Thou shalt

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Exodus 20:1-3, 18-22

No-one likes the phrase “laying down the law.”  But that’s what the unseen LORD does on mount Sinai. As we saw yesterday, God the Son has brought the people to God the Father.  And now they learn some house rules.

The order is important.  They’re not told in Egypt “If you obey my commands I will redeem you from slavery.”  No, they are redeemed apart from law.  The people do not clean themselves up to earn their salvation.  They are saved first and in this redemption they learn how to be the LORD’s people.

Thus on mount Sinai, Israel is given the ten commandments.  Except that the Bible never calls them “the ten commandments” (dare I say it, this is a mistranslation by the KJV, but one that is followed by most of the English versions).  It’s “the ten words” that are revealed on Sinai.

These words from the LORD are a revelation of the Good Life.  The Good Life is a life of ‘loving God’ (the first four words) and ‘loving others’ (the last six).

As such it’s a perfect description of the life of God’s Son.  He is the One who supremely loves His Father and loves his neighbour.  Even in eternity, this has been His life.

And so Israel (also called “the son of God” – Exodus 4:22), is given the life of God’s Son to live out.

But of course, this is a tall order – to put it mildly!  Here’s how they react:

The people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”  (Exodus 20:18-19)

These words describing the Good Life were death to the Israelites.  The law is good.  But we are not.  And a good law applied to a bad people means death.

Even God’s people, with God’s law can’t live the Good Life.  The law can only describe this life for the people – it can’t produce it in them.  Actually the people become distanced from the LORD after the speaking of the law.  They want Moses to stand in between them and shield them from this holy God.

Well Moses isn’t really up to that job.  But in Deuteronomy 18 the LORD promises to raise up another intermediary.  Moses tells the people:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen – just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb [that is, Sinai] on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’  (Deuteronomy 18:15-18)

The Father thundered the ten words from Sinai and it drove the people down.  The Good Life never entered a human heart coming from stone-tablets.  But in the fullness of time He would send, not thunder-bolts, not commandments, but His Son.  He would put the words into Jesus, His Prophet.  And in Jesus the Good Life would be lived out by God’s Son.  Where the law exacerbated the gap between God and man – Jesus bridges it.  And all of a sudden there is a fulfilment of the promise “Thou shalt.”

Perhaps you are thinking, Promise?  What promise?  Well think about it. “Thou shalt” is a strange way to phrase a law is it not?

After all, it’s not in the imperative (the grammatical mood for commands).  God could easily have said “You must not murder”.  But God didn’t say that.  He said “You shall not murder.”  You won’t.  You’re my special people.  I’ve saved you.  You won’t lie, you won’t murder, you won’t covet.  You won’t.  It’s future indicative (for grammar buffs).

Now obviously that still carries commanding force.  When a mother says to two screaming children “There will be peace in this house”, by golly there had better be peace!   And when God says there will be peace, there’s a huge commanding force to that.  But there’s also promise there.

Because, what if there is a Person called Peace?  What if there is an actual embodiment of the Good Life?  And what if He lives out the life of God’s Son as one of our brothers?

If He does this, then the promise is fulfilled.  The Good Life has been lived.  “Thou shalt” has become “He did!”

And now we can renounce ourselves and trust in the One promised by the law.  You see, in the ultimate sense, there is only One fulfiller of the law – the Lord Jesus.  But in Him, His righteousness, His Spirit and His very life is mine.  I am free now to live His life in the world:

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Romans 10:4)

In Jesus, and with Jesus, I become a secondary fulfiller of the law – freed to love God and neighbour.  So as I hear God say “Thou shalt” it will trigger a series of responses:

“I can’t!”

“He did!”

“We will!”

On Eagle’s Wings

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Exodus 19

Do you need a priest to bring you to God?

The Bible answers yes.  But perhaps not the priest you were thinking of.

Back in Exodus 3 Moses is at the burning bush and the One in the bush promises to save the people:

“Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.”  (Exodus 3:12)

The One in the bush will be with them.  He will save them and bring them to God.

