Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Israels flight from Egypt to the Promised Land: A Divine Image of the Christian Life

The overarching theme of the book of Exodus is found in the deliverance provided by God to his people, as He delivers Israel from bondage, declares his supremacy over the false gods of Egypt, and supernaturally delivers Israel through many miraculous events.  The theme of deliverance continues from an outer deliverance to an internal deliverance in which God provides Moses with His commandments and sets Israel on a path of redemption.  The ultimate theme of Exodus is the goodness of God exemplified in his provision of deliverance, and important in this theme is the mode of His deliverance: God works through a man, but the deliverance itself is provided 100% by God himself.  This points us to the future coming of Christ when once again God would do 100% of the delivering of His own work and power. 

The narrative of Exodus follows closely the life of Moses and his interactions with Egypt and the ancient Israelite people.  Moses is undoubtedly the key individual in the book of Exodus, which follows his exploits as God begins to reach out to him to establish the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt.  It’s interesting that God chooses to reveal himself to Moses through a burning bush.  

God said to Moses then,” 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. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8 New International Version).  

What’s revealing about God’s interaction with Moses is that God chooses to work through people, specifically one person: Moses.  God describes how He has heard the cries, probably referring to prayers of Israel and He is concerned for them.  God chooses to share and reveal parts of His plan to Moses during their interaction at the burning bush.  God works through people, is the big take away from this interaction. God shares his plans with Moses, and even allows Moses input on how things should transpire.  Moses requests help, someone to help speak for him, and God interacts with this request and provides Aaron. Of course Moses did all the talking anyone, but perhaps Aaron's presence gave Moses the courage he needed to step into his calling. 

Now we’ll look at how God interacted with the Egyptian Pharaoh. Pharaoh is a proud and stubborn leader, and God understands that about Pharaoh.  So God declares victory over Pharaoh in the ten plagues that show God’s supremacy over the false gods of Egypt.  It says several times that Pharaoh hardened his heart against Israel (Exodus 7:13, 8:15, 8:32, 9:7). And only after Pharaoh repeatedly hardens his own heart, of his own choice, does God then take that situation and magnify it to declare His own glory and supremacy over Egypt’s false gods.  Exodus 9:12 (NIV) says “the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.”  

God’s interaction with Pharaoh is telling, God doesn’t violate Pharaoh’s free will he only magnifies and makes use of Pharaoh’s own poor choices to magnify and exemplify His own goodness, mercy, and deliverance for Israel.  Despite critics who will bring up “God hardening Pharaoh’s heart” as some sort of evil committed by our God, it turns out once again, that we’d always be wiser to trust God’s goodness even when we don’t understand fully.  Time and careful study will always show that God is perfect and holy, and we are the ones who struggle to understand and often attribute malaise to our God, when God is perfect and we are the wayward ones.  But in our fallen nature, that’s the last thing we want to own up to.  Instead of trusting God, we turn and try to judge God, but it is always wiser to trust Him.   

There is one profound truth in the over-arching saga of the exodus from Egypt. The book of Exodus shows how the Old Testament is actually all about Jesus.  The entire saga of the Exodus points us forward to the time when Jesus Christ would come, and become our all atoning sacrifice, as the spotless lamb on the cross.  And just as death passed over the Israelites because of the blood of the lambs painted on the door frame, so the blood of Jesus would open the door for our deliverance into eternal life.  

A teacher once said that Israel's bondage in slavery in Egypt, deliverance through Moses, and testing experiences on the wilderness journey to the promise land were all a grand reference to the Christian experience. I didn't believe him at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I think he's quite right.  Or more accurately, God is right.

Let's consider it: We start with Israel completely enslaved in Egypt, being forced to construct great monuments to false gods, and build toward the pride of man.  

This is quite similar metaphorically to our situation before Jesus.  We're powerless, and enslaved to sin: sexual sin, drugs, drinking, lying, stealing, whatever sins they are.  They are our master. We are in chains to these things, and have little ability to be set free. In fact we're forced to work for those things, over and over and over, never getting anywhere.  

There is no escape on our own.  Something or someone always has to come in and make it possible.  That's where God enters the fray.  But He doesn't dive in and do it all through miraculous events.  Instead God meets with one person, Moses, someone who has lost everything, who has fled his whole life.  He's been in the desert for forty years.  And God changes his life and sends him on the mission to set Israel free.

God works through people, and often God works through one single person who is yielded to His will.  But God chooses that person, and puts that person to work.  God chooses the one to be yielded, it's important to make that distinction. We raise our hand and say "Send me Lord!" But ultimately God has set up the situation in which the offer is made, just as it was with Isaiah.  

God displays His great glory in deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  This action is a process, God doesn't just deliver Israel suddenly.  Instead there is a process of plagues and judgments that fall on the false gods of Egypt.  And Egypt undergoes punishment for their poor treatment, slavery, abuse and injustice toward the Israelites in their midst.  

