How God Interacts With His People (Exodus 17-20)

josiah -moses sinai

There are many great stories in these few chapters but they are by far some of my favorite stories in the book of Exodus. Through the stories we get a very good idea of how God chooses to communicate with His people, the Israelites. If you are just hopping into the Bible reading program the main character of this passage is a man named Moses. Moses was a man chosen by God to do great works for the Israelites; Moses was the man who set the Israelites free from Egypt and led them through the desert. The Israelites wandering through the desert is where we pick up the story.

The Israelites had a nasty habit of complaining to God about their so called ‘problems’ and how they are being treated ‘poorly’. Of course, the Israelites had no idea that God always had their back and was always watching over them. The Israelites run into two problems in chapter 17; problem number one, they have no water and problem number two, they are in danger from Amalek. God is not worried by any of this, but because we have little faith sometimes God must intervene for our sake. So God provides water for all of the Israelites through a miracle and does another miracle to protect them from Amalek. The Amalek story in particular always intrigues me. I love how Moses gets support from two of his closest men to help him do his job. Also it’s just cool to see God work through his people to kick some gentile butt.

In chapter 18 we get a good view of how I think the church should be structured. Moses’ dad-in-law, Jethro, comes and sees that Moses is having a hard time coping with all the stress the Israelites put on him. So Jethro gives Moses the advice to put some trusted men in charge of smaller groups of people to handle the small quarrels and disagreements among themselves. This turns out to be great advice and it makes everyone happier. I see God was moving when Jethro came to Moses; that God once again cared for His people even when they didn’t realize that they needed it.

I can’t help but think of how amazing God is when I read chapter 19. The image I get in my head of God covering the mountain with fire and talking through thunder is incredible. What an awesome God we serve! What blows my mind though is how the Israelites didn’t even want to talk to God. They could hear God’s voice, which I think any of us would die to do, and yet they threw it all away. Now it’s not until the end of chapter 20 where we find out that the people don’t want to talk to God. I mean come on how stupid can the Israelites be sometimes? Even though God told them that they would be safe they still felt fear towards Him. This is also the time when God decided to give His people rules to follow that way they could better follow Him. I don’t think the Israelites really understood the greatness of the gifts they were given. Who wouldn’t want God to come down to them in person and tell them exactly how to live there lives. I would love for God to come down and speak to me directly on my life and how I could live better. Anyway, the Israelites said they wanted no part in talking to God, only Moses, so that’s what they got.

We can see God really striving to be with His people in these chapters. He wants so badly for us to have everything we need and be safe so He provides for us. God wants to be with us and speak to us but we, like the Israelites, shy away in fear from God. We get rules from God that He wants us to follow but we always seem to fall short. I can’t help but think that we are like the Israelites; running from God because we are too afraid to speak to Him ourselves, afraid of what He might say. We are always willing to have someone else pray for us or have a pastor talk to God for us but we need to do that ourselves. Let’s not be like the Israelites. Let us walk boldly up the foot of the mountain and talk to God just like He designed us to do. We don’t need a middle man in our lives because we have Jesus. He is our mediator and he does a perfect job for us. It’s through Jesus that we can speak to God. We should not waste this great gift like the Israelites did. We should speak to God and go to Him for everything because He is perfect and longs to provide for us.

— Josiah Cain

Crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14-16)

Although God had rescued his people out of Egypt through the ten plagues, he was not finished yet.  Once they were gone, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart one last time.

Exodus 14.4
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh.

Exouds 14.18
And the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.

The Red Sea was part of God’s master plan.  He wants to demonstrate his power so that everyone will know that he is the great God over against the idols of the nations.  As Babe Ruth is known for hitting home runs, Steve Jobs for iPhones, and Mark Zuckerberg for facebook, Yahweh is known for rescuing his people from Egypt.  Years after this, Rahab told the Israelite spies what she had heard about their God:

Joshua 2.9-11
“I know that Yahweh has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  For we have heard how Yahweh dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.   And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for Yahweh your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”

Rahab, living far away in Jericho, has heard the rumors about Yahweh.  Because of his mighty power, shown through partying the Red Sea, she knows he is “God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”  Splitting the Red Sea was not haphazard or happenstance, it was God’s plan so that people would hear, so that he would get glory over the Egyptians, so that five hundred years later they would write psalms about it, so that thousands of years later you would praise him for it.  The ten plagues and the Red Sea are all about Yahweh showing the world who he is.

Once the children of Israel got through the Red Sea and the chasing Egyptian chariots, horsemen, and footmen perished, God’s people took some time to praise him.  They wrote a song about how he saved them and how he decimated Pharaoh’s army.  Miriam took up the tambourine and led the other women in dancing.  This is the appropriate response when God delivers his people from something–worship.  Has God delivered you from anything?  If so, then testify to it.  Share it with others.  And most of all, worship him for his steadfast love to you.

Passover (Exodus 11-13)

At long last, the tenth plague comes.  Now, God will finish pouring out his wrath on this genocidal nation.  Although each of the nine plagues decimated and humiliated specific Egyptian gods, this last plague was against all of the gods.  This is how God explains it:

Exodus 12.12
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am Yahweh.

