Monthly Archives: June 2014

Exodus 12

Well, I write this morning from Rome, Italy! Here I am fortunate enough, thank you my best friend forever Greg Smith! To contemplate the foundations of Western Civilization, part of which started with the story told here in Exodus 12, the Passover. It is so important in God’s plan of redemption, that he says the Israelites are to make this month the very first month of their very first year of their existence.

God lays out all the details of how this first Passover is to be celebrated, and all the details are very specific and must be followed exactly, even to the point of eating it fully clothed and ready to leave in haste because this is going to be preparation for their exodus. When God goes through Egypt to kill every firstborn, including animals, in this final and most devastating plague, he will pass over the houses of the Israelites who have put the blood of the animals on the door frames of their houses. And this is so important that they are to commemorate this for generations to come.

What to make of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart over and over again just to use this slaughter of innocent Egyptians to prove God’s power? Of course to we moderns we think we can sit in judgment of God’s plans, and our questions assume human beings are innocent, that God cannot call for the end of anyone’s life because we all have a right to life, and not death and judgment. The fact that we live at all is a function of God’s mercy and grace. As Paul says in Acts 25:

25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

Actually this can be looked at another way that shows the depth of God’s mercy and grace. As Paul tells us elsewhere, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). To modern secularly minded people this seems gruesome and absurd, which of course assumes that we can set the terms of the debate, that we can determine right and wrong, which of course brings us back to Genesis 3 and the temptation of the Fall, that we will be like God determining good and evil.  God reveals to us in this story, and the entire history of redemption, what must be done to be saved, that sin, that rebellion against him, that this desire to usurp his role as our God and King, is death.

When God’s law is broken, which law is a reflection of his being, a penalty must be paid, just as when any human law is broken a penalty must be paid; this is an analogy that makes perfect sense if law-ness, if you will, or standards as such, are an inherent objective part of reality. So the Passover perfectly fits, makes perfect sense, if reality is as we find it; every human regardless of their religious convictions knows there is right and wrong, evil and good, justice and mercy, wrongs must be righted, etc. Pharaoh and his people, and the Israelits, and we as well, found sin must be judged, blood must be shed, for God to “pass over” sin, for him to rescue his people from slavery, for him to bring them into the Promised Land, for him to fulfill his covenant of promise. Which of course all points us to the blessed Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

I guess the Israelites had seen enough from all the previous plagues because it says that they did “just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.” So when “the destroyer,” as it says, went through the land, not one first born of the Israelites was killed. God was faithful to his promise because the Israelites did what he commanded; if they had gone out of their houses or had not sacrificed the animal and put the blood on the door frame, the destroyer would not have passed over their houses, and they too would have lost a first born. As the great hymn says, trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Finally Pharaoh and all the Egyptians with him tell the Israelites to get out! And with a touch of humor I think, God has the people of Egypt give them all kinds of things on the way out, so they plunder them as well. There were six hundred thousand men, not counting women and children, leaving Egypt. That means well over a million souls! And it was 430 years they lived there from the day Jacob came with his 70. It’s hard to fathom just how long this was when we just read words in the text and boom, four centuries passes. For some context, 430 years ago was 1584! The first English settlement in America didn’t happen until 1607! No matter how long it takes from our limited perspective, God is faithful to his covenant promise.

Finally, God says that anyone, slave or foreigner may celebrate the Passover with the Israelites, but they must be circumcised. From the very beginning, God’s promises were not limited to one people, but to a people of the covenant which anyone could belong to as long as they kept the demands of the covenant. It’s clear in God’s promise to Abraham, and then Paul’s mission to the gentiles that God’s plan of redemption would be for all mankind.

 

 

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Exodus 10 & 11

Next are the plagues of locusts and darkness, and of course Pharaoh still does not relent, not until God takes the firstborn of every Egyptian, including their animals. Moses is telling him this, and God has him say that the reason for his is that “you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel, and that his “wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” All of this is happening for a reason, and it is a critical pivot point in redemptive history, the Passover, which we get to in chapter 12.

