June 8, 2010 David Balzer

Exodus 11-15:21: An Almighty Salvation

Why does God act the way he does? Why does he choose to do things ONE WAY, instead of another?

Let me you read a letter. It was in the Australian Presbyterian magazine a of years ago. Letters to the Editor. And the lady who wrote it didn’t like some of the articles. She had very definite ideas about who God was, and how he should act. Let me quote.

“I was ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED that in this day and age … such doctrines on hell, eternal damnation, God’s abiding wrath, etc, etc, are still being expounded and written about in prominent Christian publications. I expect YOU believe that millions of god-fearing , good and loving Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, are doomed to an eternity of hell-fire, just because they haven’t heard of Jesus, or choose not to convert to Christianity! … You will NEVER convince thinking, intelligent, loving and compassionate people, thinkers, people who have travelled and experienced other cultures and religions at first hand, as I have, of these wicked, old-fashioned and damaging doctrines”.

This is someone who wants God to measure up to HER standard. To fit into HER box. Her PICTURE of what God should be LIKE/ and how he should ACT.

What she wants is a NICE God. A NEAT God. But these chapters of Exodus tell us what God’s REALLY like. And they blow THAT view out of the water.

It’s a great story, but if you read it closely, something’s not quite right. The story’s not as TIDY, or as SANITISED, as perhaps we’d like. Surely God could have done things differently. Less casualties. Less mess. Less … “collateral civilian damage” (as the US Air Force would say after a ing raid on Serbia).

(pause)

The problem is that God refuses to conform to our expectations. He just EXPLODES out of any box we try to put him in. He’s not the tolerant, accepting, or politically-correct God we might like.

But in the end He’s a God who EARNS our love, and worship. Who DESERVES our complete lives.  And he’s MUCH BETTER than the wimpy, cardboard-cutout god our letter-writer believes in.

1. God acts

The first thing we learn about God/ is that he ACTS. It might seem a bit obvious/ but it’s so important. This part of Exodus is full of what God SAYS and DOES. He doesn’t just sit back and watch what’s going on. In fact, he’s the main player. The star of the show.

HE brings the plagues. HE hardens Pharaoh’s heart. HE makes the Egyptians look on the Israelites with favour. HE baits Pharaoh into a trap in the Red Sea.

It’s God who KNOWS what’s going to happen. And it’s God who MAKES it happen too. The God of the bible is a God who ACTS in history.

I know of a who were involved in full-time ministry. (I’ve mentioned them before). Their son was born with minimal kidney function. They had to leave the ministry. He was too young for dialysis, and he spent a painful of years in and out of hospital. His last chance was a kidney transplant. That didn’t work, and he died at about two.

What a tragic situation! I can imagine their non-Christian friends saying, “How can you still believe in God with everything that’s happened to you?”

Yet what other option do we have? Either God’s not there at all. Or perhaps worse – He’s there, but he isn’t INTERESTED. Because IF GOD’S NOT CONTROLLING THINGS, then everything that happens is just RANDOM. There’s no purpose or plan. There’s just NOTHING.

And it’s that sort of hopelessness that ruins people. That hardens them. That makes then cynical. Many atheists seem to be that way. If there’s no God, then life has no purpose. There’s no plan, or design, or goal. And that’s depressing. (It makes ME depressed just THINKING about it!)

But what’s so good about believing in the God of the bible, is that he controls everything that happens. He’s SOVEREIGN. Whatever happens – no matter HOW PAINFUL – he’s got a good reason for it. And we might never know why.

Even for Christians, life might hurt like hell at times. But it’s still better than a God who doesn’t act, or doesn’t care, or doesn’t even exist at all!

Perhaps you’re in the middle of something at the moment. It’s MESSY, and PAINFUL, and COMPLICATED, and all you can say is — WHY?

What you need to hold on to, is that the God of the Bible/ is a God who ACTS. And he acts for a PURPOSE. And ultimately that’s the BEST sort of comfort there is.

(pause)

So the first thing these chapters teach us is that GOD ACTS.

2. God rescues (12-13):

But what’s more, God acts for HIS PEOPLE. He doesn’t just pick ANY OLD group. It’s ISRAEL that God’s involved with. It’s ISRAEL who God makes PROMISES TO, and CALLS, and GROWS, and DISCIPLINES, and WRESTLES WITH.

And we saw last week how he started to do that. How he started to RESCUE HIS PEOPLE.

He sends Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh won’t let God’s people go! So God sends all the plagues on Egypt. And after each one, Pharaoh’s got the chance to let Israel go, But he STILL doesn’t. He’s as stubborn as a mule. He still reckons he knows better than God.