I love how he ends this with “I am Yahweh.”  In other words, Egypt has it’s gods, but I am Yahweh and they are completely impotent to protect what is most precious to you, your firstborn sons.  This is God’s last act of war against Egypt and it will guarantee that they let his people go.  Even so, he will guard his own people so that not even “a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that Yahweh makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 11.7).  Even so, God is not going to make his protection automatic.  He wants his people to exercise faith by performing certain ceremonial actions.  He instructs them to kill an unblemished lamb and paint the blood on the door frame, roast it, and eat it that night.  These simple acts will prevent the destroyer from entering into the house to kill the firstborn.

Those who followed this command marked themselves out as the true people of God and those who ignored it suffered the consequences.  At midnight God struck down all the firstborn in Egypt from Pharaoh’s house to the firstborn captive in the dungeon as well as all the firstborn of the livestock (Exodus 12.29).  A great cry arose in Egypt because every house had someone dead in it.  Pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to take his people and his herds and go to serve Yahweh.  The Egyptians urgently sent the Hebrews out of the land saying, “We shall all be dead” (Exodus 12.33).  This one moment gets celebrated year after year, decade after decade, century after century, and millennium after millennium by Israel in their Passover dinner.  The question for you today is whether you have marked yourself out by the blood of the lamb so that you will be saved on judgment day?

Yahweh against Egypt’s Gods (Exodus 8-10)

God brought the ten plagues upon Pharaoh and Egypt for a reason.  He wanted them to know certain truths:

  • “that you may know that there is no one like Yahweh our God” (8.10)
  • “that you may know that I am Yahweh in the midst of the earth. (8.22)
  • “that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.” (9.14)
  • “that you may know that the earth is Yahweh’s.” (9.29)
  • “that you may know that I am Yahweh.” (10.2)

The ten plagues were the means by which God came to show the whole world who he is and how he is superior to all other so-called gods.  He could have just killed Pharaoh and his people with pestilence, but he says, “For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9.16).  Furthermore, he wants his own people to “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 Yahweh” (Exodus 10.2).  The ten plagues are a big deal.

Even so, have you ever asked yourself why these plagues and not something else?  Here is a list of them:

  1. Nile turned to blood
  2. frogs
  3. lice
  4. flies
  5. livestock disease
  6. boils
  7. hail
  8. locusts
  9. darkness
  10. death to firstborn

Are those the miracles you would have chosen to demonstrate your power?  What’s the point of turning water to blood?  Why should God use frogs, lice, or flies to annoy the Egyptians?  Why not speak audibly from heaven or cause an earthquake?  Well, as it turns out, these strange plagues are not as much about the true God as they are about the Egyptian gods.  I hinted at this yesterday when I said, “Yahweh is the God who can slit the veins of Osiris, the protector of the Nile, and cause him to bleed.”  Here is a more comprehensive list, correlating the plagues with Egyptian gods.

  1. Nile to blood
    • Khnum: guardian or river’s source
    • Hapi: spirit of the Nile
    • Osiris: Nile was his bloodstream
  2. frogs
    • Hapi & Heqt frog goddesses related to fertility
  3. lice
    • Seb: the earth god
  4. flies
    • Uatchit: fly god
  5. livestock disease
    • Ptah, Mnevis, Hathor, Amon: associated w/ bulls and cows
  6. boils
    • Sekhmet: goddess of epidemics
    • Serapis & Imhotep: gods of healing
  7. hail
    • Nut: sky goddess
    • Isis & Seth: agriculture deities
    • Shu: god of atmosphere
  8. locusts
    • Serapia: protector from locusts
  9. darkness for 3 days
    • Ra, Amon-re, Aten, Atum, Horus: sun gods

Pharaoh had asked the question, “Who is Yahweh, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” (Exodus 5.1).  These plagues answer that question.  Who is Yahweh?  Yahweh is the God who can take over Nut, the sky goddess, and cause hail to fall on the plants that Isis and Seth are supposed to protect.  Who is Yahweh?  Yahweh is the God who can make a mockery of Heqt, the frog god, by multiplying frogs in the land until the Egyptians are disgusted with them.  Who is Yahweh?  Yahweh is the God who can take out Ra, the sun God, so that he does not get into his chariot for three days and pull the sun across the sky.  Yahweh is not just the God of the Hebrews!  He’s the “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Deuteronomy 10.17).  He’s the creator and the sustainer so you better let his people go.

Who Is Yahweh? (Exodus 5-7)

Moses the 80-year-old fugitive went to the Pharaoh, the powerful leader of mighty Egypt, and declaimed, “Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness'” (Exodus 5.1).  Pharaoh met this bold demand with the following:

Exodus 5.2
Who is Yahweh, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know Yahweh, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.

