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.”

Seventh plague: God’s big purpose (Exodus 9:13-35)

Open Exodus 9:13-35.

Hail falls from the heavens. Egypt’s proud rulers run for cover like everyone else. With lightening striking all around them, Egypt’s rulers are powerless before the one who reigns from heaven.

But God’s aim is not to strike Pharaoh dead: Continue reading “Seventh plague: God’s big purpose (Exodus 9:13-35)”

Six demonstrations of divine kingship (Exodus 7–9)

Open Exodus 7.

Whether it’s missiles parades in China or F35 fighters thundering over our heads in the west, our rulers love demonstrating their power. And according to the exodus story, rulers do have power to make people miserable (1:11-14; 2:23; 3:7; 4:31; 5:15; 6:6-9).

But the truth is, human rulers do not control the natural world. God alone controls the earth. That’s what the ten plagues showed. Despite all his claims, Pharaoh was not in control.

God demanded Pharaoh to release the people who weren’t his to rule. Pharaoh refused. The battle for the Hebrews begins. But God doesn’t fight with earthly weapons. With ten mighty acts, he demonstrates his kingship over the natural world. Continue reading “Six demonstrations of divine kingship (Exodus 7–9)”

Salvation is bigger than you think

It won’t do to imagine salvation as a personal experience, unconnected to the woes of the world. In the Bible’s story, salvation is not relief from personal guilt. Salvation is God  saving his people from enslavement to evil, from the crushing affliction we experience under rulers like Pharaoh. Salvation is God rescuing his creation from evil, into his reign. Continue reading “Salvation is bigger than you think”

When faith fades (Exodus 6:8-9)

Open Exodus 6:8-9.

Know anyone who used to go to church? What happened? Disappointed with God? Hurt by people?

What happens when life doesn’t work out as you expected, when pain erodes hope?

There’s an apparent contradiction in the Exodus story:

  • Exodus 4:31 says the people believed Moses’ message.
  • Exodus 6:9 says they were unresponsive to Moses’ message.

What happened in between to destroy their faith? Continue reading “When faith fades (Exodus 6:8-9)”

The Saviour revealed (Exodus 6:2-7)

Open Exodus 6:2-7.

Who governs the affairs of the world? That depends who you trust. Fox News would give you a different answer to China Press, Aljazeera, BBC, or Spiegel.

Truth is, none of the world’s leaders have the kind of control they’d like us to believe. There’s another hand behind history, beyond the best laid plans of mice and men.

Pharaoh was the biggest name in Moses’s world. At least, that’s what Moses thought. Until he learned the name:

Continue reading “The Saviour revealed (Exodus 6:2-7)”