Exodus 9

Now the Lord gets serious. In this chapter we have the plague of livestock, boils, and hail. I notice what appears to be a contradiction. God promises to kill all the Egyptian livestock if Pharaoh doesn’t let his people go, and this includes horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep and goats. But when the plague of hail comes, it says:

18 Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now. 19 Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’”

20 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.21 But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field.

I thought all the Egyptian livestock had been killed previously. Of course I assume these plagues come one right after the other, and are chronologically close in time, but that isn’t required in the text.

We also find here an assertion of God’s sovereignty that is quoted by Paul in Romans 9. Here is the context in Exodus:

13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

And in Romans 9, Paul says:

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

God is sovereign, something most Christians today are loath to embrace, especially when it comes to the heart. Salvation is completely God’s initiative, and if he wants to create, or “raise up” someone for his glory by hardening their heart, he will. Got cannot be unjust because he defines justice, which by definition cannot be arbitrary as we would understand it in human terms because God has infinite knowledge, and every other attribute that makes him God.

The chapter finished with the plague of hail, and Pharaoh almost relents, but of course he does not. There is more misery to come.

Exodus 7 & 8

The plagues begin. God tells Moses and Aaron that they are to demand that Pharaoh let God’s people go out into the desert to worship, but God tells them that he will “harden Pharaoh’s heart” and that “he will not listen to you.” Wouldn’t it have been much easier to not harden his heart? I guess that was the point, that it would not be easy, that it would require the mighty hand of God, and that the Egyptians and the Israelites would both know who it God and who is not.

In these two chapters we get the plague of blood, frogs, Gnats and flies, each more disgusting than the previous one. After each one (except the blood) Moses prayers to God when Pharaoh says he’ll relent, and it says something interesting: “The Lord did what Moses asked.” After all Moses’ lack of faith, God listens to him, and Moses begins to do what God commands without hesitation. Maybe the relationship is growing.

Exodus 5 & 6

Poor Moses. He finally gets to Pharaoh, tells him to let God’s people go for a few days in the desert to worship, and he of course says no. Not only that, but he tells the Hebrew slaves that they are now to make bricks without straw, they’ll have to get it themselves. Moses has only made their situation worse. And Moses’ response? Blame God, chapter 5:

22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Boy, is this not a flattering picture of Moses. It’s rather shocking, actually. Moses knows everything God has done for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the covenant he’s made, that he’s promised to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt, but instead of affirming God’s power and goodness, he like a little child blames God for the situation.

But instead of rebuking a faithless Moses, God affirms his covenant and that he will indeed rescue his people Israel. Then Moses goes back to the Israelites and tell them what God says, and of course they don’t listen. God tells him to go back to Pharaoh and his response:

12 But Moses said to the Lord, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?”

How utterly annoying is this Moses dude! God then affirms the family lineage of Moses and Aaron, that they are of the clan of the Levites. He commands him again at the end of chapter 6, but Moses demurs again! Amazing. Now faltering lips is the excuse. I shouldn’t be so hard on Moses, but when God speaks directly to you, you’d think . . . .

Exodus 4

As we’ve seen, the Bible doesn’t cover up the warts of its characters, and Moses is no different. As a young man he kills an Egyptian for mistreating a fellow Hebrew, and tries to insert himself in Hebrew quarrels. Now when God tells him to go back to Egypt to in effect finish what he started, he doesn’t want to go. It’s almost like 40 years in the wilderness as a shepherd have destroyed whatever confidence he had. Remember in Egypt he was in effect Pharaoh’s grandson, but now all he is, is a poor shepherd.

So his first response to God is, what if they don’t believe me? So God condescends and has him perform a few miracles. But that is not quite enough for Moses, so he begs God to send someone else. It’s sort of pathetic, and you start to think, God, you’ve chosen the wrong guy. Here is one of the big heroes of the faith, and he has so little confidence not only in himself, but in God, that he literally begs. “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” And it says the Lord’s anger “burned against Moses.” You wonder how Moses knew the Lord was angry with him. It doesn’t say anything about how this is displayed, but Moses knew it. So again he condescends to human weakness and gives Moses Aaron, his brother, to be his mouthpiece. Yet Moses will still be the one performing the miraculous signs.

