Friday, October 31, 2014

Hearing God’s Voice

God to Moses:  Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now if you will obey Me and keep My covenant, you will be My own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to Me. And you will be My kingdom of priests, My holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” Exodus 19:3-6 (NLT)

In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt – on the very day, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb) (Exodus 19:1-2). The arrival at Mount Sinai marked a significant landmark for the Israelites. After being graciously delivered from Egyptian slavery by God’s mighty hand and experiencing the care of God’s provision in the wilderness, the Israelites would now be brought into a special covenant relationship with Almighty God. Mount Sinai is also important because this mountain is where Moses met God in a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-2, 5) and where Elijah heard God’s voice in the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:8, 12).

At Mount Sinai, Moses once again climbed the mountain to meet with God. This time Moses appeared before God with all of Israel at the foot of the holy mountain ready to worship the true and living God (Exodus 19:3; see also Exodus 3:12). God spoke to Moses telling Moses instructions to tell all of Israel. In these instructions, God had graciously carried the people of Israel on eagles' wings and redeemed the Israelites to Himself (Exodus 19:4). God had redeemed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and bondage to become His people (Exodus 6:6-7). Now, God asked that Israel to always obey Him, serve His purpose, and keep all His instructions (Exodus 19:5). If Israel would faithfully and fully obey God, then Israel would be out of all the nations of the world God’s most treasured possession (Exodus 19:5; see also Deuteronomy 26:18; Psalm 135:4). “Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5, NIV). The key words of the instructions were if Israel will obey only then would God fulfill all the promises for protection and favor promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel was chosen by God not because of Israel's merits or goodness, but solely because God loved Israel and was faithful to the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deuteronomy 7:6-9). “The Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands” (Deuteronomy 7:9 (NIV).

Israel would be God’s “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” although the whole earth belongs to God (Exodus 19:6; see also 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). In other words, Israel was to become intermediaries or mediators between a holy God and a lost world and reveal God’s holiness and goodness to the world. In the covenant, Israel was considered God's possession (special treasure) and a kingdom whose citizens were all priests with access to God, and a holy nation devoted only to God.

In the New Testament, Peter borrowed the imagery of Exodus 19:5-6 and called believers of Jesus Christ “a holy priesthood... a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5, 9, NKJV). Through our faith in Jesus Christ, believers are also “a kingdom and priests” to serve God and reflect God’s holiness and goodness to the world (Revelation 1:6; see also Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6). Jesus Christ has redeemed true believers in Him from slavery to sin through His sacrificial death on the Cross (Romans 3:24-25) and guaranteed believers a place in His kingdom, and making us priests to administer God's goodness to others and produce holy fruit (Ephesians 2:8-10; see also Galatians 5:22-23).

As “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” Israel was to be holy to the Lord God and totally devoted to God (see also 1 Peter 2:5). In other words, Israel was to render complete submission, allegiance, and obedience to the true and living God. The Israelites were to constitute God’s kingdom (the people who acknowledged God as their Lord and King) and wholly consecrated (holy, set apart, and sanctified for God’s service on earth). In their priestly role, Israelites were to be channels of God’s grace to the nations (see Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:6). Even more, Israel was to be God's “showcase,” proving to the world that there is but one true and living God and that serving Him is the way to fullness of blessing, joy and peace (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). In Egypt, the Israelites were nothing but slaves who did their masters' bidding. But now the Israelites, as descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, would be God’s special people and God would use the Israelites to be a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:3). “All nations on earth” would be blessed through Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 18:18). Only as the Israelites obeyed God could they truly enjoy the privileges of being a kingdom of priests, God's special treasure and His holy nation (Exodus 19:3-6).

After speaking with God, Moses returned from the mountain top and told the Israelites everything God commanded and the people responded with shouts of obedience to God and Moses reported Israel’s words to God (Exodus 19:7-8). By agreeing to obey, Israel ratified the covenant (Exodus 19:8; see also Exodus 24:3. Next, God told Moses to tell the Israelites that He would visibly appear to all of them in the form of a thick dark cloud on the third day and personally speak to the people (Exodus 19:9, 11). To prepare the Israelites for His visible arrival, God told Moses to tell the people to consecrate themselves for worship of God (Exodus 19:10, 14). There were three things the Israelites had to do for preparation to meet the true and living God in worship:  washing of their clothes (Exodus 19:10), confining the people by placing barriers around the mountain (Exodus 19:12-13; cf. Exodus 19:21), and abstaining from sexual intercourse (Exodus 19:15). In essence, this meant Israel must devote herself to God and become physically (outwardly) and spiritually (inwardly) ready to meet God. As believers in Jesus Christ, when we meet God, we too must set aside the cares and preoccupations of everyday life and devote ourselves to meet God in worship. In a dramatic way, God was not only teaching the Israelites but all people the dangers of presumptuously rushing into the presence of a good and holy God.