It's the same with Jesus Christ and His victory over the world through sacrifice.  Jesus Christ plainly shows the world it's sinfulness, when the world so often wants to play at being ethical, and play at virtue signalling, and displaying a false sense of moral superiority.  Jesus cuts through all that.  His words pierce to the heart of who we really are as corrupt, sinful people.  His words condemn the worldly powers and worldly structures of authority.  And when Jesus returns in glory to establish His kingdom, we see very similar plagues and judgments poured out on the world at that time.  

Egypt undergoes judgment after judgment from God, and Moses meets before the Pharoah, humbling him with the power of God.  And finally, the first borns of all Egypt are visited by the angel of death.  The symbolism is rich isn't it?  It's a horrifying scene, to be sure.  The Egyptian children are dying because of the arrogance and hubris of their leaders.  Thankfully, it's clear from God's character that such children, below the age of accountability, would be saved in heaven.  In any case, we see that the sons of Egypt die because of the brutality and evil of their leaders and people.  And we see how the Israelites are saved from the angel of death: By making a sacrifice, and wiping the goat's blood on the doors of their houses.  What's interesting about this sacrifice is that they are told they must slaughter a spotless lamb without defect, and then they are told to cook and eat the lamb.  It reminds one of the Lord's supper. 

So they Israelites were protected by the sacrifice of the lamb and the blood on the doorway. And how are we saved today?  The temple of our heart, the house of our soul is washed with the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of Jesus, which was offered up for us, so we could be free from the judgment of sin that is coming on the world.  Therefore when we do as God orders, and receive His son Jesus Christ, we are saved from judgment and condemnation, and delivered from slavery.

God declares His validity over all the false gods of Egypt through the plagues. After the death of the firstborns, finally, Pharoah allows the Israelites to leave.  But they leave with blessings and riches, as gifts from the Egyptians for their four hundred thirty years of slavery. In fact the word says that Israel was paid homage to as if it were a victorious plundering army!  It's the same when we get saved by Jesus.  Not only are we saved from judgment and condemnation and from hell, we are given adoption as sons and daughters to God himself.  We are counted as children of God, and we become heirs of the kingdom of God.  We become soldiers of God, in His kingdom program. 

One might assume that sin and death would now leave Christians alone, since they've been saved by Jesus.  But that is not the case.  Just as Pharoah changed his mind and decided to ride out and destroy the Israelites, so sin also pursues us in our Christian life.  And how can we escape it?

The Israelites were fleeing from slavery, but slavery was coming for them once again.  The chariots and armies of Pharoah were storming out to re-capture Israel.  They fled, and suddenly they came to the banks of the red sea. Moses stands at the banks of the red sea, it seems impossible, and hopeless, and they are all about to be destroyed.

This is exactly the same in the Christian life!  We struggle in sin and we think we can't possibly live a truly holy Christian life.  We think we're always going to be stuck in the messy goop of sin and brokenness, and that we can never escape it.  But that's not true!  We can live a truly holy, God honoring life.  We can be truly free from sin! But it takes a daring faith in God, and a willingness to cry out to God for deliverance from the slavery of sin.  Yes, it seems impossible.  We huff and puff over it, and grumble that we should rather stay back in Egypt, and remain in sin.  We claim Jesus, as we hide in the slave slums of Egypt, lost in sin, and truly, to stay in Egypt, to live in sin, while claiming Jesus, is simply to be on the road to eternal destruction.  

So we have to cry out to God, and dare to walk across the waters on dry ground.  That's what God does for us in the Christian life.  If we dare to believe that we can truly escape the bondage of slavery, the waters do indeed part for us.  And we walk across on dry ground.  Or if need be, we walk on the water itself, just as Jesus did, when He walked out on the water to His disciples caught in the storm.  And Peter understood this, beckoning Jesus to call him onto the water, and Jesus called him to himself.  

The sad fact is many Christians never make it past the parting of the red sea. They never dare to truly follow Jesus out of sin, because it just seems too hard.  So they go live in the shanty towns of sin in Egypt and comfort themselves at night that Jesus has washed them clean, as they live in daily slime and sin.  And there's is a fearful fate indeed.  Do not remain in Egypt!  Do not live in sin!  If you do, you will not live eternally, plain and simple.  Walk upon the waters.  Cry out to God to make dry ground for you to walk on.  He will provide.  Dare to believe.

The Israelites cross on dry ground.  And the army that pursues them is caught in the snare of the waters, and is totally destroyed.  Sin is crushed and destroyed by God, it's pursuit is broken, it's power is utterly demolished, and it's ability to influence us is smashed to weakness.  All of this is done by God entirely.  God parts the waters.  He does the miraculous work.  All we do is the foot work of believing and walking across the dry ground He has provided.  Some would say this is "works righteousness" and many will try to paint us into a corner, calling anything we do in response to God's work as "works righteousness."  Brothers and sisters this is a false, faulty argument that fails to prove true.  All we do is respond to God's work by walking through the opening He has provided.  Would our walking matter at all if He did not part the waters and provide a path to safety?  Of course not.  Does our walking along the dry ground He's miraculously provided take anything away from His mighty miracle?  Of course not.  God provides the clear pathway, we simply walk upon the road. God provides the walkway, and He closes the path behind us on our enemy, sin, when the time is right.  It's amazing.  