Notice how Pharaoh answers Moses.  He doesn’t know Yahweh.  Who is Yahweh to tell him me what to do?  The rest of the ten plagues answer this one question.  You see, Egypt was full of gods.  They believed in Ra, Apis, Hathor, Nut, Isis, Osiris, and Heqet, but not Yahweh.  Pharaoh can’t imagine that the god of his slaves–the Hebrews–could possibly be more powerful than the revered and ancient deities of Egypt.  Consequently, Pharaoh decides to press the issue.  Not only will he not them go, but he decides to oppress them even more than before.  Since these Israelites have so much time to worry about going off into the wilderness to have a feast, they obviously don’t have enough work.  Pharaoh decides to increase their labor; now they will have to forage for their own straw to make bricks without diminishing productivity.  That will teach them not to fantasize about introducing new gods to give them time off.

Naturally, the elders of Israel were furious at Moses for making them “stink in the sight of Pharaoh” (Exodus 5.21).  Moses feels discouraged and God has to work with him by reiterating the promises.  He tells Moses he will liberate them from the Egyptians; he will deliver them from slavery; he will redeem them with great acts; he will take them to be his people; he will be their God; he will bring them to the promised land that he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 6.6-8).  After he convinced Moses of his plan to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he can perform his mighty deeds, Moses marches right back into Pharaoh’s presence.

To start, Moses had Aaron throw down his staff so that it became a serpent.  However, the Egyptian sorcerers did the same so Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he sent Moses away.  Now a third time, God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh in the morning, while he is at the Nile river, and say, “Thus says Yahweh, ‘By this you shall know that I am Yahweh: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood” (Exodus 7.17).  After he struck the water, the Nile river, the life source of Egypt, turned into blood.  Amazingly, Pharaoh turned and went home and didn’t give the miracle a second thought.  The Egyptians began digging along the banks to draw water since for seven days the river ran red with blood.

What Pharaoh did not yet understand is that this was just one of ten plagues through which the God of the Hebrews would answer his question, “Who is Yahweh that I should obey his voice.”  Now he begins to learn, that Yahweh is the God who can slit the veins of Osiris, the protector of the Nile, and cause him to bleed.  Stay tuned for the rest of Pharaoh’s education…

When Genocide Comes (Exodus 1-4)

For centuries Egypt served as an incubator for Israel; there they multiplied from a few dozen to hundreds of thousands.  However, they did not integrate into Egyptian society, but retained their distinctive Hebrew identity.  As a result the Pharaoh worried what would happen if an enemy attacked.  He thought the Israelites would surely aid any attackers, turning the tide against the Egyptians.  As is so often the case, fear led to persecution under the guise of “preemptive self defense.”  At first they set taskmasters over the Hebrews to afflict them with heavy burdens.  Next they completely enslaved them, making their lives bitter with hard service.  Then Pharaoh initiated a clandestine project of ethnic cleansing by ordering the midwives to murder Israelite newborn boys.  When this policy failed, he made a new public mandate whereby every Egyptian became duty bound to cast Hebrew boys into the Nile river.

In the midst of such a genocide a baby boy was born, named Moses.  Through a miraculous turn of events, he grew up under the protection (not persecution) of Pharaoh’s household.  He enjoyed the lavish lifestyle of the top 1% of Egyptians, including getting “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7.22).  However, when Pharaoh found out Moses had murdered a man, he fled to Midian, a far away wilderness, and became a nomadic shepherd.  While his first forty years were in the lap of luxury, his second forty years were spent toiling in obscurity.  He got married and worked for his father-in-law until that fateful day when he encountered the burning bush.

While he stood before this unusual spectacle, God spoke to him.  He identified himself with these words, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3.6).  Next God commissioned Moses to go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt.  Instead of taking the job, Moses was incredulous.  He came up with an excuse, asking, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name? what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3.13).  Moses probably thought this question would get him off the hook, but instead God answered him directly, revealing his covenant name in the process.  He told Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers…has sent me to you'” (Exodus 3.15).  The words “the LORD” are hiding the true Hebrew name for God–Yahweh.  It is a sad fact that nearly all English translations do this.  They would be better to just honestly put God’s name into the text rather than hiding it.  (Understanding the rest of the ten plagues without knowing God’s name is Yahweh makes everything a little blurry.)

Moses tried over and over to get out of God’s call on his life.  However, God was persistent and overcame Moses’ objections one by one.  What’s so striking about Moses is that he is probably the least qualified person in the world to carry out this mission for God.  He’s an 80 year old, inbred, fugitive with a speech impediment.  He knows how unqualified he is and therein we find God’s reason for choosing him.  Moses was the humblest man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12.3).  He knew he couldn’t do it on his own, and this is why God was able to do such spectacular marvels through him.  He went from a Bedouin herder to the founding father of a nation, the one who brought down the most powerful empire of the time, the great giver of God’s holy law, and the one who had the most intimate relationship with God of all time, excepting Jesus.  Maybe your intelligence, your attractiveness, your athleticism, your creativity, or your relational skills aren’t holding you back.  The problem is not that you are under qualified, but over qualified.  If you can only cultivate humility and depend on the Almighty, he can do great things through you today.