On the morning of the third day, there was thunder and lightning with a thick cloud on the mountain. There was a very loud blast from a trumpet, and all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord came down on it in fire. The smoke rose from the mountain like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook wildly. The sound from the trumpet became louder. Then Moses spoke, and the voice of God answered Him. When the Lord came down on top of Mount Sinai, He called Moses to come up to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Exodus 19:16-20 (NCV)

On the morning of the third day, the true and living God visibly appeared to the Israelites as promised (Exodus 19:11, 16). God’s physical appearance is often called a Theophany. Thunder roared and lightning flashed from heaven, and a dense cloud came down on Mount Sinai. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and Moses and the Israelites all trembled with fear (Exodus 19:16). All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because God had physically descended on Mount Sinai in the form of fire and the whole mountain shook violently (Exodus 19:18, 20; see also Genesis 15:17). The cloud and darkness, the thunder and lightning, and the earthquake and fire, all revealed the greatness and power of the true and living God (Deuteronomy 5:22-23, 27). God’s physical appearance was often accompanied by an impressive display of meteorological sights and sounds (e.g. see 1 Samuel 7:10; Job 38:1; Psalm 18:13-14).

Then, Moses spoke to God and God thundered His reply to Moses (Exodus 19:19). God called Moses to the top of the mountain to receive His instructions for the peopled (Exodus 19:20). At sacred Mount Sinai, God gave the Israelites the laws and guidelines for right living, often called the Sinai covenant (Exodus 19:3 – Exodus 24:19). The covenant between God and Israel at Mount Sinai was the outgrowth and extension of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Participation in the divine blessings of the Abrahamic covenant as well as the Sinai covenant was conditioned on obedience and faith (see Genesis 17:1-27; Genesis 18:18-19; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4-5; Exodus 19:3-6; Romans 1:5).

In the Sinai covenant, the true and living God pledged (promised) to be Israel’s faithful Protector if the people promised to be faithful to Him as their covenant Lord and obedient to the requirements of the covenant. Exodus 19 gives the dramatic setting of the covenant’s introduction and Exodus chapters 20 through 23 contain God’s actual covenant. The covenant is actually a contractual agreement or treaty between God and the Israelites. Another word for covenant is “testament”. Exodus 24 shows the covenant’s confirmation. The rest of the Old Testament builds upon what took place at Exodus 19 through 24. Centuries later, biblical writers would dust off the old word covenant and apply the word covenant to Jesus Christ (e.g. see 1 Corinthians 11:25). Jesus Christ fulfilled and completed the reconciliation with God begun at Mount Sinai. The Sinai covenant had several later renewals, including Exodus 34; the whole book of Deuteronomy and Joshua 24. Sadly, the Israelites continually violated the Sinai covenant to faithfully obey God and God’s instructions. In His love and grace, God redeemed Israel and then called Israel to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:1-6), but the ancients Israelites failed God to faithfully love, trust, and obey God. God disciplined the Israelites many times for their failure to obey the covenant, but they still persisted in sin (e.g., see Exodus 32). Today, Israel has no temple or priesthood. Today, God's people (believers by faith in Jesus Christ also called the church) are God’s kings and priests (1 Peter 2:1-10), exercising spiritual authority and serving God in this world.

The covenant at Mount Sinai eventually became known as the “old covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:14) or the “first covenant” (Hebrews 8:7; Hebrews 9:15, 18). Later, God would write this covenant on the people’s hearts through the inward working of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Romans 8:2-4; Hebrews 8:8-12). The written covenant at Mount Sinai was useful and God-given. But as the history of Israel proved, the Sinai covenant did not have the power to transform people’s lives. Something more was needed for the people. God would have to change His people from the inside out by placing His covenant into their hearts through His Holy Spirit. Amazingly, Jesus Christ completely fulfilled the Sinai covenant by living completely devoted, faithful, and obedient to God and God’s instructions. Jesus Christ’s life revealed the true intentions and will of the covenant (fairness, justice, mercy, humbleness, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion) (e.g. see Genesis 18:19; 2 Samuel 8:15; Psalm 119:121; Proverbs 1:3; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 56:1; Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 22:15; Micah 6:6-8 and Matthew 22:34-40).

The Israelites would remain camped at Mount Sinai for the next eleven months (Exodus 19:1 through Numbers 10:10–12). The Old Testament notes that the Israelites stayed encamped at Mount Sinai the rest of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and through Numbers 10:20. At Mount Sinai, the Israelites learned the potential blessings of obedience (Exodus 34:4-28) and the tragic consequences of disobedience to the true and living God (Exodus 34:32).

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but He was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple. What’s more, you are His holy priests . . .  for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9 (NLT)

The equivalent of the phrase “out of all nations . . . My treasured possessions” found at Exodus (19:5) is used of all true believers in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5, 9). With the coming of Jesus Christ, God has extended His plan to all true believers (see Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 3:6-9). Sincere believers in Jesus Christ are a “holy nation” and a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ allow all people to now approach God freely (Hebrews 4:14-16; see also 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Hebrews 10:19-25). Because Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, is alive in heaven, interceding for believers, we believers can minister on earth as holy priests. Jesus Christ “gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14, NIV). The church is a nation of kings and priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) called to glorify God.