At the end of Ch 10, the plague of darkness hasn’t worked either. Pharaoh tells Moses he never wants to see him again. So we get to Ch 11. And God plays his final card. Keeps the worst ‘til last. Verse 1

(Exo 11:1 NIV)  “Now the LORD had said to Moses, “I will bring ONE MORE PLAGUE on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely.”

This is it! The last roll of the dice. What else has God have up his sleeve? If we’ve been paying attention we’ll know. Because God’s already told us. Ch 4 v21. Moses at the burning bush. And what He’s got planned tells us something about GOD, and it tells us something about ISRAEL TOO. Look at v21.

(Exo 4:21-23 NIV)  “The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. {22} Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD 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.'””

God will kill the first-born sons of Egypt. Because Pharaoh won’t let Israel – God’s first-born son – go, God won’t let THEIR sons go either. God acting for HIS PEOPLE.

The of Egypt’s first-born isn’t simply an act of BRUTALITY, or VENGEANCE. IT’S SENDING A MESSAGE. “The anguish you feel for your son – is the anguish I feel for Israel. The LOVE you feel for your son is the love I feel for Israel”.

(pause) And he gives HIS PEOPLE a part to play, too. Ch 12. They SHOW their faith by obeying his instructions. Pack up. Sacrifice a lamb. Paint its on the doorposts. Eat the meat with your travelling clothes on, and your shoes on your feet. Get ready/ because God’s about to act.

And that’s what God does. Ch 12 v 29. Israel’s done everything just as Moses has said. They’re ready to go. Everything’s packed. They’ve protected their houses from harm with the of a lamb. All they can do is wait. Wait. They’re waiting for God to act. To save. And to destroy.

Ten o’clock. Still waiting. Dinner’s finished. Conversation slows. Kids start to yawn. Eleven o’clock. Still waiting. People start to nod off, move uncomfortably on the floor. Everything’s silent now. (pause) Apart from the nagging doubt …… “What if nothing happens?” “What if God doesn’t do anything?” Still waiting. Then Verse 29. God acts.

(Exo 12:29-30 NIV)  “At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. {30} Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone .”

One action: Salvation and judgement. Mercy and punishment. Life and . Israel’s protected. Egypt’s attacked. Tragedy and joy.

Then v 31, Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron, and tells them to go. He’s had enough. He’s finally learned his lesson. He’s FINALLY understood who God is. Who ISRAEL is. What it means/ for God to love Israel as a first-born son.

God’s won, and Pharaoh throws in the towel. Look at his last words to Moses. Verse 32. “Take your flocks and herds, as you’ve said, and go.

But look at his last words. Not a parting shot. Not a last dig at Moses. Not a final defiant stand. Look at them. Verse 32

“AND ALSO BLESS ME”. They’re the words of a beaten man. The quiet recognition that he’s lost. That GOD is the one who controls things in Egypt AFTERALL. And not him.

And so all Israel goes… Verse 37. Six hundred thousand men. (Women, children, and animals too). Everyone goes out into the desert. He’s done it. God’s saved his special people. He’s acted in history. And he’s acted for his people.

3. Or does he? (14):

But the story’s not finished, is it? The job’s only half done. Because Pharaoh hasn’t REALLY learned his lesson.

Jump ahead to Ch 14. Verse 1. God tells Moses that the people are to camp near the sea. Not to go the shortest way through the desert. Almost like bait in a trap. Look at verse 3. “(Camp by the sea) then PHARAOH WILL THINK their wandering around. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart”.

And then in v 5 that’s what happens. Pharaoh has second thoughts, and comes after Israel with his army.

Israel’s petrified – no wonder! But in v 13 Moses says, “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and you’ll see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The LORD WILL FIGHT FOR YOU; you need only to be still.”

Then in v21 Moses stretches out his hand over the sea, and during the night God divides the waters. Israel walks through the middle on dry land. Imagine it! A wall of surging black water on the right and a wall on the left. It’s night-time. Not much light. A million people walking quietly down towards the water, and across the sandy floor of the sea. Eery! And amazing! And scary, too!

But look at v23. It’s still night, and the Egyptians realise Israel are getting away. They arrive at the seashore, and see the walls of water, with the dry path through the middle.

Can you imagine being a soldier? I reckon they’d be pretty wary after all they’d already been through. The mossie bites are still itching, the boils are still healing, the memories of their sons is still fresh.

But Pharoah’s ing the whip. So they start chasing. Down into the sea, across the seabed they go. Chariots, horses, soldiers. Chasing Israel.

But now it’s nearly sunrise. When most surprise attacks happen.