Then we get more Biblical strangeness. Moses and his family begin their trip back to Egypt. God tells him that he’ll perform the signs, but that he’ll harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he predicts he’ll kill his firstborn because Israel is God’s firstborn. Seems harsh, but I guess it’s only fair; Pharaoh and his people have abused the Hebrews for a very long time. Strange again, on the way to Egypt it says in v.24 that God is about to kill Moses! Kill him? Are you kidding me? I thought he was the one to going to confront the Pharaoh and insist he let God’s people go? Why is this part of the story?

It seems that Moses’ son was not circumcised, and you don’t know if Moses ignored God’s command or what. His wife, Zipporah, clearly knew what God wanted, because she circumcises her son right there and took the bloody foreskin and touched Moses feet with it, and the Lord “let him alone.” Totally bizarre. God’s relationship with Moses was sort of dysfunctional, in modern terms. You’d think he would pick his servants better, but the message is people are flawed, and God uses flawed people in his plan of redemption, including me!

God has Aaron go out to meet Moses at the mountain of God, and he tells him everything. They share it with the elders of Israel and they believe them. Their response is to bow down and worship God because he cares about them.

Exodus 3

The stories in the Bible are so strangely real. Of course, that is to a believer in them. To the non-believer, as Paul said about the Gospel, it is foolishness. Even the way this is written, and I mentioned previously, is almost juvenile.

This is the story of Moses and the burning bush. By this time, Moses has been a shepherd for 40 years. Forty! It had been that long since Moses fled Egypt. You imagine his life had been absolutely mundane, and out in the wilderness he has had a lot of time to reflect on his life. In fact, when we look at his response to God we see a different Moses than the one who killed the Egyptian and tried to insert himself in Hebrew quarrels.

It’s almost comical that God would reveal himself to one of his most important chosen ones in a bush that burns but doesn’t get destroyed. What is he saying? At the least that he is the Lord of nature, and that he is not subject to the laws of nature as we experience them. This goes along with God’s consistent assertion throughout the rest of the Old Testament that he is the Creator God of the universe. Here’s where the writing sounds simplistic:

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

It’s kind of funny. Interestingly, the previous verse says that Moses had led his flock “to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb (or Mt. Sinai), the mountain of God.” I wonder if it is called thus because this is where God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was clearly known as a special or holy place.

Moses is kind of curious about this bush that burns yet does not burn up. Then God calls him by name twice from “within” the bush. This is the “angel of the Lord” which is God himself. I love Moses’ answer: “Here I am.” There has got to be more to these words, like he’s scared out of his mind. God tells him to take off his sandals because the place where he is standing is holy ground. I imagine he just didn’t slip his sandals off, but ripped them off and fell down on his face before God. And God reveals himself as the covenant God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And God says he is the God of “your father” and not “fathers.” We don’t even know who his father is, other than he is from the tribe of Levi. The Covenant defines the people of God, i.e. God’s promises and faithfulness are the essence of who they are, not nationality or any other human characteristic.

Moses is indeed scared because he is “afraid to look at God.” So he tells Moses he’s going to rescue his people from their slavery and misery in Egypt, and Moses’ response? You’d think he’d be gung ho, give his previous desire to help his people, but no, he’s reluctant. Who am I, he asks, to do such a thing. God says, no problem, I’ll be with you, and Moses asks God who should I say sent me specifically to the Israelites? And here we have God revealing himself to mankind as the Great I Am.

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

Awesome! The Self-Existent One is speaking. The God of the Covenant, of the promise, that is his name, and it is his name forever. That is God’s essence, that his relationship to his people is not dependent on them! It is dependent on him!

Then God says, here’s what’s going to happen. I will force the King of Egypt to let you go, and you will plunder them on the way out. We’ll soon see how that turns out.