Category Archives: Old Testament

Micah 6-7: What does the Lord require of you?

Clear expectations and instructions are important.

Organisations, like churches or businesses, work hard to DEFINE THEIR VISION. (Where they want to finish. Their ideal future). Because if you don’t know what your TARGET is/ it’s very hard to HIT it.

And a good boss will make sure an employee has AN ACCURATE JOB DESCRIPTION. And she’ll give CLEAR FEEDBACK. Because it’s frustrating for EVERYONE if you don’t know what you’re supposed to DO in your job.

And a good SPORTS COACH will set clear expectations about what he wants his team to do. Skills will be explained, demonstrated, copied, observed, and corrected.

And a young couple preparing for marriage will practice COMMUNICATION techniques, so they can clearly share their hopes and preferences. So there’s less chance of confusion or guesswork or resentment.

Clear expectations and instructions are important.

If it’s important in THESE situations, HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT is it to know what GOD expects? To know how he wants us to live, and respond to him. (The One who MADE you, who holds your life in his hands. The One who’ll, one day, call you to account). Is there a more important question than the one in Micah chapter 6 verse 8? “And what does the LORD require of you?” I don’t think so! So I can’t think of anything better you could be do for the next twenty minutes or so than listening to how God answers that question.

What the LORD DOESN’T require of you (6)

Chapter 6 begins with a command to LISTEN. Because God’s about to speak. It’s the same way chapter ONE began, and the way chapter THREE began. Look there in v1. “Listen to what the LORD says.” God’s the PLAINTIFF in a courtroom scene. He’s bringing his complaint against his people, and he’s calling on the MOUNTAINS to back him up. To support him.

2 Hear, O mountains, the Lord’s accusation;      listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people;      he is lodging a charge against Israel.

The mountains have witnessed God’s relationship with his people, right from the beginning. They’ve seen EVERYTHING. God begins his complaint in v3, firstly by examining HIS part in the relationship.

3 “My people, what have I done to you?      How have I burdened you? Answer me. 4 I brought you up out of Egypt      and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you,      also Aaron and Miriam.

In other words, “What did I do that was so terrible? I rescued you and redeemed you, and provided leaders for you. V5, I rescued you from the devious plans of King Balak. And I brought you safely across the Jordan River from Shittim into the Promised Land at Gilgal.”

And he finishes the history lesson at the end of v5, “that you may know the righteous acts (or “righteousness”) of the LORD. Most of the time when that word’s used, it’s about KEEPING A COVENANT. God’s RIGHTEOUS. He’s kept his side of the bargain. History bears witness to it. The mountains, there since the beginning, bear witness to it.

Two Wrong Answers

That’s the “terrible burden” God’s placed on his people. He’s setting the scene for his complaint about how badly his people have RESPONDED to that righteousness. (How undeserving he is of their faithlessness).

But before he can move on to the substance of his complaint, v6 and 7, one of the hearers interrupts him.

I’m imagining it’s A MAN. It’s one of the communication mistakes we identify in pre-marriage counselling. The wife wants to complain about her day. Her new husband BEGINS to listen, but then quickly interrupts with the SOLUTION. (What he’s going to do to FIX things.) But the wife normally doesn’t WANT a solution. She just wants him to LISTEN! Which is NOT what this person’s doing with God. Despite the command in v1to LISTEN. He jumps straight in with what he THINKS God wants him to do. (“With what shall I come before the LORD?”).

And it’s the FIRST of TWO WRONG ANSWERS. It’s NOT what God requires of us. God asks the question, “What did I do that was so terrible?” And then, v6, the hearer replies with a bunch of questions of his own.

With what shall I come before the Lord      and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,      with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,      with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,      the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

There’s an exasperated tone to the questions. As if he’s frustrated that he can’t please God, whatever he does. His FIRST question asks how he can please God. (What gift will satisfy him?) And then gives three answers, also in the form of questions. And they get, progressively, more and more ridiculous. Will a burnt offering work? A year old calf? No? Then what about THOUSANDS of rams? Or ten thousand rivers of oil? Ridiculous to even IMAGINE.

His THIRD question moves from the ridiculous to the absolute wicked. If God’s not satisfied by VOLUME. Then perhaps VALUE will do it. “What about offering my FIRSTBORN child for my transgression?” Even though God had specifically FORBIDDEN it! Of course God won’t be satisfied with THAT! God might have spoken with a bit of IRONY in v3 – “How have I burdened you?” But this is completely SARCASTIC.

It’s a WRONG ANSWER because it’s DEFLECTING BLAME. It’s not accepting responsibility. It’s thinking the problem’s with God. His standards are too high. He can’t be pleased. He’s unreasonable. We all make mistakes, why can’t God just OVERLOOK IT this one time?!

Or perhaps the thought is God’s being UNJUST. THIS GENERATION hasn’t done anything to deserve God’s anger. Why should THEY suffer defeat and exile because of the sin of their ancestors? God’s being UNFAIR. We’re not to blame! God’s to blame!

It’s like the person called out for bad behaviour. Losing his temper, for example. Rather than accept fault, and ask how he can repair the damage, he DEFLECTS BLAME. “It’s not my fault. He made me do it. She was asking for it. She knows just how to push my buttons.”

Or perhaps the attitude is GENUINE, rather than sarcastic. (He truly wants to do what’s right before God.) In which case, it’s wrong because it’s PROUD and SELF-RIGHTEOUS. It’s under-estimating the seriousness of sin. Or over-estimating our ability to satisfy God. It’s the morally upright person who thinks he’s acceptable to God because he’s nicer than other people, and doing his best.

It’s the anxious religious person, who builds up a portfolio of good works to impress God, and earn his entrance into heaven. But who’s constantly uncertain about whether he’s done enough.

It’s the older son in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. Who thinks because he’s SLAVED for his Father for years, he deserves lavish gifts and a party of his own.

(That’s ONE wrong answer. We’ll see ANOTHER in a few verses.)

Which brings us to v8 – our key verse for today. It seems to be Micah stepping in, and speaking up for God. “Stop asking ignorant questions! Stop trying to GUESS what God wants from you!” V8

 He has SHOWED you, O man, what is good.      And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy      and to walk humbly with your God.

A pretty famous verse. Deservedly. Summarising what God’s shown his people over generations. We’ll come back to it in a moment. It’s the RIGHT answer to the question. But let’s jump past it onto v9. Which begins with another command to LISTEN.

Micah’s reminding people that GOD’s the one with the microphone. Stop your interruptions. “Listen! The LORD is calling to the city.”

God hasn’t finished his complaint. In fact, he hasn’t even STARTED it. He’s only described how faithfully he’s kept HIS side of the contract. So, v10, we finally get to God’s complaint.

Am I still to forget, O wicked house,      your ill-gotten treasures      and the short ephah, which is accursed? 11 Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales,      with a bag of false weights? 12 Her rich men are violent;      her people are liars      and their tongues speak deceitfully.

The sorts of sins we saw back in chapters two and three. Injustice, dishonesty, violence. It’s the SECOND wrong answer to the question, “What does God require of you?”

God demands obedience. He demands people reflect his character and values. Living out justice, truth, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. And, instead, they DISOBEY. They walk in the OTHER DIRECTION. The OPPOSITE of justice, truth and mercy: INjustice, DIShonesty, and ABUSING the weak.

It’s the YOUNGER son in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. Independently walking away from the Father. Ignoring his care and wisdom. BOTH sons in the story aren’t living in fellowship with their Father. They’re not doing what he requires of them.

Injustice, dishonesty and selfishness. We see it in INDIVIDUALS. And we see it in OUR SOCIETY AT LARGE. We see it corporate culture. We see it in how FIRST World countries treat the THIRD world. How the HAVES treat the HAVE NOTS. How we treat indigenous people. Or refugees. Or the disabled. Or the unborn. Or unsupported expectant mothers.

God SEES it, and God CARES about it, and God’s going to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Which he describes in v13 to 16.

13 Therefore, I have begun to destroy you,      to ruin you because of your sins. 14 You will eat but not be satisfied;      your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing,      because what you save I will give to the sword. 15 You will plant but not harvest;      you will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves,      you will crush grapes but not drink the wine.

The punishment’s not what we expect. It’s not destruction and exile. It’s frustration. It’s desolation and despair. They dishonestly pursued their idols of comfort and riches. So God will make their idols WORTHLESS. They won’t SATISFY them.

They’ll work to produce plenty of food, but they’ll still be hungry. They’ll horde money and possessions, but it will all slip through their fingers, and they’ll be left with nothing. They’ll plant and harvest and manufacture. But at the end of all the work, there’ll be nothing left to show for it. They’re seeking satisfaction from things God never designed to SATISFY.

It’s what lots of people experience TODAY, who spend their lives pursuing riches, or promotions, or beauty, or fame, or pleasure, or excitement. And when they GET it, it doesn’t SATISFY them. It couldn’t deliver what it PROMISED. And they’re LOST. They need a better TREASURE. A better object of worship. A better goal in life. The answer, of course, they need Jesus!

And that takes us to the end of ch 6. And the end of God’s complaint.

Three Right Answers

But let’s jump back to consider Micah’s answer in v8. We’ve seen TWO WRONG ANSWERS. (Proud legalism and wilful disobedience). Let’s look at THREE RIGHT ANSWERS. (What WILL please God?)  He has SHOWED you, O man, what is good

It’s not a MYSTERY. We don’t have to GUESS. He’s SHOWED you through the history of his dealings with his people. Through his law, and through his prophets. For US, in New Testament times, that’s even TRUER. Because in Jesus we see GOD HIMSELF. As Hebrews 1:2 says, in these last days he’s spoken to us BY HIS SON. The radiance of his glory, the exact representation of his being. Jesus is God’s clear communication of both WHAT HE’s LIKE, and WHAT HE EXPECTS OF US. He LIVES IT, and he COMMAND it. And Jesus’ answer is the same as Micah’s answer. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy      and to walk humbly with your God.

What GOOD RESPONSE does God require to his righteous covenant actions? It’s not IMPOSSIBLE, like pouring out ten thousand rivers of oil. It’s not IMMORAL like sacrificing your first-born child. But it’s also a lot more COMPREHENSIVE AND WIDE-RANGING than simply offering a sacrifice. (Than doing your religious duty. Than attending Sunday morning worship services, or chanting five ‘Our Father’s and three ‘Hail Mary’s).

First, ACT JUSTLY. Or to DO JUSTICE. The OPPOSITE of the Jews with their dishonest scales and ill-gotten treasures. Treat people FAIRLY. Don’t play favourites, based on wealth or influence. Treat the cleaner the same way you treat the company CEO.

Second right answer: LOVE MERCY. Don’t just DO mercy, LOVE mercy. It’s more than just ACTION. It’s ATTITUDE. Mercy translates the Hebrew word HESED. Or LOVING-KINDNESS. Covenant FAITHFULNESS. It’s what God shows us. So LOVE it. Internalise it. Make it part of YOUR way of doing things. Be Reliable. Truthful. Trustworthy.

And sprinkle it with MERCY. With gentleness and grace and compassion and patience. Be drawn to the lowest and the weakest, rather than the attractive and useful. HESED – MERCY – is about love AND truth. Heat AND light.

And THIRD right answer: walk humbly with your God. In Hebrew, it’s literally, “And in humility, walk towards your God”. Two answers to do with how you treat OTHERS, and ONE to do with how you treat God. Your life’s ATTITUDE is to be humility. And your life’s DIRECTION is to be GODWARD.

Humility recognises that your obedience has no merit about it. But everything comes by God’s grace. And so you’re thankful and joyful, as you walk towards him. Seeking to please him. Not self-righteous PRIDE like the cynical questioner in v6-7. Or the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. And not walking rebelliously AWAY from God, like Jerusalem society in v9-12. Or the YOUNGER son in Jesus’ parable. But walking humbly towards your God.

For example

But what does that LOOK LIKE? Especially when times are TOUGH? As we move into chapter 7. we see what it looks like to walk humbly before God / IN THE LIFE OF MICAH.

Verses 1 to 6, he despairs at the sin around him. Like a fruit picker, looking for a harvest but the trees are EMPTY. There’s not a righteous person to be found in the whole land. V3, the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful decide the rules.

But rather than descend to their level, look at Micah’s response in v7.  But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,      I wait for God my Savior;      my God will hear me.

Walking humbly after your God begins with HOPE. Waiting expectantly for God to answer and act. And the REST of chapter 7 is the FRUIT of that hope. Circumstances might be hopeless. And your enemies might be sniggering. But God knows what he’s doing and I TRUST him. V8, Micah speaks to the enemies of Jerusalem.

8 Do not gloat over me, my enemy!      Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness,      the Lord will be my light. 9 Because I have sinned against him,      I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case      and establishes my right. He WILL bring me out into the light;      I will see his righteousness.

Micah’s humility means he recognises his SIN. But it drives him TO God, not AWAY from him. Even if God’s bringing punishment. He still trusts God’s GOODNESS. “He’ll deal RIGHTLY with me. His MERCY will triumph over his JUSTICE.”

And, if you jump down to v18, you can see WHY Micah’s so hopeful. And why his humble walking after God won’t be disappointed. It’s not because Micah’s LOVELY or LOVEABLE. It’s all because of God’s LOVE. He knows God’s CHARACTER.

Who wouldn’t want to please a God like this? Who wouldn’t want to walk humbly after a God like this?

Who is a God like you,      who pardons sin and forgives the transgression      of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever      but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us;      you will tread our sins underfoot      and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.

Which would be a great place to stop. But I can’t help myself. I’ll finish with Jesus’ words from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, backing up Micah’s words about the compassionate and forgiving heart of God for repentant, humbled sinners.

Luke 15:20-24 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

What does the Lord require of you? To act JUSTLY and to love MERCY and to walk HUMBLY with your God.

Micah 1-2: Incurable sin

A sobering milestone was passed, without much notice, on January 14 this year. Two million deaths worldwide from COVID-19. And around 15000 people continue to die every day from COVID.

In other news, there’s widespread FAMINE across much of Africa due to conflict, climate change, natural disasters and COVID. A UNICEF report this week said that MORE THAN 10 MILLION CHILDREN across central Africa will suffer severe malnutrition this year.

It’s statistics like these that cause lots of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, to ask questions like, “Does God SEE? Does God CARE? Is God doing anything ABOUT it?”

It’s tempting when we see the sin and the injustice and the suffering all around us. And even, as we EXPERIENCE IT OURSELVES. To ask the question, What’s God DOING? We know with our HEADS that God’s in charge of everything. We TRUST that to be true. But, most of the time, it doesn’t LOOK LIKE IT. It LOOKS like God DOESN’T see, and he DOESN’T care. And he’s NOT doing anything about it! We’re ANXIOUS, and UNCERTAIN, and WEARY.

What we need to do is listen to the prophet Micah. His message in these first couple of chapters is that God SEES all the sin and suffering. But that’s not all – he CARES about it. But that’s not all – he’s DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Micah lived at a chaotic time in world history. It was around 730BC. Assyria was the world super power, and it was THREATENING. It had already conquered the Arameans, and the Philistines. And Israel was next in line. And both the SOUTHERN kingdom of Judah and the NORTHERN kingdom of ISRAEL were paying heavy tribute.

Micah lived and prophesied in the SOUTHERN kingdom of Judah. And his message is about what God was going to do to the NORTHERN kingdom. To ISRAEL. How he was going to punish, using Assyria. But not only that. JUDAH was in God’s sights TOO.

Listen up, everyone, he says in v2. God’s got a MESSAGE against you. But don’t just LISTEN. V3, LOOK! Pay attention! God’s COMING. From his dwelling place in heaven. He’s coming TO GET INVOLVED. To get his hands dirty. You thought he didn’t SEE. Or didn’t CARE. But he DOES. He’s been PATIENT with you, and SLOW to anger. But not any more. He’s going to DO something.

And, v4, when he does, the mountains will MELT, and the valleys will SPLIT APART. He’ll come like a nuclear bomb exploding!

And what’s CAUSED this? V5, Jacob’s transgression. In other words, the sin of the nation of Israel. And the big ugly boil at the centre of it is THE CAPITAL CITY, SAMARIA. In v7 Micah identifies their IDOLATRY as what’s so offensive to God. Worshipping and honouring other gods. Even down to temple prostitutes.

