God and Man in Exodus

November 20, 2009

[Last Sunday's sermon served as an introduction to the Book of Exodus. The following is an excerpt from the sermon, highlighting the major themes of the book. Audio of the sermon is available here. - Coty]

When you think of Book of Exodus, what comes to your mind?

  • Maybe: Baby Moses hidden along the banks of the Nile, found by Pharaoh’s daughter;
  • Maybe: Moses encountering a burning bush, which is not consumed by the fire;
  • Maybe: A series of plagues falling on the Egyptians;
  • Maybe: Charlton Heston confronting Yul Brynner in the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments;
  • Maybe: Moses leading the Israelites on dry land through the sea;
  • Maybe: The giving of the Ten Commandments;
  • Maybe: The Israelites worshiping an idol, a golden calf.

What is the book of Exodus about?

  • Evil oppressors who must be overthrown?
  • The story of a great man who leads his people out of slavery
  • The story of the founding of a nation?

For the next many months, we’ll be studying the second book in the Bible. This book contains some of the most dramatics events recorded in Scripture, and thus has been the basis for a number of films over the years. But the exciting narrative sections sometimes have obscured its primary biblical message.

  • What is this book about?
  • Why is it in the Bible?
  • What are its major themes?

We believe Scripture is recorded not to tell us history, but, as Paul tells us, to profit us by teaching us, reproving us, correcting us, and training us in righteousness – and so equipping us to love God and love neighbor, to glorify God in our lives. And Exodus is profoundly helpful in this regard.

  • This is not a story of evil masters who oppress good, virtuous people, who then overthrow the masters.
  • This is not a story of a great human leader who saves his people. Instead, this book depicts Moses as a failure when he tries to take matters into his own hands, and then as a reluctant and often frustrated leader – except when he relies fully on God.
  • While this is certainly the story of the founding of a nation, that’s not at all the main point of the book.

Instead, Exodus is a story that tells us profound truths

  • about the character of God
  • about the character of man
  • and about the only way men can approach God.

It thus sheds light on the most important points in human existence. Furthermore, though recording events that took place more than a thousand years before Jesus, it contains some of the clearest pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament.
Let’s look at the main points this book makes about God, man, and the relationship between God and man:
What Does Exodus Tell Us About God?
God’s passion is to magnify His glory

God is the central actor throughout this book. And how does He explain the motivation behind His actions? Thirteen times in chapters 6 to 16 God explains His actions by saying, “That you (or the Egyptians, or all the peoples of the earth) might know that I am Yahweh your God” or something similar. The clearest example of this is in Exodus 9, prior to the seventh plague. God says to Pharaoh,
By now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But 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 9:15-16)
This Pharaoh was king for one reason: God put him in power in order to display His own power, in order to show His greatness.
God is passionate for His glory.
God is almighty in power

Egypt was the most powerful nation in the world at this time. They believed they had the most powerful gods. In the plagues, God shows that He is more powerful than the Egyptian gods.
This is particularly clear in the ninth plague: Darkness falls over all of Egypt. And who did the Egyptians consider as the greatest of their gods? The sun god, Ra, the god of light.
Thus, Moses’ father-in-law exclaims after hearing about all the plagues, “Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11).
God is Holy

Exodus portrays God as holy. That is, as other. Pure. Different. Unapproachable. Unless He takes the initiative, we cannot have any relationship with Him.
The word “holy” appears only one time in the book of Genesis; it appears 55 times in Exodus. And the word is first used in God’s first appearance in the book: At the burning bush. Moses begins to draw near, but God warns him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Here and at Sinai (Exodus 24:17), God chooses to portray Himself as fire: hot, burning, purifying, and dangerous.
When God reveals to Moses His plans for a tabernacle – a portable temple, picturing His dwelling with His people – He describes virtually every aspect of the structure as holy. And the inmost section of the tabernacle is called “The Most Holy Place” or “The Holy of Holies.” No Israelite could enter that section, save the High Priest, and he could do so only once a year.
God is Faithful to His Promises

The entire book of Exodus is the story of God fulfilling in part the promises He makes in Genesis – particularly Genesis 15:5-16. And God explicitly tells Moses that He is “abounding in faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