Well, who is this Saviour in the bush?

He is introduced as “The Angel of the LORD” (the One Sent from the LORD), v2.  And He calls Himself the great I AM.

Here is the Priest we all need.  He is the Divine Sent One acting as Go-between – bringing heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

And if you read from Exodus 3 to Exodus 19 you’ll see this One from the bush referred to as “God” and “the LORD” and “the Angel of the LORD.”  Sometimes He’s called “the Glory of the LORD”, later He’ll be called “the Presence (or Face) of the LORD.”  He’s the One travelling in the fiery, cloudy pillar.

He’s the One who at the Red Sea stands between the Egyptian army and the escaping Israelites – like Gandalf saying to the Egyptians “You shall not pass!” (Exodus 14:19-20)  He is God’s Divine Priest, leading the people to the Unseen LORD.  He is Jesus Christ before His birth into the human race – the eternal Son of God.  And He is the One speaking our phrase for today.

That’s the Who of this phrase “bare you on eagles’ wings”.  Christ is the One carrying His people.  And now that He has brought them out to Mount Sinai, as promised, He tells them How He has done it:

Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.  (Exodus 19:4)

Here’s the How of His deliverance:  He has carried them “on eagle’s wings.”

That speaks of three things in particular.

1) It speaks of speed.  Nations that quickly over-run their enemies are swift as eagles (e.g. Daniel 7:4).  Those borne on eagles’ wings are brought at once to the Father.   If we are Christ’s, then He does not delay in sweeping us up into the life of God.  No-one who is Christ’s should imagine that their case is lost in paper-work somewhere in heaven’s bureaucracy.  Straight away we have been brought to the Father.

2) It speaks of a renewing vigour (e.g. Psalm 103:5; Isaiah 40:30-31).  Those borne on eagles’ wings become strong again.  Christ doesn’t merely deliver us into the Father’s arms as the care-worn men and women we were.  As He gives us His new birth we have our youth and vitality renewed.

3) It speaks of motherly care.  As Moses would sing later in Deuteronomy:

He found [Israel] in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.  As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the LORD alone did lead him,  (Deuteronomy 32:10-12)

Christ does not merely deliver His people – He dotes on them.

This is the kind of Priest we need.  Praise God, this is the Priest we have.  And His name is Jesus.

Bread of heaven

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“I never knew Christ was all I needed until Christ was all I had.”

It’s the statement of an African Bishop but for Christians the world over it rings true.

It’s the very essence of what God was teaching the Israelites in the wilderness.  And it’s exactly what Christians are being taught in our own time between salvation (Exodus) and glory (the promised land).  This in-between-time (the wilderness years) is a time of testing and hardship.  But we are learning – or at least we should be – that when Christ is all we have, actually He’s all we need.

The Israelites had been reminiscing about Egypt (with its fleshpots) and grumbling about their wilderness conditions.

The LORD responds with words familiar from our study of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Exodus 16:4 “Behold, I will rain down…”

…what?  “Fire and brimstone”?  “Righteous anger”?  “I will rain down thunderbolts on their camp”?  No.

“I will rain down bread from heaven for you.”

It’s called Manna (v31).  It’s bread not baked with human hands.  ‘Angels’ food’ as Psalm 78 calls it.  And it’s for them – for the grumblers.  The LORD will shower upon them his daily provision for as long as it takes to get them to His holy habitation.  Grace for the grumblers!

Exodus 16, verse 31 says that manna tastes of honey.  Now that’s interesting because the place they’re headed is a land flowing with milk and honey.  Their future will gush with honey, and in the meantime the LORD will sustain them with little pledges of the life to come.  Every morning the Israelites taste the future and it keeps them going.

Manna becomes a whole discipleship regime to teach the people.

And here is lesson one: Horde ye not!

Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning [i.e. keep some for later].  Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank  (Exodus 16:19-20)

The LORD gives them all they need for today.  But if they horde their things for tomorrow, it rots.  What a lesson!

Here’s lesson two:  Learn to rest!