And so, v6, God’s going to make Samaria A HEAP OF RUBBLE. And, v7, all its riches burned and destroyed.

That’s Micah’s message.

But there’s no DELIGHT in it. No joy that Judah’s neighbour and brother is suffering. V8, Micah’s response is TO WEEP AND WAIL. To go barefoot and naked. Howling like a jackal and moaning like an owl. It might all be metaphor, but he might also have done it LITERALLY! Walked around town in HYSTERICS!

Why? Because of the inescapable certainty of the coming judgment. V9. “For her wound is incurable”. The prognosis is it’s TERMINAL.

Do you MOURN LIKE MICAH at the sin in society around you? Does its blindness, ignorance, and hopelessness draw out compassion and care from you? Do you DESPAIR at injustice, and greed, and racism, and oppression? Or do you JUDGE? Or gloat? Do you dismiss them with self-righteous harshness? Or maybe just IGNORE – which is even WORSE?

Unfortunately, that’s often the reputation the Christian church has. And often with some justification. To our shame. May our love for our neighbour produce A GODLY SORROW for their situation, like that of Micah!

(Back to Micah, despairing at the fate of Israel). But it’s even WORSE. It’s not just ISRAEL. The sickness is CONTAGIOUS. V9, it’s COME TO JUDAH. “It has reached the very gate of my people, even to JERUSALEM ITSELF,” says Micah.

And then, from v10-16, Micah wants the rest of Judah to JOIN IN WITH HIS DESPAIR. He names a number of towns in Judah, and describes the suffering that’s coming for them.

We miss all the cleverness in English. But in Hebrew, he’s using puns on what the names MEAN, or SOUND LIKE, to describe what will happen there. So, v10, In Beth Ophrah – HOUSE OF DUST – as a sign of mourning, you’ll ROLL in dust. Or, v11, Beth Ezel – house of TAKING AWAY – you’re PROTECTION will be taken away. (there are more in V12-15)

Why will all this happen? V12, because disaster has come from the LORD, Not just over THERE, in ISRAEL. It’s HERE. EVEN TO THE GATE OF JERUSALEM. V15, A CONQUEROR. And v16, mourn because you’ll GO INTO EXILE.

So what’s JUDAH done wrong? Why’s God decided to come down from heaven and bring judgment? (Into chapter 2) Because there’s something rotten at the core of Jewish society. V1.

1 Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. 2 They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance.

The HAVES are plotting to take advantage of the HAVE NOTS. They lie awake at night making plans. Not about how they can make the world a better place. How they can relieve suffering. Or bring to pass God’s plans of justice and peace and plenty. No! They plot about how they can take from those who have LESS than them, so they can have EVEN MORE.

Why do they do it? Not because they NEED fields and houses. Simply because they CAN. They have the POWER to.

Sound familiar? It’s nothing specific to Israel, is it? It’s been the same in most societies since the dawn of time. Whoever has the power USES it for personal gain.

  • Kings and dictators amass power and wealth for their own use.
  • Countries that invade others do it because THEY CAN.
  • Every military coup, or uprising by the people, brings down ONE autocratic abuser, and replaces them with a new system they promise will be DIFFERENT. But before long ANOTHER tyrant takes their place. And begins their OWN plan of taking from the HAVE NOTS.

Doesn’t matter what the system is, LEFT or RIGHT, kingdom or republic, capitalism or communism. The problem’s not the SYSTEM, the problem is the sin of the human heart.

(Interestingly, if you go through world history and look for the exceptions, it’s CHRISTIAN countries that are unique. Those influenced by JESUS, the SERVANT king, who came to serve. Good leaders are those who SERVE, rather than EXPOIT, those UNDER them. Whether kings or politicians. It’s Christian countries who use their armies to DEFEND the weak, rather than EXPLOIT them.)

But that wasn’t JUDAH in the time of Micah. The powerful plot evil against the weak. So, v3, therefore God will plot evil against THEM. God SEES. God CARES. And God will DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

And they’ll be powerless to save themselves. They had the power to take from the poor. But they’ll be powerless in the face of God’s disaster. They’ll be humbled. And, v5, the land and possessions they trusted in, and coveted, will be stripped away.

It’s one of the lessons we’ve been forced to learn through the pandemic. Especially those of us in the First World. The middle class. Who are used to having plenty of freedom. Who think we have POWER. Money can normally buy you choice, and options. But we’ve had to learn that it doesn’t matter HOW much money you’ve got, it won’t guarantee your health, or let you travel where you want, or give you freedoms.

That’s the bad news Micah delivers to the privileged and powerful of Judah. (Your power is useless, and God’s calling you to account).

And how is the message received? Like MOST bad news – NOT WELL!

In v6, Micah describes what OTHER prophets are saying about him. (The ones the people PREFER to listen to. Because they bring a comfortable message.) V6

6 “Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things; DISGRACE WILL NOT OVERTAKE US.”

In other words, “Don’t listen to HIM. He’s got it all wrong! God won’t bring judgment. He’s not angry.

And the people are choosing which message they prefer. They’re COMPLACENT, and COMFORTABLE. They like those bits where God promises to do GOOD! But they’re ignoring the COVENANT REQUIREMENTS. The WARNINGS for disobedience. But you can’t pick and choose like that.

So, v7, Micah responds with some TRUTH about God’s requirements.

7 Should it be said, O house of Jacob: “Is the Spirit of the Lord angry? Does he do such things?”

The false prophets are dismissive and cynical about Micah’s warnings. They claim ONE thing about God’s promises – that he’s not angry. That he’ll do good WHATEVER God’s people DO. But the reality’s something DIFFERENT. (v7b)

“Do not my words do good TO HIM WHOSE WAYS ARE UPRIGHT?

Yes, he’ll do GOOD, but only as his people show they trust him by DOING WHAT HE SAYS.

Which is NOT what they’re doing. V8. More evidence of how rotten the society is.

8 Lately my people have risen up like an enemy. YOU STRIP OFF THE RICH ROBE from those who pass by without a care, like men returning from battle. 9 You drive the women of my people from their pleasant homes. You take away my blessing from their children forever.

More examples of the “HAVES” taking from the HAVE NOTS”. Not just FIELDS and HOUSES. But the clothes off their backs. Even though, in Exodus 22, God had commanded to CARE for the poor. That robes taken as security on loans were to be returned at sunset. And vulnerable widows were to be protected, not exploited.

You see, God CARES about how we treat the vulnerable. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Old or New Testaments. God lifts up the broken and humble. And he brings down the proud and powerful. And we’re to have that same compassion and action. That’s what his kingdom LOOKS LIKE.

And so, v10, God delivers his verdict

10 Get up, go away! For this is not your resting place, because it is DEFILED, it is RUINED, BEYOND ALL REMEDY.

God’s plan was that the Promised Land would be a place of REST, and JUSTICE, and PEACE. Where the characteristics of God himself, and his kingdom, would be demonstrated. But, instead, his people had RUINED it. Ignoring God, and ignoring his commands. There was no justice, or rest, or peace. There was no cure. And they’ll be removed from it.

And that’s the way it turned out in history. When, 140 yrs later, 587 BC, Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, and the temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon. God sees. God cares. And God’s doing something about it.

That’s the BAD news. But it’s not ALL the news. The chapter finishes with a glimmer of GOOD NEWS. A glimpse of a DIFFERENT future. Like a beam of brilliant sunshine piercing through dark thunderclouds. A DIFFERENT response from God. One that flows more naturally from his heart. What he loves to do. Yes, God’s ANGRY. And he’s PUNISHING. But his character is that he’s SLOW to become angry. He’s compassionate and gracious. And his anger quickly runs out of steam. But he ABOUNDS in love and faithfulness. Maintaining love to THOUSANDS of generations, forgiving sin.

And Micah brings that GOOD news. At least for SOME. God can’t WAIT to show forgiveness and compassion. V12, he promises

12 “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together THE REMNANT OF ISRAEL. I will bring them together LIKE SHEEP IN A PEN, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. 13 One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.”

There are two big ideas here, themes that run through the Bible like veins of gold through rock. The faithful remnant. And God as a Shepherd King.

All the way through the Bible, God calls to himself A FAITHFUL SUBSET to be his people. One son, but not another. One family out of sinful humanity. A faithful minority among a faithless nation. And at the end of their exile, that’s what God promises to do for his people. Many will be destroyed. But SOME will be protected.

And God, their shepherd king, will seek out his sheep, and rescue them. He’ll break down the gate that locks them in. And he’ll lead them out, back to his land. United, protected, at peace, under his care. Like sheep in green pasture.

And that’s the way it turned out in history. At least a SHADOW of that. When the people RETURNED from exile in Babylon. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. And rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple. And, for a while, lived in SOME sort of peace.

But they never FULLY lived with God as their shepherd king. And the kingdom of Israel was only a SHADOW of what God’s kingdom was MEANT to be. First, Persia ruled over them. Then Greece conquered. Then Rome. And the old problems of greed and self-centredness and injustice remained.

Until JESUS came. And TAKES ON HIMSELF God’s own job description as Israel’s shepherd king. (Flip over to the New Testament. To John chapter 10). In John 10:11, he says,

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

And, just like Micah, Jesus rebukes the leaders of the day. The privileged and powerful. Who were meant to be shepherds who CARED for the sheep. A few verses earlier he says, John 10 v1

1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is A THIEF AND A ROBBER. 2 The man who ENTERS BY THE GATE is THE SHEPHERD OF HIS SHEEP. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and THE SHEEP LISTEN TO HIS VOICE. He calls his own sheep by name and LEADS THEM OUT. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on AHEAD OF THEM, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Jesus is echoing what GOD promised to do in Micah 2. To be the shepherd king for his sheep. To go in through the gate. And lead out his people, who know his voice and follow him.

Jesus is calling ISRAEL to listen to his voice and FOLLOW him. Calling them back to God’s commands to live out justice and mercy and compassion and generosity. To live out God’s KINGDOM on earth.

A few verses further on, down in v9 he says

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

He’s calling whoever will listen to be SAVED. To be part of that faithful remnant. And it’s a call to WHOEVER. Not just to Israel THEN, but down through history to ANY who’ll listen to his voice. He says down in v16 that he’s got other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. And that’s US!

And Jesus’ promise for us is that when we FOLLOW HIS VOICE, we’re SAVED from God’s judgment. And we FIND PASTURE. We have LIFE. Life that’s ABUNDANT.

But that’s not all. Micah would remind us that it’s not just an INDIVIDUAL abundance Jesus promises. As we listen to Jesus’ voice, we’ll follow our Shepherd King who protects and lays down his life for his sheep. We’ll look after the WEAK. We’ll protect the VULNERABLE. We’ll share our abundance with the POOR. We’ll speak up for those who don’t have a voice.

This Australia Day we’ve got the opportunity, for example, to think about how we’ve treated INDIGENOUS Australians. Common Grace is a Christian organisation encouraging us to pursue JUSTICE. And they’ve organised a prayer service, called Change the Heart, led by our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. It’s on Monday evening at 7.30pm. And you can watch it on TV, or online. Or listen on radio.

As we follow our Good Shepherd King, we’ll pray that God’s kingdom would come ON EARTH as it is in heaven. We’ll point those who don’t know his voice to King JESUS, the only one who lays down his life and saves them. The only one who brings life to the full.

 

Exodus 35-40: The God who comes near

Most movies you watch START SLOW, and BUILD TO AN EXCITING CLIMAX. With a successful rescue, or victory, or satisfying resolution, or arrival at the end of the journey.

Today we come to the end of the book of Exodus. And, at FIRST glance it seems to be a bit of an anti-climax. It’s a story that’s had ALL OF THE EXCITEMENT of a great movie. It started with God’s people in slavery. Unjust treatment, and difficult conditions. And a bad guy. There’s a HERO, and conflict. And God rescued them. Miraculously! They left Egypt, and they crossed the Red Sea. And all Pharaoh’s army was destroyed. And Israel arrived at Mt Sinai, and they worship God. And that’s all by Ch 19.

But, at first glance, that’s where the excitement STOPS. Israel doesn’t MOVE from the foot of Mt Sinai in Ch 19 to the end of Ch 40. There are 21 more chapters. And by comparison, at first glance they seem A BIT DISAPPOINTING. They’re short on action, but long on detail. A bit thin in terms of plot. But full of information and lists.

First there are lots of LAWS at Mt Sinai. “Do this. Don’t do that”. That’s chapters 19 to 24. Then lots of instructions about how to build the tabernacle. The special tent for meeting with God. That’s chapters 25 to 31. Then a few chapters about how close Moses was to God. And then finally, some MORE chapters about how the tabernacle was actually BUILT. With large sections repeated word for word from God’s instructions. Those are the chapters we’re looking at today. 19 chapters of action. Then 21 chapters of information. Surely the writer’s got it the wrong way round. Because that’s not how to write a best-seller!

UNLESS… Unless these last 21 chapters are, really, the IMPORTANT ones. The climax of the whole story. The high point of the journey. And that’s EXACTLY what’s going on. Because the whole point – the whole purpose – of the SLAVERY and the RESCUE/ was so that God could DWELL WITH HIS PEOPLE, and they could WORSHIP him. Listen to what God says in Exodus 29: 45-46. He’s talking about the Tabernacle. And what will happen when they build it.

THEN I WILL DWELL AMONG THE ISRAELITES AND BE THEIR GOD. {46} They will know that I am the LORD their God, WHO BROUGHT THEM OUT OF EGYPT SO THAT I MIGHT DWELL AMONG THEM. I am the LORD their God.

God RESCUED his people from slavery so that he could DWELL with them, and so that they could WORSHIP him. SLAVERY, RESCUE, and WORSHIP.

And that’s really the pattern for each one of us. Slavery, rescue and worship. The journey for each of US started with slavery. Slavery to sin and death. Helpless. Hopeless. But then God RESCUED us. Someone told us the good news of the gospel/ that in Jesus, we could have our sin forgiven. And we put our trust in Jesus. And God forgave our sin. He filled us with his Holy Spirit. And he made us into new people. Sin and death were defeated. Drowned in the Red Sea.

For some of us it was a SPECTACULAR rescue. There were DRAMATIC CHANGES in our lives. For others it didn’t seem too spectacular. God gradually brought us along the road to faith. Perhaps our parents told us about Jesus from the time we were babies. But each rescue was a miracle that only God could do. Slavery and rescue.

And now our journey involves WORSHIP. Meeting with God, and living for him. A life of submission to what HE wants. A life of walking closely with him. In fact, that’s what life is all about. The Shorter Catechism puts it this way. Question 1. “What is the chief end of man?” “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Worship is what we were MADE for. It’s what will satisfy us best. It’s our GOAL. Just like it was for Israel in Exodus.

So as we look at these final climactic chapters of Exodus, let’s remember that Israel’s goal is OUR goal too. And as they worship and wonder at God dwelling among them, let’s do that too.

Getting Ready for Royalty (35:1-40:33)

Chapter 35. Building the Tabernacle. God’s given Moses the plans, so Moses begins. He tells the people to bring all the materials to build the Tabernacle. And they obey! They can’t wait to bring everything that’s needed. The theme that keeps appearing here/ is that the people were WILLING. Look at ch 35 v 20.

Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, {21} and EVERYONE WHO WAS WILLING AND WHOSE HEART MOVED HIM came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. {22} ALL WHO WERE WILLING, men and women alike,

They brought GOLD and CLOTH and HIDES and PRECIOUS STONES and SPICES and OIL. And in fact, they’re SO WILLING, the craftsmen have to tell Moses to stop the people bringing anything more! Over in Ch 36, v4 So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary LEFT their work 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing MORE THAN ENOUGH for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” 6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were RESTRAINED from bringing more, 7 because what THEY ALREADY HAD WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH TO DO ALL THE WORK.

The point is/ God’s coming to visit, and the people are keen to make sure they’re ready.

But they’re not doing it alone. Notice that God gives his Spirit to HELP them. He gives them the skill and ability to do the job. Look at Ch 35 v 30.

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, {31} and he has FILLED HIM WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD, WITH SKILL, ABILITY AND KNOWLEDGE in all kinds of crafts– {32} to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, {33} to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. {34} And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, THE ABILITY TO TEACH OTHERS. {35} HE HAS FILLED THEM WITH SKILL to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers–all of them master craftsmen and designers.