What Does Exodus Tell Us About Man?
Exodus portrays mankind as stiff-necked, rebellious, and ungrateful, hardening their hearts against God and His revelation.
It is not surprising that this is true of Pharaoh. But it is also true of the people of Israel. They are the ones God calls stiff-necked three times. They grumble about their lack of food just a few days after God rescues them miraculously at the sea. They rebel at Sinai, worshiping a golden calf, just few days after God spoke to them verbally, saying, “You shall not make for yourself . . . any likeness of anything . . . that is in the earth” (Exodus 20:4). Thus, apart from God’s mercy, the Israelites deserve the same fate as the Egyptians.
Man is thus without hope apart from God.

What Does Exodus Tell Us About the Relationship between God and Man

God is the Righteous Judge of Those who Oppose Him

God raised Pharaoh up as king in order to display His power, so that His Name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Pharaoh mocks God, resists Him, and hardens his heart against Him. He deserves the judgment he receives.
When Moses comes down from the mountain while the Israelites are worshiping the golden calf, he gathers many of his kinsmen. They then go through the camp and put to death three thousand men (Exodus 32:25-29). And Moses promises them that they will receive a blessing. They are inflicting God’s judgment on His disobedient people.
The book of Exodus portrays mankind as sinners deserving of His judgment.
God is the Redeemer of His Covenant People

The Israelites are slaves. A slave could be free by being redeemed, by being purchased and then granted freedom. This is what Exodus pictures God doing (Exodus 15:16).
In addition, the book shows God as the One who redeems His people from their sinfulness and sanctifying them, making them holy, purifying those who are unfit to enter His presence. He says, “I, the LORD, sanctify you” (Exodus 31:13).
Furthermore, in God’s revelation of Himself to Moses, He emphasizes both His mercy and His justice:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6)
How is God both merciful and just? His people are guilty of gross sin; how does He show them mercy and at the same time not clear the guilty?
The book of Exodus gives some hints in this direction; Leviticus, in introducing the sacrificial system and the need for blood to be shed for sin to be forgiven, takes us further. But it is not until we see Jesus portrayed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of all those who believe in Him that the question is fully answered.
God Blesses His Covenant People with His Presence

Exodus shows God to be intimately related to His people:
Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son (Exodus 4:22)
If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)
And yet, there are limits to God’s approachability, even for His people. God’s holiness continues to be on display. Moses can’t see His face; the people can’t approach Mt Sinai; the fearful people ask Moses to approach on their behalf.
So the picture in Exodus 19:6 is not fulfilled in this book. Only after Jesus’ work on the cross are these promises fulfilled, so that Peter can echo these words:
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
God’s Requirements for His Covenant People

Exodus highlights the right response of the people to God several times in the book: They believe (Exodus 4:31), they fear (Exodus 14:31), they give generously (Exodus 36:5-7).
In the Law, God details how His people are to live. Note that the Ten Commandments begin by God stating that He is already their God, He is already in relationship with them: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). In effect He tells them, “You are my family. I have rescued you. Now – you must live like you are in my family. This is how family members behave.”
So the Law is not a means by which the people enter into relationship with God. Instead, the Law constitutes God’s “family rules.”

So I encourage you to join us as we make our way through this great book of the Bible. In the three millennia since these events took place, God has not changed. Man has not changed. We are still sinful, deserving His judgment. He is still holy, never tolerating sin. He will not let the guilty go unpunished. And He is merciful beyond measure, offering all of us rebellious sinners grace and forgiveness through the penalty paid on our behalf at the cross.
So ponder the God of the book of Exodus – and approach Him, on His terms.

Pain and Discipline

November 13, 2009

[Last Sunday's sermon looked in part at Hebrews 12:3-11, which compares the discipline and training that God brings in to our lives to a father disciplining his children. I see in those verses an implicit dialogue with a reader who keeps raising objections to the idea. Here is an expanded paraphrase of those verses, trying to bring out the key points - Coty]

Reader:
I am really tired. I’ve been fighting this battle with sin so long! I can’t keep fighting any longer. I’m worn out! God can’t possibly expect me to bear up under all this!