And in v24 God looks down at what’s happening, and throws a spanner in the works. There’s confusion. Wheels coming off chariots. Horses rearing up. Shouting and noise and chaos.

The Egyptians realise that it’s GOD who’s fighting, and they try to get away. But verse 27 Moses stretches his hand over the sea, and it goes back to its place. And Pharaoh’s army is drowned. Look at verse 28

(Exo 14:28-30 NIV)  “The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen–the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. {29} But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. {30} That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying on the shore.”

And so for Israel it’s time to praise God. That’s ch 15. He’s saved his first-born son. It’s MIRACULOUS and MARVELOUS and AWE-INSPIRING. And – at least for a little while – Israel’s prepared to follow God and Moses.

But we can’t help asking the question, “Why THIS particular way? Why so messy?”

God could quite easily have SOFTENED Pharaoh’s heart. But all the way through these chapters we read that he HARDENED it. God COULD have worked things so that no-one got killed at all.

Like Nehemiah. About 1000 years later Israel’s in exile in Babylon. And Nehemiah’s the king’s wine taster. All he has to do is look SAD. The king asks him what’s wrong. He says he wants to go home to Jerusalem. And the king says, “Okay”!

How simple’s that! Couldn’t God have worked the Exodus like that? SOFTENED Pharaoh’s heart instead of HARDENING it? He could have. But he didn’t. He did things this way for a reason. And if you look closely he tells us EXACTLY why. Look back at Ch 9 v13.

4. God acts for his glory

God works – as he always does – FOR HIS GLORY. To show people what he was like. Verse 13

(Exo 9:13-16 NIV)  “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, {14} or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. {15} For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. {16} But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Flip over to Ch 10 v1

(Exo 10:1-2 NIV)  “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them {2} that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the LORD.””

Then Ch 14 v4

(Exo 14:4 NIV)  “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”

And finally Ch 14 v 16.

(Exo 14:16-17 NIV)  Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. {17} I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. AND I WILL GAIN GLORY through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.

This is God’s ultimate purpose. He wanted Israel, AND EGYPT, to know that he was God. This is God showing us what he’s like. This is God bringing GLORY to himself.

When you look at the Exodus, you look at GOD.

When you look at Egypt’s first-born , you look at God.

When you look at Egypt’s army washed up on the shore, you look at God.

And when you look at his people saved from their enemies in a miraculous way, you look at God.

In fact, it’s the reason God created THE WHOLE WORLD. For his glory. The world is just one, giant, GLORY-MAKING machine for God. And every part in it/ is designed to do that job. To give glory to the creative, mighty, powerful, holy, loving, promise-keeping, faithful, trinitarian God Yahweh.

And this is the God Israel recognised. And the God they worshipped. But our letter-writer looks at this sort of God – and turns her back. He’s not the type of God she wants to know.

(pause) But what’s really amazing, is that the God who worked for ISRAEL – an insignificant nation, in a dusty corner of the ancient world, is the SAME GOD who’s still working for US TODAY. The God of the Jews THEN, is the God of Aussies NOW. And he STILL works in exactly the same way.

He saved his people THEN with the innocent of a lamb.

And he saves us TODAY by the innocent of a lamb – Jesus who died on the cross.

Israel killed a Passover Lamb to protect them from the destroyer. It’s only worked ONCE, and only for ONE household. But this was only the beginning. A SHADOW. The ENTREE. Because later in history God provided Jesus to be the perfect Passover Lamb for us.

And what’s REALLY incredible, is that even though Jesus’ frail and broken body hanging on a cross may not look as GLORIOUS or as exciting as the story of the Exodus – it’s every bit as awesome. The strange twist is that in THIS EVENT – in the cross – God reveals who he is even MORE clearly. It’s even MORE glorious.

One event. Love and justice. Punishment and salvation. The God of JUSTICE demanded to pay the PUNISHMENT of our sin. The God of LOVE allowed his son to be killed for our SALVATION.

(pause) So what should our response be? Let me suggest three things.

1. Recognise our need for a Saviour

2. Worship the God who JUDGES AND DESTROYS, as well as saves

3. Remember what he’s done.

1. We need to recognise our NEED for a Saviour. That’s what Israel did. Because unless God acted on their behalf, they were stuck in Egypt. They showed their TRUST IN ACTION. They covered their doors with the of a lamb. They got ready. Packed everything up. Asked their neighbours for going away presents. They put it all on the line. If nothing had happened they would have looked like fools. But they showed their trust in action.

And we need to do the same. To recognise that Sin and have got US beat. And without Jesus, we don’t stand a chance.