So Bezalel, Oholiab and EVERY SKILLED PERSON TO WHOM THE LORD HAS GIVEN SKILL AND ABILITY to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded.”

And that’s JUST WHAT THEY DO! This is no ordinary tent. There’s precision and beauty and craftsmanship.

It’s interesting watching people put up tents in a caravan park. They either do it QUICKLY so they can get to the BEACH. The ropes are a bit loose. And the canvas droops a bit. And it’s missing a few pegs. But MOST campsites have ONE person for whom tent setting up is a matter of PRIDE. Every rope is tight. Every pole it straight. Even the tent pegs are all lined up in straight rows.

And that’s what it’s like HERE. There’s skill and attention to detail. It’s fit for a king. And that’s the point. They’re getting ready for royalty.

Then finally, in Ch 39 v 32, everything’s finished. And the people bring the tabernacle to Moses. And in v43, Moses inspects the work. And he gives it is tick of approval. The first “quality assured” product.

And ch 40 describes how Moses sets up the Tabernacle. Verses 1-15 are God’s instructions for how Moses is to set it up. And then from v16 we get the DETAIL. How it actually gets set up.

And it’s a familiar pattern. First the INSTRUCTIONS, then the OBEDIENCE. Before it was about BUILDING the tabernacle. Chapters 25-31 were God’s instructions and 35-39 were the people OBEYING them. Same thing here. Except the two steps are crammed into one chapter. And except, Moses sets up the tabernacle. By himself!

Now when a CIRCUS comes to town, it takes dozens of men a long time to put up the main tent. But from v19 on, it reads like MOSES HIMSELF does everything. I think, probably, we’re meant to understand that he was RESPONSIBLE for it being constructed. (Especially in v21, that says Moses carried the ark into the tabernacle. It had two long poles attached and was meant to be carried by FOUR MEN.) I think the point is he’s the one God’s given the INSTRUCTIONS to. He needs to make sure it’s done RIGHT. Because GOD is coming to DWELL. And he DOES! Piece by piece the whole thing comes together. And as each piece is finished, Moses ANOINTS it, and set it apart for its special task.

The king is in the house. (40:34-38)

And then finally, v33, everything’s ready. Moses finishes the work. The tables and the altar are just so. The curtains and the coverings are all sitting straight. Aaron and his sons have been washed – ready to serve in the tabernacle. Everything’s ready for the arrival of the king.

And he stands back to see what will happen. It’s time for God to visit. V34. The king is in the house. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. {35} Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. {36} In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; {37} but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out–until the day it lifted. {38} So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.

God was true to his word. He HADN’T left his people. And he was WITH THEM, from then on, as they travelled. He arrives IN HIS GLORY. GLORY is A VISIBLE REVELATION of God himself. GLORY’s connected to the cloud that led the people through the desert. Back in ch 16 v 10. While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.

And a bit later in Ch 24 v 15, the glory comes down on Mt Sinai. When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, {16} and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. {17} To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.

And now, here in Ch 40, God’s presence has come down into the middle of the camp. Filling the tabernacle. For everyone to see. Notice the progression? The cloud in THE SKY. The cloud ON MT SINAI. Then finally, the cloud coming down among all the people. Each step, God is getting CLOSER. It’s the climax. The end goal. The conclusion.

But there’s still something unsatisfying. Did you notice the PROBLEM? Did you see how the book ENDS? See v35? the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. {35} MOSES COULD NOT ENTER THE TENT OF MEETING because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

God is RIGHT THERE AMONG THE PEOPLE. But no one can meet him. Not even MOSES. All that action rescuing a people, then bringing them to himself. And there’s still a BARRIER between God and his people. It’s like one of those romantic movies where you expect the two characters to get together. There are twists and turns, but it’s inevitable. It’s all set up, but then, just as they’re about to KISS, there’s a complication. Something happens to STOP it. And then the final credits roll. And everyone in the audience GROANS!

That’s what it’s like here in Exodus. But here, the complication is SIN. We’ve seen it all the way through. The people’s grumbling and waywardness. They worship other gods. They refuse to keep their side of the covenant. And it SEPARATES them from truly knowing and worshipping God.

And so Exodus finishes with a QUESTION. A PROBLEM. How can sinful people approach a holy God? How can they come into his presence and WORSHIP him? It’s a question that gets answered in the NEXT book, LEVITICUS. Where God describes the SACRIFICES he’ll require.

But even THEN, it’s only a TEMPORARY SOLUTION. God allows an animal to die in place of sinful humans. He permits a sacrifice to smooth the way of people into his presence. But it never actually DEALS WITH SIN. But it looks forward to ANOTHER sacrifice. To the death of Jesus.

And to GET there, I want to follow the thread of GOD’S GLORY through the Bible. A while later, King Solomon builds God a permanent temple. To replace the tabernacle. And, in 1 Kings 8, God’s glory also fills THE TEMPLE. Just like it did the Tabernacle. But, still, there’s a PROBLEM, v11. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple. God is in the house. But there’s still A SEPARATION caused by sin.

Jump forward another few hundred years. Israel strays from God, and worships OTHER gods. And they even DO IT IN THE TEMPLE. And God’s had enough. The prophet Ezekiel receives a vision, chapter 10-11. He sees God’s glory DEPARTING from the temple because of Israel’s idolatry. He’s abandoning it. He keeps his promise, and Jerusalem is conquered. And the temple is DESTROYED. And the people are exiled to Babylon.

Eventually, seventy years later, they RETURN from exile to rebuild Jerusalem. And A NEW temple’s built under the direction of Ezra and Nehemiah and the governor Zerubbabel.

And one of prophets encouraging them is Haggai. And, through him, God promises him that one day he’ll return to the temple, and FILL IT WITH HIS GLORY. Haggai 2 v4

Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. {5} ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ {6} “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. {7} I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I WILL FILL THIS HOUSE WITH GLORY,’ says the LORD Almighty.

And before long with Haggai’s encouragement, they FINISH the temple. But there’s no record of God’s glory filling it, like it had in the tabernacle, and the first temple.

And so they waited. Waited for the glory of God to come to the temple. For that momentous event when God would shake the heavens and the earth. 500 years went by. And still nothing.

Until God finally kept his promises. His glory finally descended. He finally visited his people again. The prophecy of Haggai ch 2 was fulfilled. John ch 1 v 14. Describing Jesus. The Word became flesh and MADE HIS DWELLING among us. We have seen his GLORY, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus is the VISIBLE REVELATION of God. Who dwells, or pitches his tent, among us. Jesus revealed God’s glory in LIFE. (In the way he was full of grace and truth. The way he spoke. His compassion for the lost. His anger at false shepherds. His patience. His faithfulness and obedience to his Father’s will.)

And he visits the TEMPLE. In John chapter 2. God’s GLORY comes into the temple. And he pronounces JUDGMENT on it. And clears it out. And then declares that he’s REPLACING the temple with HIS BODY. He’s thinking about HIS DEATH.

Because even more than in LIFE, we see the glory of God in Jesus’ DEATH. Ultimately, it’s THE CROSS that the Haggai 2 prophecy was talking about. When the heavens and the earth will be shaken. And when the whole world will see God’s glory. In John 12, it’s a few days before Jesus’ arrest and death. And he announces, v23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be GLORIFIED. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it DIES, it produces MANY SEEDS.

It’s Jesus’ DEATH that reveal God’s glory. When God’s LOVE and JUSTICE will be displayed for the world to see. And it’s Jesus’ DEATH that answers the question of asked at the end of Exodus. Of how sinful people can approach a holy God. It’s Jesus’ death that SHAKES HEAVEN AND EARTH. That tears the curtain that separates the Holy Place from those outside. It’s Jesus’ death that invites us into God’s presence, confident and forgiven.

And, over the last 2000 years, MILLIONS and MILLIONS have done just THAT. And now the CHURCH is God’s temple. Where God dwells, by his Spirit. And the CHURCH is God’s GLORY, the visible representation of God, his hands and feet, his co-workers.

Today we come to the end of Exodus. But the end of Exodus isn’t the end. It’s only the BEGINNING.

Exodus 32-34: The God who is merciful

When you meet someone new, how can you learn about them? (What their character is?)

One way is to WATCH them. (See the things they DO. What they like and don’t like. How they treat people.) Like two people going on a date together. Doing things together, so they can get to know each other.

The OTHER way is to ASK them. Ask questions. Then let them TELL you about their personality, their priorities, and their preferences. And that’s REALLY where you get to know someone. Because you don’t have to INTERPRET their actions. Actions can be MISUNDERSTOOD. Instead, they can TELL you why they did something. They can TELL you about their character. About their dreams and plans. What they’re passionate about.

Doing things together is ONE level of getting to know someone. But it’s LONG, unguarded CONVERSATIONS when you REALLY get to know a person.

And it’s the same with knowing GOD. And in Exodus 32-34 we see BOTH ways. We WATCH him, and we LISTEN to him. We’ve got a story ABOUT him. (How he ACTS). That’s chapter 32. But Moses wants to know MORE about God. So he ASKS him. That’s chapter 33. Then in chapter 34 God TELLS Moses what he’s like. And the STORY and the SELF-DESCRIPTION AGREE. They COMPLEMENT each other.

In fact they do it SO well, there’s probably no other passage in the Old Testament that better shows us God’s character and nature. In fact, verses 6 and 7 of chapter 34 are the MOST-QUOTED VERSES IN THE WHOLE BIBLE. They really get to heart of WHO GOD IS.

So listen carefully, because if you do, you’ll know God better. You’ll REJOICE at his MERCY and FAITHFULNESS. You’ll be GRATEFUL that he ABOUNDS in love in faithfulness, but is SLOW to become angry. That his basic orientation is FOR you, not AGAINST you. You’ll be HUMBLED at your sinfulness, but at the same time you’ll GROW IN CONFIDENCE that you’re FORGIVEN and ACCEPTED. And you’ll be ENCOURAGED to PRAY MORE BOLDLY.

We’re picking it up in chapter 32. Last week we were in chapter 20, with Moses up on Mt Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. But not just the Ten Commandments. While he’s up there, God gives him a bunch of OTHER laws. First, from chapters 20 to 23. Expanding and applying the Ten Commandments. And then, again, from chapter 25 to 31 there are instructions about building the tabernacle.

There’s lots for Moses to write down. In fact, ch 24 v18 says he stayed on the mountain FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS. Which sets the scene for chapter 32. V1 begins. When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

The people are so dependent on Moses, they don’t know what to do when he’s GONE. Moses had led them. (Gone BEFORE them) Now they want Aaron to make GODS to go before them. So, v2, Aaron collects their gold jewellery, makes an idol in the shape of a calf, builds an altar in front of it, and announces, v5, “Tomorrow there’ll be a festival to the LORD.”

And that’s what they do, v6. They’re KEEN – they get up early, and offer sacrifices. Except it’s not to GOD, it’s to a statue of a golden calf. Which they were told NOT to make. Or to worship. And except, afterwards, they had a great party, which almost certainly included some behaviour God had just FORBIDDEN.

God’s promised if they keep the covenant, they’ll be his treasured possession. And they promised they would. Twice. 19:8 and 24:3. (Promised they’d obey everything he commanded). But they don’t even last SIX WEEKS.

V7, the scene switches to God and Moses up on the mountain. God says, “Go down, the people have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them.” V9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

It’s interesting the number of references to BODY PARTS in these chapters. Israel are STIFF-NECKED. Like cattle or horses that won’t be turned in another direction. They’re STUBBORN and unteachable. It’s an expression that’s crossed over into English. But the way GOD’S described HASN’T made it from Hebrew to English. He says to Moses, “Leave me alone, “for MY NOSE IS HOT against them”. A hot NOSE means God’s ANGRY with them, and he wants to destroy them. They DESERVE to be destroyed. God would be entirely consistent with his covenant promise and his character to wipe them out.

But notice what he says to Moses, “LEAVE ME ALONE so that my wrath may burn against them.” It’s almost an invitation for Moses NOT to leave God alone. A hint that God’s character is more about FORGIVING than it is getting ANGRY. A hint that if Moses was to ASK, God would calm his anger – cool his nose.

And that’s what Moses does. V11. “Why should your nose burn against your people?” And then he gives God two reasons why he shouldn’t destroy them: Because if you do, v12, the Egyptians will say you brought them out of Egypt on PURPOSE to kill them, and Because, v13, you promised Abraham, Isaac and Israel that you’d make their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Because of his REPUTATION and his FAITHFULNESS). And he pleads, v12, “TURN from your fierce anger; RELENT and do not bring disaster on your people.”

And if we’ve been following the way God’s acted with his people SO FAR, we should be surprised he DOES JUST THAT. V14. “Then the Lord RELENTED and did NOT bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

It’s hard to work out how God can be SOVEREIGN and controlling and planning and knowing EVERYTHING. And yet, it seems like he CHANGES HIS MIND. PART of the answer’s explained in chapter 34, where God says he ABOUNDS in love and faithfulness, but SLOW to become angry. His natural inclination is to LOVE. He’s easily convinced to keep forgiving. The natural, simple way of reading it is that Moses’ prayer caused God to change from the path he’d suggested.

We may not UNDERSTAND it, but we can REJOICE in it. It means we can pray, confident that our prayers are HEARD, and EFFECTIVE. Somehow, they’re part of God’s purposes for his world.

So, v15, Moses heads down the mountain to check out the damage. He’s carrying the two stone tablets. When he gets to the camp, v19, he sees the calf, and the partying. And he throws down the tablets, and they break into pieces. It’s what ISRAEL’S done to God’s covenant. They’d agreed to KEEP it, but then they SMASHED it. And Moses destroys THE CALF – burns it and then grinds it up for good measure. (God might be slow to get angry, but MOSES isn’t)

And then, v21, he turns his attention to Aaron, who he’d left in charge. He’s destroyed the TABLETS, he’s destroyed the CALF. I wonder whether Aaron thinks HE’LL BE NEXT. Look at his weak reply, v22. “Don’t be angry, my lord. You know how prone these people are to evil.” Which is TRUE. “They said ‘Make us gods’. So I said, v24, ‘Take off your jewellery’. I threw it into the fire and OUT CAME THIS CALF!” What a ridiculous piece of blame-shifting! It would be HILARIOUS if it wasn’t so SAD!”

Meanwhile, v25, the party continues to rage out of control in the camp. They’re running wild. And Aaron hasn’t STOPPED them. And Moses realises the nations who hear about it will LAUGH. God’s NAME will be ridiculed. His reputation will suffer. So he stands at the entrance to the camp, and shouts out for volunteers, v26. And all the Levites join him. And they go through the camp and kill those involved in what was probably an orgy. And that day THREE THOUSAND died. It seems like that finally stops the party. And, v29. Moses commends the Levites for defending God’s honour.

But we can’t help wondering if he did the right thing, or not. Is it what God wanted? The narrator doesn’t make it obvious.

Either way, it’s not the end of the matter. For Moses, OR God. V30, the next day, Moses tells the people, “You committed a great sin. Perhaps I can make atonement. Perhaps I can satisfy God’s anger.” Is he thinking about the punishment he’s just performed? Or about the offer he’s about to make to God? Again, it’s not clear.

So Moses CONFESSES the sin of the people, v31, and asks God to FORGIVE. And then he adds, “but if not, then BLOT ME OUT of the book you’ve written.” He’s offering himself in place of the people. That if God WON’T just forgive their sin, he’ll take Moses’ life INSTEAD.

But look at God’s reply. V33 “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.” 35 And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

On the one hand, God says it’s not up to Moses to make atonement. No one can pay for another person’s sin. Everyone has to pay for his own sin. That’s JUSTICE. And God will look after his own justice. Which he DOES. In time. Because he’s SLOW to become angry. What Moses COULDN’T do, in God’s timing, JESUS DID. When he died as the atoning sacrifice. God himself satisfies his own justice in paying for the sin of the world.

I wonder if there’s not a slight rebuke here, too, against Moses’ action of quick action. (Of immediately delivering the death sentence on the people). God says, “Your job is to lead the people into the land. I’ll do the blotting out. You don’t need to do it. When the time comes for me to punish, I’ll punish. And then v35 describes a plague against the people that comes some time later.

