The king who heals creation (Exodus 15:22-27)

Open Exodus 15:22-27.

The euphoria of coming out from Pharaoh’s oppressive rule didn’t last long. The Hebrews soon discovered they were still in a broken world.

They had not returned to Eden’s Garden where the rivers of God’s presence gushed forth in all directions to water creation (Genesis 2:10-14). No, they were in parched wilderness, without water, for three days (15:22). Continue reading “The king who heals creation (Exodus 15:22-27)”

The significant song (Exodus 15)

Open Exodus 15:1-21.

What makes a great song? Lyrics that voice what you feel? Rhythm that moves you? Layers of rich harmony? Chord progressions that take you places?

A song rang out over the  MCG at the final siren on 29 September 2018. It was the song every Eagles fan wanted to hear. The right song in the right moment sweeps you up and carries you like a raft on a white-water stream.

The first song in the Bible was that kind of song — the greatest victory song you could imagine. We waited 65 chapters to hear it. There’s only been one mention of a song, a song Jacob turned down. After 20 difficult years, Jacob slipped away quietly, rejecting the party Laban offered with mirth and song pretending everything is okay  (Genesis 31:27). Our world is still full of escapist songs that don’t quite ring true.

Finally we get the true song, the authentic celebration. The song celebrates the moment they were released from serving Pharaoh to serve a new king. With his chariots on the sea floor, Pharaoh had no power to enslave them again. You can’t stop the music: Continue reading “The significant song (Exodus 15)”

When the threat of force sinks under its own weight (Exodus 14:15-31)

Open Exodus 14:15-31.

The Red Sea event proclaimed a definitive message: God made a way where there was no way — literally through the sea (14:21-23).

Even there, Egypt’s military power pursued them: “all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen” (14:23). In ancient warfare, chariots were the equivalent of tanks: a protective, fast moving vehicle, able to outrun an enemy.

But the pathway God provided did not support chariots. They bogged down in the sandy sea floor. That’s when the Egyptians realized they were up against a foe they could not defeat: “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” (14:25).

When God’s people had passed through, Moses stretched out his hand again and the way through the sea closed. In this moment, the powerful chariots of Egypt’s mighty army become became junk on the sea floor.

Earth’s true ruler does have a way to release his world from the reign of evil and death. All the treacherous rulers and deadly weapons on earth cannot obstruct the purpose of the true sovereign, and his people.

The Red Sea event addresses the big justice question, “Can love defeat violence?” In YHWH versus Pharaoh, the power of love triumphs over the love of power.

The true ruler doesn’t need the power of an army to enforce his will. Nature itself responds to its true king. Even the sea. Even the uncontrolled places beyond human rule.

Continue reading “When the threat of force sinks under its own weight (Exodus 14:15-31)”

“Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13-15)

Open Exodus 14:13-15.

A friend was preparing to preach on this text: “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord!” He planned to say that salvation is the work of God. I can’t earn it. I can’t contribute to it. Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit.

Great ideas, but is that what this verse is saying? I cringed, knowing I’d misused this text too. Quietists love it: all we need do is stand still and let God act, “let go and let God.”

But the context won’t allow us to use the verse this way.

Who spoke these words? They’re not a promise from God. They’re from Moses’ mouth. In a difficult situation, Moses contradicted what God told the Israelites to do. That’s why he received this mild rebuke: Continue reading ““Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13-15)”

When it feels like a dead end (Exodus 14:1-9)

Pharaoh’s pursuing army

Open Exodus 14:1-9.

Freedom! The Israelites are no longer Pharaoh’s slaves. They’re marching out of Egypt with a new identity: the people of YHWH! Their king is present in cloud and fire. He leads them south towards the Sinai Peninsula. There they will discover his character, and covenant with him to be his people.

But … there’s a problem. See that dust rising into the northern sky? It’s gaining on them. At chariot speed. The Middle East’s most powerful army is coming to take them captive again. Continue reading “When it feels like a dead end (Exodus 14:1-9)”

The king in the cloud (Exodus 13:17-22)

You can’t see God, but you can see the effect of his presence.

Open Exodus 13:17-22.

National leaders love to be seen out in front of their nation, leading their people. But what if your king is invisible? Released from Pharaoh, Israel has a king who cannot be seen and cannot be represented by any visible carved image. How on earth do you follow a ruler like that? Continue reading “The king in the cloud (Exodus 13:17-22)”

Significance of Passover (Exodus 12–13)

Open Exodus 12–13.

What’s the message of the Passover story? What comes to mind for you? Do you picture a lamb being sacrificed for the people of God to be forgiven their sins?

Would it surprise you to know the Book of Exodus never says anything like that? We can’t understand what Scripture says if we smuggle in assumptions about sacrificial theology that aren’t there.

This matters because Passover is so significant. Even today, it’s still one of the most significant weeks in the Jewish calendar, celebrating the birth of their nation. More than 3,200 years ago, God released them from serving Pharaoh, to be something new and privileged: a nation directly serving the divine sovereign, a kingdom of God.

So what does Exodus say? Continue reading “Significance of Passover (Exodus 12–13)”

When Egypt lost its heirs (Exodus 11–12)

What does the final plague reveal about God?

Open Exodus 11 – 12.