Like the ancient Israelites, believers today must also have complete allegiance, obedience and trust in God as well as revealing God’s nature through their good deeds (Matthew 5:13-16). All believers must “get rid of all evil behavior” and “be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech” (1 Peter 2:1, NLT). True believers in Jesus Christ are called to obedient people of God living to make God known to the world through our holy lifestyles (1 Peter 1:14-15). For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 16, NLT).  As believers in Jesus Christ, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness through our faith and obedience in God (1 Peter 2:22; see also Romans 1:16-17; Romans 4:3). God’s good blessings cannot be obtained through magic and manipulation; instead, His blessings are free to those who lovingly obey and trust in Him.

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why Is Exodus So Important?

The Old Testament book of Exodus is an essential and valuable resource for preaching, teaching, and counseling in the church and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Few events in history have had such far-reaching effects as Israel’s redemption out of Egyptian slavery. Clearly the crimson thread of redemption is woven into the fabric of Exodus. The theme of redemption and salvation are expressed in both the Passover and in the crossing of the Red Sea. The Exodus event is at the very heart of the Old Testament and fundamental to God’s faithfulness and grace (Exodus 2:24; Exodus 3:6; Exodus 6:4–8; Exodus 15:13). The Exodus is to the Old Testament what Jesus Christ’s passion and work of redemption at Calvary’s Cross to the New Testament. In fact, Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery and bondage was one of the defining moments in world history. The Exodus became the standard for later instances in which God delivered His people, especially the deliverance by Jesus Christ from sin. In reading Exodus, anyone who has longed to be liberated from oppression, from emotional or psychological bondage, or from slavery to sin will recognize the power in Moses’ declaration, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord!” (Exodus 14:13).
Even more, the book of Exodus describes the meaning of a personal relationship with the one true and living God, how to establish a relationship with Him, and how to stay faithful in this relationship. The book of Exodus not only provides what is required in a faithful relationship with God, but also what God had graciously done to make that relationship possible. Exodus addresses our great needs: to be set free from slavery (Exodus 1 – 18), to know who God is and God’s character through the covenant at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19 – 24), and to experience God’s presence and fellowship through the Tabernacle (Exodus 25 –40).
To properly understand the book of Exodus, one will need to read the book of Genesis. The book of Exodus continues the story of God’s dealings with His people. The opening chapters of Genesis described a good world created by the true and living God (Genesis 1 – 2). From the very beginning of creation, God’s plan was to share His life with humans He created and to allow humans the joy of fellowship with Him. However, the world God created fell under a curse due to human disobedience and rebellion against God (Genesis 3). Progressively, humanity became deeply corrupted (Genesis 6:5). Death, violence, and confusion were rampant in the world (Genesis 4:8, 23-24; Genesis 11:9) as humans alienated and abandoned God. Yet, the true and living God established a plan to restore falling humanity with Abraham. In Genesis 12 – 50, God’s plan to restore falling humanity began to unfold. God graciously chose Abraham and his descendants to be in a special covenant relationship with Him, promising to make Abraham and his descendants into a prosperous nation through which the whole world would know God and God’s grace (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham believed God’s promises despite the fact that his wife Sarah seemed hopelessly barren (Genesis 15:6; see also Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23), and God soon began to fulfill His promises (Genesis 21:1-7).
However as the book of Exodus begins, Abraham’s descendants were enslaved by the Egyptians. At this time, the Egyptians were a powerful and wealthy nation with great military power. Yet during the Egyptian enslavement, these descendants of Abraham had grown from seventy people to over two million (Exodus 1:1-7; see also Genesis 46:26-27; Exodus 12:37; Exodus 38:26; Numbers 1). The Israelites (also called “Hebrews” and later called “Jews”) were a large immigrant nation (see Genesis 46:3-4) and they filled the Egyptian lands (Exodus 1:7). God had promised Abraham that his descendants would multiply greatly, and they did (Genesis 12:2; Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5). How would a group of enslaved people ever fulfilled God’s promises to Abraham? Did God really care for Abraham’s descendants and if not, then the promises of Genesis were of no real value?
In answering those questions, the book Exodus provides a glorious and magnificent series of appearance of the true and living God. The goal of Exodus is to make known Yahweh — “the Lord” as El-Shaddai — “God Almighty” (Exodus 6:3) and the true nature and character of God. The true and living God is altogether different from “all other gods” (Exodus 18:11). The true and living God is Almighty (Exodus 5:1-2; Exodus 6:3), the greatest being in existence (Exodus 3:5-6, 14-15; Exodus 6:3), superior to all human kings who think of themselves as gods and to all the forces of nature. Yahweh is the one true God, He is Almighty – El Shaddai (see also Genesis 17:1; Genesis 28:3; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 43:14; Genesis 48:3) and He is also the Redeemer (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; see also Job 19:25; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 59:20). The name Yahweh was known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but God’s name as the One who would redeem Israel from Egyptian bondage was not known until the Exodus (Exodus 6:5). Redemption means not only release from slavery and suffering but also deliverance to eternal freedom and joy.