We know Moses is impulsive and quick to act. (That’s what started the whole process back in chapter 2, when he killed the Egyptian.) And he’s jumped straight in to execute Israelites. In contrast, in chapter 34 God tells Moses that he’s SLOW to anger, whereas it seems Moses has been QUICK to anger. Despite the people DESERVING it. Despite them failing the conditions of the covenant. God PERSEVERES with them. (Into chapter 33), he tells Moses to lead the people into the land he promised.

And that’s section one. (The STORY. We’ve watched how God’s ACTED.) In section TWO we’ve got the SELF-DESCRIPTION. (God TELLING Moses what he’s like). Jump down to v7 of ch33. Moses would meet with God in a tent set up on the outside of camp. And v11, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.

And what Moses wants MOST is to KNOW GOD BETTER. Perhaps he’s been slightly puzzled, like us, with how God’s ACTED. So he wants things cleared up. It’s what he needs if he’s going to lead them properly. He says, v13, If you are pleased with me, TEACH ME YOUR WAYS SO I MAY KNOW YOU and continue to find favor with you.

He wants to know what guides God’s actions. What lies at the core of his being? And, v17, God AGREES. He says, “I’ll do the very thing you’ve asked, because I’m pleased with you.”

To which Moses has ANOTHER request, v18, “Now show me your GLORY.” The GLORY of God is something like A VISIBLE REPRESENTATION of God. The people saw it in the pillar of cloud that led them, and that settled on Mount Sinai.

But look at what God offers INSTEAD. V19. “I will cause MY GOODNESS to pass in front of you. And I will proclaim my NAME, the LORD, in your presence. I’m MERCIFUL, and COMPASSIONATE. But you can’t see my FACE, or you’ll DIE.” God reveals himself, his CHARACTER, most clearly IN WORDS, not in what he LOOKS LIKE. He’s a God who SPEAKS.

And then, v23, he promises that he’ll pass by Moses, but he’ll protect him in a split in a rock, so he doesn’t get destroyed. He’ll cover Moses with his HAND, so he only sees God’s BACK and not his FACE. (once again, more body parts)

And that’s the way it seems to have happened. Into ch34. Moses makes two more stone tablets. To replace the ones who broke. And he heads up Mt Sinai. Again. And then, v5.

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

These are the verses quoted more times in the Bible than any other. They’re God’s answer to Moses’ two requests, “Teach me your ways”, and “Show me your glory.”

What is God’s character? And how does he ACT? On the POSITIVE side, he’s MERCIFUL – withholding punishment we deserve. And he’s GRACIOUS – giving us good things we DON’T deserve.

And he’s SLOW to anger. In Hebrew, he says he’s LONG OF NOSE. Remember after the golden calf, how he told Moses to leave him alone for his NOSE WAS HOT against Israel? But here he says he’s LONG OF NOSE. THAT’S his character. That’s why Moses was able to pray for God not to destroy them. And God DIDN’T. And instead of getting ANGRY, he’s more like to show steadfast, reliable, consistent LOVE, and truthful FAITHFULNESS. And, v7, when that’s applied to his dealings with humanity. He shows steadfast love to thousands of generations, and forgives their sin.

But, on the OTHER hand, that’s not ALL he is. He does have LIMITS. As SLOW as he is to anger, there comes a point where his justice falls. Where his patience will run out. He will CERTAINLY punish the guilty. Israel mustn’t ABUSE his patience. But in comparison to how long his LOVE is – to a THOUSAND generations – his PUNISHMENT runs out of steam after THREE AND FOUR generations. Because he’s compassionate and gracious.

And, v8, Moses bows down to the ground. And WORSHIPS God. And so should WE. As quick to sin as we are, God is quick to FORGIVE. As slow to repent as we are, God is slow to BECOME ANGRY. As faithless and wandering as we are, God is faithful and reliable. As lying and dishonest as we are, God is truthful and consistent. Yes, God is just and will punish sin. But he’s overwhelmingly FOR us, not AGAINST us. He’s PATIENT, not wanting ANY to perish, but ALL to come to eternal life.

And, v10, God RENEWS his covenant with Moses and Israel. And down in v28, Moses writes all the words down on the SECOND pair of stone tablets. And he’s there ANOTHER forty days and nights. And when he comes down, his face is GLOWING because he’s MET WITH GOD. And the people are AFRAID.

What an incredible event! That the LORD would speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with a friend. And reveal his CHARACTER – his GLORY – to him. And show him his WAYS. No wonder it’s the most quoted paragraph in the Bible! But as clear an explanation as it is of God. There’s an even CLEARER one. When God speaks about himself IN HIS SON. The Lord Jesus.

Fittingly, the beginning of John’s Gospel calls him THE WORD. God’s self-communication. He was WITH God in the beginning, and WAS God. And then we get to v14. Exodus 34:6-7 are pretty special. But v14 is EVEN BETTER. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus made his dwelling among us. Literally, he TABERNACLED – pitched his TENT – among us. Just like GOD did when he came down on the tent of meeting and met with Moses. And John says, We have SEEN HIS GLORY, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father. The only one who could reveal God’s magnificence is the only one who’s come from the Father.

Moses asked to see God’s glory. And God hid him in a split in a rock and protected him with his hand, and showed him his BACK as he passed by. But John and the other eyewitnesses SAW the GLORY of God himself in the God-man, Jesus. He walked and talked among them. And while God revealed himself to Moses as abounding in love and faithfulness, Jesus revealed himself as FULL OF GRACE and TRUTH. (Overflowing with generous mercy and reliable consistency) The same characteristics as God. Because he’s GOD HIMSELF.

As UNIQUE as Moses’ experience was, the eyewitnesses to Jesus saw God EVEN MORE CLEARLY. John adds, in v18. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

Not even MOSES saw God’s face. But John and the other disciples have seen JESUS, and through him, God himself. And what’s TRULY amazing is that we get to DO THE SAME. We look over their shoulders, listening to their testimony. And see GOD HIMSELF, revealed in the person of Jesus. Jesus, full of grace and truth. Merciful, forgiving, reliable.

But more than that, through him, we can KNOW GOD. Not just know ABOUT him. John says, in v12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-

Sons and daughters of the God who’s compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. And that, out of ALL the things God’s told you about himself today, is the BEST piece of information of ALL!

Exodus 19-20: God’s Law: God’s Gift to God’s People

Is there someone you have trouble buying presents for? Perhaps they already seem to have everything. Or maybe it’s someone you want to say “thank you” to, but there’s no gift that says a “thank you” that’s big enough. For me, it’s my Dad. If he wants something, he just BUYS it. Occasionally I find something he needs, or would enjoy. Like a theology book he doesn’t have, or the DVD set of a new series. But what’s even BETTER is when Dad TELLS me what he’d like. It spoils the surprise. But he figures it’s better to get something he NEEDS rather than something that will sit in a cupboard.

But what about God? How do you say thank-you to God? He’s given us EVERYTHING. But what present can you give God to say thankyou for ALL THAT? And what does he NEED from us? He’s entirely self-sufficient. What’s HE missing from his cupboard? What book’s not on HIS shelf?

Here’s the good news. Just like my Dad, God TELLS us what he wants. He tells us HOW TO SAY THANK YOU. Look at Exodus 19 v 3. God’s led Israel through the desert. And they arrive at the foot of Mt Sinai. And God’s got a message for Moses. Look at v3.

“This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: {4} ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. {5} NOW IF YOU OBEY ME FULLY AND KEEP MY COVENANT, then out of all nations you will be MY TREASURED POSSESSION. Although the whole earth is mine, {6} you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

God reminds Moses about all that he’s done for Israel. And then he says what he expects in return. OBEDIENCE. And it’s the same for US. We say thank you to God for saving us/ by OBEYING him. In GRATITUDE. That’s the correct response to God’s GRACE.

But WHAT are we to obey? The good news is we don’t have to GUESS. Because, once again, God TELLS us. He gives us HIS LAW so we know WHAT to obey. And that’s what we see in chapter 20 onwards. Chapter after chapter of how God’s people are to obey him. Covering every aspect of life. From how to worship God, to how you do business, right down to what to do if you find your neighbour’s donkey.

And as they DO that, THREE THINGS HAPPEN. One, they LEARN ABOUT THE HOLINESS OF GOD. Two, they SHOW GRATITUDE TO GOD. And, three, they SHOW THE WORLD how great God is.

  1. Obedience means learning about the holiness of God.

Firstly, obedience means LEARNING ABOUT THE HOLINESS OF GOD. The things that stands out in chapter 19 is HOW HOLY, or DIFFERENT, GOD IS. And the requirement for the people to be CEREMONIALLY CLEAN. They had to PREPARE THEMSELVES before they could come near to God.

The point was that people are SINFUL, and God WASN’T. Approaching a holy God wasn’t something you did EASILY. Or LIGHTLY. It was like preparing to enter a nuclear reactor. It was a big deal to come into God’s presence. He’s pure, dangerous, white hot holiness. Look from v10 of Ch 19. God tells Moses, Have the people CONSECRATE themselves. PURIFY themselves and their clothes. And it won’t be QUICK. Today, and tomorrow, and, v11, be ready on the third day. Because on that day the LORD will come down to Mt Sinai in the sight of all the people. And v12, set up a safe perimeter around the mountain. So people don’t TOUCH it. And v13, make sure you approach only when the ram’s horn sounds. That’s when it will be safe for them to go up.

And that’s what the people did. And then, v16, On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. {17} Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. {18} Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, {19} and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. {20} The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up {21} and the LORD said to him, “Go down and WARN the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. {22} Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.”

That really does sound like what you do around a nuclear reactor! It was an awesome thing to come before the God of the Universe. And we can only come AT HIS REQUEST. ACCORDING TO HIS RULES of APPROACH. Point one: In the law, we learn about the HOLINESS of God.

How FOOLISH people are to think they have the right to come to God ANY WAY THEY PLEASE! That he’s like your neighbor, or your best friend. Who you can drop in on unannounced, and ask a favour. Even as CHRISTIANS, we can take that access for granted. We think we can approach him because we’ve read our Bible every day this week. Or because we’re giving money for missionaries. Or serving in a ministry. The reality is we serve the same awesome holy God as Israel did. We can’t approach him any more easily.

Except because JESUS has MADE THE WAY. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. NO ONE comes to the Father, except through him. He’s the PRIEST, and the SACRIFICE. He’s the TEMPLE and the CURTAIN into the Most Holy Place.

This description of God’s dangerous, white hot holiness should drive us to REJOICE in GRATITUDE for what Jesus has done. Shake our heads in amazement that we can boldly approach the throne of grace of a God like THIS, through work of Jesus!

What an ENORMOUS THING Jesus did. What a COST to cleanse us! To satisfy the wrath of a holy God like THIS. So we could stand before him, clean and pure and WELCOME.

Listen to the encouragement we have to approach God, in Hebrews 10 v19

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 LET US DRAW NEAR TO GOD WITH A SINCERE HEART IN FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Praise God for Jesus, and the access he gives us to God!

  1. Obedience means showing gratitude to God.

(ONE, the law shows us God’s holiness. Secondly, obeying the law SHOWS GRATITUDE TO GOD.) All the way through Exodus we’ve seen the order of things. God ACTS, and then he expects A RESPONSE. He shows GRACE, then he gives a test of obedience. A chance to show GRATITUDE. And it’s the same at the start of Ch 19. (We read it earlier). ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. {5} NOW IF YOU OBEY ME FULLY AND KEEP MY COVENANT, then out of all nations you will be MY TREASURED POSSESSION.

God reminds Israel what he’s done, and THEN he tells them the right response to that. Same thing in Ch 20. How do the Ten Commandments start? V2. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. {3} “You shall have no other gods before me.

He starts by declaring who he is, and what he’s done. ONLY THEN does he tell us what WE have to do. It’s the OPPOSITE of what every other world religion teaches. And it’s the complete opposite of what most people think Christianity is about. That you do things for God, and then he saves you because you’ve EARNED it.

And it’s the complete opposite of what most people think is happening here. They think, “The New Testament’s about GRACE. About what GOD does for US. But the Old Testament’s about LAW. About what WE have to do for GOD. “If I obey the Ten Commandments, then God will accept me”.

But that’s upside-down thinking! Because the WHOLE of the Bible is about grace. God’s ALWAYS made people his children because of grace. And obeying him is always a RESPONSE OF GRATEFUL APPRECIATION TO THAT GRACE. Take the Sabbath command for example. Ch 20 v10. “The seventh day is a Sabbath TO THE LORD”. Our rest is to be DIRECTED TO HIM in THANKS.

And that’s exactly the same for Christians. Nothing’s changed. The New Testament’s full of examples. About how we obey in response to God’s goodness. Like Romans 12 v1. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY, TO OFFER YOUR BODIES AS LIVING SACRIFICES, HOLY AND PLEASING TO GOD–THIS IS YOUR SPIRITUAL ACT OF WORSHIP. {2} Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, etc

God shows us MERCY. THEN we offer our bodies. We obey in RESPONSE to God’s grace. Or what about Ephesians 2:8-10?  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS TO DO GOOD WORKS, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God SAVED us, and THEN calls us to do the good works he’s prepared for us. And that COMPLETING TRANSFORMS the way you approach obeying God. It sets you FREE. Because it’s not about your PERFORMANCE, but about your GRATITUDE. Jesus has ALREADY PERFORMED. Point TWO: In obeying the law, we SHOW OUR GRATITUDE TO GOD.

  1. Obedience means showing the WORLD what a great God we serve.

The third point about the law/ is obedience shows the WORLD what a great God we serve. Go back to Ch 19 v 6 again. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although (the Hebrew has “BECAUSE”) the whole earth is mine, {6} YOU WILL BE FOR ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and a holy nation.”

Obedience means that Israel will be a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS. What does that mean? Remember that a priest’s job was to represent man before God, and to represent God before man. To be the “in-betweener”. If you like, the introduction agency.

And God WANTS all nations to be introduced to him. Because they BELONG to him. It’s BECAUSE the whole earth is his that he wants a kingdom of priests to REPRESENT him to the world. It’s what God promised Abraham, right back in Genesis 12, “I will make you a great nation and ALL PEOPLES on EARTH WILL BE BLESSED THROUGH YOU.

How would the whole nation act as priests? By obeying God FULLY and keeping his covenant. That’s V5. And then v6 says that will mean they fulfil their calling to be a kingdom of PRIESTS to the whole earth.

Over in Deuteronomy 4, it explains how obedience can introduce the world to God. It’s the OTHER account of the Ten Commandments. Listen to what Moses says about what obedience will do. V5 of Deut 4.

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. {6} Observe them carefully, for THIS WILL SHOW YOUR WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING TO THE NATIONS, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” {7} What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? {8} And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

As Israel obeyed God’s laws, it made the OTHER nations sit up and take notice. “Look at what a great nation Israel is! It’s really got its act together! If they show justice and mercy to each other LIKE THAT, how just and merciful must THEIR GOD be!” Obeying God’s law declared God’s goodness to the nations.

And if you look at the follow-up chapters in Exodus. Chapters 20-23. There are SOME laws to do with GOD. (To do with worship and idols and altars). And they’re really important. But the majority are to do with HOW PEOPLE TREAT EACH OTHER. And it’s a pretty attractive picture. If people really DID treat each other like that, then the world would be a great place. The whole TONE of the chapters isn’t about loading great burdens onto people’s backs. One more law after another.

They’re certainly COMMANDS. But it’s also a vision of God’s preferred future. It’s describing PARADISE. If everyone looked to the interests of OTHERS, then THE WHOLE SOCIETY will be better. (Make sure your animals are tied up. Make sure your verandah is fenced off. Look after slaves, and widows, and orphans. Don’t accept interest on loans. If you take a man’s cloak as security, make sure he gets it back at night). BE OTHER-PERSON CENTRED. In fact, it would be just like the way God created things in the beginning. All relationships in harmony. Man at peace with man. Man at peace with creation. Man at peace with God.

These laws aren’t “Here are some burdens for you to bear.” But/ “Here’s the way society will work best. The way people’s rights will be protected. Here’s my gift to you”

And that’s what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. He comes at the end of a long line of prophets calling people back to obeying God’s law. Matthew Ch 5. He says is that he hasn’t come to ABOLISH the law. Verse 17. And that nothing’s going to disappear from the law. In fact, he makes it even harder. Because he goes on to talk about a number of the Ten Commandments. Murder. BEING ANGRY is just like murder. Adultery. A LUSTFUL THOUGHT is just like adultery. And some other favourites. Divorce. The law isn’t an excuse for you to change your wife because you feel like it. It’s there to protect the rights of people.

