Thursday, October 28, 2010

Performing for Captives

Following up on the quote I posted a couple of days ago from Jordan's Handwriting on the Wall concerning the prophecies that Israel would have been receiving from the prophets already in exile:

Ezekiel is already in exile while Jerusalem still stands. He is taken to Jerusalem in the Spirit (by his hair! - 8:3) to see the abominations that are being done there (Ez. 8-11). But apparently he is carrying out most of his antics in exile. So for example, he returns to those in captivity (Ez. 11:25) from his vision of the glory of the Lord leaving Jerusalem in Ez. 11, and in Ez. 12, he does his theatrical rendition of the inhabitants of Jerusalem going into captivity. But apparently he's doing this for those who are already in captivity.

He's acting out what will happen to those are still back in Jerusalem. This seems to add another layer of embarrassment to Ezekiel's calling. Poor guy has to do tons of weird and awkward stuff and it's not actually for the audience he's performing in front of. This underlines Jordan's point that almost certainly the reports of Zeke's antics are getting transmitted in some form back to Jerusalem. Given the limitations of sixth century technology, we know that the "signs" of Ezekiel would then have been delivered to the inhabitants of Jerusalem by word (written or spoken).

The purpose of Ezekiel's charades would then have been an encouragement to those already in captivity. He's saying in effect, you people in captivity should be thankful that you aren't back there in Jerusalem.

This seems to suggest some place for prophetic preaching in the Christian Church which isn't necessarily directly aimed at the congregation being preached to. A pastor who preaches against immorality, abuses, evil out in the world is carrying on a ministry like Ezekiel's. And those who are gathered together in the congregation who aren't perpetrating those particular evils can be encouraged that they have been delivered from the judgment of God sure to fall on the wicked. And of course it's problematic if a preacher never addresses the sins of his own particular congregation.


Another Tenth Plague/Passover

Ezekiel 9 combines a number of elements from Exodus 12-13, 32. It too is a tenth plague/passover story.

In Ezekiel 9, like Exodus 32, the Destroyer is embodied in the actions of men. This time the "sign" that marks those who are to be spared is made with a pen on the foreheads of those who cry over the abominations done in the midst of Jerusalem (Ez. 9:3-4).

As in Exodus 32, there is an advocate for Israel, a Moses, who pleads on their behalf that God not destroy them entirely (cf. Ex. 32:11-14, Ez. 9:8-11). Only this time Yahweh does not appear to relent from His anger.


Tenth Plague Revisited on Israel

The golden calf incident in Exodus 32 is another Passover story.

Only this time, the tenth plague and Passover occur in the midst of Israel in the wilderness, and the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient Israelites.

Several connections between the two events:

1. Egypt is referenced seven times in the pericope, and the calf is explicitly meant to represent the "god(s)" who brought Israel out of Egypt. The Israelites are implicitly claiming to be in Egypt (while physically at Sinai, meeting with Yahweh), and they need that "god" to come and go before them.

2. Aaron makes the golden calf and calls for a feast the following day (Ex. 32:5), and this feast includes sacrifices and peace offerings (Ex. 32:6, 8) just as Yahweh had called for the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread.

3. Just as the Destroyer went through the land of Egypt and struck down the firstborn of Egypt, so Moses calls for the firstborn of Israel (i.e. the Levites, cf. Num. 3:12-13) and they slaughtered three thousand men of Israel that day. This is an implicit deliverance of Israel from all those Israelites who still wanted to follow Egyptian gods.

4. The summary of Exodus 32 is "So the Lord plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made" (32:35). This is the same word used to describe the tenth plague (Ex. 12:23, 27), and it was only used once elsewhere in the plague narrative (Ex. 7:27). The implication of this summary statement is that the Levites passing through the camp of Israel are the Destroyer, the angel of death. They are the tenth plague revisited on Israel.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I am Yahweh

The declaration of God, "I am the Lord" using the the covenant name Yahweh occurs nearly 200 times in the OT. Nearly three quarters of those are found in the books Exodus, Leviticus, and Ezekiel.

This suggests a few things: First, this invites a close connection between Exodus and Leviticus. The Exodus from Egypt is all about Yahweh, a display of His name, making His name known to the Israelites, their children, and the Egyptians. The plagues, the division between the Israelites and Egyptians, the death of the firstborn, the deliverance from Egypt: all of this is done so that they might "know that I am Yahweh."

When Leviticus repeats this phrase some forty or fifty times, it is frequently explicitly tied to the Exodus ("I am Yahweh who brought you out of Egypt...", etc.). But it is always implicitly referring back to that event, back to the revelation of Yahweh's name in the Exodus. They are to keep Yahweh's sabbaths because He is Yahweh who brought them out of Egypt. They are to be holy because they serve Yahweh who brought them out of Egypt. They are not to worship other gods because their God is Yahweh who brought them out of Egypt. They are to release their slaves, forgive debts, and care for orphans and widows because "I am Yahweh."

But when Ezekiel uses this phrase nearly seventy times, he is drawing off of both of these books. Ezekiel is a Moses pleading with Israel to leave Egypt, to leave the Jerusalem that has become an Egypt. But this already implies the Leviticus connection. Not living according to the word of God in Leviticus is to to "return to Egypt" while still living in Israel. To disobey Yahweh, to break covenant is to reject the Exodus, to take Israel back into Egypt. For Ezekiel to bring God's declaration, "I am Yahweh," is to remind Israel of Leviticus, to remind Israel of the word of their Redeemer, their Near-Kinsman who came and set them free.


Exodus and the Circumcision of Christ

In Colossians, Paul seems to have much of the Exodus imagery in mind.

He goes in Col. 1 from speaking about being "delivered from the powers of darkness and transfered into the kingdom of the Son" to "redemption in His blood" to Jesus as the "firstborn from the dead" (tenth plague) to chapter 2 warning against philosophy, traditions of men, and "the basic principles of the world" saying that we are "complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power" (2:10).

If Paul is thinking of the Exodus here then the principalities and powers are the Egyptian gods that the Israelites were worshiping or at least syncretistically worshiping alongside of Yahweh. And in the first century this would seem to be some kind of syncretism with Hellenistic religion and unbelieving Judaism.

But this reading also makes sense of why Paul immediately describes our union with Christ as a "circumcision": In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ (2:11).

If Passover is a corporate circumcision of Israel, then the death of Christ, the true passover lamb more so. In the Cross (the great Passover), Christ was struck like the firstborn of Egypt, the death we rightly deserved in order to tear us out of Egypt (our trespasses, 2:13). But when Christ was struck He disarmed the principalities and powers (the gods of Egypt) and revealed them as powerless and empty and revealed simultaneously, that God rules all of creation. And He did this centrally in rising from the dead.

This is why there is now no longer "Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free" (3:11) -- the Cross was the final Passover in which the great "mixed multitude" was reconciled to God and to one another. All have already been circumcised in the blood of the Lamb.