There’s no dipping your toe into Christianity. You can HALF be a Christian. Because unless you DIVE IN, you’re not really trusting God. You either let him be Boss, or you don’t.

There’s no giving God Sundays, but not the rest of the week. There’s no giving him these two friends, but not the rest. There’s no giving him most of your desires, but still holding on to a few secret lusts that you just LOVE.

Recognise your need to be saved, and jump right in. Go the whole hog!

2. Israel worshipped the God who DESTROYED and JUDGED, as well as saved. They worshipped the full picture, not the stick figure. The “God in a box”.

What a privilege to be on the right side of a God like that! Who DESTROYS and JUDGES, as well as saves. Our letter-writer reckons she can’t believe in a God of wrath and punishment and anger. But like it or not – that’s the God of the bible. And he does it to make his glory known to US. To show US who he is.

Listen to the song Israel sang in Chapter 15. Verse 11. To the GLORIOUS God. (Exo 15:11-13 NIV)  “”Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you– majestic in holiness, awesome in GLORY, working wonders? {12} You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed them. {13} (BUT) “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.”

The two sides of God. And Israel rejoiced that they were on the RIGHT side.

They praised God for his WRATH and JUSTICE, as well as his love and faithfulness.

It seems strange to us, but that’s what we need to do. To be grateful that, if we’re Christians, then we’ve been chosen to receive God’s grace in Jesus since before the creation of the world. And that we’ve been spared the awful wrath of an angry and righteous God.

Just like the Israelites, we can look at what God does and rejoice. We can glorify God. We can recognise his power and his awesome majesty. We mightn’t always understand him, but we can worship him as we look at the way he works.

3. Israel was to CONTINUALLY REMEMBER. To remember what God had done in the Exodus. A big slab of today’s passage is about what Israel is to do once they get out of Egypt. To make sure they remember.

Ch 12 is about the Passover festival. Every year Israel is to celebrate it. Why? To remember what God has done for them. Look at Ch 12 v 14

14 “THIS IS A DAY YOU ARE TO COMMEMORATE; FOR THE GENERATIONS TO COME YOU SHALL CELEBRATE IT AS A FESTIVAL TO THE LORD–A LASTING ORDINANCE. (Then to v 17) 17 “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.

So that was the Feast. What about Ch 13? It’s about the dedication of the Firstborn. Once again, the point is/ so that Israel will remember. Verse 1.

13:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.”

3 Then Moses said to the people, “COMMEMORATE THIS DAY, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.

The idea was/ every first-born male was to be dedicated to God. An animal was to be sacrificed in its place. And the point was/ so that Israel would REMEMBER. Look at v12.

12 you are to give over to the LORD the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the LORD. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.

14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. THIS IS WHY I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 AND IT WILL BE LIKE A SIGN ON YOUR HAND AND A SYMBOL ON YOUR FOREHEAD that the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

Notice that the Passover, and the Dedication of the First-born, are both PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES. They’re not just words. Something to do with the SENSES. We remember best when we do MORE than hear. But when we see, and smell, and taste, and touch.

God gave these activities to Israel because they’re a great way to remember.

So that’s it. That’s our response to these chapters. Three things.

  1. RECOGNISE
  2. WORSHIP
  3. REMEMBER

____________________

(pause) And REMEMBERING is what we’re going to do right now. Because it was at a Passover Meal/ that Jesus taught us about ANOTHER meal. Another feast he told us to keep celebrating.

It was in the midst of Jesus and the disciples remembering God’s saving action in Egypt/ that Jesus called his followers to remember ANOTHER saving action. His on the cross.

And in lots of ways, when we take the Lord’s Supper, we’re doing the same thing as the Jews do at Passover.

We’re using physical things to represent spiritual events. And what’s so good about physical things/ is that they help us to remember.

We’re using bread and grape juice to remind us of Jesus’ body and . Food and drink give us PHYSICAL life. And in the same way Jesus’ body crucified, and Jesus’ spilt/ give us SPIRITUAL life.

And as we chew on the bread and swallow the grape juice, we do exactly the same three things the Jews did.

1. We recognise our need for a Saviour. That we’re sinful people. Who can’t exist without JESUS/ anymore than someone can exist without FOOD.

2. We worship the God who saves us. To eat and drink is to give God the glory he deserves. To eat and drink PROCLAIMS TO THE WORLD/ that true life and nourishment is only found in Jesus.

3. We remember what he’s done. We remember that 2000 years ago God let his only Son die a criminal’s for our sake. To be the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us.

So as we take Communion, let’s recognise. Let’s worship. And Let’s remember.

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