And the same with “an eye for an eye”. Matthew 5:38. Getting someone back because they hurt you. It’s not an excuse for vengeance. God’s original law set a LIMIT on punishment. The punishment was there to PROTECT PEOPLE’S RIGHTS. If you’re “other-person-centred”, the best way you can look after their rights is to TURN THE OTHER CHEEK – that’s the purpose of the law. And he finishes chapter 5, Be PERFECT, as your heavenly Father is PERFECT.

Just imagine if people actually LIVED like this?! It would be LIFE AT ITS BEST. The way it was designed. And when that happens. When people start treating each other well, THE WORLD WILL TAKE NOTICE! Jesus takes up God’s call for his people to be a kingdom of priests when he talks about being SALT AND LIGHT. 5:13. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world”.

If Israel obey God’s law, and if they do it from the right motivation, and they put other people first, then the world (other nations) will notice. They’ll see what a great life it is following God. And Israel really WILL be a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS.

And that’s JUST as true for us Christians as it was for Israel. Turn over to 1 Peter Ch 2 with me. Peter’s talking to THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. But he picks up the language of Exodus 19. Look at verse 9. Look at who he calls the Christian church.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

We, the church, are a holy nation. We’re to be separate and pure. But we’re also a royal priesthood. They’re to be IN the world, but not OF it. To be IN the world/ means to stand between men and God. And to declare God’s praises to the people around. To introduce people to the God who can save them. Who can call them out of darkness.

And look how we’re to do that. Look down at v 11. They do it by obeying God’s laws.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. {12} LIVE SUCH GOOD LIVES AMONG THE PAGANS that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Our lives are to be so good, that we’ll STAND OUT. That our neighbours will want to be part of us. And they’ll glorify God on judgement day. In other words, they’ll become God’s people too!

That’s a challenge for us, isn’t it? That, as a church, our lives should be SO OTHER-PERSON-CENTRED, and full of JOY AND LOVE AND GRATITUDE TO GOD, that other people will want to be part of us. They’ll want to be introduced to the one who can rescue them from darkness, too!

God’s law is his gift to his people. In the law we learn about his HOLINESS. As we obey it, we show GRATITUDE to him. And we SHOW THE WORLD what a great God we serve.

Exodus 15:22-17:7: Grumbling, Grace and Gratitude

It’s been a year where GRUMBLING is acceptable conversation. Grumbling about the health risks in a pandemic. Grumbling about the inconveniences of lockdown and closures. Grumbling about the boredom, or tensions, of working from home. And not being able to travel. And too many zoom meetings. And wearing masks. The list goes on and on.

But is grumbling acceptable for God’s people? There’s a TYPE of grumbling we find all through the Psalms. It’s LAMENT. It’s okay to be SAD, and to cry out to God. Because the world is BROKEN. God ENCOURAGES us to hand our pain, and requests, over to him, because he’s God and we’re NOT.

But then there’s the grumbling we see in today’s chapters of Exodus. Which is something DIFFERENT. It begins with FORGETFULNESS. It’s only DAYS since God miraculously rescued them from slavery and destroyed Egypt’s army. But they’ve FORGOTTEN how God rescued them, and so they don’t TRUST that he’ll look after them. And they’ve forgotten how BAD Egypt was, so they’re not CONTENT. And they’re UNGRATEFUL. That’s what separates grumbling from lament. A LACK OF GRATITUDE, CONTENTMENT AND FAITH.

We see grumbling again and again in today’s chapters. (Putting God to the TEST). And yet despite their grumbling. Again and again, we see God GRACIOUSLY PROVIDING what they need. And giving them the opportunity express GRATITUDE.

What if we could learn a lesson from Israel? What if, instead of grumbling, we REJOICED? Expressed GRATITUDE. TRUSTED God to provide. Trusted that he’d work GOOD through all things. What if we learned to look FOR HIS GOOD HAND AT WORK in the midst of the mess? I reckon it would transform our conversations. And transform the way we approached life. And how we walked through it with God.

1. God provides water (15:22-27)

We’re picking up the story in Exodus 15 v22. Israel’s just crossed the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army’s been completely wiped out. God’s miraculously saved Israel. And they’ve sung his praises. But now, it’s only three days later. They’ve marched through the desert. And there’s no water.

Finally they find a spring. But when they start drinking, they spit it out in disgust. It’s salty! Full of minerals. Like drinking SEA water! They could have done THAT back at the Red Sea! And so v24. They GRUMBLE to Moses, “What are we to drink?” So Moses cries out to God. V25. and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the WATER BECAME SWEET.

Protest and provision. Grumbling and grace. They’re thirsty. And he gives them water to drink. Not because they DESERVE it. But simply because OF WHO GOD IS.

But look what else he does. He gives the chance to show GRATITUDE. He gives them a test. Half way through v25.

There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and THERE HE TESTED THEM. {26} He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

Israel had taken their eyes OFF God. They’d DOUBTED him. But they’d been shown grace. And now they’ve got the chance to show GRATITUDE. To LISTEN to God’s commands, and to DO WHAT’S RIGHT. If they PASS, the curses of disobedience won’t come on them.

And then, v27, to REINFORCE God’s undeserved goodness, and to back up his promise of blessing, they come to the spring of Elim. With no salty water. And twelve springs – one for each tribe. And seventy palm trees to top it off! Grumbling, grace, and gratitude. Look out for that pattern as we keep moving.

2. God provides food (16:1-36)

Episode two. Chapter 16. They move on from the spring of Elim. It’s been one month since Israel left Egypt. Thirty whole days. And what happens? More grumbling! V2.

In the desert the whole community GRUMBLED against Moses and Aaron. {3} The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

The food’s running out. Their STOMACH’S are grumbling, so THEY start grumbling. It would be HILARIOUS if it wasn’t so SAD. It’s the ultimate in selective amnesia – forgetting the worse bits of their years of suffering. Four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. One month of freedom. And they want to go back to Egypt. God’s TESTED them. And it hasn’t taken them long to COMPLETELY FAIL.

Israel GRUMBLES. And how does God respond? Once again, he shows GRACE. Look at v7 and also in v12. He tells Moses, “I’ve HEARD their grumbling.” Which is OMINOUS, if his response is about what they DESERVE. But instead he PROVIDES. He promises MEAT in the EVENING, and BREAD in the MORNING. A two course heavenly banquet. And that’s what HAPPENS. V13. That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. {14} When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. {15} When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” (In Aramaic “Mah na?”) For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.

Gratitude (16:19-30; 31-35 ) – a test (16:4-5)

Grumbling. And grace. The LORD provides. But once again, notice how God gives them the opportunity to show GRATITUDE. The GIFT comes with ANOTHER TEST. Look back at v4 and 5. A test in two parts.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough FOR THAT DAY. IN THIS WAY I WILL TEST THEM and see whether they will follow my instructions. (And) on the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and THAT IS TO BE TWICE AS MUCH as they gather on the other days.”

He PROVIDES for them, but he TESTS them. He shows GRACE. But he expects OBEDIENCE. To see whether they TRUST him, or not.

Here’s how the testing worked. First, he tells them to collect just enough for one day. No more. But just like most of us, some people couldn’t help collecting a bit extra. Just in case.  But look what happened. God tested them, and they failed the test. Because they didn’t trust God. Over to verse 19. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” {20} However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

They failed the first part. How would they go with the second? On Friday, God said to collect TWICE AS MUCH. Because there’d be none to collect on the SATURDAY. Because God wanted them to REST on the Sabbath.

And that’s the way it HAPPENED. Twice as much collected on Friday. And, v24, it lasted until Saturday. And then, v25, Moses explains it all

“Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. {26} Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

But look at v27. SOME of the people DIDN’T collect double on Friday. And they went out looking on Saturday. When they were supposed to be RESTING. (I wonder if it was the same people who’d collected TOO MUCH during the week, and it had gone off?). And God had a message for Moses to tell them. V28.

“How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? {29} Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” {30} So the people rested on the seventh day.

God did it that way for a reason. For one thing, He wanted his people to REST. Secondly, he wanted to test their obedience. Obedience which was IN RESPONSE to his grace. Notice that it’s not just Sabbath, but “Sabbath to the LORD”. Their act of keeping the Sabbath is TO EXPRESS THEIR GRATITUDE to God’s grace. They stop working IN RECOGNITION that God’s PROVIDED for them, so they don’t HAVE to. Grumbling, grace and gratitude.

3. God provides water –again (17:1-7)

Grumbling (17:1-4)

Next we get to Ch 17. and the story’s a familiar one. V1, more travelling, and more thirsty people. V2.

SO THEY QUARRELED WITH MOSES and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? WHY DO YOU PUT THE LORD TO THE TEST?” {3} But the people were thirsty for water there, and they GRUMBLED against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” {4} Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

Once again – grumbling. But notice? This time it’s the PEOPLE who put GOD to the test. Rather than responding to GOD’S test by OBEYING, they grumble, and put God to the test! “What are YOU going to do for US? How much grace have you got?”

Grace (17:5-6):

THEY might fail GOD’S test. But HE doesn’t fail THEIRS. v5.

The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. {6} I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Once again, God provides. DESPITE the doubting of his people. And in v7 Moses even gives the place a couple of nicknames. “Testing” and “quarrelling”.

“because the Israelites QUARRELED and because they TESTED the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Is the LORD among us or not? There’s a CYNICISM there, I think. A doubt that God’s GOOD or that he’s ABLE. (Will he PROVIDE? Is he LOOKING? Does he CARE?)

And it’s that VERY QUESTION that gets answered in the next two sections. “Is the LORD among us, or not?” Because God continues to provide for his people. He provides in WARTIME, and he provides in PEACETIME. He brings them victory against the AMALEKITES in ch 17. And he provides JUDGES to help Moses govern the people in ch 18. Which are great stories. But we don’t have time to look at them today.

Instead, I want to come back to the question we BEGAN with. Can we learn a lesson from Israel, and move FROM GRUMBLING TO GRATITUDE? The truth is we’ve been saved from a much greater enemy than Egypt. A much greater slavery than forced labour. If we’re Christian, we’ve been saved from the power and consequences of our sin. We’ve been saved from God’s anger and judgment. We’ve been put right with God through trusting Jesus.

That’s the GREAT TRUTH that should colour the way we think about life NOW. Look at the logic in Romans 5. Focussing on how God’s JUSTIFIED us IN THE PAST means we can confidently rejoice in PRESENT SUFFERINGS. Romans 5 v1.

Therefore, SINCE WE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED THROUGH FAITH, we have PEACE WITH GOD through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we REJOICE in the hope of the glory of God. 3 NOT ONLY SO, BUT WE ALSO REJOICE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Focus on what God’s ALREADY DONE FOR US in saving us. Rejoice in the experience of your relationship with him. That will give you the tools, the perspective, to rejoice in the PAIN of life. The GOSPEL is the key to moving from GRUMBLING to GRATITUDE.

The God who SAVED you will never DESERT you. Or, as Romans 8:32 says, “If God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us ALL THINGS?!”

Paul didn’t just WRITE those words. He LIVED THEM. The letter to the Philippians was written from PRISON. But it’s also called the LETTER OF JOY. He rejoices that he’s stuck in prison, because, 1:13, “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” And so he can say, in v18, And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,

Even though it looks like he might be EXECUTED. Not even the THREAT OF DEATH can stop his joy. Because he knows that he’ll be better off, because he’ll BE WITH JESUS. He says, 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

In v27, he encourages them, “whatever happens conduct yourselves IN A MANNER WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL.” In other words, live out the GRATITUDE of people who’ve been shown GRACE.

And then, 2:14, he turns it around. And states the NEGATIVE. Grumbling is the NEGATIVE of REJOICING. He commands Do everything WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you SHINE LIKE STARS in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life-

It’s easy to do things you ENJOY without grumbling. But do EVERYTHING without grumbling. Everything! Wake up with a sore throat, receive criticism, sit in traffic, pay a parking ticket, cook dinner for an ungrateful family. Sit through another zoom meeting.

And if you can live like THAT in the midst of a grumbling generation, you’ll LOOK DIFFERENT. As different as stars in the night sky. Do THAT. And you’ll show yourselves to be TRUSTING CHILDREN of your heavenly Father. Who cares for you and gives you good things.

Not grumbling is an attitude that flows from your relationship with him. That’s what it means when he says in 3:1 Rejoice IN THE LORD. Rejoice BECAUSE you belong to the Lord.

That’s the treasure Paul says he’ll GIVE UP EVERYTHING ELSE for. Knowing God is his TOP PRIORITY. Everything else is worthless. He says in 3:8

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I MAY GAIN CHRIST 9 AND BE FOUND IN HIM, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ

That’s where JOY and GRATITUDE come from. That’s what STOPS grumbling. That’s the secret of BEING CONTENT. Because what you have in JESUS is worth FAR MORE than anything this world can offer you. 4:12

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

The strength to be CONTENT. To not GRUMBLE. But instead to show GRATITUDE. To trust the God who SAVED you, the FATHER who cares for you.  Rejoice in the LORD always! I’ll say it again, REJOICE! And don’t grumble!

Exodus 5-11: Who’s the Boss?

Have you ever made this mistake: Not recognizing someone great? Treating someone ONE WAY/ when they were something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT?

Sir Edmund Hillary was the first person to climb Mount Everest. And in the nineteen fifties, was well-known and honoured all round the world for his achievement. A few years after he was knighted, Hillary was back in the Himalayas for a photo shoot. He’s dressed in his mountain gear, they’ve got him standing in a group of mountaineers, and they ask him to hold up an ice pick for the photo. At which point a young climber was passing by, and not recognising Sir Edmund, comes over and says to him, “Excuse me, that’s not how you hold an ice pick. Let me show you.”

He doesn’t realise who he’s giving advice to. He underestimates him. And so he acts in ONE way. When he REALLY should have been lining up for an autograph, and taking lessons from him. Hillary could have put him in his place. He could have said, “Young man, don’t you know who I am?” And given him a lesson in icepicks and everything else. And left him hugely embarrassed. But, instead, he smiles. And thanks him. And lets him adjust the icepick in his hands. And goes on with the photo. Which, apparently, reflected his humility. But nevertheless, this climber was left looking foolish. He’d misjudged someone GREAT. It’s foolish to treat someone ONE WAY, when he’s something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

And it’s the same thing with Pharaoh and God. Pharaoh underestimates God. He thinks he’s just like the other gods. Powerless. In charge of one small part of things. And so he behaves accordingly. But he’s got God completely wrong. He’s misjudging someone GREAT. And these chapters show he’s a fool.

And so God’s about to correct him. That’s the point of the plagues. To show Pharaoh who God really is. To show him who’s the boss. Pharaoh asks the QUESTION, and the plagues are God’s ANSWER.

Look at Ch 5 v2. Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh, just like God says, and they pass on the message. “Let my people go”. But look at Pharaoh’s response. Verse 2. It’s the first of three questions.

“Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”

He doesn’t recognize him. So he behaves in a certain way. He thinks God is ONE THING, when he’s SOMETHING ELSE ALL TOGETHER.

V6. He figures the Israelites must have too much free time on their hands. And so he tells the slave drivers to stop giving them straw to make the bricks. “Let them find their own straw! THEN we’ll see how much time they’ve got to think about religion”.

Verse 12. The people scatter all over the place looking for straw! But they’ve still got to make just as many bricks as they did before! There’s just not enough hours in the day! So much for God’s plan to RESCUE them! Everything’s just become HARDER!

And so Moses is wondering what’s going on. In v 22 he goes back to God. Another QUESTION.

“O Lord, WHY HAVE YOU BROUGHT TROUBLE UPON THIS PEOPLE? Is this why you sent me? {23} Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he’s brought trouble upon this people, and you haven’t rescued your people AT ALL.”

You said you’d HARDEN HIS HEART. You said he WOULDN’T LET US GO. But you never said anything about him making things EVEN HARDER! What are you DOING?

So Moses is asking the question. Just like Pharaoh’s asking a question. And God’s about to answer BOTH questions.

First, he answers MOSES’ question. “Why have you brought trouble?” Ch 6 v 1.

Now YOU WILL SEE WHAT I WILL DO TO PHARAOH: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go;

And then, v2, he answers PHARAOH’S question. “Who is Yhwh?”

{2} God also said to Moses, “I AM Yhwh. {3} I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name Yhwh I did not make myself known to them. {4} I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. {5} Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

That’s who I am in the PAST. And, v6, THIS is who I am in the FUTURE.

{6} “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I AM Yhwh, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. {7} I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. THEN YOU WILL KNOW THAT I AM YHWH YOUR GOD, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. {8} And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I AM YHWH.'”

This is who I am! This is what I’ll do. And this is WHY. Surely that’s enough for Moses and the people! Right? … Wrong!! Both Moses and the people aren’t convinced. V9. Moses tells them what God says. But they didn’t LISTEN.

And then, v11, when God tells Moses to say it to PHARAOH, Moses replies, v12, (question number 3) “If the Israelites will not listen to me, WHY WOULD PHARAOH LISTEN TO ME, since I speak with faltering lips?”

And it’s a question that WE’RE meant to keep asking. It keeps ringing in our ears. “If the ISRAELITES won’t listen, why would PHARAOH listen?” If God’s people won’t listen, why would a Gentile? It keeps ringing, right through this strange excursion about the family tree of Moses and Aaron. This long list. “These were the names of the sons of so-on-and-so-on”

I think part of the reason for the list is make us focus on the question. To raise the suspense. To KEEP asking the question. Why WOULD Pharaoh listen to Moses? How IS God going to work things out?

And then in Ch 7 God gives his ANSWER. Look at Ch 7 v2. Why WOULD Pharaoh listen? Here’s why!

Tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. {3} But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and THOUGH I MULTIPLY MY MIRACULOUS SIGNS AND WONDERS in Egypt, {4} he will not listen to you. Then I WILL LAY MY HAND ON EGYPT and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. {5} AND THE EGYPTIANS WILL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

Why would Pharaoh listen? By God’s POWER AND CONTROL. Over Pharaoh, over miracles and signs, over Israel. And even over Egypt.

Pharaoh’s asked the question. Who is the LORD? And now God’s ready to give the answer. “I’ll show you who the LORD is!

Moses asks the question, “Why would Pharaoh listen to me?” And God says, “By my mighty hand!”

I’m the God of creation. Who MADE everything. And who CONTROLS it. I’m the God over it all– even the parts YOU think are controlled by YOUR GODS. By Hapi, who controls the NILE. Or Osiris who controls the CROPS and the BIRTH of CHILDREN. Or Ra who controls the SUN.

And all the way through the plagues, we see God’s INTENTION. The GOAL of the lesson. So they might KNOW who God is.

  • It begins in v7 of Ch 6 Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.”
  • And v5 of Ch 7. “And THE EGYPTIANS WILL KNOW that I am the LORD.”
  • And then Ch 8 v10, Moses gets Pharaoh to pick the time the plague of frogs will leave. Like a magician getting an audience member to pick a card. Why? “So that YOU MAY KNOW that there is no one like the LORD.”
  • Same again in 8:22. Flies only affect the Egyptians, not the Jews. “SO THAT YOU WILL KNOW that I, the LORD, am in this land.”
  • Same again in 9.14. SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW that there is no one like me in all the earth.
  • And 9:29, the thunder and hail stop when Moses prays, SO YOU MAY KNOW that the earth is the LORD’s.
  • And, 10:2, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW that I am the LORD.
  • And, finally, Ch 11 v5, the death of the firstborn Egyptian children and animals. But, v7, but not among the Israelites. Why? THEN YOU WILL KNOW that the LORD makes a distinction.

Through 10 different plagues. A lesson plan designed to teach Pharaoh who God is. So that he would KNOW. And it gets more intense, and targeted as the plagues unfold.

Covering the whole breadth of creation. Everything the Egyptians thought THEIR GODS ruled over. From water to land. From tiny insects to large beasts. Plants and animals AND mankind. Plagues to do with the weather. And with sickness. And with light and dark. And even over LIFE ITSELF.

Skim through these chapters with me. First the water in the Nile River becomes blood. Ch 7 v 14. It’s putrid. And no-one can drink it.

The court magicians can’t fix it. V22. All they can do is IMITIATE it. Which, ironically, just makes things WORSE. There’s MORE blood!

Same thing a week later, there’s a plague of frogs. Ch 8. They’re everywhere. Even through the palace. And, v7, all the magicians can do is MAKE MORE FROGS. Not helpful!

After the frogs, Ch 8 v 16, Aaron strikes the dust, and all the dust in the land becomes gnats.

This time, v18, the magicians CAN’T duplicate the miracle. THEY recognize who God is. And they tell Pharaoh, v19

“THIS IS THE FINGER OF GOD.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said.

The MAGICIANS know. THEY’VE learned who God is. But not Pharaoh. And so the plagues continue. Next, it’s FLIES. Ch 8 v 20. But from this plague on, they only affect the EGYPTIANS. And Israel’s protected. (Just like God separates light from dark at creation, and water above from water below.) V22, the distinction is “SO THAT YOU WILL KNOW that I am in the land.” GOD’s at work!

Then a plague that kills all the Egyptian cattle. Ch 9.

And then God starts to GET PERSONAL. Ch 9 v 8. Moses throws soot from the brick kilns into the air. And when it settles on Egypt, both men and animals break out in festering, painful boils. Ch 9 v 11 says the magicians couldn’t stand before Moses because they were covered in boils. I bet they couldn’t SIT DOWN EITHER! But still Pharaoh refuses to give in. Refuses to recognize who God is. He’s misjudged someone great.

Then it’s HAIL. All over the land of the Egyptians. Ch 9 v 13. The crops that were just about ready for harvest were destroyed! But not one hailstone where Israel was! That’s no ORDINARY hail storm. That’s EXTRA- ordinary. SUPER natural.

Then locusts. Ch 10. So many, the air is THICK with them. And they finish off any crops the hail left behind. God’s RUNNING OUT OF THINGS TO DESTROY. What ELSE has he got up his sleeve? How much longer can Pharaoh hold out? How dumb IS he?

You can imagine Pharaoh peering through the curtains. Hardly daring to imagine what’s coming up next. Which comes in v21. Unannounced. Darkness. It was so dark, no one could move from his house for three days. It was darkness you could FEEL. Except, somehow, v23, it wasn’t dark where the Israelites lived. Darkness that was just like Pharaoh. He was in the dark about God. Blinded to who he really was. And so God LEFT him in the dark.

And just to prove that God’s right, Pharaoh STILL wouldn’t let Israel go. Nine plagues. Across the full sweep of creation. God showing Pharaoh the full extent of his power. But he hadn’t quite finished.

I want you to imagine for a moment the scene in Egypt. It HAD been the jewel of Africa. The most powerful country of its time. Lush, fertile, rich. The mighty Nile flowing through it. Wealthy, well-fed, healthy Egyptians walking around – carefree and contented. Plump, good-looking cattle. Fields bursting with grain ready for harvest. Imagine it now. Not a green plant left standing. Stubble and dusty ground. All the animals dead by hail or plague. Rotting frogs piled up in heaps. People walking around gingerly – covered in boils, in a state of shock. Squinting in the bright sunlight after 3 days of blackness. Shell-shocked. Destruction and chaos. A battle-field. Complete DE-creation from the hand of the Creator. That’s what happens when the Lord of Hosts comes to fight on your side. When someone dares to ask the question, “Who is the LORD?”

But God’s got one card left. Because his people still aren’t free. And this one’s different from all the rest. It cuts right to the CORE of Pharaoh. We know it’s coming. God told Moses, back in Ch 4 v22. When Pharaoh won’t let you go say to him, “This is what the LORD says, Israel is my first –born son. You would let him go. So I will KILL your firstborn son. The plague on the first-born. When all the first-born sons of Egypt will be killed by the hand of God. But you’ll have to wait for next week for that one!

Let’s stop and ask ourselves, Have we learned the lesson God wants us to learn? Has God’s purpose been achieved? SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW that HE is Yhwh, and there is NO ONE LIKE him. So that you may know that he is in the land. SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW that the earth is Yhwh’s. Can you SEE it? Do you KNOW? It’s about as clear a lesson as anyone could want. And yet Pharaoh STILL didn’t learn. So make sure YOU learn!

But as spectacular as God’s lesson plan was for Pharaoh, he had an EVEN CLEARER demonstration planned. Many centuries later, when he sent his SON. Jesus, the CLEAR DEMONSTRATION of who God is. Hebrews 1 says in these last days God has spoken to us by his son, who is the RADIANCE of God’s GLORY, the EXACT REPRESENTATION of his BEING. So we would KNOW him. When you SEE JESUS, you SEE GOD. When you KNOW Jesus, you KNOW God. And, just like God did with Israel, he ALSO came to rescue his people from slavery. Not the slavery of EGYPT, but the slavery of SIN and DEATH.

Pharaoh didn’t see it. He didn’t recognize and know God. But, in some sense at least, his advisors DID. In Ch 8 v19, the magicians can’t reproduce the plague of gnats, and they said to Pharaoh, “THIS IS THE FINGER OF GOD” They recognize God!

That phrase is found in only ONE OTHER PLACE in the Bible. Luke chapter 11. V14, Jesus casts out a demon from a mute man. And he begins to SPEAK AGAIN. And the crowd are amazed. But there are SOME people who misjudge someone great. Just like that guy with Sir Edmund Hillary. Just like Pharaoh did with God. And they say, “By Beelzebub, the PRINCE of demons, Jesus casts out demons.” They think Jesus’ power over demons comes from Satan himself.

Jesus says that’s NONSENSE. A kingdom fighting against itself will be RUINED. And then he corrects them, v20. But if I drive out demons by THE FINGER OF GOD, then THE KINGDOM OF GOD has come to you.

His power is a demonstration of the FINGER of GOD. It’s not SATAN’S power. It’s the Kingdom of God arriving. DELIVERING people. And he goes on to describe the CONTEST. V21, Satan’s like a strong man, who’s guarding his house, which is the world, or people. But then a STRONGER man comes along, which is JESUS. And he ATTACKS him and OVERPOWERS him.

That’s what Jesus is doing. Overpowering the weaker forces of Satan in the world. And robbing his house. Rescuing his people. That’s what GOD was doing in Egypt. Overpowering the weaker forces of Satan in Egypt. Robbing his house. Rescuing his people.

Can you SEE it? Do you KNOW it? GOD IS AT WORK. He’s POWERFUL. And he robbing Satan’s house. And rescuing his people. Can you see it? Do you know it?

Before you say quickly say yes. Does your behavior REFLECT that  you recognize God’s at work? Does your PRAYER LIFE show it? Does your WITNESSING show it? Do your PRIORITIES show it?

Or do you, perhaps, need a remedial lesson? A reminder? Have you, unknowingly, soaked up the post-Christian, secular mindset of the age? That God is dead. And Christianity is out of date. And the church is fading and under pressure and irrelevant? And that science and technology and cooperation will fix all our problems?

That’s the assertion of a great new book by Melbourne pastor and academic, Mark Sayers. It’s called Reappearing Church. He says

“Many Christians have internalized the secular map of reality (that) tells us not to expect dimensions of reality beyond the empirically evident…, that there are no linger any supernatural dimensions to reality.”

He says the solution is we need to

“Look at our moment through resurrection lenses. We must examine the possibilities of renewal through God’ unlimited power rather than through the limitations of a post-Christian framework.” (p10)

In other words, he’s saying We need to KNOW and live OUT the TRUTH that GOD IS STILL POWERFUL. He is Yhwh, and that there is no one like him, and that he is in the land. And that he is God of the world. And that his Son Jesus is still storming Satan’s stronghold, and setting captives free, by the finger of God.

Do you KNOW that? Are you LIVING THAT OUT?

Exodus 3-5: Who Am I?

Who AM I? Did you notice Moses asks that question, in Ch 3 v11? It’s a COMPLICATED QUESTION. Where do you find your IDENTITY? What’s YOUR CHARACTER, or PERSONALITY? What factors shape the way you think about the world, and how you respond to it? What things are MOST IMPORTANT to you?

These are big questions. And it can be really helpful to know the answers. For relationships, for work, for leadership. Because they help explain why you REACT the way you do. (Why you VALUE and PURSUE certain things. And why you get UPSET when you don’t get them. Why you COMMUNICATE in certain ways, and what those strengths and weaknesses are.)

We were talking about this at our extended family dinner the other week. And the MARRIED ones were talking to the SOON TO BE married ones about some of the personality tests they’d found useful.

Like the Myers-Briggs personality test. It describes people according to whether they are introverts or extraverts, observant or intuitive, thinkers or feelers, judgers or perceivers. These are basic ways we relate to the world around us.

Then there’s Enneagram system that identifies nine personality types. Perfectionist, mediator, thinker, guardian and achiever to name a few. Each one is defined by a CORE BELIEF, which shapes the way we see the world. Most people are a COMBINATION of personality types, together they make up WHO YOU ARE.

Tools like these are useful. And they help us live wisely in the world. But I want to suggest there’s a more foundational question than, Who am I? It’s what we see all the way through today’s chapters from Exodus. It’s WHO IS GOD? And who we are IN RELATION TO HIM. Not WHO am I, but WHOSE am I. And that’s what should, ultimately, shape how we relate to the world. That’s what REALLY matters.

  1. Moses meets God (3:1-4:17)

First, ch 3, Moses meets GOD. Remember where we finished last week? Moses fled from Egypt to Midian. He’s married into a family of shepherds. And that’s what he’s doing at the start of chapter 3. He’s travelled to the far side of the desert, probably in search of water and food for the sheep. And he ends up at Mount Horeb. Where, v2, he notices something unusual.

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, v3, Moses heads over to check it out. Next, it’s God’s turn to see something. V4.

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
In some way that’s not explained, it’s the ANGEL of God, or MESSENGER of God, who appears IN the flames. But at the same time it seems to be God HIMSELF. He called to Moses “from within the bush!”

And we’re ALSO not quite sure what to CALL him. We’ve got two different names there in v4. “The LORD” translates the Hebrew word, Yahweh, which we’ll see soon is God’s PERSONAL name. And “God”, which translates the Hebrew word Elohim, that’s just the general name for ANY God, or gods, or even heavenly beings.

And, v5, God warns Moses not to come any closer, and to remove his shoes. Because God himself is there in the burning bush. And he introduces himself. He’s the God of Moses’ ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And Moses, v6, is, understandably, PETRIFIED.

But God COMFORTS Moses, v7.

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering

Just what we saw last week, at the end of Ch 2. The Israelites cried out to God, and he HEARD, and REMEMBERED, and SAW, and WAS CONCERNED.

And now, for the first time, we see what his PLAN is. V8. He’s going to RESCUE them from the Egyptians. And then bring them into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Which, I’m sure, Moses thinks is a GREAT idea. Until we get to v10. So now, go. I am sending YOU to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

It’s been YEARS since Moses was last in Egypt. Last time he was there, his attempts to help didn’t turn out so well. There was a murder, a price on his head, and a quick escape. It seems like the years have changed MOSES. Look at his response there in v11. “WHO AM I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

That’s the question. Who IS Moses? What’s SHAPED him? What MATTERS to him? Is he Egyptian? Is he Israelite? Is he Midianite? He seems to be NEITHER. (He called his son Gershom, or Foreigner, because he was a foreigner in Midian.) It’s a question that reflects HIS HUMILITY. It’s part question, part EXCUSE. He doesn’t feel equipped for the task. He’s a SHEPHERD. A HUSBAND. A DAD. Not a LEADER, or a WARRIOR, or a STATESMAN.

But God’s answer is that none of that matters. V12. “I will be WITH you.” What matters more than “WHO AM I” is “WHOSE am I”? God says, “It’s not about YOU. It’s about ME.”

But it doesn’t seem to comfort Moses too much. His FIRST question has been about his SELF-identity (Who am I?). His SECOND question, v13, is about GOD’S identity. Who are YOU?

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14God 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.’ “

Human beings are the product of genetics and upbringing. NATURE and NURTURE. Our character and personality are influenced by a whole range of things in our breeding, our background and our surroundings. We develop and change in response to lots of things. But God’s not LIKE that. God JUST IS. “I am who I am.” He’s the origin of everything. Nothing will change or influence his character or responses. If he did the Myers Briggs or Enneagram tests, he’d just BLOW THEM UP.