And more generally, it seems like the whole epistle follows the Exodus pattern from the house of bondage to the house of God, with the circumcision of Christ (Passover) at the center.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CRF: Why Words Matter

1. God created the world with words (Gen. 1:3-2:3). (Words are magic.)

2. God created the world through the Son, who is the Word (Jn. 1:2, Col. 1:16). Words are like people. The created world is words that speak (Ps. 19:1-11) and is upheld by the Word (Heb. 1:3). (Very magic.)

3. God gave man the glorious task of imaging Him in his use of words/naming/ruling (Gen. 2:19-20). (Words are still magic).

4. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:1, Heb. 1:1-3). This is the proof that God’s Word does not return void (Is. 55:11). (Deep magic.)

5. That same Word is spoken in the words of Scripture by the working of the Spirit, and it is sharp and powerful (Heb. 4:6). This is why the prayer of the righteous man avails much (Js. 5). (Our spell book.)

6. Some warnings about the power of words:
a. Some words pierce like a sword (Pr. 12:18)
b. A wholesome tongue is a tree of life (Pr. 15:4).
c. He who has a perverse tongue falls into evil (Pr. 17:20).
d. Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Pr. 18:21).
e. Guarding the tongue is guarding your soul (Pr. 21:23)
f. Bridling the tongue has everything to do with the central tenets of the faith (Js. 1:26).
g. The tongue is powerful and dangerous (Js. 3:5-8).
h. A good life is does not proceed from an evil tongue or speaking deceit (1 Pet. 3:10).

7. Therefore, put away filthy language (Col. 3:8) and coarse jesting (Eph. 5:4). Let it not even be named among you (Eph. 5:3). We begin speaking the truth and speaking words of healing when we confess our sins (1 Jn. 1:5ff).

8. Ultimately, the way we use our words has everything to do with the gospel. Our words either conform to the Word and His word in Scripture or they are at odds. They are either gospel words of resurrection and forgiveness or they are satanic words of condemnation and accusation. The gospel is the declaration of the Kingdom of the Risen Jesus. Is the resurrection true? Has God invaded this world with the Kingdom of His Mighty Word?

9. Tell good jokes. Love the best stories. Curse like Jesus. And bless those who persecute you.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Believing Babylon

"Consider the likelihood that these three stories [Daniel 1-3] were in circulation for ten or more years before Jerusalem was destroyed. For ten years Jeremiah and his associates were able to tell the citizens of Jerusalem and Israel that God was working to convert the Babylonian empire. For ten years it was clear that the Babylonian empire was ruled by faithful believers. Those Jews who refused to obey God by submitting to Nebuchadnezzar were totally without excuse. They could not argue that to submit to Babylon was to submit to a heathen power, because Babylon was clearly being ruled by believers. Their rejection of Babylon and of Nebuchadnezzar was a rejection of Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Yahweh."

(James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall, 11)


Delivered from the Powers

In Colossians 1:18, when Paul goes from describing Jesus as the "firstborn from the dead" does he have the Passover and Exodus in mind?

It seems likely: First, you have the "firstborn" language which recalls the tenth plague, but secondly, he immediately thinks of "reconciliation" through the blood of the cross (1:20). If the Passover event was an enormous act of reconciliation, a gathering together of the tribes of Israel into the "congregation" of Israel and making peace with God through the blood of the lamb, then it makes sense to think of Christ as "the firstborn from the dead" and therefore simultaneously the great Reconciler of the new Israel. We might note that Paul has already mentioned being "delivered" from the power of darkness and being "conveyed" into the kingdom of the Son "in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (1:13-14). The word "delivered" is the same used in the Septuagint for what God has come to do for Israel in the Exodus (Ex. 6:6, 12:27, 14:30), and clearly the imagery of a transfer of power, an eclipse of kingdoms, has the Exodus all over it.

This suggests that when Jesus teaches us to pray "deliver us from evil" (Mt. 6:13, same Greek word), He is teaching us to pray that God would bring us out of Egypt, out from under the bondage of all the Egyptian gods, all the principalities and powers.


Blood and Water and Exodus

I noted in the previous post that Jesus comes as the eternally begotten One to be begotten again from the dead. The Eternal Exodus comes in history, in flesh, to perform that Great Exodus, delivering this world from Satan, sin, and death in His death and resurrection, through the blood and the water.

John notes this twice: When Jesus is pierced with a spear, blood and water come out (Jn. 19:34). And again in his first letter: "This is He who came by water and blood -- Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth... And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one." (1 Jn. 5:6, 8)

All of this of course is birthing imagery, but it is more specifically Exodus-birthing imagery. Israel passed through (under) the blood of the lambs and then through (between) the waters of the sea. John is insisting that Jesus' death is His Exodus, His rebirth. And this is why the apostle will talk this way in His epistle: "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments... For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is He who came by water and the blood..." (1 Jn. 5:1-2, 4-6)

If Passover is the birth of Israel, then all of this birthing imagery in John's letter is actually passover and exodus imagery. As I noted in my sermon on Ex. 12:6, this is the first time that Israel is called a "congregation." Prior to this it has always been a prophecy. When the lambs are slaughtered and the blood is poured out, Israel is born as a congregation. The tribes, the families, the clans, the free and the slave, male and female, old and young are all born into the congregation of Israel in the blood of the passover lamb.

And John is saying the same thing: To be "born of God" is to join the Exodus of Jesus and that means loving all the other people who have been begotten in this same Exodus. And this is why he immediately thinks of keeping the commandments. If you have come out of Egypt, if you have been born of God, then you have come to the mountain with this new Israel and therefore you will love this new Israel and keep the commandments of this new Moses.


Eternal Exodus

Micah foretells the Christ: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me, the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting." (5:1)

This is one place the Church has looked to for evidence of the eternal generation of the Son. The Ruler who is to be born in Bethlehem is the One who is eternally begotten of the Father, whose "goings forth" are from everlasting.

In the Septuagint, His "goings forth" are literally "exoduses." God is eternally the God of the Exodus. The Son has always "gone forth" from the Father, always coming up out of the Father through the power and love of the Spirit. It is therefore no surprise that God brings Israel, His son, out of bondage from Egypt and her gods (Ex. 4:22-23).

For Pharaoh to kidnap Israel, the son of God, is a Trinitarian heresy. God must deliver His people because He is Father, Son, and Spirit. If Israel is God's son, then the Spirit will come and beget the son. And thus at Passover, the son is born and comes out of the womb of Egypt, through the blood and the water.

And the Christ did come, the eternal Son, the Son who is eternally begotten, the Son eternally in exodus from and to the Father through the working of the Spirit. But now in history, in the flesh of man, He comes forth from the Father through blood and water and back to the Father. There are thee that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water and the blood, and these three agree as one (1 Jn. 5:8, cf. Jn. 19:34).


Exodus 12:15-28: Leaven & Sons

Last week we suggested that Israel’s slavery in Egypt was more complex than we sometimes imagine. Recall how Joseph provided bread for Israel in Egypt and married an Egyptian priest’s daughter, it is not hard to imagine how Israel might have fallen into idolatry in Egypt (cf. Ez. 20).