The LORD institutes the Sabbath and tells them He’s going to provide double the manna on Friday.  Therefore they should take Saturday off. But,

it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none.  (v27)

The LORD gives them a day off, but they work anyway.

What would you have been like at these lessons in dependence?  Are you a hoarder?  Would you have collected more than a day’s worth?  You’d have seen it rot.

Are you unable to rest?  Would you have gone out on the Sabbath to gather more?  You’d have found none.

Would you have been content for the day, or forever worrying about tomorrow?

This discipleship programme for the Israelites was leading them into deeper dependence.  Daily dependence.  And it’s what we all need.

Jesus considers us all to be in the position of these Israelites.  After all He taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Jesus applies the lessons of manna to all of life.  He assumes that we are a wilderness people and that we ought to depend on the Father’s daily provision.

And notice we’re not to pray “Give us this day our bread for next year, or for next month or even for next week.”  It says “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Do I depend on the LORD for today’s needs?  Do I leave tomorrow in His hands?

Well Jesus has done something extraordinary to reassure us that we can depend on Him.

In John chapter 6, Jesus again encounters some grumbling Israelites. And they’re in a wilderness place.  And they’re hungry.  Once again Jesus feeds the multitudes miraculously with bread.  He couldn’t say it any clearer: “I AM the LORD of Exodus 16.  I AM the One who accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness”

But then He goes one step further and says to them “I AM the Bread of Life.”  (John 6:35)

Jesus doesn’t just provide – He is the Provision.

Jesus is the true Provision we need day by day.  And He says, “the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  (John 6:51)

Think of the cross.  That was Jesus given to the world like bread to the hungry.  That was the true grace for grumblers like you and me.  We deserved a thunderbolt and we got the Bread of Heaven.

If you look to Jesus, broken on the cross for you, can you really doubt His provision?  No matter what the trial you’re going through, no matter what the wilderness experience, look to the cross and see what kind of Provider our LORD is. Not just giving you things to get by, but giving His very self.

Though it cost Him His life, He gave you His flesh and blood.  Do you really think He’ll withhold what you need in your wilderness times?  He was torn apart for your salvation.  Do you really think He wants to see you perish in the desert?  No!

He is a gift to the whole world, as free and available as bread for the starving.  Do you think He’s stingy?  He’s not stingy.  He gives Himself away as Bread to the masses.

When we come to those places where Jesus is all we have, He proves, time and again, that He’s all we need.  He is the One who gives Himself, body and soul, to His people.  The desert with Jesus is better than any Egypt without Him.

“Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven
Feed me now and evermore!”


Fleshpots

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Exodus 16:1-18

When we hear of “fleshpots” we’ll likely think of sexual temptation.  As in…

—  “he had lived the life of a roué in the fleshpots of London and Paris.”

But in their original, biblical context, “fleshpots” are literally cauldrons of meat.  They are a temptation, but there’s nothing sexual about them.

Here’s their mention in Exodus 16:

“the children of Israel said unto [Moses and Aaron], Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  (Exodus 16:3)

The children of Israel have come out of slavery through the Red Sea and now wander in the wilderness.  It’s not an instant translation from the house of bondage to the land of milk and honey.  In between there is hardship and testing.

It is a picture of our own Christian lives – saved from sin and Satan, brought out into newness of life but not yet living with Christ in the new creation.  Right now is a time of daily dependence on the LORD.  And just like the Israelites, we too are tempted to grumble about our present and to idealize our non-Christian past:

“Egypt was wonderful” we conveniently misremember.  “It was feasting and fullness!”

That’s how the Israelites recall their slavery and genocide.  “Forget the taskmasters, remember the barbecues??!”

Fleshpots are not about our sex-life – they are about our old-life.  But lusting after some nostalgic conception of the past can be even more spiritually poisonous.

In the wilderness years the Israelites would often look back with rose-tinted glasses.  For example:

We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:  (Numbers 11:5)

Very literally they looked on the past as their green salad days.  But now?  Now they see only desert and scarcity.

When Jesus leads us into a desert place we re-imagine life without Him as fleshpots.  We grumble:

Our past was care-free.  And all our non-Christian friends are blissfully happy millionaires.  Jesus has led me away from life and fullness and into this desert.

Such grumbling grieves our LORD who has fought to the death to buy our freedom.   Our fond reminiscences of Egypt are like some Stockholm Syndrome – where captives develop feelings for their captors.  Jesus is pained by our nostalgia for the darkness.

As an aside we should note that the Bible is full of complaints that are addressed to God.  Those aren’t grumbles.  Those are called prayers.  And they are wonderful and godly things.  The Psalms are full of complaining prayers. “LORD this is terrible, I can’t handle it, what are you going to do?”  That’s a perfectly good prayer.  But moaning to one another in unbelief, wishing to be completely without the LORD and wallowing in a complaining spirit while never addressing our complaint to the Manager?  That’s grumbling.  And the LORD takes offence.

Of course He takes offence.  As the verse above shows, grumbling portrays the LORD as a murderer.  It paints Him as anti-life when the truth is, Egypt was anti-life.

The LORD won’t have this kind of grumbling against Him.  So what does He do?

He does the only thing that truly takes our eyes off the fleshpots and steals the complaints from our mouths:

It’s astonishing really.  We’ll see tomorrow that He showers grace on the grumblers.  For now let’s ask ourselves, are there ways we are misremembering our non-Christian past?  Are there ways we’re glamourising the non-Christian world?  Do we need to get our eyes off the fleshpots and onto Jesus?

Red Sea

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Exodus 14:1-31

When introducing people to the cross of Jesus it’s very common to hear this objection:

“Hang on!  If you’re saved from judgement by Jesus’ sacrifice, won’t you just keep on wallowing in sin?  Doesn’t the cross mean that Christians will be complacent about sin and go on indulging in it?”

Actually the opposite is true.  Jesus doesn’t save us for sin, He saves us from sin.  And here’s how.  He doesn’t just die for us, He also rises to new life for us.

Or to put it in Exodus terms.  We don’t just enjoy a Passover, we also experience a Red Sea.  We’re not just sheltered under the blood of the Lamb, we’re also brought out of the land of slavery.

Those who benefited from the sacrificial lamb were also those who left Egypt.

And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S passover.  (Exodus 12:11)

The lamb was not given so that God’s people could enjoy Egypt.  It was given to bring them out.  Any who said ‘Yes’ to the substitutionary sacrifice were also saying ‘No’ to the old life.

And the LORD makes sure they are brought out with a one-way ticket, once and for all.  He leads them by his chosen ruler Moses to the waters of the Red Sea.

It’s important to note that “waters” in the Bible very often represent judgement.  And this particular stretch of water certainly proves to be a ravenous grave for the Egyptians (Exodus 15:12).

But “by a strong east wind” called down by Moses the waters are parted (Exodus 14:21).  This phrase – “strong east wind” – might as well be translated “Mighty Ancient Spirit”.  It calls to mind Genesis 1 where the Spirit hovered over the waters and the Word parted them, making a safe space for man.

So here is the picture: through God’s chosen ruler and by the Ancient Spirit the impossible is made possible – God’s people are led out of slavery through the waters of judgement and into a new life.

The Apostle Paul looks back at this event as a baptism of sorts (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).  The people were baptized into Moses.  The people couldn’t get themselves out of slavery.  They couldn’t get themselves through the deserved judgement and out the other side.  But, by the power of the Spirit, Moses could.  And so they threw their lot in with Moses.  They were united to him and went with him through the waters and into newness of life.

It’s the same with us today.  Just as they were baptized into Moses, we are baptized into Jesus.

And in union with our Spirit-filled Ruler we are not simply Passover people – united to Jesus’ death.  We’re also Red Sea people – united to Jesus’ resurrection.  We don’t glory in the cross while bedding down in sin.  We are brought out from sin into a risen life.  By the Spirit we have followed Jesus out of the darkness and slavery of our spiritual Egypt.

Therefore the Apostle Paul writes this:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  (Romans 6:1-4)

Passover

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Exodus 12:1-30

John the Baptist was a wild and holy prophet whose whole mission in life was to prepare the way for the LORD Jesus.  And when his big moment came to announce Christ onto the world stage, what did John say?

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

Think of all the ways John could have described Jesus.  “Behold the Son of God”, “Behold the Word of God”, “Behold the Christ of God”, “Behold the great I AM”,

But no.  The foundational identity of Jesus is this: The Lamb of God.

Behold God’s Bleeding Victim!

That’s the most fundamental introduction to Jesus. And if we want to understand why, we need to understand Passover.

Passover is the tenth and final plague on Egypt.  Here is the ultimate judgement of God.  But, as with all God’s judgement, there is a way of salvation.  What is it?

On the 10th day of the 1st month, take a lamb into your household. (Exodus 12:3)  It has to be a lamb – if your household can’t afford a lamb, a budgie will not do.  If you’re broke then club together with other families so that you can get a lamb (v4).  Only a lamb will do.

This insistence on a lamb would have put the people in mind of that ancient promise from Genesis 22: 8

God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.

The faithful would have known that this lamb would be playing the part of the Messiah Himself – the Lamb of God atoning for the sins of the world. (See here for more).

The Passover lamb had to be male – it stood in for the firstborn son, so it’s ‘like for like’ (v5).  And it had to be without defect – not some cheap old thing, a precious lamb without spot.

Verse 3 says, “adopt it into family life.”  ‘Flossy’ will become a pet for the next 4 days – one of the family.  But on the 14th day of the month, at twilight, I’m afraid ‘Flossy’ gets it in the neck.  Then using some hyssop plant as a paintbrush, paint the blood on the outside of your doorframes (v22).

After this, go inside and don’t come out again till morning – you’re only safe as you shelter under the blood of the lamb.  Once inside, roast the lamb with bitter herbs and eat it with unleavened bread (verses 8-11).  On this night you can forget everything your mother told you about table manners: Eat it fast, eat it standing, eat it ready to leave the country because this is the last night you’ll ever be in Egypt.

The lamb given for you to save you would be the lamb given to you to sustain you.  His blood would shield you from judgement.  His flesh would feed you for the journey out of slavery.

Verse 23 – at midnight when the LORD goes through the land, He will pass over every house which shelters under the blood of the lamb.  But for the Egyptians who did not heed the LORD’s warnings, He strikes down the firstborn of every household (v29).

On that night every house had someone dead in it.  Either there was a dead lamb or there was a dead son.  If there was not a dead lamb there would certainly be a dead son.

In this way the Passover lamb was a substitutionary sacrifice.  He died in the place of the firstborn.

What does Passover teach us?

Well let’s imagine three Israelite houses on the night the LORD passes through.

House A is a very religious house.  They love to have Moses over to hear the words of God.  They’re always praying.  They’re always talking about father Abraham.  They’re always doing good deeds around the neighbourhood.  They hear about Passover and on one level they’re disappointed because they’d quite like the LORD to come inside.  They’re sure He’d pass over them once He saw how religious they all were.  Thankfully Moses persuades them out of that suicidal idea and they kill the lamb and apply the blood.

House B is not like House A.  In House B they were going to be in that night anyway because they all have ASBO’s.  They are drunkards, gluttons, liars, benefits cheats and notoriously promiscuous.  But somehow they catch wind of Passover and they figure they had probably better cover themselves.  They’re not sure it’ll do any good because if the LORD pokes His head around the door He’s bound to judge them anyway. But nonetheless, they kill the lamb and apply the blood.

House C is nothing like as good as A and nothing like as bad as B.  But in C everyone is very nervous. They keep calling up house A and saying ‘I’ve killed the lamb, I’ve applied the blood but I’m just not sure.  I mean I don’t really see how the blood of a lamb can make a difference.’  And they spend the night pacing up and down wondering whether the blood will do the trick.

Next morning – which house loses its firstborn son?  A, B or C?

None of them do!

Of course none of them do.  Because it’s got nothing to do with what’s on the inside of the house.  You won’t often hear a Christian say this, but it doesn’t matter what’s on the inside.  It’s what’s on the outside that counts!

It’s not about the LORD inspecting each household to see whether it’s up to scratch.  It’s only about whether the household is sheltering under the blood.  That is the only issue.

And it’s not even about how much faith you have in the blood.  If the blood is applied at all, you’re saved.  Strong faith in the blood and wavering faith in the blood lead to exactly the same outcome.  Because it’s not the faith in the blood that saves.  It’s the blood.

Do we see how Passover teaches us about our Christian lives?  Christ is our Lamb.  And His death on the cross was the true Passover – a plague of judgement that provides salvation for all who shelter under Him.

Therefore our salvation is entirely down to Him.  It’s not about the quality of our living, speaking, acting, praying.  It’s not even about the quality of  our own faith.  It’s only about the blood.  It’s the quality of His death, not the quality of our life.  Our salvation has nothing to do with our performance and everything to do with His performance.

Passover takes our eyes off our sins and off ourselves.  Our salvation is entirely outside ourselves.  It’s all about Jesus our Lamb.

Hard hearted

Exodus 10:1-29

Hard´-heart`ed    (~härt`ĕd)

a. 1. Unsympathetic; inexorable; cruel; pitiless.

The wisdom of Solomon gave us this proverb:

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.  (Proverbs 4:23)

Our lives are governed by our hearts.  What we love determines who we are.

Philosophers might define a human being as a “rational animal”.  Biologists may label us homo sapiens (men of wisdom/knowledge).  But a more biblical description might be homo adorans (men who love).   Our lives issue from our hearts.

These days if we come across an uncaring person we might say “Have a heart!”  But in the Bible the uncaring do have hearts – just hard hearts. And this is a problem.

Because in fact we all have a congenital heart condition.  We are not born with soft hearts.  We do not, by nature, love the things we ought to love – supremely the LORD and our neighbour (Mark 12:28-31).  We are forever doing what we want.  But we can’t just decide to want the right things.  We need to be swept off our feet.  We need a heart change.   And this is precisely what the LORD offers.  He comes by His Spirit to woo us from sin and self and the world.

But here’s the issue for today.  If our hearts are not warmed and softened by the LORD, we are not left in a neutral state.  If the LORD is not softening our hearts, He is hardening them.

This was the archetypal experience of Pharaoh in Exodus.

Throughout the plagues on Egypt Pharaoh’s heart became increasingly hardened.  And that hardening is described variously as ‘The LORD hardening’, ‘Pharaoh hardening’ and simply his heart ‘being hard’.

The LORD will harden his heart (Exodus 4:21)

The LORD hardened his heart (7:13)

Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (7:14)

Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (7:22)

Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:15)

Pharaoh’s heart was hard (8:19)

Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:32)

Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (9:7)

The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh (9:12)

Pharaoh hardened his heart (9:34)

Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (9:35)

The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart (10:1)

The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart (10:20)

The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart (10:27)

The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart (11:10)

There is an interplay between Pharaoh’s hardening and the LORD’s.  But it is striking that the LORD’s agency is highlighted more than Pharaoh’s.

What’s going on?

Well, just as a resolve can be hardened so can a heart.  Its direction is not changed, only reinforced.  This is the sense of the LORD’s hardening of Pharaoh.  You could even translate it, “The LORD strengthened his heart.”

Pharaoh wanted to reject the LORD and exalt himself.  And in the poetic justice of the LORD, He gives Pharaoh exactly what he wants.  This is the essence of God’s judgement – to “give us over” to our “lusts”, our “affections”, our “minds” (Romans 1:21-28).  It is a mark of our heart-sick condition that “getting what we want” is such a terrible curse.  Yet as Jesus says, all our fallen desires are death-wishes:

“All they that hate me love death.”  (Proverbs 8:36)

We are in a desperate plight when our deepest natural inclinations are hell-bent.

But the LORD Jesus has a solution for us.  It’s not in our hearts, for our hearts are naturally perverse.  It’s not in our minds or our wills, for they are ruled by our fallen hearts.  The solution is outside of ourselves.  A new heart – a soft heart – that is the gift of Jesus by His Spirit:

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  (Ezekiel 36:26)

Whatever Walt Disney tells you – Don’t trust your heart!  The Hero does not lie within. Cry for help.  Trust Jesus and He will transform you from the inside out.

Plagues (of biblical proportions)

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Exodus 9:1-35

If you watch news footage of disasters in the third world you see people who know what to do.  This is a sad time.  The people are sad.  They weep and wail and mourn.  And this is entirely appropriate.

But watch news footage of disasters in the west and what do you see? Not weeping and mourning. There’s one dominant emotion on display: shock.

How could this happen?  How could this happen here?  How could this happen to us?

We feel entitled to good health, financial security, national security, job security – any and every kind of safety.  And when these rights are threatened or removed we are completely de-stabilized.

The original plagues of biblical proportions were meant to humble a sinful people.  To bring them to a godly grief – a repentant frame of mind.  But they ended up hardening a proud people who careered towards further destruction.

The purpose of the plagues was two-fold – to reveal the LORD and to humble Pharaoh.

First – to reveal the LORD

The LORD’s repeated phrase as calamity rains down is:

and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God

Through the plagues, the LORD’s Name will be made known to the Israelites (Exodus 6:7), to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:17), to all the earth (Exodus 9:16), and to the generations to come (Exodus 10:2).

You might ask, “What kind of God is known through plagues?”

Answer: A God who’s trying to get through to a deaf people.

There’s a saying: Most people never look up until they’re flat on their backs.  This being the case, disasters can be a severe mercy.

The original plagues of biblical proportions are just the kinds of “wake-up calls” to rouse a stubborn king and his evil regime.

From blood to frogs to gnats to wild beasts to pestilence to boils to hail to locusts to darkness to the death of the firstborn the plagues become more and more deadly. At each point there is an opportunity for Pharaoh to repent and let the Israelites go.  Yet the madness of the human condition is seen in his hard-hearted rejection of the LORD, plunging himself and his land into ruin.

Second – to humble Pharaoh

For 400 years Egypt had ‘humbled’ Israel (Genesis 15:13).  They had afflicted, enslaved and impoverished them.  Moses, at the head of this afflicted people became the most humble man on earth (Number 12:3).  He is therefore the polar opposite of Pharaoh – one raised up before all the earth (Exodus 9:16) and who “refuses to humble himself before the LORD.” (Exodus 10:3)

This is what the plagues are for – humbling.

In Amos 4 we see plagues falling on Israel and the constant refrain is – “yet have ye not returned unto me.”

“I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt… yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.  (Amos 4:10)

The LORD expects that plagues should humble us, not harden us.

Again in Revelation 15 and 16 we see plagues that fall on the whole earth.  And yet those suffering refuse to turn:

and they repented not to give him glory.  (Revelation 16:9)

The plagues on Egypt are foretastes of the judgement that will befall the whole earth.  One day there will be a cosmic shake-down, a mighty revelation of the LORD Jesus, a humbling of everything lifted up.  That is the intention.  And yet, when calamity strikes, there are many who fail to be humbled.  Instead they are hardened.

And that is an immense tragedy:

“God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (Prov 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5)

“The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.” (Psalm 147:6)

“For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)

“Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3)

In Exodus, the humbling plagues increase until there’s only one place of shelter: the blood of the lamb.  All the plagues lead to Passover.  And all the judgements of God lead to the cross.

The cross is the ultimate plague.  There the LORD’s name is revealed and the LORD’s people are humbled.  Even the Judge of all is humbled in the darkness, perishing under judgement.

The question is this:  Will we be humbled by the judgements of God or hardened?  Will God’s judgements bring us low?  Will they lead us to the LORD Jesus lifted up?  Or will we lift ourselves up and so be cast down by God?

Taskmasters

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Exodus 5:10-23

Moses and Aaron deliver the LORD’s message: “Let my people go” But Pharaoh is singularly unimpressed.

“Who is the LORD?”  (Exodus 5:2)

“I’ve heard of Ra, Amun, Osiris, Isis, Seth, Nephthys, these gods I know.  Who is this LORD??”

Pharaoh has no time for weak men preaching a weak message about an unknown God.  Baffled and angry, he turns up the heat on the Israelites:

Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying, Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.  (Exodus 5:6-7)

This is what happens when you meet earthly power with the weakness of preaching.  In the end the earthly power comes tumbling down, but in the short-term the people of God suffer more.

Yet as we read Exodus 5 about their burdens, this isn’t just a history lesson for us.  This is our story.

Jesus will say, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.”  (John 8:34)  We were born into a spiritual Egypt – a slavery to sin and Satan and self.

And here is how it’s described:

Verse 4: “Works” and “burdens” – they weigh us down.
Verse 6: “Taskmasters” We go from task to task to task and the world is our slave-driver.  God might be a Father, but the world is a taskmaster.  And verse 8 is the beat of its drum:
Verse 8: ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle”.
Verse 9: “Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein
Verse 11: not ought of your work shall be diminished!

This is the treadmill of ‘the world, the flesh and the devil.’

You’re enslaved to sin, working harder and harder to prove yourself and getting less and less recognition.  Even as you do more and more you are branded as lazy.  Our slavery to sin and Satan is just like this.  We chase after moving targets and never get the verdict we’re looking for.

The world is a place of taskmasters.  But the LORD Jesus is different.  He does not demand our labour but buys our freedom.  And He speaks these words today to those suffering and enslaved:

I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: 7 And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD.  (Exodus 6:6-8)

Let my people go

Exodus 5:1-9

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Moses was 80 and his brother Aaron was 83 when they confronted Pharaoh.  They went as a double-act – Moses putting words in Aaron’s mouth.

Their message has become famous

Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go (Exodus 5:1)

A chapter previously the LORD put it slightly differently:

Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto [Pharaoh], Let my son go, that he may serve me  (Exodus 4:22)

The LORD’s people aren’t simply His favoured nation – they are His children. He takes an intense personal interest in His own people.  The LORD – the Maker of heaven and earth – is not ashamed to be called the tribal deity of His people.  In fact He is their Father.  And all His fatherly concern is aroused for His particular inheritance.

He therefore stands implacably against Pharaoh – the head of the house of the wicked.  Pharaoh is very much a Satan figure in the Exodus and as such he enslaves the people.  Pharaoh, like the devil, is only interested in works.  He only focuses on what you produce, on what you can perform.  Being under his rule is bondage, (as we will see tomorrow).

But the LORD does not want slaves, He wants sons.  Whatever service the LORD wants, it’s the service of children.  And so the LORD is the original Freedom Fighter.  His desire is to emancipate His people.

That is the meaning of the term “Redeemer.”  A redeemer is literally one who pays the ransom price to release the slaves.  When you say “Let my people go” there’s a price tag.  And for the ultimate redemption there was an ultimate price.

Jesus said of Himself:

For even the Son of man came not to be [served], but to [serve], and to give his life a ransom for many.  (Mark 10:45)

This is how committed God is to our freedom.  The Father who said “Let my son (Israel) go,” was willing to sacrifice His eternal Son – Jesus – for us.  And the LORD Jesus was willing to put Himself in our place.  He became the servant of all and gave His own life away to buy our redemption.

So often we’re tempted to think that the world, the flesh or the devil are offering us freedom.  Perhaps this choice or experience or opportunity to prove myself will liberate me.  But actually, without the LORD, these things that promise so much deliver only slavery.  It’s not the LORD who is the kill-joy, it’s Satan.

So may the Spirit open our eyes afresh to a Father and Son who value our freedom more than their own Life!