And he says to Moses. “Tell THAT to the Israelites. Tell them “I AM” has sent you.” And then, v15, God uses his PERSONAL name, Yahweh, which is connected to “I am”. It means “HE IS.”

“Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD (or Yahweh), 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 by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

It’s not about who YOU are, Moses, It’s about WHO I AM. V16. Tell that to the elders. And they’ll LISTEN to you.

Then, v18, you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt, and say, “Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, wants us to take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to him.” But he WON’T listen to you, v19. Unless my mighty hand COMPELS him. And that’s what I’ll do.

Sounds like a fairly thorough answer to Moses’ doubts. But it’s not enough for Moses. Ch 4 v1. ANOTHER question: Question 3: “What if they won’t listen?”

God’s already told him THEY WILL. But Moses needs reassurance. And God, patiently, PROVIDES it. V3 to 9, a set or miracles to perform to convince them. His staff becomes a serpent. His hand becomes leprous. And then is healed again. And then, v9, pour some of the water from the Nile on the ground, and it will turn to BLOOD.

Once again, it sounds like a wonderfully complete answer to Moses’ doubts. But it’s STILL not enough for Moses. So, he asks question number FOUR. V10. “But I’m not much of a public speaker.”

And God answers with a question of his own. V11, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?”

In other words, “Moses, you’re exactly who I’ve made you to be. Poor speech included.” He doesn’t disagree with Moses’ self-assessment. And he doesn’t say he’ll change Moses. He just says “I will help you speak.”

It’s not about WHO YOU ARE, MOSES. It’s about WHO I AM. TRUST me!

That should have been enough. But, no. Moses comes out with excuse number FIVE. V13, O Lord, please send someone else.

And, finally, God’s patience runs out. V14, Yahweh’s anger BURNED against Moses. It’s the first time the Bible says God is ANGRY at someone. Although there have been plenty who DESERVED it. And yet, even though he’s angry, he shows great patience and compassion for Moses. V14. “Your brother Aaron is a good speaker. You speak to HIM. And he’ll be your MOUTHPIECE.”

And it finally seems Moses runs out of excuses. God has the last word. v18. Moses heads home, packs up his family, and heads off.

Then V21. Moses meets God (again). Perhaps on the road. God warns Moses. “Perform all the wonders I’ve given you to do. But they won’t work. I’ll harden Pharaoh’s heart. Then say to him, v22, “This is what Yahweh says, ISRAEL IS MY FIRSTBORN SON, 23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’ “

It finishes with a threat. But they’re actually WONDERFUL words for his CHILDREN. We learn something about GOD. He’s a father who jealously defends and protects his children.

And we learn something about ISRAEL. Who are they? God’s SON. Family. Precious. It’s the first hint of a theme that develops through the Bible. About being children of God. And we’ll come back to it in a moment.

But let’s move on, because there’s an even MORE intriguing/ puzzling scene in this meeting between God and Moses. V24.

At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met him and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched his feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

I’ll just cut a long story short. And say no one knows exactly what’s going on here. The NIV has made a guess, and added “Moses” in a couple of places. But it just says HIM. So we’re not sure if God was about to kill MOSES, or Moses’ SON. And we don’t know whose FEET were touched. AND we don’t know how Zipporah knew there was a problem.

(I SUSPECT there’s a connection to the previous paragraph that talks about God killing Pharaoh’s firstborn son, but I don’t know what it is. Let me know if you have any ideas)

Here’s ONE POSSIBLE scenario that I think fits. While they’re travelling, Moses, or his son, gets sick. Zipporah works out that it’s connected to one of her sons, perhaps the SECOND son, not being circumcised. She circumcises him, and then touches Moses’ feet, or his son’s feet. Perhaps showing the connection between the SICKNESS and the failure to CIRCUMCISE. And then Moses (or his son) gets better.

What do we learn? I’m not sure. But, perhaps, something about Moses’ IDENTITY. He couldn’t work out if he was Egyptian, Hebrew, or Midianite. For some reason one of his sons wasn’t circumcised. God wants him to identify with God’s people. To commit to the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. And he does. And now he’s ready. He knows WHOSE HE IS.

So V27-28. Moses meets Aaron, and tells him everything Yahweh said. And then, together, back in Egypt, v29, they meet the Israelite elders. And they believed their message. And they worshipped God.

Moses and Aaron meet Pharaoh

Which brings us to the NEXT meeting. Moses and Aaron meet Pharaoh. Which DOESN’T go so well. They say to Pharaoh, Ch 5 v1

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’ “

Which is not exactly what they were TOLD to say. And it doesn’t seem like the elders are there EITHER. But it doesn’t make any difference. God had already SAID Pharaoh wouldn’t let them go. And he DOESN’T. V2.

“WHO IS THE LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”

And that’s the key question. Not who MOSES is. But who GOD is. And it’s the question God will ANSWER over the next few chapters. With the plagues. All designed so Pharaoh would KNOW WHO YAHWEH IS. And we’ll look at those NEXT week.

But that’s where we’ll stop for THIS week. And return to the question we began with: Who am I?

Who am I? Personality tests will give you ONE answer. And they can be useful tools for knowing yourself. And helping you deal with situations better. But we can also use them as an EXCUSE. We say, “I couldn’t possibly do this, because I’m a feeler, not a thinker. An introvert, not an extrovert.” Or, “Don’t expect me to be nice or help people, I’m an achiever, I scored low on being a guardian and mediator.”

We might add OTHER excuses. But I’m the product of a broken home. I’ve got chronic pain. He was mean to me first. I deserve to look after myself for a change. It’s not my spiritual gift. It’s what MOSES did. “I couldn’t possibly do that. Who am I? I’m a stranger in a foreign land. I’m a fugitive. I’m caught between three cultures. What if they don’t listen? I’m a poor speaker.”

But what we’ve learned from Exodus is that what’s MORE important is WHO WE BELONG TO. God says that the nation of Israel is his FIRST-BORN SON. And he’ll jealously guard her. He’ll take them to be his OWN PEOPLE. And be their God. That’s whose they are!

And it’s even MORE TRUE for US. Who are we? Not just a NATION who’s a son, we’re, INDIVIDUALLY, sons and daughters of God our Father. John 1:12.

Yet to all who received (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but BORN OF GOD.

That’s your fundamental identity. A child of God. Not an extrovert, or an individualist, or an optimist.

And Romans 8 says we’ve received the SPIRIT of God’s Son, which makes us SONS. V14.

those who are led by the Spirit of God ARE SONS OF GOD. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ

And notice what that MEANS? If you’re a son of God, you’re not a slave to FEAR. God is your Father. His Spirit is with you. You don’t need to fear HIM, or anything ELSE.

You’re future is certain. You’re not defined by your past. Or your limitations.

You’re defined by God, your heavenly Father, who calls you to live out the family resemblance, as his child. To be perfect as HE is perfect, says Jesus is Matthew 5. To love your enemies that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, who sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike. To FORGIVE as your heavenly Father has forgiven YOU, in Matthew 6.

You’re defined by Jesus, who’s CLAIMED you. His Spirit gives you the power to follow him, to take up your cross, to conquer sin. To do more than strengths of your personality type suggest.

Who are you? You’re a child of God.

Exodus 1-2: The one who is faithful

Today we begin an eight week series in the book of Exodus. One of the most exciting books in the Bible. Full of drama and action. A wonderful story of intrigue and suspense. About heroes and villains. About leaders and rulers and advisers and slaves. About slavery and plagues and death. About oppression and tragedy and rebellion. About miraculous rescue and provision.

So much to notice. So many fascinating details. But here’s what I want you to notice. Above everything else, it’s a story about GOD. From start to finish, he’s the main actor, and prime mover. It’s the history of HIS-story.

In fact, the whole reason God planned these events, and then made them happen. Was so that people would RECOGNISE him. SEE him, and APPRECIATE him. (Israel, Pharaoh, and the Egyptians. And US, TOO.)

Here’s what God says to Pharaoh. Ch 9 v16

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.

God could have done things very differently. Far quicker and more simply. With less trouble and tragedy. But he did it THIS way, so people would recognize his power, and proclaim his uniqueness everywhere.

So don’t forget that. In the midst of all the detail. All the characters, and plot twists and turns. Don’t miss the main character. Make sure you notice what GOD’S doing. And that you trust him, and tell out his name.

A back story

With that said, let’s begin. The story of Exodus begins with A BACK STORY. Verses 1 to 6 remind us we’re actually starting at CHAPTER TWO. Chapter ONE – the book of Genesis – is about how God takes one man, Abraham, and promises to BLESS him. To give him a huge family who’ll bless the world, and then give them a land to live in.

Eventually Abraham becomes the father of Isaac, who becomes the father of Jacob, who’s also called Israel. And he, in turn, becomes the father of all those names in verses 2-5. (The twelve sons of Israel). Including Joseph, who rises to be second-in-charge of all Egypt. And Genesis finishes with them all in Egypt, safe from a worldwide famine.

V6, rather unceremoniously, cuts that story short. They all DIED. And then v7 brings things up to date. but the Israelites were FRUITFUL and MULTIPLIED greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the LAND was FILLED with them.

Here’s the point: God PROMISED to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation. And that’s what he’s DOING. From one man, he’s produced a family that’s EXCEEDINGLY NUMEROUS.

God’s not even NAMED yet. But he’s there in the background. Especially if we’ve been paying attention to what came BEFORE Exodus. (If you’ve read the book of Genesis). He’s the God who PROMISES – who makes a COVENANT.

A deeper back story

But there’s something ELSE an attentive reader will notice. A DEEPER back story. This God in the background isn’t just the God who PROMISES, but the God who CREATES.

Back in Genesis 1, when God created people, male and female, he said to them, (v28)

“Be FRUITFUL and INCREASE IN NUMBER; FILL the EARTH and subdue it

And that’s EXACTLY WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE IN EGYPT, v7. The Israelites are FRUITFUL, they’ve INCREASED in NUMBER and the EARTH is FILLED with them. The same four words from Genesis 1 are repeated in Exodus 1.

The DEEPER back story is that God’s CREATED people to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill the earth. And that’s what they’re doing. The God who spoke the Universe into existence is at work here in Egypt, blessing his people.

A threat

All of that sets the scene for our story to begin in v8. And the blessing is THREATENED. A new king takes the throne. And with him, the policy of favoritism towards Joseph’s people ends. He breaks the promises made by his forefather.

He’s threatened by God’s blessing of fruitfulness on the Israelites. So, v10, he speaks to his advisors, “Let’s deal SHREWDLY with them, or else they’ll become a threat.” “If we do nothing, they’ll join our enemies, and LEAVE the COUNTRY.” Which, ironically, is just what happens.

And that marks THE BEGINNING OF THE CONTEST. Between the God who KEEPS his promises, and the king who BREAKS them. With the Hebrews as the prize. V11. The king forces them into slave labour. But, v12, the more he OPPRESSED them, the more they MULTIPLIED. Pharaoh’s shrewdness and evil is no match for God’s blessing and creative power.

So, v15, if forced labour doesn’t work, how about selective genocide? He commands the Hebrew midwives who deliver the babies to kill any BOYS who are born, but keep the girls.

But, v17, we meet the first of MANY women rescuers. The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys LIVE. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

Despite the risk to their own lives, they feared GOD more than the KING. And their explanation? “Hebrew women are so blessed, and so fruitful, the babies are all born before we arrive!” Pharaoh’s shrewdness is no match for God’s wisdom!

And the midwives’ actions produce two results. FIRST, v20, God BLESSED their faithfulness. The population kept growing. And even the midwives THEMSELVES had children.

But SECOND, v22. Pharaoh INTENSIFIES the genocide. The SECRET strategy becomes PUBLIC POLICY. Every Egyptian is conscripted as an agent of the state.

Pharaoh gave this order to ALL HIS PEOPLE: “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Spies in every neighbourhood. And as chapter 1 ends, we wonder: How will God’s plans to bless his people cope with this threat?

Chapter 2 moves from the GENERAL to the SPECIFIC. From the NATIONAL to the PERSONAL. EVERY Hebrew family is threatened, and their male babies. We zoom in on ONE Hebrew family and its male baby. A very SPECIAL baby.

V1-2, a Levite husband and wife have a baby boy. Despite Pharaoh’s plans, he SURVIVES. Mum sees that he’s FINE, or GOOD, so she keeps him secret from the neighbours for three months. But, v3, when he gets too noisy, the mother gets a papyrus basket, coats it with tar and pitch, places the baby in it, and then hides it in the reeds along the bank of the Nile. And then, v4, his big sister stands guard, watching from a distance. Two MORE women rescuers.

It’s ironic that she’s, technically, OBEYING Pharaoh. She’s thrown him into the Nile. (Just like he commanded). But it’s so he’ll LIVE, not DIE. The Nile River, planned to be the DEATH of Hebrew boys, becomes THE SOURCE OF LIFE.

And if we look closely, we can see MORE references back to Genesis. FIRST, when the baby’s born, Mum SEES that he’s GOOD. It’s the language of creation, in Genesis 1. At the end each day we read, “And God SAW that it was GOOD”. Just what mum does with her baby. (Just as God created the WORLD, he’s at work creating a new nation, beginning with this boy).

But there’s MORE. The BASKET she uses. The word that’s used, Tavah, is only used in one other place. In the story of NOAH, where it’s translated as ARK. She places him in an ARK, and coats it with pitch and tar, just like NOAH did with HIS ark!

What’s the point? I think we’re meant to notice it. It shows how God is at WORK here. Even if it’s not OBVIOUS. The God who made a covenant with Noah and saved him will do the same thing HERE. He’s in the BACKGROUND, but his saving and creating power is STILL AT WORK. As readers, it makes us keep looking for God’s hand. Here in the story, but also in OUR LIVES.

Because it’s like that FOR US, TOO. God’s not always OBVIOUS. But it doesn’t mean he’s not WORKING. The same God who CREATED and PROMISED and SAVED in obvious, miraculous ways, is still at work. IN THE BACKGROUND. We just need to LOOK for him, and TRUST him.

But back to our story. So what does the sister see, from her secret lookout? v5, Pharaoh’s daughter comes down to the river for a dip. As she’s washing, she sees the basket peaking out from among the reeds. It’s hidden from the bank, but she sees it from the water. She directs her slave girl, on the river bank, to fetch it. And when she opens it, v6, she sees the crying baby, and feels compassion for it. She either recognizes him as a Hebrew baby, or works it out from the fact that he’s HIDDEN.

Just imagine this is the first time you’ve heard this story. Feel the suspense. What’s going to happen to him? Will he end up like OTHER Hebrew baby boys? Surely, the easiest and most obvious thing will be for her to just DROWN him in the Nile. After all, that’s what her father’s COMMANDED. And she’s right there in the river.

But just at that moment, his sister jumps out from her hiding place. V7. “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

Of course, she’s got the PERFECT Hebrew woman in mind! His own mum! Pharaoh thinks HE’S being shrewd. But this girl is even SMARTER!

And Pharaoh’s daughter agrees. The boy’s RAISED by his own mum – and she even gets PAID for it. And then, when he grows up, he’s given the name MOSES, and taken into the royal family. With all the privilege and education that goes with it. It’s the perfect outcome! And Pharaoh’s daughter becomes ONE MORE female rescuer. That makes FIVE. And we’re only halfway through chapter 2!

Next, v11, we see how MOSES HIMSELF rescues. Although the FIRST attempt is more failure than success. We jump forward many years. He’s now grown up. On the OUTSIDE he’s Egyptian, but on the INSIDE he’s still a HEBREW. V11, he goes out to the Hebrew district, and sees their slavery. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He chooses his side. He looks around for to make sure no one’s watching, then kills the Egyptian and hides his body in the sand.

But he HAS been seen. Perhaps by the victim of the assault, or maybe another eyewitness. Word gets out. V13, the next day he goes out again, sees two Hebrews fighting. He steps in to break up the fight, and one says, v14 “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?”

And Moses realizes he WAS seen. And there’ll be CONSEQUENCES. Pharaoh hears of it, and tries to kill Moses. But Moses flees to Midian. (Out in the desert.) Which is where we see his SECOND rescue.

Some time later, he’s sitting down by a well, and, v16, seven sisters arrive, with their flocks, to draw water. But there’s a competing group of shepherds who ALSO arrive, v17, and they start to drive the girls away. But the gallant Moses jumps up, and single-handedly, comes to their rescue. And then, for good measure, draws up the water from the well for the animals too. What a gentleman!