Unleavened Bread
The Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the fourteenth day of the month on the evening the Passover lamb was killed (12:18, cf. 12:6, 8). Just as Passover signifies Israel’s birth, this is the beginning of a new creation week, and is kept from the “first day… until the seventh day” (12:15, cf. 12:2, Gen. 8:13). Leaven literally takes into itself many characteristics of its surroundings, and removing all leaven from the houses signifies the kind of repentance Yahweh is calling Israel to (12:15). This week begins and ends with a holy convocation/sabbath (12:16), and this feast is to be kept because Yahweh is bringing Israel out of Egypt (12:17). Specifically, Yahweh is bringing the “armies” of Israel out of Egypt (12:17, 41, 51), and this underlines the theme of “strength” – Israel is to find her strength in Yahweh. Those who eat leaven are to be “cut off” from Israel (12:15), whether they are native or strangers in the land (12:19). This probably points to future generations (cf. 12:17), but also suggests that some Egyptians may have participated with Israel in the original celebration (see 12:43ff). Being “cut off” is covenantal language from the “cutting” of covenants (Gen. 9:11, 21:27), and first occurs as a warning for those who are not circumcised (Gen. 15:18, 17:14). In Exodus, it was Moses’ son whose foreskin was “cut off” in circumcision (4:25, cf. 8:5). Given the Passover blood and the previous warnings in Genesis, it seems likely that removing the leaven of Egypt is a kind of corporate circumcision for Israel. This also underlines the virility of leaven, but Yahweh requires His people to trust Him.

Obedience & Children
Moses calls for the elders of Israel and gives them the instructions for Passover (12:21, cf. 4:29), and as before, the result is that the people bow their heads and worship (12:27, cf. 4:31). Here the instructions are slightly elaborated: they are to “touch” the blood to the lintel and doorposts of their houses with a bunch of hyssop (12:22). The word here is used in conjunction with several of the proto-Exodus accounts in Genesis: Yahweh “touches” Pharaoh with plagues for the sake of Sarai (Gen. 12:17, cf. Gen. 20:6, Gen. 26:11). It is only used twice previously in Exodus where it occurs in the proleptic Passover in 4:25 and then as a foretelling of this final plague (11:1). This indicates that Israel is in this sense coming under this final plague, but rather than being “touched” by the plague, their houses are “touched” with the Passover blood. Note also that everyone must stay inside the house during the night of the plague (12:22). Here, Moses also explains how this feast will be a memorial throughout the generations of Israel (12:24-27). It is their life-saving “service/labor” to Yahweh as opposed to the “service/labor” for Pharaoh intended to take life. God assumes that their children will ask them about what they are doing (12:26). The parents are instructed to rehearse the story of the original Passover and Exodus, how God struck Egypt and “delivered” the houses of Israel (12:27). The same word for delivered is used to describe how Israel “spoiled/plundered” Egypt (cf. 12:36). Yahweh is the warrior who has fought and conquered Egypt, and He is taking Israel as His plunder. Therefore Israel must look to Him for their strength.

Conclusions & Applications
First, notice the presence of children once again: Pharaoh was trying to kill the children of Israel (Ex. 1), it is the children of Israel who must go to the feast (10:9, 24), Yahweh has done all these wonders so that they may be declared to the children (10:1-2), and now Yahweh gives instructions for passing this story on to their children (12:26-27). Given this narrative, the Exodus should be seen as Yahweh fighting for the children. Salvation is for kids. And we have here a command to tell this story (all the great stories) to our children. But this focus on children is also a statement about the Kingdom of God, and the strength of our God. God ordains strength in the mouths of little ones. As Israel eats a meal with their children and tells the story of God’s deliverance, they are His armies.

Second, this story is true in history, and it is to be personally owned throughout history. This memorial action/story is to be kept throughout the generations (12:14), and the story is that Yahweh struck the Egyptians and delivered our households (12:27). Our new Passover is the Lord’s Supper in which we proclaim the forgiveness of sins in the blood of Christ, the final Passover Lamb. But if the Exodus and subsequent Israelite history teaches us anything it’s that leaving Egypt doesn’t guarantee leaving Egypt. Egypt is in our hearts, in our actions, in our words, and still needs to be purged out (1 Cor. 5:7-8).


Glory Unmasked

In the Septuagint, the word "exodus" is used a number of times to describe the "going forth" or "arising" of the sun, moon, and stars (Jdg. 5:31, Ps. 19:7, 65:8, Neh. 4:21).

This could suggest a couple of things in a couple of directions: First, when the people of Israel come out of Egypt they are like the sun, moon, and stars arising, they are being born as a nation, a kingdom of priests, rulers of heaven. Israel coming out of Egypt pictured as stars is of course what God originally promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob as well. The exodus is the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise. It's not an accident either that the sun, moon, and stars are placed in the firmament on the fourth day of creation (Gen. 1:14) which was placed "in the midst of the waters" dividing the waters above and below (Gen. 1:6-7). And Israel is born and arises out of Egypt in the midst of the waters, passing through the waters of the Red Sea.

Pushing this in the other direction, when the psalmist or others refer to the sun coming forth or the stars coming out in the sky, they are echoing the original Exodus and describing the heavens as constantly reenacting that glorious event.

But if that is true for the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, how much more so is this true for the Exodus of Jesus from the grave? Every sunrise, every night sky blanketed with constellations is an exodus, glory revealed, glory unmasked, man enthroned in heaven.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Christ Cut Off

In Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant is said to be "cut off" from the land of the living (Is. 53:8). This is not just a euphemism for death. To be "cut off" is to suffer the consequences of breaking covenant (Gen. 17:14, Ex. 12:15).

In the Passover text, to refuse to get rid of the leaven of Egypt, is tantamount to refusing to leave Egypt. But if you are an Israelite clinging to Egyptian ways and life, you will be struck by the tenth plague. You will be "cut off."

For Christ to suffer like "a lamb to the slaughter" (Is. 53:7) and to be "cut off from the land of the living" (Is. 53:8) is to tie both elements of the Passover together. Christ as the Passover lamb dies like an Israelite-Egyptian, an Israelite who has refused to be delivered, refused to be rescued, who prefers slavery in Egypt.

Christ dies under the curse of the covenant, like an Israelite rebel, like an Israelite idolater and slave, so that the covenant breakers might be forgiven, so that the rebels might be reconciled, so that the slaves might go free.


Joseph and Solomon

Joseph is a Solomon at the end of Genesis, a picture of a glorified Adam-King, providing bread for the world. And like Solomon, Joseph married an Egyptian woman. And in so far as these daughters of Egypt were actually converted to Yahweh, and these marriages represent evangelism and the gospel going to the Gentiles, they are glorious previews and glimpses of the New Covenant.

But in so far as these marriages lead to other unfaithful intermarriages with pagan wives, they are the beginning of idolatry and syncretism in Israel. While perhaps Joseph did not personally enter into marriages with unconverted Egyptian women, it is not hard to imagine other Israelite men following his "example" foolishly. Joseph married the daughter of an Egyptian priest, why can't I?