Nine times, Pharaoh has been shown to be just another stubborn human, not the person who rules the world. His own advisors no longer find him credible (10:7). The Egyptians now have more respect for Moses than for Pharaoh (11:3).

That makes Moses’ final announcement even more devastating: every family in Egypt will lose its heir (11:5). The Egyptians will rise up to demand their king release God’s people (11:8).

But how do you feel about God killing thousands of Egyptians? Can we get God off the hook? Could we blame the angel of death instead? Continue reading “When Egypt lost its heirs (Exodus 11–12)”

When everything’s gone and the lights go out (Exodus 10)

Open Exodus 10.

It may be Egypt’s darkest hour. Hail has destroyed the crops. Now a swarm of locusts invade, devouring any remaining stalks. Crops are stripped bare. Trees denuded. Everything is ruined. Despair creeps over the land. There is no reason to get up in the morning.

But morning doesn’t come. Night doesn’t end. Ra doesn’t rise. Egypt is hostage to the dark, cloaked in a shroud. Fear takes over when you can’t see what’s there. It’s palpable: a darkness that can be felt (10:21). Continue reading “When everything’s gone and the lights go out (Exodus 10)”

Humility (Exodus 10:3)

What is it, and why does it matter?

What is humility? C. S. Lewis said it’s not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. But what does the Bible say about humility? How would you find out?

You could use a concordance, or run a search at BibleGateway. You’d find 60 – 100 verses (depending on your version). But there’s more to it than sticking all those verses together as a collage of humility. There’s a development in the theme as the Bible’s story unfolds. When Jesus arrives on the scene as God’s anointed Messiah, King of the kingdom, he’s such a contrast to earth’s power-grabbing rulers. God-in-a-manger is humility we’d never known. Continue reading “Humility (Exodus 10:3)”

Pharaoh’s hard heart (Exodus 10:1-2)

Is Pharaoh to blame if God hardened his heart?

Open Exodus 10:1-2.

In the modern world, knowledge is acutely focused on causation. Other cultures have not always shared this preoccupation.

Many ancient peoples attributed anything that happened to God. For example, we say, “It rained.” And if someone asks why, we explain that evaporated moisture fell when it hit a region of low atmospheric pressure. That’s not how they viewed things in Old Testament times. They never said, “It rained.” They said, “God sent rain” or “God withheld rain.” We say, “She’s pregnant.” They said, “God opened her womb” or “God closed her womb.” Whatever happened — good or bad — God was the cause.

That cultural difference makes it hard for us to make sense of how they described things. We read, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” and we wonder if God was being unreasonable. Surely Pharaoh cannot be culpable if God overrode his human will and forced him to be disobedient. That’s because we think in exclusive terms: for us, the cause must be either Pharaoh hardening his own heart or God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

But to the Hebrews, these were not mutually incompatible ideas. They thought both were true. They could say:

  • Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exodus 8:15, 32).
  • God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:8).
  • Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (7:13-14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 34-35).

Our mindset makes it difficult to comprehend the existence of evil. If God is good, and God only does good, and everything comes from God, then how can evil exist? If evil exists, then in some ultimate sense, God is responsible. As any ruler knows, the buck stops at the top.

The Hebrews didn’t struggle with the question in those terms. Read Job. Everything comes from God, the good and the bad. Even the satan functions as a member of God’s court, for nothing could happen except by the omnipotent sovereign’s decree. So if Pharaoh’s heart was resistant to God’s decree, they understood that resistance as an act of God too.

Can you grasp their both/and perspective? Pharaoh is making culpable choices of his own within God’s overarching sovereignty. These two truths are not incompatible in the Hebrew worldview.  (And just to be clear, this is not about Pharaoh’s personal salvation: that would be anachronistic.)

One of the really interesting aspects of the story is that God repeatedly tells Moses, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” (4:21; 7:3; 14:4). On each occasion, God is preparing Moses to take a message to Pharaoh. Moses has already objected that he won’t be able to convince Pharaoh: “How then will Pharaoh listen to me?” (6:12, 30)  God knows Pharaoh won’t listen to Moses, but he doesn’t want Moses to feel like it’s his own fault. So God carries the can, unburdening Moses from the responsibility for Pharaoh’s response.

Once you realize the story is telling you that the Egyptian king’s hard heart is functioning within the bigger story of God’s overarching sovereignty, you realize that the harder Pharaoh resists, the more God’s sovereignty is revealed. If Pharaoh had chosen to give in easily, God’s sovereignty would not have been so obvious. The more Pharaoh resists, the more he ends up revealing who’s really in charge.

Carefully read these verses, and you’ll see all of that coming together at the beginning of the eighth plague:

Exodus 10:1–2 (ESV)
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.”

Should Christians go to war? (Romans 13:1-7)

Open Romans 13:1-7.

We discussed what this passage says about the authority of the state. Now we turn to the question of whether God authorizes governments to conduct wars, and whether it authorizes Christians to kill enemies in war.

Romans 13:4 is the crucial verse, and I’m going to argue these points:

  • carrying the sword refers to punishing wrongdoers, not prosecuting war;
  • the New Testament does not instruct the state about war;
  • followers of Jesus must not go to war, because our King forbids it.

Here’s the context:

Continue reading “Should Christians go to war? (Romans 13:1-7)”