The girls return home and tell dad how an Egyptian rescued them from the shepherds. He wants to know why they left him there, and didn’t invite him back for a meal.

So, v21, Moses is fetched from the well, given a feed, and then given somewhere to stay. And before long he’s given a WIFE, Zipporah. And then, v22, she gives him A SON. Rescue number TWO turns out better than his FIRST attempt!

And that’s where we leave Moses for the moment.

God remembers

But what’s been happening back in Egypt? V23 turns our attention back there. Many years pass. One king DIES and a NEW one comes to POWER. But not much changes for the Hebrews.

The Israelites GROANED in their slavery and CRIED OUT, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.

I think it’s a summary of what they’ve been doing all through that long period. Groaning, crying out for help to God. So what will God do? He’s hardly appeared in the story so far. Many years have gone by, and the people are still suffering.

But if we’ve been paying attention. If we’ve made the connections back to Genesis. To creation, and to Noah, and to Abraham, and to the Patriarchs. Then we should know what’s coming.

If God’s created people who achieve his creative purposes. Who multiply and fill the earth. Then he won’t let his creative purposes be STOPPED. If God’s PROMISED to bless his people, then he’ll KEEP his promises. If God saved Noah in an ark, through water, then he’ll save his people NOW. If God’s raised up HUMAN RESCUERS who can achieve his plans. Then we can trust that he’ll DO THE SAME when his people cry out to him. Even if it takes YEARS.

And that’s what happens. V24. God makes a triumphant entrance.

God HEARD their groaning and he REMEMBERED his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God LOOKED on the Israelites and was CONCERNED about them (literally, he KNEW them)

Despite years passing. Despite it seeming like they’re cries weren’t answered. He’s not deaf to their cry. He HEARS them. And he hasn’t FORGOTTEN his covenant. He REMEMBERS. He’s PROMISED, and he’ll DO it.

And he’s not BLIND to their suffering. He SEES. And KNOWS. Which is more than intellectual – it’s RELATIONAL. He’s more than just AWARE of their situation. He’s intimately COMMITTED. He FEELS COMPASSION. And we’ll see how that works itself out NEXT week. He’s got a timetable he’s working to. And his people just need to trust him.

This is the God WE know. Whatever OUR situation. Whatever our slavery. Whatever our groaning and cries. Even if it’s gone on for MANY YEARS. We can be SURE that God HEARS, and REMEMBERS. That he SEES and that he CARES. He may answer QUICKLY, or it might be SLOW, like here in Exodus (during that long period).

He MAY deliver MIRACULOUSLY, like he does here in Exodus. (People I know have certainly experienced miraculous rescues from terrible situations. Of healing, and provision, and protection and deliverance. But MOST of the time it WON’T be like what happens in the Exodus. Because that’s the point of Exodus. The events of Exodus are MIRACULOUS and EXTRAORDINARY. They’re not how things NORMALLY happen.

Most of the time, God’s people ENDURE, and HOPE, and CRY OUT TO GOD. That’s the normal experience of God’s people. We’re not less likely to get sick, or suffer, or be poor. We’re just as likely to be disappointed with life. Our kids will STILL make dumb decisions, and our hearts will break for them. But God sees and hears. He remembers and he cares. And he WILL RESCUE. He WILL ANSWER.

He may give us what we pray for. Or he may have DIFFERENT plans. He may deliver us in THIS life. Or he may NOT. But he’ll certainly deliver us from the slavery of SIN. It’s daily power, and eternal consequences. He’ll certainly redeem us through the payment of the righteousness of Jesus. And he’ll certainly bring us home to be with him forever.

Listen to this wonderful description of God’s salvation for those of us who are Christians. From Titus ch 3 v5 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 HE SAVED US, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He SAVED us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

We’ve been saved, washed, reborn and renewed. We have Jesus. And we’re HEIRS of eternal life. There are so many wonderful blessings in that. But we still CRY OUT. We still suffer.

So what can we DO as we wait for that? Paul tells us to WORK OUT our salvation – Philippians 2:12. Which means all sorts of things, practically. But here’s ONE way we can work out our salvation that flows from these chapters of Exodus.

Follow the example of the two midwives. I wonder if that’s why they’re named. (Shiphrah and Puah). So we’ll NOTICE them. And IMITATE them. They risked their lives to save others. They feared GOD more than they feared MAN. They demonstrated courageous, costly compassion. As they WAITED for God’s salvation, they lived out his saving purposes for those around them.

Here’s just ONE idea. Perhaps, for you, a first step to living like Shiphrah and Puah is to come to the Justice and Mercy workshop that Karine is running next Sunday afternoon. What might it mean for US to be the hands and feet of God who SAVES people? Can we be like God to the community around us, here in Ashfield? Can we SEE and HEAR and CARE and SAVE, like God does for US?

Isaiah 40:12-31: God is infinite

Researchers and medical professionals are reporting, in the last few months, huge increases in the number of people suffering depression and anxiety because of COVID.

The Royal Australian College of GP’s reported that in July there’s been a 31% increase in prescription of anti-anxiety medication, and a 22% increase in antidepressants, compared to the same period last year.[1]

And Mental Health America has compared recent data to six previous years of voluntary online mental health screening tests. The number of completed questionnaires in June was MORE THAN 400% HIGHER than January of this year. And among adults under 25, 90% recorded moderate to severe depression, and 80% recorded moderate to severe anxiety. Contributing factors were loneliness, isolation, grief, loss and financial concerns.[2]

And, anecdotally, I’ve spoken to A NUMBER of people who, normally, have very good mental health. And they’ve described feeling OFF BALANCE. And they can’t understand why. Despite being LESS busy, they’re just feeling WEARY and UNSETTLED. They’re operating at higher than normal levels of anxiety. Just coping with all the uncertainty can be DRAINING.

I don’t know whether that’s you, or not? Stressed, anxious, depressed, beaten? But if it is, then, in Isaiah 40, God himself has a word for you. See it there in v1? COMFORT. “Comfort, my people,” he says. Relax. You’re safe. Don’t stress.

And the key to that command is to focus on GOD HIMSELF. On his character and qualities. When we start counting our OWN resources, or we spend too long looking at THE THREATS AROUND US, we start to lose hope.

When we focus on our failures, our coping strategies, our connections, or our assets, we get ANXIOUS, rather than COMFORTED.

Instead, we need to focus our gaze on the infinitely powerful, wise, holy, loving, eternal God we meet in the Bible.

(Just to be clear, I’m NOT saying that anxiety or depression are simply spiritual problems. If you’re suffering from one of these problems then you need to get MEDICAL attention. That’s ONE of the ways God works.)

But there is genuine comfort and hope in the face of uncertainty, when we focus on God. On his INFINITE nature and qualities – his power and wisdom and goodness.

And God’s word of comfort goes to a people in a pretty similar situation to US. Isaiah 40 begins the second half of the book. Israel’s 70 year exile in Babylon is coming to an end. Seventy years of struggle, confusion, and feeling abandoned by God! They’ve come to the end of their own resources. Their tank is empty.

Seventy years! It makes our five MONTHS of COVID stress seem like NOTHING!

And it’s into THIS situation God speaks to his prophet, to pass on a message of COMFORT to his people. It’s comfort that comes in four big hugs.

First. You belong to God. (There in v1). “Comfort, comfort MY PEOPLE.” Despite appearances. Despite it LOOKING like God’s abandoned you. Despite being in a strange land, surrounded by strangers. Despite no temple or city or king. You still belong to God. Nothing’s changed. So take COMFORT.

Second. Your sins have been paid for. Verse 2.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

Decades of exile had emphasised that God was punishing them. (That they’d rebelled, ignored, and disobeyed him). And they’d SUFFERED the CONSEQUENCES.

But now there was the incredible news that all was forgiven. Somehow, without explanation, God was willing to forgive generations of sin. The relationship’s been restored. The offence forgiven. And so, there’s COMFORT.

But, that’s only HALF comfort if they remain stuck in Babylon. And so the NEXT part of God’s comforting hug is there from v3. God’s coming to the Promised Land, and he’ll bring his people WITH him. Back to his land! V3.

3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.   4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

God’s on the way. And he’s coming to restore his people to their land, just like he’s restored their relationship with him. So get things READY!

And the FOURTH part of God’s comforting hug for them is there in v6. If it all seems too good to believe, then remember THIS. God’s PROMISED it, so you can COUNT on it. God’s word can be trusted. That’s where the comfort lies. Everything else is “here today and gone tomorrow”. Everything else is falling apart. But not God’s word! V8.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but THE WORD OF OUR GOD STANDS FOREVER.”

It’s something to pray for people in the midst of the chaos of the pandemic. That they might RECOGNISE THE TRUTH OF V8. That all the OTHER things they put their trust in – homes, jobs, families, health, investments, shopping – NONE of it’s reliable. NONE of it LASTS. The world, as we know it, IS BROKEN. The only thing that can be TRUSTED is God’s word. God HIMSELF is the only trustworthy, reliable, dependable thing in a world where you can’t be sure of ANYTHING.

So, how do you RESPOND to four comforting truths like that? (Whether it be Isaiah and Israel. Or you and I TODAY.)

Firstly, by telling people ABOUT that God. Not just PRAYING for people who are struggling with anxiety or loss, or loneliness. But TELLING THEM that God’s the only reliable one. Look there in v9. God commanding his messenger.

9 You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, DO NOT BE AFRAID; say to the towns of Judah, “HERE IS YOUR GOD!” 10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with POWER, and his arm rules for him.

HERE IS YOUR GOD! What a phrase! Underline it in your Bible!

Here is your God! V10. He’s POWERFUL. He’s acted in history. He’s judged and saved. You thought he’d LEFT you. But you’re WRONG. You thought he didn’t CARE. But you’re WRONG. You thought he was DISINTERESTED, or POWERLESS. But you were wrong.

But not only that. V11. HERE is your God. He’s the gentle shepherd who forgives, protects, restores and leads his people. You thought he was cruel. But you’ll see he’s tender and gentle.

Or v12. HERE is your God. Nothing compares with God’s POWER.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

Or v13-14. HERE is your God. Nothing compares with God’s WISDOM.

13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?

Or from v15, HERE is your God.

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales;

Nothing compares to God. He CONTROLS HISTORY. He rules over nations and governments. The king over kings. And Lord over lords. They’re dust on the scales! A quick blow and they’re GONE! Assyria – GONE. Babylon – GONE! Global pandemics – GONE! They seem so huge to us. But to God – NOTHING!

Or from v18. HERE is your God. OTHER gods are NOTHING! Something to MAKE FUN OF! V20 A man making an idol carefully chooses wood that won’t rot! And then the craftsman makes sure he flattens the base properly so it won’t topple over. And then they bow down and worship what they’ve made. Making sure they don’t bump the table! Nonsense!

And TODAY, people worship crystals and follow astrology or Scientology, or meditate in teepees, or worship Gaia or Mother Nature. Or they worship sportsmen, or musicians or Instagram influencers.

But God is INCOMPARABLE! He’s the One who MADE the stars, and the crystals, and the forests, and the heroes that people worship. Down to v25. HERE is your God

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Not ONE star forgotten, or unnamed. Just IMAGINE it! That’s the power and wisdom of God!

That’s the picture the Jews in exile need reminding of. When they’re tempted to think God’s forgotten them. (That they’re abandoned). V27.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

It’s the impossible application of this passage. (God is INFINITE in power and wisdom. So, I’ll COMPLAIN that he’s forgotten me!) It’s ILLOGICAL. IT’s NONSENSE! How could the God who knows and counts off billions of stars forget his people? Or doesn’t notice them?

And yet we DO complain, don’t we? We complain about the way things turn out for us. About what we HAVE, or DON’T have. And we think we know better. And we grumble that we’d do things differently.

We believe this chapter with our HEADS. But we don’t it with our HEARTS.

What we need is to speak v28 to each other. HERE is your God.

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the EVERLASTING God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

He’s ETERNAL. The Ancient of Days. He stands outside of time, looking at the whole of history the same way we might watch a conveyor belt rolling past. He sees the end and the beginning. All at once.

Nothing tires him, nothing confuses him, nothing surprises him, nothing out-muscles him.

And no one can understand his understanding. His IQ is OFF THE CHARTS. Knowing the number of hairs on your head! Naming each STAR! We can’t FATHOM it.

And when you put it like THAT, the right response is OBVIOUS! When things are hope-LESS, when you lack strength and understanding and influence. You put your HOPE in a God LIKE THAT. V29.

29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but THOSE WHO HOPE IN THE LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Put your HOPE in him. That’s the application. (The OPPOSITE of GRUMBLE). You may get nothing else out of the talk today, but at least hold on to THAT. Put your HOPE in the LORD.

The word for HOPE is “Wait”. WAIT for the LORD. Hope is FORWARD LOOKING. There’s no guarantee that God’s help will be immediate. It took SEVENTY YEARS for Israel. But WAIT for him. Patient waiting is faith in action.

Because those who hope in the lord will RENEW THEIR STRENGTH. That word “renew” – it’s normally translated as change, or EXCHANGE. That’s what’s happening when we trust him. The infinitely STRONG One gives us HIS strength. We exchange our WEAKNESS for his STRENGTH.

Yes, there’s help in medication, and support groups, and counselling, and government assistance, and public health guidelines. But they’re not enough. It’s only as we look to GOD that we gain HIS strength.

The strength of patience and perseverance to cope with uncertainty and fear. To pray for a non-Christian family member, to cope with chronic illness, or a ministry that’s thankless, or raising kids who exhaust us. Because he’s the INFINITE, INCOMPARABLE God who gives HIS strength to those who hope in him.

And if it was clear for those Old Testament believers. How much clearer is it FOR US who’ve seen JESUS. The perfect man, the Word who was with God and who WAS God. Whose life was the light of men. The visible image of the invisible God. His strength and wisdom are incomparable TOO.

God is INFINITE. But in Jesus we see the INFINITE God in a FINITE package. If God’s the SUN, then he’s the RADIANCE around the Sun.

Jesus. God’s Zip file. He compresses all of the data of Godness into a manageable package. The incomprehensible shrunk down to human comprehension.

Jesus. God’s hyperlink. Just ONE WORD. But click on Jesus. And you go to a whole other website. FULL of all the characteristics and qualities of the eternal and infinite GOD.

Let me leave you with a COUPLE OF EXAMPLES. Mark ch 4 v35. Jesus and the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee at night. He’s been teaching all day, and he’s exhausted. The disciples are doing all the work. Perhaps they look at Jesus with mild irritation that they’re doing all the work, and Jesus is too tired to help.

But then a furious storm blows up. And the waves are breaking over the side of the boat. And it’s filling up quickly. And even these professional sailors are scared they’re going to drown. They stop bailing out the boat just long enough to wake Jesus. “Don’t you care if we drown?” they blurt.

And v39, he got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, Be Still. And they DID. Everything was CALM.  And he says to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you STILL have no faith?” HERE is your God!

And they were TERRIFIED and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Who is he? He’s your INCOMPARABLE God. So TRUST him.

Or let’s finish with one more. Matthew 28. Jesus has been raised from the dead. Because it’s impossible for THE AUTHOR OF LIFE to be conquered by DEATH. He tells Mary to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

And, v16, the eleven are there. On the mountain where Jesus told them to go. And then Jesus arrives. HERE is your God! And when they SEE HIM, the WORSHIP him. Because he’s their GOD, the source of life.

And Jesus says to them, v18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

He’s got ALL THE AUTHORITY OF THE INFINITE GOD AT HIS DISPOSAL. The authority to control wind and waves. The authority over kings and governors. The authority over disease and disaster. He’s the Alpha and Omega – the beginning of everything, and its goal.

What’s our response to that authority? Jesus continues. V19.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

The authority of the infinite God over everything given to Jesus means that he deserves the loyalty and submission and obedience of everything. Everything bowing before him.

And the authority of the infinite God over everything given to Jesus means THAT POWER is available to US as we work to make that plan happen. (To make disciples of all nations.)

That’s a task it’s worth GIVING YOUR LIFE TO.

And, as we do, we’re not alone. Because, just like God who spoke to Israel, Comfort, my people. Jesus speaks to US

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[1] https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/use-of-anxiety-and-depression-medication-spikes-as

[2] https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/934882#vp_1