In Exodus, we learn that God cares about His people, and He faithfully seeks to deliver His people from bondage and slavery. God had heard the groans of the Israelites and He also remembered His promises to Israel’s forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israelites needed more than rescue from Egyptian slavery. They needed a way out of their sin and a way into an intimate fellowship with the true and living God. The people of Israel had spent some 400 years absorbing Egypt’s mistaken pagan beliefs. Egypt had many gods and goddess they worshipped. The Egyptians even considered Pharaoh to be sovereign and divine, able to do whatever he pleased. Yet, God showed the Israelites that this was not true. There is only one absolutely independent “I AM,” and that is Yahweh (see Exodus 3:6-14; Exodus 6:2-8; Exodus 20:2; Exodus 34:6-7). Now the Israelites would have to unlearn the Egyptian way of life: There were not many gods, only one God and He is Almighty. The true and living God redeemed Israel, God’s firstborn son, from Egyptian slavery so they could worship Him only as their God (Exodus 4:23; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:1, 20, 26; Exodus 9:1, 13; Exodus 10:7, 24; Exodus 12:31). The true and living God is holy, deeply ethical in all of His relationships, zealously loyal to His people, and desiring to do good for them (Exodus 34:5-6).
In the plagues and the Red Sea crossing, the Israelites learned of God’s unique and mighty power over all nature and creation. The real purpose of the plagues and the Red Sea crossing was to make God known — to the Israelites, to the Egyptian, and to the world (Exodus 6:3, 7; Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:10, 22; Exodus 9:14, 29; Exodus 10:2; Exodus 11:7; Exodus 14:4, 18). In fact, the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world was to make God known (John 17:3-4, 18). The plagues and the Red Sea crossing revealed the true and living God’s absolute power and supreme superiority over all creation and all other so-called gods. The true and living God demonstrated to both the Egyptians and the Israelites that He alone is God. Exodus shows a greater proportion of miracles – direct supernatural acts of God – than any other parts of the Holy Bible except the Gospels. In Exodus, God is presented in several important roles: (1) He controls history; (2) He is the great “I AM”; (3) He is a holy God; (4) He is the God who remembers and is always faithful; (5) He is the God who acts in salvation and in judgment; (5) He is the God who speaks; (6) God is transcendent (supreme); and (7) God desires a relationship with His people.
In the wilderness, the Israelites learned about God’s providential care and concern for their spiritual and physical needs (Exodus 15:22 – Exodus 18:27). God graciously provided the Israelites heavenly food – bread (called manna), meat to eat and water. Then, God brought the Israelites to the holy mountain, Mount Sinai to establish a covenant. This covenant was a contractual agreement or treaty between God and the Israelites. Another word for covenant is “testament”. Exodus 24 shows the covenant’s confirmation. The rest of the Old Testament builds upon what took place at Exodus 19 through 24 as God personally gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and the case law or regulations that flow from the Commandments. The covenant presented at Mount Sinai (Sinai covenant) was designed to teach the Israelites about God’s holy nature and ethical character. God used the covenant (Exodus 19 – 24) to teach Israel who He is and what their relationship with Him should be like. In the Sinai covenant, God called the Israelites to absolute loyalty and allegiance to Him as the only God and also to an ethical lifestyle that reflected His will and nature as sovereign Creator. In many cultures, ethics and religion were largely unrelated. By contrast, most of the requirements of God’s covenant at Sinai have to do with ethics and religion. Those who are in a covenant relationship with God must treat one another ethically and be holy (see Exodus 19:5-6; Exodus 20:3-17). A person in a relationship with God must not only participate in proper worship (religion), but also treat others with fairness, justice, mercy, humbleness, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. The key words of the covenant were if Israel will obey only then would God fulfill all the promises for protection and favor. Only as the Israelites obeyed God could they truly enjoy the privileges of being a kingdom of priests, God's special treasure and His holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6; see also 1 Peter 2:5, 9). The ultimate goal for all people is to reverential trust and respect God and obey God’s commandments, which Jesus Christ summarized as love for God and love for one another (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; see also Matthew 22:34-40). Amazingly, Jesus Christ is seen as the embodiment of the true Israel and God’s obedient firstborn Son. Jesus Christ fulfilled the Sinai covenant by living completely devoted, faithful, and obedient to God and God’s commandments.
God redeems and saves His people from slavery, including slavery to sin, and calls us into a life of holiness in order that we may have a living and intimate relationship with Him. The Tabernacle (Exodus 25–40) reveals God’s desire to live in His holy presence with His people without His people being destroyed by His holy nature (Exodus 40:34-38). For if sinful humans were to come into the presence of God, His holiness would destroy humans. The Tabernacle provided a temporary means by which the Israelites could enjoy God’s holy presence without being destroyed (Exodus 25:8). The Tabernacle shows us in tangible ways what is required to enter God’s presence. Our redemption or salvation is not merely the forgiveness of sins. God’s goal for us is that, having been delivered from the bondage of sin, we might live daily in the glory of His holy presence and reflect God’s holy and good character to the world. Reflecting God’s holy character thereby making God known to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

God’s Wilderness Training

So Moses cried out to the Lord for help . . . .  It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them (the Israelites) the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness (commitment) to Him. He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, obeying His commands and keeping all His decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.” Exodus 15:25-26 (NLT)

Exodus 15:22 through Exodus 18:27 describe the Israelites training journey in the wilderness while traveling from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. During their training journey, the Israelites (also called “Hebrews”) grumbled and complained whenever they faced a crisis or trouble (see Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2, 8; Exodus 17:3; Numbers 11:1; see also 1 Corinthians 10:10). First, the Israelites complained and grumbled that they did not have water (Exodus 15:22-24). The Israelites had just witnessed the greatest redemption and salvation of the Old Testament one month earlier (Exodus 16:1). The Israelite people had been delivered from Egyptian slavery by the mighty hand of God (Exodus 12). Even more, the Israelites visibly witnessed God’s parting of the Red Sea and God’s miraculous deliverance from their Egyptian enemies (Exodus 14). Despite their miraculous redemption and deliverance, the Israelites grumbled and did not trust God’s continued provision of their needs. Instead of trusting God, the Israelites complained and rebelled against God. Shockingly, the Israelites went from rejoicing just a month earlier (Exodus 15:1-21) to complaining against God (Exodus 15:22-24). It is easy to worship and rejoice before God when circumstances are good, but it takes faith and courage to worship and rejoice when suffering comes (Philippians 4:10–13). Besides, the Israelites’ real problem was unfaithfulness and lack of trust in God. God was teaching the Israelites in the wilderness that He was faithful and stand ready to provide for their needs (Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Nevertheless, Moses continued to trust God when there was no water. When faced with a crisis, Moses cried out to the Lord God in prayer (Exodus 15:25), and the Lord immediately provided a bountiful oasis of sweet water at Marah and again an oasis of water at Erim (Exodus 15:25, 27; see also 2 Kings 2:19-22). But before providing the Israelites water, the Lord God gave the people a training lesson. God set before the Israelites the following decree as a standard to test their wholehearted faithfulness to Him, shape their character, and build trust in Him (Exodus 15:25; see also Genesis 22:1; Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2-3). The Lord God said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26, NIV). God promised that if the people wholeheartedly obeyed His moral laws and not rebel against His instructions, they would receive God’s healing, protection, and provision (see 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalms 40:6-8; Psalm 51:16-17; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). If we want God to bless us, we must wholeheartedly OBEY AND TRUST GOD and submit to His guidelines for living. Yes, God’s blesses are conditional on our obedience and trust in Him! Moreover, there is a lesson to be learned here: we are to pray first rather than complain. Also note that God tested the Israelites but not tempted. God never tempts His people (James 1:13). Evil tempts people (1 Corinthians 7:5) in order to make people fall and turn from God. Yet, God tests His people in order to confirm their faith (Exodus 20:20) and commitment to Him (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Despite God’s first training session and the providing of water (Exodus 15:25-27), the people once again complained against God (Exodus 16:2, 8). Even worse, the Israelites wanted to return to Egyptian slavery rather than trust and follow God (Exodus 16:2-3). The Lord God heard the Israelites’ numerous complaints and ungratefulness (Exodus 16:8-9, 11-12). In spite of the Israelites complaining, God mercifully and graciously provided from heaven meat to eat and daily bread (Exodus 16:4-5, 8; see also Numbers 11:31-33; Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). God provided all the needed meat and bread for the people by raining down food from heaven (Exodus 16:4) so the people would know Him as Lord God (Exodus 16:12). Each day God provided the Israelites necessary food to eat to teach the Israelites to look Godward and God-dependent for their daily food. Moreover, the awesome glory of God appeared in the cloud to the Israelites by providing meat and bread from heaven (Exodus 16:7, 10; see also Exodus 24:15-17; Matthew 17:5).

Yet, God wanted the Israelites to follow and obey His guidelines and instructions for collecting the miraculous food from heaven (Exodus 16:4-5, 16, 27-28). God reminded the people He would provide daily food for living (see Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3) but God also wanted the people to obey His holy Sabbath day (Exodus 16:22, 26). The Sabbath day is a day of rest set apart and dedicated for worship to God (Exodus 16:23, 25). On the sixth day, God instructed the people to gather twice as much food so they could rest on the seventh day, the Sabbath (Exodus 16:5, 26, 29). Amazingly, God wanted the people to realize a holy Sabbath day of rest as the Sabbath day is God’s gift of rest (Exodus 16:29-30; see also Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-10). Worship, meditation, and physical rest from a busy work week would characterize the Sabbath day. Today, Christians rest on the first day of the week (Sunday) and then they go forth to serve the living God with the energy He supplies on that first day. If the people did not follow God’s instructions, the miraculous food would become inedible (Exodus 16:20).

The Israelites called the miraculous and unique food “manna,” which means “What is it?” (Exodus 16:15, 31). The Holy Scriptures described the manna as a white like coriander seed that tasted like honey wafers (Exodus 16:31). God wanted the people to preserve a portion of the manna in a special jar so future generation would know of God’s miraculous provision of food in the wilderness (Exodus 16:32-33; see also Psalm 78:24; Hebrews 9:4; Revelation 2:17). This manna was eventually placed in the Ark of the Covenant — in front of the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant (Exodus 16:34). The Israelites ate an abundance of manna for forty years, until they reached the Promised Land of Canaan (Exodus 16:35). The manna stopped at the time the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in Canaan (see Joshua 5:10-12). The manna was available to the Israelites no matter their location in their wilderness journey. God’s daily provision of food in the desert was one of the greatest signs that Israel’s God was the true God of heaven and earth.

In John 6:25-59, Jesus Christ compares Himself to manna. After miraculous feeding the five thousand, Jesus Christ called Himself “the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32), “the bread of God” (John 6:33), the “bread of life” (John 6:35, 48) and “the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). Jesus Christ, as the bread of life (John 6:51), provides our daily spiritual nourishment that satisfies our deepest hunger. During the exodus, the life sustaining manna did not come from Moses but from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our true daily bread that satisfies fully our entire physical, spiritual and eternal needs (John 6:35). Everyone who partakes and believes in Jesus Christ will find sustaining life (John 6:47-48, 51, 54-59). Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” and no one comes to the living God except through Him (John 14:6). In the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ promises to provide the faithful believer the hidden manna from heaven (Revelation 2:17).

Next, the Israelites camped at Rephidim and there was once again no water to drink. As before, the Israelites continued to sin against God by complaining and rebelling against God instead of turning to the living God in prayer and trust (Exodus 17:1-3; see Exodus 15:24). As before, Moses cried out to God in prayer and God answered Moses (Exodus 17:4). For years, Moses patiently put up with the Israelites’ grumbling and complaining. Instead of lashing out at the people, Moses patiently interceded with God time and again for Israel, pleading for God to have mercy on His people. Graciously and despite the Israelites’ grumbling, God miraculous provided water from the rock for the people (Exodus 17:5-7). God commanded Moses to strike the rock; and the rock gave forth water (Exodus 17:5-6). Moses called that place “Massah” and “Meribah” because the Israelites quarreled and tested God by saying “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7, NIV). This miraculous providing of water from a rock was celebrated by the psalmist and prophets (see Psalm 78:15-16, 20; Psalm 105:40-41; Psalm 114:8; Isaiah 48:21). In 1 Corinthians 10:4, the Apostle Paul points out that the smitten rock represented Jesus Christ. The rock pictures Jesus Christ who was smitten for us (1 Corinthians 10:4) that we might have life-giving water of the Holy Spirit within us (John 7:37–39). The manna (spiritual food) and the water (spiritual drink) were used by Apostle Paul as figures representing the spiritual nourishment that God continually provides for His people through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:3-4). Jesus Christ is bread of life and the water of life (John 4:14; John 6:30-35).

While the Israelites were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them (Exodus 17:8). The Amalekites were descendants of Esau – the Edomites (Genesis 36:1, 12, 16) and were long-standing enemies of Israel (Genesis 14:7; Numbers 14:43, 45; Deuteronomy 25:17-19; 1 Samuel 15:2–3). Then, God showed the Israelites once again He would fight against their enemies (Exodus 17:8-15). The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8). But, the Amalekites were fighting the wrong group — people led by God. In this battle with the Amalekites, we are first introduced to Joshua. “Joshua” means “The Lord saves.” The Greek form of the name Joshua is the same as that of the name Jesus. Later, Joshua would become the great leader that brought the Israelites into God’s Promised Land. Moses instructed Joshua to choose some mighty men to fight against the Amalekites while he stood on top of the hill with the staff of God in his hands (Exodus 17:9). Joshua followed Moses’ instruction (Exodus 17:10). Joshua and the Israelites fought the Amalekites while Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill seeking God’s help for victory (Exodus 17:10). Joshua led Israel to victory as Moses interceded in their behalf in prayer. As long as Moses lifted up his hands to the throne of God, the Israelites were winning, but whenever Moses lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning (Exodus 17:11, 16). Aaron and Hur stood by Moses’ side and held up Moses’ hands toward God (Exodus 17:10-13). Hands held upward toward heaven is a symbol of appeal to God for help and empowerment (Exodus 9:22, 29; Exodus 10:12; Exodus 14:16; Exodus 17:11; see also 1 Kings 8:22, 38, 54; Ezra 9:5; Psalm 88:9; Psalm 143:6). The Israelites defeated the Amalekite army with the sword (Exodus 17:13) at Rephidim. Moses built an altar and called the altar “The Lord is my Banner” or “Jehovah-Nissi” (Exodus 17:15). This Banner recalled Moses prayer with upraised hands to God (Exodus 17:11-12, 16) and testified to God’s power displayed in the defense of His people in battle. As Christians when we face the battles of life, we are also to remember that God is our Banner and He gives us our victory (John 16:33; 1 John 5:4–5). The battle against the Amalekites was not won by Israel’s smarts or might but by God’s strength.

God’s mighty and miraculous deliverance of the Israelites against the Egyptians had spread to neighboring nations. Jethro, a priest of Midian and father-in-law to Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and the Israelites, and how God redeemed Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 18:1). Moreover, Moses told Jethro about all the hardships and struggles the Israelites had experienced along the way and how God faithfully rescued His people from all their troubles (Exodus 18:8). Jethro was also called “Reuel”, which means “friend of God” (Exodus 2:18) and he was a non-Israelite (Exodus 2:16). Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good and miraculous things God had done for Israel as He saved and rescued the Israelites from the Egyptian slavery (Exodus 18:9). Even more, Jethro worshipped and praised Almighty God (El Shaddai) for Israel’s deliverance from the powerful hand of Egypt (Exodus 6:2-3; Exodus 18:10, 12) and acknowledged that the Lord God (Yahweh) is “greater than all other gods” (Exodus 18:11). Like Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-24), Jethro was a Gentile priest (Exodus 2:16) whose worship indicated that he knew the true and living God. Exodus 18:7-12 with Jethro provides a striking example of how the God of Israel revealed Himself as the true and living God not only to Israel but also to non-Israelites (see also Joshua 2:9-11 as to Rahab; Joshua 9:9-10 as to the Gibeonites). God not only loves Israel but He also loves the world (John 3:16). Even though God chose Israel, He has love and concern for all people of the world.

The next day, Moses took his seat to hear the people’s disputes against each other from morning till evening (Exodus 18:13). Jethro saw that Moses was wearing himself out serving the people as leader and resolving the people’s disputes (Exodus 18:14, 17-18). Moses was trying to do all the work himself, and he was not making a distinction between major matters and minor problems. This work load was not good for Moses as his job was too heavy a burden alone (Exodus 18:17, 19). The method used by Moses was inefficient and physically impossible. Moses was a great man, but he could not do the work alone. Jethro suggested a simple, but wise solution to Moses. Jethro advised Moses to share and delegate some of his responsibilities in leading the Israelites and resolving the Israelites’ disputes (Exodus 18:19-20). Jethro advised Moses to teach the people God’s decrees and laws on how to conduct themselves before God and according to God’s will (Exodus 18:15-16, 20). Moreover, Jethro advised Moses to select some capable, honest and trustworthy men who reverentially trusted God and hated dishonest gain (not covetousness) and appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten (Exodus 18:21-22, 26; see also Acts 6:3). These leaders would help carry Moses’s work load and Israelites leaders would always be available to solve the people’s common and minor disputes, while reserving the major and difficult cases for Moses (Exodus 18:22, 26). Note that Jethro expected Moses to seek God’s will first in the matter (Exodus 18:23). What seems like good counsel from people might be bad counsel in God’s sight, so we must always seek God’s directions first. Jethro’s intervention and assistance to Moses literally made the difference between Israel’s life and death. This Midian priest not only helped Moses care for his family but also wisely advised Israel’s greatest prophet in properly leading God’s people (see also Exodus 18:2-6, 18). Note that Jethro’s advice did not suggest that Moses abandon his responsibility as intermediary between Israel and God nor shun his role as the only source of legislative power and the origin of judicial authority (Exodus 18:20). Instead, Jethro advised Moses to teach the people the laws and to delegate the lighter cases to morally qualified men (Exodus 18:21-22 see also 1 Timothy 3:1–3). In difficult and major cases, Moses laid the matter before God Himself (see Numbers 27:5–11). These are important principles of leadership.

Fools reject their parents’ correction, but anyone who accepts correction is wise. Proverbs 15:5 (NCV)

Amazingly, although Moses was a leader and great prophet (Deuteronomy 34:10), Moses humbly respected and followed Jethro’s wise advice (Exodus 18:7, 24; Proverbs 15:5). Exodus 18:13-27 reveals a lot about Moses’ character and personality. It would have been easy for Moses to become defensive when Jethro offered advice. But instead, Moses showed Jethro respect. Moses humbly listened and responded willingly to Jethro’s advice (see Numbers 12:3). God also wants His people to be humble and obedient people with a teachable spirit and demeanor and not rebellious and prideful people (see Genesis 26:5; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalms 40:6-8; Psalm 51:16-17; Psalm 119; Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 13:10; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). The Holy Scriptures repeatedly teaches that God dislikes pride, disobedience, and rebellion spirits but give His grace to the humble (see also Proverbs 8:13; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

Believer’s Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Word in Life Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

God’s Presence

The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and He provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. And the Lord did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people. Exodus 13:20-22 (NLT)

After leaving Egyptian slavery, the true and living God was visibly present with the Israelite people through a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:20-22; Exodus 14:19–20). The pillars of fire and cloud is sometimes called a “Theophany” — God visibly appearing in a physical form. This pillar was also identified with the Angel of the Lord (Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20-23; see also Nehemiah 9:12). One of God's names is “Jehovah-Sabaoth,” which means "Lord of hosts, Lord of armies.” This title for God is used 285 times in the Old Testament. Occasionally, God spoke from the pillar of cloud (Numbers 12:5-6; Deuteronomy 31:15-16; Psalm 99:7).