And by the time of Moses, Israel is serving the gods of Egypt (Ez. 20:7-8).

Notice the parallels in the Solomon/Joseph narratives:

Joseph --> idolatry in Egypt --> Exodus --> worshiping a calf in the wilderness
Solomon --> idolatry in Israel -->Divided Kingdom --> worshiping calves in the northern kingdom


Bread in Egypt

Joseph provided bread for Israel in Egypt. In fact, Joseph provided bread for most of the surrounding world in Egypt.

It would not be hard for Israel to slip into seeing the systems and culture of Egypt as the source of Yahweh's provision of this bread (which is partially true), and from there, it is only a short step to mistaking Egypt as the source of bread rather than Yahweh.

Thus, when Yahweh orders Israel to leave the leaven of Egypt behind, He is insisting that He is the One who provides bread for Israel. God can rain bread and meat out of heaven and cause water to gush out of rocks if He wants. And sometimes He uses obvious means (like a prosperous nation) to provide for His people. But either way it is Yahweh who provides bread for Israel, and in so far as Israel comes to trust in Egypt for bread, they are idolaters.


Israel as a Prophet

If the prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel are marked by rituals and charades that symbolize what God is doing or about to do with His people, this applies back in time and biblical history to some extent to those rituals and charades that God instituted among His people. When He instructs Moses to instruct the people to perform the ritual of Passover and keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they are acting out what God is about to do. They are acting like prophets.

The blood of the Passover lamb will ward off the Destroyer, but it also symbolizes and pictures death, the death of a "son", the spotless lamb. There will be blood either way; there will be death. And where there is no blood on the doorways, there will be "blood" and great crying inside the houses. Likewise, the leaven is to be removed from the houses of Israel, and the soul who eats any leaven during the feast will be "cut off" from among his people. And in the tenth plague, God will cut off the firstborn from the land of Egypt. The leaven is the strength of the bread, the strength of a people, and the firstborn sons of Egypt are the hope of a new generation, the strength of Egyptian culture.

So Israel as nation enacts the tenth plague before/as it happens like a Jeremiah, like an Ezekiel acting out what the Lord is about to do.

Israel as a nation is a prophet.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Sons, Daughters, Blood, and Leaven

A friend, Des Jones, points out that in the proto-Exodus stories in Genesis the threat is to the bride and therefore it is an attack on the children of the covenant promised to Abraham. Pharaoh and Abimelech are implicitly co-opting the the "seed" of the woman. And this becomes explicit in the Exodus narrative when Pharaoh orders the murder of the baby boys but explicitly orders the sparing of the daughters of the Israelites. Why keep the daughters alive? Because they are the future brides of Egyptian sons. The Pharaoh knows that cultures are ultimately built on people and their children.

But Yahweh knows this as well, and so when He comes to deliver His people, He strikes down the firstborn sons of Egypt. To strike down the firstborn sons is not merely retribution for the murdered Israelite sons, it is to strike down the virility of Egypt, their potential to raise up a new generation of Egyptians. The firstborn sons are the "leaven" of the culture, the strength of the culture, the evidence of a new generation on the rise.

Therefore Israel must rid themselves of all the leaven of Egypt while striking their houses with the blood of the Passover lamb. If anyone eats anything with leaven in it, that soul will be "cut off." In other words, to eat the leaven of Egypt is to be aligned with the Egyptian firstborn and come under their judgment. But to get rid of the leaven is to renounce Egypt and his strength. It is to reject Egypt as a false husband and to look to Yahweh as the true husband, the only source of life.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Slavery in Egypt

What was it like to be a slave in Egypt? I usually imagine images from popular movies and art. I think of some of the worst scenes from books like Uncle Tom's Cabin, scenes of horrible oppression and back breaking labor and injustice in the American South. I think of Roman slavery, with men chained to oars, rowing themselves to death under excruciating circumstances, starving, gasping for breath. I imagine Israelite slaves gasping for air, falling over dead in the sand, overworked for hours on end, day after day, collapsing at night and dragging themselves back out into the burning sun. I picture slaves worked to death, crushed beneath Pharaoh's cold and merciless tyranny.

But the Bible presents Egyptian slavery with more complexity than this. For one thing, the Israelites have not been out of Egypt for a few days before they want to go back. If life was a constant near death experience, horrific injustice and oppression day after day, why would they get out and immediately want to go back? Wouldn't dying in the wilderness in peace be better than being raped and beaten and starving to death day after day? But the Israelites immediately say just the opposite. It would be better to have died in Egypt than to perish in the wildnerness. More than that, the Israelites describe how good life was in Egypt, and they specifically remember all the food. They had lots of good food in Egypt apparently, and this includes lots of meat. They sat by the "pots of meat" and "ate bread to the full" (Ex. 16:3). There was lots of good food in Egypt for the Israelites. Later, during one of the rebellions in the wilderness, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram refer to Egypt as a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Num. 16:13). Whatever the hardships, Egypt could be plausibly described as a land flowing with milk and honey for Israel. Even if these are all overstatements and romanticized recollections, they refer to something and something that could be collectively remembered by the people such that they would rebel so frequently in the wilderness.

A third piece of evidence for the nature of the slavery in Egypt is the Israelite idolatry in Egypt. Some two generations later, Joshua will plead with the people of Israel on his death bed, urging them to put away the gods their fathers served in Egypt (Josh. 24:14). Joshua asks Israel to choose between the gods of Egypt and Yahweh who brought them out of Egypt, and if Israel is still struggling with that Egyptian idolatry some 80 years later, how much more so might that idolatry have been in the land before Yahweh struck Egypt and delivered His people? People do not worship idols for nothing. The worship of Egyptian gods is a sign that the people of Israel were integrated to some degree into Egyptian culture and life.

And this makes sense with Joseph as second in command in Egypt and Israel being given the best land in Egypt in Goshen. The Israelite slaves were not an entirely lower class of citizens, oppressed and crushed at the bottom of Egyptian society. In fact, under Joseph, all the Egyptians had sold themselves into the service of Pharaoh during the seven years of the great famine. Thus, in some ways, the entire nation of Egypt could rightly be described as a "house of bondage" for both Israelites and Egyptians. It seems likely that Hebrews were integrated into many different sectors of Egyptian society, in higher and lower classes of the culture.

This also helps explain the Israelite reluctance to be saved. When Moses initially arrives on the scene, he is received and believed, but this reception is short lived. After Moses' initial confrontation with Pharaoh, Pharaoh increases the work for the Hebrews and shows no intention of listening to Moses, and the officers of the children of Israel are angry with Moses. And after that, despite God's promises to deliver them, Israel did not listen to Moses. Whatever the difficulty of the slavery in Egypt, they did not want to be saved by Moses. They preferred the status quo. They had figured out a way to make it by in the Egyptian system. They had government grants and investments, retirement accounts and college loans. They had figured out how to make a living on the steep taxes, and besides, the food was really good and abundant. And there really wasn't a better alternative.