Author:
In your contest with sin, are you growing weary? Does the contest seem too tough? Then, hey, listen: I have two things to say to you:
First: Have you died yet? Jesus struggled all the way to death. He toughed it out to a much greater extent than you. Remember that.
Second: Have you forgotten the scriptural encouragement that calls you sons? God calls you His little children! Listen to what Proverbs 3:11-12 says:
My son! Don’t shrug off the Lord’s discipline, or get all depressed about it. It’s a sign of His love! A sign of your adoption!
Furthermore, the rest of Proverbs 3 makes clear that there are tremendous benefits to staying on God’s path, even when it seems challenging and the alternative path seems so easy.
So with all that in mind, here is my main exhortation: Endure hardship as instruction and training. That is: See every pain, every sorrow in your life as God’s way of molding you into what He wants you to be.
And I do mean every pain. Pain that is the result of your sin. Pain that is the result of someone else’s sin. Pain that results from natural disasters.
God is in control. He is sovereign. You are His child. He is making you into His likeness. He is getting rid of your natural ignorance, your natural selfishness, the way you are easily deceived and distracted. He is training you, like Jesus, to be patient in suffering. You are a little child. Your Daddy is training you, strengthening you, stretching you, maturing you.
So when you suffer, trust Him! He is bringing His work in you to completion! Always remember that!

Reader:
You tell me I’m God’s child. But I sure don’t feel loved like a child when God sends pain! Instead, I feel abandoned by Him!

Author:
Have you ever heard of a son who was never disciplined? All sons are disciplined! If you don’t experience discipline: Guess what? You’re not sons! Now, there is a bit of a benefit from not being a son: You then don’t have to endure discipline! But, there’s a big trade-off: Neither do you have the rights and privileges of being a son. So realize this: Being disciplined is sign of sonship! It’s a privilege! It shows you are in the family! Jesus was a son – and He suffered. Therefore, feeling abandoned because of discipline gets the truth completely backwards.

Reader:
Well . . . I’m not sure how to answer that. But, listen: I don’t like this picture of God you’re painting. A God who sends pain! This God doesn’t match my conception of what He should be! If He loved me, He would guard me from pain; He wouldn’t make me go through it. How can I worship a God like that?

Author:
My friend, slow down, listen, and think clearly. You’re really not making any sense.
We routinely put up with pain in our earthly lives – and love and respect those who bring that pain upon us. We could go back to the athletic imagery I’ve used before – every coach brings pain upon his runners, and the best coaches make their runners go through considerable pain! – but instead, let’s stick to the image of a little child with his father:
When your fallible earthly fathers disciplined you as they thought best – in order to make you a better person in this life – didn’t you respect them for it? Even though they often erred, and punished you wrongly? How much more should you respect your spiritual, heavenly Father! How much more should you listen to His instruction and submit to His discipline! He is guiding you to the path of life! (Proverbs 4:13) All His discipline is unquestionably for our good! He is training us to become like Him – that is, holy.
So, you see, to say, “I’m not going to worship a God who sends pain,” is like a two-year-old saying, “I’m not going to love a Daddy who gives spankings.” That’s pure foolishness. Indeed, to say that proves that you need discipline and training.

Reader:
OK. I can agree intellectually that God must discipline us to train us to become like Him, and that I should respect Him for doing that. But, did you hear me? This is painful! This is horrible! This really hurts!

Author:
That’s true of all discipline, my friend. Think back to when you were a little child. When you received a spanking, it hurt, didn’t it? That’s the whole idea! It was supposed to hurt. All discipline at the moment seems to increase our sorrow. It does not seem to increase our joy. But in the end it produces a harvest of righteousness. God is so wise that in the end His discipline molds us into Christ’s likeness – so we become what God intends us to be.
So I exhort you: Endure hardship as discipline. Don’t feel abandoned when you’re in pain – for discipline is a sign of God’s love. Don’t put yourself above God, judging what He should and shouldn’t do – for a child respects his father, even when he doesn’t understand his father, even when the father’s discipline hurts. And don’t focus on your present pain – instead, like Jesus, focus on the joy set before you. Like Him, run the race! Power down that straightaway towards the finish line, towards your Savior, towards Jesus! Don’t be diverted from the race! Right now, you’re weak – indeed, virtually lame. Heal that weakness by God’s grace and by His training! And run!