When we left off last week, Jacob, his twelve sons and their families, 66 to 70 people in all, had relocated from the land of Israel to Egypt, where they remain for over 400 years. Then:
Ex 1:7-11 The sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, "Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. “Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land." So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor.
When the conditions of their lives changed, they were no longer long-term guests but now slaves. The cry went up and God performed the greatest deliverance in the story of the Jews. From then on, the Jewish community has celebrated the Feast of Passover as a reminder of how God set them free the night the Death Angel passed over them.
Now, to understand the inner workings of this story, we have to be careful where the Bible is silent. Many strange and confusing ideas come when we try to speak for the Bible instead of allowing the Bible to speak for itself. For example, most of our imagery of the Exodus is from the imaginations of the producers of the old Ten Commandments movie or Disney’s The Prince of Egypt. They depict the people coming out of Egypt as highly religious, God-fearing Jews. They weren’t. They had lived over 400 years in a pagan world with only restrictions to keep them from marrying pagans, nothing about what it looked like to be the People of God.
Remember, this was before they had any formal worship, a temple, a system of sacrifice, a list of do’s and don’ts, any structure for how they were to acknowledge God, or a defined path on which they would follow Him. They were God’s people more by designation than life commitment.
What did they have? A promise that God would make them into a nation and give them a land where they could live.
That promise goes back to God telling Abraham that through him, He would create more ancestors than the stars or the grains of sand. He even showed him the land where they would all live. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness.
God told Isaac He was running the same thread of His purpose through him: Gen 26:24-25 The LORD appeared to him the same night and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you, and multiply your descendants, for the sake of My servant Abraham." So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD.
Then, Jacob encountered the Lord. Gen 28:13-18 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top.
What the Jews of the Exodus had was a heritage of God’s promise passed down from their ancestors. They were the family God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That was all that held them together. There was no Scripture, no commands, no instructions, nothing that defined their behavior or social practices other than what had developed as traditions.
When Moses led them out of Egypt, it became clear he had a multitude of people who simply wanted freedom but had no idea of how that freedom was to be lived. They’d spent over 400 years in a country that had a god for every occasion. How would that shape their lives? They were a mixture of paganism and a limited understanding of who God was.
How do you know that? Not long after they left Egypt, they built a golden calf to worship in place of God. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai after getting the tablets, God told him: Ex 32:8 They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!'
When did this happen in the story line? Maybe this was before they knew better. Ex 19:1 In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had escaped captivity, had crossed the Red Sea and were now at Mt. Sinai and were settling in. So,
Ex 19:3 Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: Ex 19:5-8 'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel." So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do!" And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.
Wait, before the golden calf, all the people had told God they would do whatever He tells them to do? Yes. As a sign of their singular devotion to Him alone? Yes. In surrender of their lives and futures to obey Him? Yes.
I thought Moses only went up on the mountain once and then came down with the 10 Commandments, and that’s when they learned what God expected. No. The Mt Sinai experience was a conversation with God, with Moses going up and down the mountain many times. He would hear from God, then come down and share with the people what God was telling him. In fact, God spoke the 10 Commandments to the people before He carved them into stone.
Ex 19:24-25 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people [come up]" So Moses went down to the people and told them to gather.
Ex 20:1-5 Then God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; and went on to tell them the 10 Commandments.
But the Bible says they couldn’t understand Him. What they heard was thunder and noise. Now, why would God speak to them though He knew they wouldn’t understand? He wanted them to hear His voice so they would know what Moses said was from Him and carried the same authority as God Himself.
Jesus experienced this with the Pharisees: John 8:43, 47 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word…He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."
Why couldn’t the Pharisees understand? To them, Jesus’ words were just the words of a man. They had no experience hearing from God, so they couldn’t recognize God’s voice in the words Jesus spoke. Jesus said: My sheep hear My voice. You aren’t them.
When we read our Bible, do we understand we’re listening to the voice of God through our pages of Scripture and not just reading the words of men?
Little kid calling in the big kids at the end of the day. They totally ignore him until he says the magic words: Momma said. Reading the Bible as God’s word is the equivalent of hearing: Momma said.
Moses went back up the mountain and: Ex 20:22-23 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven. You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves.
What’s God doing? Making sure His spokesman clearly understood the message He wanted the people to hear.
Ex 24:1-3 Then He said to Moses, "Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. Moses alone, however, shall come near to the LORD, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him." Then Moses came down and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do, we will be obedient!"
What God has said, we will do. We affirm the words spoken are His words. We will conform our lives to how God has said we should live.
Is there an equivalent moment for us like that? It’s when the crucial decision happens that we choose to Live Biblically, when we decide adjusting our lives to the words of God will be the basis of who we are and how we live.
Jesus told Satan: Matt 4:4 "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"
Ps 119:116 Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live;
The life of God within us, is fed by the words of God that sustain us.
Jesus told His disciples: John 15:8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. What is fruit? It’s the biproduct of a tree’s life. Our fruit is the evidence we belong to the Lord. That evidence is the life that flows out of our relationship with the Father. It’s what results from us believing and expressing that belief in our daily lives. Or what we’ve called Living Biblically.
Living Biblically boils down to a series of points:
· Understanding who God really is,
· Believing the Bible to be a true representation of God’s intentions,
· Expressing faith that God can be trusted in all matters of life,
· Realizing there is a thread of God’s purpose running throughout history,
· Receiving the gift of relationship which God provided by Jesus’ death,
· Choosing to live according to His precepts.
Precepts: general statements intended to regulate behavior or thought. The days of keeping the Law of the OT are over. We don’t live by laws. We live by the precepts of God’s word.
Ps 103:17-18 But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.
James 1:22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
What God has said is true. It is to be believed and lived. That’s how faith works. Doing what we believe God has told us in His Word.
Let’s go back to Moses. After God made clear what He expected and Moses had told the people, Moses went back up on the mountain for an extended time to receive the Law, as well as the instructions for the Tabernacle and the social rules for how the people were to live as a community.
Then, when he came down, he carried the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone. It was at that time the people were worshipping the golden calf. Remember, they already knew this was wrong, but chose to ignore God’s command and had reverted back to old patterns of their life from Egypt. It had just been a little over a month since they agreed not to do this and that they would honor all the commandments. They didn’t even make it past the first one. As a result, 3000 died.
Did God expect what happened? Of course. So, why did He deliver them in the first place, knowing many of them would rebel so soon? He had made a promise. Ex 2:23-24 Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
It was His covenant, the agreement with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Remember, God is working from a plan, not just whimsically deciding what’s next. He had a purpose for Egypt: to give them a safe and prosperous place to grow into a nation. With that done, it was now time for that nation to move into transformation.
See, they couldn’t go directly to the land, they needed a transitional time. Time to get Egypt out of them and make the covenant personal. Both would take time.
God never intended them or us to live by the faith of our ancestors. Grandma’s faith isn’t our faith.
The covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had to become their God. To live out that covenant would require a transformed life. That life came with requirements attached and a question: Would they accept the requirements?
In other words, they had the heritage of the people of God, but would they live the life of that heritage by adding these things into their lives and removing others things from their lives?
Why so strict? Partly to get Egypt out of them. Secondly to define who they were and what God expected from them. Without that structure, they would have been left to their own imaginations for coming up with a preferred lifestyle. And we know, by how they treated God’s commands, it would have been mixed with Egyptian Paganism.
God was drawing them to a singular heart of devotion for Him alone with no room for devotion to any other god. They could no longer be bi-religious – a little bit pagan, a little bit Jewish. They couldn’t mix into their lives whatever they wanted and expect good results.
2Kings 4:38-40 When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, "Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets." Then one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they did not know what they were. So they poured it out for the men to eat. And as they were eating of the stew, they cried out and said, "O man of God, there is death in the pot." And they were unable to eat.
He was adding a little extra to the pot, hoping for something more pleasing. A little extra flavor or more texture. But what he added destroyed what made the stew good to eat and, in fact, made the stew worthless. When God gives the recipe for life, we go by the recipe without adding to or taking away from it.
Moses took a nation that didn’t know God personally or know how to live in a way that pleased God, and struggled with paganism and had to teach them how to live. Though he got them out of Egypt, it took time to get Egypt out of their hearts. To do so, they had to turn away from Egypt and turn toward God.
Same for us.
Rom 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
The choice not to conform to the world must be followed by the commitment to be transformed by the precepts of God’s word.
I imagine the people coming out of Egypt thought they’d just get free and relocate, never expecting the life-transforming work God had planned for them. I imagine it’s the same for us as well. We want God to make us free but have to learn how to live within that freedom.
- Getting Israel out of Egypt was a matter of miracles and logistics.
- Getting Egypt out of Israel required transformation.
- It was a two-step process.
- Step one was removing anything that might interfere with, distract from or replace their devotion to God.
- Step two was adjusting themselves to live according to the instructions God gave them.
- It is the same for us.