Israel preferred not to be delivered, not to be distinguished from the Egyptians. It was safer to keep your head down, keep working, and make the best of less than ideal circumstances. Thus when Yahweh comes and begins making a difference between Egypt and Israel, He is interfering with their plans. When He strikes the land with plagues and distinguishes between Israel and Egypt, He is graciously offering the blessing of difference. When hail stones only strike Egypt, one becomes rather thankful for living in Goshen, even if you really didn't want to be delivered before. When Yahweh says that He will make a difference, this is not necessarily a difference that Israel initially wanted Him to make, but Yahweh comes for His people and makes a difference because of His love for them, because of His promises.

Israel went to the same shopping malls as the Egyptians, read many of the same books, watched the same movies, maybe they all went to the same schools and universities, cheered for the same teams in the professional chariot racing games, and used the same banks and libraries. And Yahweh in His grace came for His people in this bondage to Egypt, in this slavery to Pharaoh, in their worship of the gods of Egypt. He came to deliver them from their pots of meat and abundance of bread. He came to save them and bring them out to freedom and life in the Promised Land.

[Many of these observations are made by Michael Walzer in his book Exodus and Revolution.]


Ezekiel 20

If one were to be preaching through the book of Exodus, one would not want to forget about the book of Ezekiel. Turns out.

And let me commend to such a one Ezekiel 20 in particular.

The elders of Israel come to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord, but the Lord refuses to hear them because of the abominations of their fathers (20:4). And Yahweh proceeds to review their history, the history of their fathers, beginning with when He raised His hand and swore an oath to bring Israel out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey (20:5-6). God says that when He came to Israel to deliver them, He came to call them to repentance: "Then I said to them, 'Each of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt'" (20:7). But the Israelites in Egypt did not obey God's call to repentance in Egypt. They rebelled against Yahweh, did not cast away their abominations, and did not forsake their idols. And therefore God determined to pour out His fury upon them in the midst of Egypt (20:8).

This is striking. We have hints that all is not well in Egypt in the Exodus account. And much later in Joshua's farewell speech, he is urging Israel to put away the gods they used to serve in Egypt. But here in Ezekiel, the depths of Israel's sin and rebellion are exposed. And this makes sense given how Israel so quickly wants to return to Egypt, given how hard hearted and unbelieving they are in the wilderness. Israel was not a poor, oppressed people having fallen innocently under the thumb of an evil tyrant. The Pharaoh did not know Yahweh because Israel had forgotten Yahweh. What becomes an endless cycle in the Judges era (forgetting Yahweh, serving other gods, falling into slavery, crying out for deliverance, etc.) seems to be the very pattern at work in Egypt.

It seems damning that even when Israel cries out and groans because of the hard bondage in Egypt, they do not even explicitly address their cries to God. Their cries come up to God; He hears their cries and sees their bondage and sorrow (Ex. 2:23-24, 3:7, 9). But they do not appear to be crying out to God directly, and given Ezekiel's version of the events, it seems even more likely that they were not crying out to God. Of course we know that there were some faithful still in Egypt (the midwives, Moses' family), but the vast majority are apparently serving idols, performing abominations, and rebelling against Yahweh. And apparently they continued in these actions even after Moses had come to them and declared God's intentions.

This means that the plagues on Egypt are not only for the Egyptians. God's fury is being poured out on all of the idolaters, Egyptian and Israelite. When Moses struck the waters and they turned to blood, blood filled the entire land of Egypt. And there does not seem to be any indication that Goshen was exempt. In fact all three of the first plagues are apparently universal in the "land of Egypt." The blood, the frogs, and the lice are presented without indication of distinction between Israelites or Egyptians. It is only in the fourth plague that a distinction is made (8:22-23), and while the distinction is not explicitly referenced in every plague following (it's missing in the sixth and eighth plagues), it is recurring otherwise, suggesting that only the first three were universal and then God began making a difference. The final plague, however, is a potential threat to everyone. Only those who find refuge in houses covered in the blood of the Passover lamb are safe from the Destroyer of the firstborn.

But these plagues are the fury of God not merely on Egypt; Ezekiel says that God was pouring out His anger on Israel. But God did not destroy Israel in Egypt for His name's sake, so that His name would not be profaned in the midst of the gentiles (Ez. 20:9). Clearly, this is the same God who acted in Christ to reconcile His enemies to Himself. While we were still dead in our sins, while were still enemies, Christ died for us. While Israel was still dead in slavery to idols, God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, providing forgiveness through the lambs that were slain, spotless sons, pointing forward to the Perfect Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Returning to Egypt

In Deuteronomy 28, Moses warns Israel that if they do not keep covenant with Yahweh, He will bring the curses of the covenant upon them.

These curses include at least three explicit reference to Egypt (28:27, 60, 68), but a closer reading suggests that many if not most of the curses are implicit references to life in Egypt.

If Israel disobeys, their kneading bowls will be cursed (Dt. 28:5), like the Egyptian kneading bowls swarming with frogs (Ex. 7:28).

If Israel disobeys, they will be cursed in the fruit of their own bodies, the produce of the land, the increase of their cattle and the offspring of the flocks (Dt. 28:18), like the Egyptians whose produce was struck by hail and locusts (Ex. 9:25, 10:14-15), and the firstborn of man and beast struck by the Destroyer (12:29-30).

If Israel disobeys, the "plague" will cling to Israel until God has consumed them from the land (Dt. 28:21), much like Egypt was struck with "plagues" (e.g. Ex. 5:3, 9:3, 15).

If Israel disobeys, the heavens of their heads will be cursed and rain will come down on the land like powder and dust until everything is destroyed (Dt. 28:24), just as Yahweh turned the rain into large hail stones that came down upon the land and destroyed crops and killed animals and men (Ex. 9:23-25).

If Israel disobeys, their carcasses will be food for the beasts of the earth (Dt. 28:26), just as the carcasses of Egyptian firstborn became food for the dogs (Ex. 11:5-7).

If Israel disobeys, Yahweh will strike them with the boils of Egypt (Dt. 28:27), just as (surprise!) God struck Egypt with boils (Ex. 9:8-12).

If Israel disobeys, they will stumble like blind men and at noonday, they will grope around in deep darkness (Dt. 28:28-29), just as the Egyptians were struck with a deep darkness which could be felt (Ex. 10:21ff).

If Israel disobeys, severe boils will cover their bodies and locusts will eat up their crops (Dt. 28:35, 38, 42), just as Yahweh struck Egypt with boils and locusts covered the earth and consumed their crops (Ex. 9:8ff, 10:4ff).

If Israel disobeys, aliens will rise higher and higher above them (Dt. 28:43), just as the Hebrews became prominent in Egypt and Moses became a great man in all the land (Ex. 11:3).

If Israel disobeys, Yahweh will send all these curses on Israel, "signs and wonders," until they are destroyed (Dt. 28:45-46), just as Yahweh performed His "signs and wonders" against Egypt until they were destroyed (Ex. 7:3).

Finally, the entire curse-warning is summarized by the threat that if they do not keep covenant Yahweh will bring upon them "extraordinary plagues - great and prolonged plagues... He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you..." (Dt. 28:59-60) All of this will culminate in Yahweh sending Israel back to Egypt in ships: "And the Lord will take you back to Egypt in ships... And there you shall be offered for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you" (Dt. 28:68).

It is not merely that one of the curses of the covenant is reminiscent of Egypt, rather many of the curses are reminiscent of Egypt, and all of them mean Egypt. Breaking covenant with Yahweh is synonymous with going back to Egypt. Yahweh has so identified Himself with the Exodus event, bringing Israel out of Egypt, that to reject Yahweh and to break covenant with Him is by definition a rejection of the Exodus and a return to Egypt. And if Israel "returns to Egypt" by breaking covenant with the God who delivered them from Egypt, they are sure to find themselves under attack, pursued by the same God of the Exodus.

Yahweh God is so identified with the Exodus that He remains committed to the division between Egyptian and Israelite. And those who live like Egyptians will die like Egyptians.


Exodus 11:1-12:14: The Birth of Israel

After the initial meeting with Pharaoh that did not go well, God had promised Moses that not only would Pharaoh eventually let them go, he would actually send them out (6:1). Now Yahweh says that this is going to happen (11:1). He will drive them away “completely” (cf. Gen. 2:1-2, Ex. 29:32, 40:33).

Greatness and Favor
This conversation is apparently a continuation of 10:29 and does not finally finish until 11:8. Yahweh says that now His promises are going to come true (11:1, cf. 6:1; 11:2, cf. 3:21-22). In particular, Yahweh has been in the process of exalting His people. He gives them “grace” in the eyes of the Egyptians (11:3, cf. Gen. 6:8, 39:21). Remember that this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened in Scripture (Gen. 12:14-13:2, ch. 20, ch. 26). God has set a pattern deep in the narrative of Scripture of enslavement then freedom, death and then resurrection, oppression then blessing. The justice of this “plundering” is also seen in the Biblical principles of the “bride price” (Ex. 22:16-17, cf. Gen. 24:22,53; 31:14-16) and freeing of slaves (Dt. 15:12-15). The justice of God demands the protection and provision for weaker members of society, in this case women and slaves. And this pattern is perhaps referenced in 11:1. The word “completely/altogether” may be related to the word for “daughter-in-law/virgin-bride” (e.g. Lev. 18:15, 20:12). Pharaoh will dismiss/send out/divorce the bride-Israel like Abraham dismissed Hagar (Gen. 21 cf. Gen. 3:24). Recall that this same pattern was previewed in Moses’ early life (Ex. 2:17) and prefigured in the last chapter as well (Ex. 10:11, cf. Lev. 21:7, 14, 22:13). The seed of the serpent continues to hound the seed of the woman, but Yahweh has raised up Moses to intervene. This is the story of the entire Bible, the story of all human history: Yahweh, in His grace, makes a difference between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, between the Egyptians and Israel (11:6-7). This results in favor for all of Israel (11:3) and specifically in honor for Moses who is seen as “very great in the land of Egypt” and will end up with Pharaoh’s servants bowing down to him (11:3, 8).

The Birth of Israel
Yahweh says the coming new moon will be the beginning of their months, but this is not merely a statement about their calendar. This is a statement about being born. When a child is born, that is their “beginning of months.” (12:2) From the new moon, the Israelites are to count ten days and take a lamb per house, according to the number of souls, according to the mouths that eat (12:3-4). The lamb must be a spotless, male son of one year from the sheep or the goats (12:5). They are to “guard” the lamb for four days, like the Levites will later guard the tabernacle and congregation (e.g. Num. 3:7-8), and then the whole “congregation” slaughters the lamb “between the evenings” (12:6). While the slaughter takes place house by house, the ritual unites the houses into one congregation. This is the first time the word “congregation” is applied to Israel; previously it has only been a prophecy (Gen. 28:3, 35:11, 48:4). The slaughter of the lamb occurs at the full moon, blood is put on the doorposts and lintels of the houses, and it is eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (12:7-8) – bitter like their lives have been (1:14). All of the lamb is to be consumed either by eating or burning (12:8-10), and the meal is to be eaten while dressed for travel (12:11). Israel is about to emerge from the bloody womb Egypt, a new born son of Yahweh (cf. 4:22-23). It is Yahweh’s Passover, and He will pass through Egypt passing judgment on men, beasts, and gods (12:12). The blood is a sign for Israel that Yahweh will not destroy them (12:13).

Conclusions & Applications
We cannot read these instructions and not be filled with awe and thankfulness for our Lord Jesus Christ and the Greater Exodus that He performed in His death and resurrection. But in order to see the glory of God in the Exodus or in the death of Christ, we have to see at least two things: First, God was completely just in striking down the firstborn of Egypt. Second, the only difference between Egypt and Israel is the blood. Our Triune God is both Just and the Justifier, the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11, Heb. 13:20) and the Spotless Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29, 1 Pet. 1:19). He is our Paschal Lamb, and in Him all judgment is executed on this world. In His death and resurrection, every house covered in the blood was passed over, and the Christian Church was born, a congregation of all the peoples of the earth.

The Church, like Israel, is a bride, and is therefore called to share the one flesh and blood of the Son, but this means dying with Christ because we are a filthy, adulterous bride. When John says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” he is not only identifying the solution, he is also identifying the problem. But to identify the problem as sin is not to oversimplify the problem, it is to name the problem in all its complexity for what it is: enslavement and death. We need a Redeemer who can enter our death, suffer for us, and lead us out to life.

We need to be united to His death, and in this communion, a new humanity is born. Seeing this, we can only cry with the host of heaven: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing (Rev. 5:12). Christ is the greater Moses, and He has been exalted in the sight of all the earth so that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord of all (Phil. 2:5-11).


Friday, October 15, 2010

Naomi in Egypt

When Naomi describes her situation as "bitter" (Ruth 1:13, 20) she is like Israel in bondage, a slave in a foreign land (Ex. 1:14).

But if the bitter herbs of Passover are meant to recall that bitter service (12:8), then there is a kind of bitterness of heart before the Lord which is the prelude to freedom, the barrenness before fruitfulness (e.g. 1 Sam. 1:10).


Monday, October 11, 2010

The Grown-Ups Must Die

After the Israelites rebel and refuse to enter the promised land, "God is furious, as usual, and ready once again to destroy the people, but Moses intercedes and He settles for the forty years. The term is chosen for a purpose: so that all those Israelites who were twenty years old or older at the time of the "going out" from Egypt will die natural deaths in the wilderness... Lincoln Steffens takes this to be the chief political lesson of the Exodus: 'The grown-ups must die.'"

(from Exodus and Revolution, by Michael Walzer, 67)


Exodus 10:1-29: Little Ones & Worship

This chapter opens with God’s reaffirmation that he has hardened Pharaoh’s heart and the hearts of his servants (10:1). The reason he has hardened these hearts is for God to show his signs and so that Moses will be able to tell his son and grandson the “mighty things I have done in Egypt.” So that you may know that the God who did this was Yahweh. The plagues and signs reveal the God who did this great judgment as Yahweh. The implication is that no other God could have done this; it has Yahweh all over it. This is because Yahweh is the Lord of Creation and he saves and delivers his people, making a difference between Israel and Egypt. God does wonders so that they can be talked about, and in particular that they can be talked about to our children and grandchildren.

Locusts and Faithful Worship
Remember we were told after the hail storms that only the flax and barley were struck but that the wheat and spelt would come later since they were late crops (9:31-32). So when God sends locusts there is a “residue of what is left” and whatever has grown up out of the fields (10:5). But the plague will also include the fact that they will fill the houses of Egypt (10:6). At this point, Pharaoh shows the first sign of compromise. While he’s sworn falsely previously (second/fourth/seventh plagues: 8:8, 28, 9:28), here he actually seems to be offering a compromise prior to the plague. He knows that the word of Moses is true. Yet Pharaoh’s offer shows his evil intentions; he is only willing to have the men go and serve Yahweh (10:11). Remember the initial request from Pharaoh was a three day journey into the wilderness to hold a feast to Yahweh (5:1-3). Does this imply that initially there was no intention to leave Egypt permanently? No (10:9). At the heart of this contest and battle between Yahweh and Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt is not a geographical squabble. It’s a matter of a culture and way of life: will Israel serve Pharaoh or Yahweh? Will they worship Pharaoh or Yahweh? For Israel to worship Yahweh completely unhindered is to undermine the rule of Pharaoh. And if only the men go, Pharaoh still has his finger on their lives (i.e. their wives and children). The locusts come up over and "darken" the whole land (10:13-15). Pharaoh calls this affliction “death” (10:17), and when Yahweh takes the plague away, the locusts are blown into the Red Sea (10:19). This all previews what God will bring to Egypt: darkness followed by death in the land, followed by drowning in the Red Sea.

Darkness and Faithful Worship
Following the pattern we have seen, these plagues strike the land and then the heavens. This darkness is “able to be felt” and “thick.” The first description may simply refer to the fact the Egyptians had to “grope” around like blind men in order to get around (cf. Dt. 28:29). The second description means “calamity” or “gloom.” Remember that these plagues are a “de-creation” of the Egyptian world, an unmaking of their world, and therefore, here at the end of the plagues, it is fitting that we should have arrived at the very beginning: separation of light and darkness (Gen. 1:2-4, cf. Ex. 10:23). This is an indication that Egypt/Pharaoh is at the end; there’s nothing left for God to unmake. Also, this fact should not escape us when we see “darkness” associated with so many of the later prophecies in Scripture (Is. 8:22, 59:9, Jer. 23:12, Joel 2:2, Zeph. 1:15). Darkness goes back to the original primordial darkness at the dawn of creation, but darkness also will ever after point to the last straw before God strikes the first born of Egypt and buries their armies in the Sea. This deep darkness means that God is on the verge of finishing them off. Notice that here too: Pharaoh tries to make a bargain with Yahweh, a compromise. But the issue again is worship unhindered. If Pharaoh can set some small regulation concerning the worship of Israel, he still has a final say, final review (10:24).

Conclusions & Applications
Our Little Ones: This chapter has the running theme of children and grandchildren (10:2, 9, 24). God has done these wonders in Egypt, and Scripture is full of God’s signs that we are commanded to tell to our children and grandchildren so that they know Yahweh. This is why Christian Education is so important. Parents also have responsibility to teach their grandchildren. Secondly, when we gather for worship, it is with “our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters… for we must hold a feast to Yahweh.” This is simply a logistical fact that ALL of Israel did worship Yahweh, but it is also an indication of the nature of Yahweh: this is what he wants. Therefore rejoice in this atmosphere of worship because our God does, and do not hinder your children from worshipping: by acting like they don’t/can’t worship, or by refusing to discipline them so that they can worship.

Complete Obedience: Think about how tempting it would have been for Moses to “take what he could get from Pharaoh.” He had the chance to take the men to worship Yahweh, and then even the little ones (10:24). Why didn’t he take what he could get? He was committed to complete obedience. Partial obedience is disobedience. This was the sin that Saul who twice slightly altered God’s word for his convenience (the sacrifice: 1 Sam. 13, and sparing of Agag: 1 Sam. 15). Partial obedience is disobedience: telling part of the truth is lying. We are disciples of Jesus regardless of the consequences.


Monday, October 04, 2010

Grace That's Still Amazing

We’ve seen this morning that God’s power and presence are ultimately aimed at the goal of love and mercy which ought to cause us to erupt in thankful praise and worship. Our liturgy, our worship service, understood rightly is meant to walk us through something of the same theology. We begin our service with an exhortation which is meant to call us to confession of sin. While we greet one another with cheerfulness and we go into the house of the Lord with singing, there is a regular weekly reminder that grace is still grace. It’s not as though Jesus undoes grace, such that in Christ, we now deserve the grace of God. Forgiveness in the blood of Christ and union with Christ are nothing but grace, but we do not begin by grace through faith and then proceed by some kind of score keeping. Nor is it as though salvation is just a ticket you get at the beginning of the Christian life, a free pass to heaven. No, salvation is the entire recreation of the world; salvation is the healing of all brokenness, the undoing of every wrong. And this is why we confess our sins as a congregation at the beginning of every Lord’s Day service. We still need grace. It is as much a confession of faith, that we are here because of grace, and that grace is still grace. We are still here by a miracle. If you’ve come to Church for 20 or 30 or 50 or 90 years it doesn’t matter. It’s still grace. And that’s why cry out for mercy and grace even after the absolution, not because we worry or fear that our sins might still be sticking to us, but because we know that we are just people, little people, very small. And we are frail and weak, and we still need more grace. God speaks to us in His mercy and lovingkindness, as a Father to His own children through the Word read and preached. We mill about like giddy little children hugging and kissing one another in thankfulness for the love that our Father has lavished on us, and then we respond in offering up our tithes and offerings and prayers, all that we are to God in Christ. And then we sit down here at this table as welcome and beloved sons. But this is all still impossible grace, overwhelming grace. Here God insists that He loves you, and that He sent His Son for you. As you take this bread and drink this cup, God gives Himself to you and for you specifically in all your weakness, in all your doubts, in all your brokenness. And He promises to be God for you still. Amazing grace is the only kind of grace there is. The kind of grace and love that we don’t deserve, that we have not earned, that we should not have. And therefore, all that we can do is worship. All that we can do is give thanks. All that we can do is praise the name of the Lord. So receive these gifts as nothing less than God’s infinite and amazing grace for you and for the world, and revel in them until you are amazed.


Exodus 9:1-35: Presence, Power, and Mercy

The fifth, sixth, and seventh plagues show an increasing severity in the plagues. But these plagues are not only a display of God’s power; they are a display of God’s presence (8:22-23). The entire Exodus story is the story of the revelation of Yahweh as God (4:12-15, 5:2, 6:2-8, 7:1-5, 17, 8:10, 9:14-16, 10:2).

Disease and Boils and Hail
The plague that falls on the livestock appears to be some sort of fast-acting disease (9:5-6). There is again a division made between Israel and Egypt (9:4, 7). God himself sets the time of this plague showing that God rules the world in whatever way He wishes (cf. 8:10). Pharaoh sends servants to find out for himself, and even when he knows the truth, hardens his heart (9:7).

The boils result from the handfuls of ashes or soot scattered toward heaven (9:8). The ashes are taken from the “furnace.” This imagery is used later in Israelite history to recall Israel’s time in Egypt (e.g. Dt. 4:20, 1 Kgs. 8:51, Jer. 11:4). The boils that break out are specifically mentioned in Lev. 13 as one of the things that make someone unclean (e.g. 13:12). Later, God promises that Israel will be afflicted with these boils if they are not faithful to the covenant (Dt.28:27). These sores are so bad that Pharaoh’s magicians could not stand before Moses (9:11). The fact that Moses “stands” before Pharaoh in 9:13 implies that the “difference” between Egypt and Goshen is still in effect. God is with His people. Finally, God hardens the heart of Pharaoh in accordance with His word to Moses: he does not allow Israel to leave (9:12).

As we’ve previously pointed out, the first plague in these cycles begins with the early morning confrontation (9:13, cf. 7:15, 8:20). However, the words to Pharaoh are more severe than previously. This time Yahweh will send all his plagues to Pharaoh’s “heart” (9:14). Yahweh says that if he wanted to, He could have already cut off Pharaoh and his people from the land (9:15). Yahweh takes this opportunity to review what He’s doing with Pharaoh: He’s raising up Pharaoh in order to make His own name famous (9:16) even though Pharaoh thinks he’s showing his power over Israel, refusing to release them (9:17). Again, a time for the plague is appointed (9:18), and a warning is issued concerning the hail (9:19). This plague displays God’s mercy in the midst of judgment. It’s not as severe as it might have been, and God allows for people to show faith in him (9:20). This plague is an enormous electrical storm. Fire runs/walks down to the ground, hail falls, and thunder booms. All that was left out in the fields was destroyed (9:25). Only in Goshen, where Yahweh is with His people, is there no hail (9:26). The thunder is literally called the “voices” and the “voices of God” (9:23, 28, 34). This reminds us of the fire in the burning bush at Horeb (3:1-2) and is like the storm that will descend when Israel gathers to receive the law (Ex. 19:16, 20:18). God’s presence has drawn near to the land of Egypt. Pharaoh’s response is the first time that he suggests that he is in the wrong (9:27, cf. 8:8, 8:25, 28). But even here Pharaoh is not finished; he knows it is Yahweh but he and his servants do not fear Him (9:30-35).

Sovereign Grace
One of the doctrines recovered in the Reformation was the biblical doctrine of the sovereignty of God, and this particular passage is cited by the apostle Paul in Romans to defend this very doctrine (cf. Ex. 9:16, Rom. 9:17). Those who deny the exhaustive sovereignty of God are quick to point out that Paul is talking about Jews and Gentiles: Paul is talking about corporate election, God’s sovereignty over nations. This is most certainly true, but the fact clearly remains that God has mercy on whom He will have mercy and on whom He wills, He hardens. But Paul is not a heartless logician. He’s not just piling verses up and saying deal with it. He knows that this doctrine is a “rock of offense” and a “stumbling stone” (Rom. 9:33), but ultimately Paul insists that this is God’s determined means of showing his mercy and patience and glory in the world (9:22-23, 11:30-32). Ultimately, Paul breaks out in doxology and worships the depths of God’s wisdom and knowledge, bowing before the mystery (11:33).

Conclusion & Application
For Paul (and Israel before him), sovereignty and presence go together. God’s presence is His sovereignty over creation, over Egypt, over Pharaoh so that He might display His great mercy. Ultimately, God sent His Son to display what He does with His sovereignty. The God who wields creation in perfect wisdom came as a little baby for our salvation. The God who dumped frogs all over Egypt is the God who was baptized in the Jordan and declared God’s beloved Son. The God who struck down the livestock of Egypt is the God who healed the diseases and afflictions of the crowds that surrounded Him day after day. This God wields every particle of this universe in perfect sovereignty, in perfect power. Ash becomes boils, every evaporated drop of water obeyed when it plunged to the Egyptian earth and did not miss its mark. And this God ruled the heart of Pharaoh in perfect wisdom.

But the same God who did all these things is the God of Moses and Israel, the God of the Egyptians who fled to Goshen, the God who came in Jesus. This God sent his Son to die for us. That’s the sovereign God at work in the world. This is our God who is with us, our God who is for us. He’s out to save us, out to deliver us (Eph. 1:4ff; Rom. 11:33,35). And this is the kind of presence and authority the Church is called to live out.


The Church of Moscow, Idaho

In our sermon text this morning, God continues to draw a line between His people and the Egyptians. Between the people of Yahweh and the people of Pharaoh there is a huge difference when the plagues come in all their fury. In the early New Testament Church we know that many congregations met in homes throughout any given city. So on any given Sunday morning there might be many congregations gathering for worship much like we find in our own day in city like Moscow or Pullman. What’s interesting however is that the New Testament often refers to all of these congregations as making up the one church in that particular city. If you had asked a man from Jerusalem which church he went to, he would say, “the church of Jerusalem.” And if you asked where he went on Sunday morning he might tell you whose house he went to. This means that when God looks at the church, he looks at us on a number of different levels. He sees the church catholic around the world, but he also sees us in specific geographical regions. In the opening chapters of Revelation, the Lord addresses letters to seven churches, churches in seven different cities. He rebukes them for unbelief, encourages them in faithfulness, and confronts them where they have been unfaithful. The state of the church in Corinth was the state of all the assemblies and congregations in the city of Corinth. The Lord did not see fit to specify which particular house church was involved in which sin. He spoke to the entire city as the church of that city. This means that we need to learn to see ourselves in the very same way. There are Christians meeting in congregations all over this city. And the Lord considers us all to be part of the same church. We are only one gathering of the church of Moscow. Whether our church government acknowledges it or not, we are covenantally united to our brothers and sisters in the Baptist congregations, the Lutheran congregations, and the Roman Catholic congregations, and all the others. We are covenantally united because we are all in covenant with the Lord Jesus. And if we are united to Him, then we are one in Him. This does not mean that there are not important differences between denominations, anymore than there may have been different levels of faithfulness in the tribes of Israel huddled in Goshen or the house churches in Corinth. But in the big picture, the difference was between Egypt and Israel, between Christ and the world, between life and death. Therefore put away all pride; do not say you are of Paul or Apollos or Wilson or Leithart. You are of Christ, and in Him is all the fullness of our salvation.