Next we see the people in search of water, exhausted, thirsty, and struggling in a barren land.  Have you ever felt this way in your Christian walk?  I know I have!  I've felt spiritually depleted, sick, tired, and troubled many times in my Christian life.  And those tests and trials will come!  So once again we see that Moses cries out to God, and God provides twelve wells for the people, and seven palm trees!  Symbolism much?  The twelve wells for the twelve tribes of Israel?  And what about the seven palm trees?  This reminds me of the seven lampstands before the throne of God, which are the seven angels that support the seven churches of God in Revelation.  Additionally, it could be referencing the seven spirits of God, which work in the world.  Beautiful symbolism indeed!  

Now it's important to remember that all these events in Exodus literally happened.  They literally went through these experiences in Egypt, the red sea, and the wilderness.  But what God does is He actually imbeds symbolic imagery into real life events, and then when later generations read about what happened, they see clues and pointers toward God's larger meta-narrative, His grand plan for history.  It's quite beautiful how God works in this way.  It's quite amazing, and shocking actually.  It goes to the other-ness, and the mysterious nature of who God actually is.  His abilities and ways go far beyond our own.  

Next in the narrative we see that God's people are hungry, and do not have anything to eat.  But God provides bread from heaven for His people to eat each day.  Once again we the symbolism of the Christian journey, such as in the Lord's prayer, when it says "Give us this day our daily bread."  God provides for our daily nutritional needs. But there is something deeper here as well: In the Christian life our daily bread is not the mana from heaven that God provided to the Israelites, our daily bread is the broken body and blood of Jesus that was crushed for our iniquities on the cross.  This daily bread sustains us through our daily Christian walk, as we daily walk covered in the blood of the lamb of God (Jesus) and walk in the perfect robe of His righteousness, being careful to not soil it in the sins of the world. 

Now we see as the Israelites continue their journey they enter the "wilderness of Sin."  We see once again that the people are without water, and struggling.  And they cry out to Moses for help in this situation.  And Moses seeks God.  And God once again provides water for the people, but this time, miraculously, as Moses strikes the rock.  

We see a time when Israel is going through trials, tests, and temptations.  Does this sound at all familiar to the Christian life?  Of course!  We as Christians go through endless trials, temptations, and tests by God.  These struggles are meant to test and refine our faith in Christ.  

God put the Israelites through similar tests in the wilderness.  And He taught them to trust in Him, and to be careful to obey His laws and precepts.  It should be a very stark warning to us, that this generation of Israel really failed to trust in God, have faith in Him, and obey his precepts.  The same danger is available to us as Christians, and we must be careful to obey the teachings of God in the New Testament, and the word of God overall.  

Next we see Israel coming up against an enemy, the Amalekites.  Moses appoints Joshua to be his General, his war leader, and Joshua rallies the troops to victory, while Moses stands overlooking the battle, with the staff of God raised.  This picture shows us an image of God's sovereignty.  God is sovereign over the battle, and it is His power and sovereignty that brings victory in the battle. The people simply do the foot work of matching forward, and fighting the best they can.  But victory comes from the Lord.  

God calls Moses to Mount Sinai after the victory over the Amalekites. This is similar to our deliverance and new life that we receive in Christ. Jesus has saved us. He saves us first, in our mess, in our disaster, covered in sin, he saves us. But then He calls us to himself. And He calls us to repent of all sin, and to walk in Christ-likeness all our days. This is sometimes referred to as a second blessing, or as a moment when we realize that God must have all of us, not some, but all of us. God called Moses to Mount Sinai, and said to him, "You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me." -Exodus 19:4b-5 NLT

First Jesus saves us, then He calls us to total devotion to Him.  If we ignore that call, and remain in sin, falling away is certain.  

God gives his instructions to Moses, just as we receive the instructions of Jesus through the Apostle Paul and the other New Testament writers.  Then we see a division in the camp, with the building of the golden calf.  And Moses demand that those who are with God join him.  A division occurs.  In fact Jesus divided people in a similar way.  Whenever Jesus spoke in crowds, people would be divided, some would believe in him, others would reject and fight against him.  

The Levites turned to support Moses. And Moses told them they must kill those who turned against God, even to their neighbors, sons, daughters, parents, and friends and so on.  Very interesting.  Jesus said that you must hate father, mother, son or daughter in comparison to the love we have for Him (Luke 14:26). 

I could go on and on, but this brings us to the end of Exodus. Many other metaphors and comparisons can be made throughout Deuteronomy and Joshua, but we don't have time or space to go on any further!  The point is, the Christian life is a journey. And we need to be cautious to obey Jesus Christ, follow His teachings, and live a truly Christ-like life.  Too many Christians live worldly lives, we must be totally dedicated to living holy lives in Jesus.  The Old Testament, the book of Exodus, and the escape from Egypt are all pictures of who Jesus Christ is to us, and how He saves us.  Remember that, and study diligently. 

Lockyer, H. (1961). All the Men of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes.