel words, the name calling, the caustic language, the divisive attitudes, the temper tantrums, the manipulative behavior, the episodes of rage, the contentious spirit, the controlling, proud attitude, the abusive language, the physical blows, the slapping and the punching. God is watching. He misses nothing. He sees the accumulation of mistreatment over time. He hears the cry of the mistreated. And He prepares to come down.  

Church folk who mistreat their families in private may practice a religious façade in public; but God sees everything behind those closed doors. God sees the bully despite the religious veneer presented on Sunday.

And God doesn’t take kindly to those who bully His people. Bullies, if they listen carefully, will hear God’s boot laces being tied, His heels treading on heaven’s pavement, and the hinges on heaven’s door as it swings open.   

God Will Come Down

In response to the cry of the mistreated, God will come down.  So, it’s a bad idea to bully people. It is even worse when those abused are in covenant with Him. God takes it seriously enough to leave home and come down.[10] Is He preparing to come down to you?

Why Not Make Changes Today

Before God makes His downward move, and you lose the people you mistreat, why not, in humility and with genuine grief, admit and acknowledge failure. Why not admit that you are a bully and that mistreating people is a really bad idea. Why not stop the pattern of mistreatment. Why not stop living in denial that the pattern of mistreatment can go on without serious consequences. Why not explode the lie that you are special and that God will treat you differently than others.

Why not beg for forgiveness from the ones you’ve mistreated. Why not ask someone in spiritual leadership for help. Why remain proud and lose the people you mistreat.

Why not say to a leader, “I can’t do this myself. I’m way too proud and weak. I really need your help. Will you help me to become a loving, Christ focused person rather than a self-centered, selfish person? I’ll do whatever it takes to change. I’ll pay the price. I don’t want God to come down and implement justice in my life, though I deserve it. I want to keep people in my life. I don’t want to lose them. I don’t want God to take them away from me.”

These are humble statements. Why not make them today. God will give you grace. Better to humble yourself today that be humiliated tomorrow.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you…Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.” James 4:6-10

A Bridge Too Far

Pharaoh, Egypt’s leader, was given many opportunities to change the way he mistreated God’s covenant people. But he refused to listen and to change. So, God saw his pride-induced procrastination, came down, implemented severe, talionic justice,[11] and then removed His people from Pharaoh's presence. The ruler of Egypt failed to take the opportunities offered to him. Pharaoh went a bridge too far. Will you?

It’s still God’s pattern today. God sees the mistreatment. God comes down. God implements justice to the guilty and deliverance to the mistreated. It’s a pattern. Mistreating even one of God’s covenant people is a really bad idea. Think it over.




[1] Gen 1:4,10,12,18,21,25,31. Each of the first six days, with the exception of day 2, concludes with the evaluation by God as טֹֽוב, tov, as good, beneficial for people. The word “tov” has a very specific range of meaning in Genesis 1. The absence of God’s evaluation on day 2 as “tov” is because nothing God shaped or made on day 2 directly impacted the welfare of the land where mankind would eventually be placed. The land where humans were to live remained under the watery deep. The land was still “tohu”, not yet a place where humans could live. In other words, if what was made did not directly help mankind, it did not qualify as tov, as good.

[2] 1 Timothy 1:16-17

[3] It is no coincidence that the place where God appeared to Abraham in his greatest test of life is called, “The LORD will see.” Genesis 22:14. Many English translations render the phrase, “The LORD will provide,” but this is a mistake. The verb is ra’a, means “to see” and only secondarily comes to mean “to provide.” It seems that Moses wanted to convey both meanings in the story. When the LORD sees, He also provides. This double sense is also true in Genesis 1. God sees and provides the “good” for humanity. God is a generous and loving Father who sees the need and provides for His children.

[4] Genesis 6:5: “When the LORD saw that man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth…”

[5] The major mistake in this story is captured in the phrase, “to make a name for themselves.” Rather than spreading out and filling the land in keeping with God’s commandment, the people wanted to keep from being scattered.

[6] The irony of the story is hard to miss. The people wanted to build a tower up to the heavens. But in order for God to actually see what they built, He still had to come down. Moses the author must have chuckled when he wrote the story. Man thinks he’s such big stuff and can build such high towers, but his creations are puny in comparison to the God who made heaven and earth. Towers still come down and attempts at a world government—perhaps the U.N.—are still helpless. Has anything changed?

[7] Exodus 3:7

[8] Retributive justice, or talionic justice, is kind for kind, act for act. When the Egyptians drowned the male infants in the Nile River, God responded with retributive justice. A generation later, God drowned the same generation of Egyptian males in the Red Sea when they pursued Israel in their exodus. God saw. God came down. God acted in vengeance.

[9] I often wonder why Moses didn’t include coffee. Imagine how beautiful it would sound: “A land flowing with milk, honey, and coffee.” Triple play! Triple good!

[10] Saul of Tarsus bullied God’s people and in keeping with the established pattern, Jesus saw and came down (Acts 9, 22, 26). But Saul acted out of ignorance and thus was shown mercy. 1 Timothy 1:12-17.

[11] God put Pharaoh's son to death.