Other biblical scholars call this miraculous pillar of cloud and fire the Shekinah glory of God. This same glory later filled the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35) and then Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:10-11), and finally departed from the Temple and Jerusalem just before the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites (Ezekiel 8–11). God’s glory departed Israel because of the people’s disobedience and corruption (Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 10:4, 18; Ezekiel 11:22-23). Then, God’s glory visibly returned again to earth with the birth of Jesus Christ – the grand Theophany (see John 1:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus Christ is the new Temple of God filled with God’s glory (John 2:19-21). In Jesus Christ, we see the fullness of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3).

The pillars of fire and cloud guided, protected and assured the Israelites (also called “Jews” or Hebrews”) of God’s presence as they traveled from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land (Exodus 14:19-20; see also Numbers 9:17-18; Nehemiah 9:12, 19; Psalm 78:14). God gave the Israelites a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire so they would know day and night that God’s glorious and holy presence was with them on their journey (Exodus 13:20-22; see also Psalm 105:39). Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left the Israelites (Exodus 13:22). In fact, the miraculous pillar moved between the Israelites and the Egyptians as God became a wall of protection between the Israelites and their enemies (Exodus 14:19). Also amazingly, the pillar that brought light to the Israelites but brought a shield of darkness to the Egyptians to protect the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptians (Exodus 14:20; see also John 8:12). The pillar of cloud also shielded the Israelites from the hot sun in the desert, perhaps as God’s shading “wings” of protection as they journeyed (Psalm 17:8; Psalm 121:5-6;  Psalm 105:39). Moreover, the pillar was a covering for the fiery manifestation of God’s glorious presence (see Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:16; Exodus 34:5; Exodus 40:34-35; Numbers 11:25; Numbers 12:5; Numbers 16:42; Deuteronomy 31:15; 1 Kings 8:10-11). When the cloud moved, the Israelites moved; when the cloud waited, the Israelites waited (Exodus 40:34-38).

When word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds. “What have we done, letting all those Israelite slaves get away?” they asked. So Pharaoh harnessed his chariot and called up his troops. He took with him 600 of Egypt’s best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with its commander. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, so he chased after the people of Israel, who had left with fists raised in defiance. The Egyptians chased after them (Israelites) with all the forces in Pharaoh’s army — all his horses and chariots, his charioteers, and his troops. The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore near Pi-hahiroth, across from Baal-zephon. . . . But Moses told the people, “Do not be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” . . . Then the Angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night. Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! Then the Egyptians — all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers — chased them into the middle of the sea. But just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and He threw their forces into total confusion. He twisted their chariot wheels, making their chariots difficult to drive. “Let’s get out of here — away from these Israelites!” the Egyptians shouted. “The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!” . . . When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before Him. They put their faith in the Lord and in His servant Moses. Exodus 14:5-9, 13-14, 19-25, 31 (NLT)

While escaping Egyptian slavery, Pharaoh and the Egyptian army pursued the people of Israel (Exodus 14:5-9). Pharaoh and the Egyptians wanted the Israelites to return to Egypt and continue being their slaves. God Almighty displayed His glory and power against Pharaoh, all his chariots and his horsemen so the Egyptians would “know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 14:4, 17-18). God parted the Red Sea (also called the “Sea of Reed” or “Yam Suph”) for the Israelites and allowed the Israelite people to cross safely and without harm. Yet, God destroyed six hundred Egyptian war chariots and mighty men of Egypt (Exodus 14:6-9, 19-25). These Egyptians were no match against the Israelites and the power of their Almighty God, who destroyed both the chariots and the Egyptian soldiers (Exodus 14:19-25).

Moses had become a man of faith and not a man of fear (Hebrews 11:27-29). Faith and fear cannot live together in the same heart, for one will destroy the other (Mark 4:40). True faith depends on God, not on what we see or how we feel. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Moses now knew that Pharaoh's army was no match against the true and living God’s power. Moses gave several commands to the people, and the first command was, “Do not be afraid” (Exodus 14:13). The Israelites were tempted to flee with fear because they were hemmed in by the mountains, the sea, and the Egyptian army and they seemed doomed. So, Moses gave the Israelites another command: “Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today” (Exodus 14:13). By faith in God, the Israelites marched out of Egypt, and now by faith the Israelites would stand firm and watch the wonderful Almighty God destroy the Egyptians (Exodus 14:14). Moses not only told the Israelites to stand still, but also to “be still” because Almighty God would fight their battle against the Egyptians (Exodus 14:14; see also Deuteronomy 1:30; Psalm 46:10). The Israelites would be saved without having to fight, although they were “armed for battle” (Exodus 13:18) and “marching out boldly” (Exodus 14:8). The victory against the Egyptians would be won by God alone to reveal His glory and power (Exodus 14:8, 14, 25). Almighty God miraculous opened a highway through the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21). “The Lord opened up a path through the sea, with walls of water on each side; and a strong east wind blew all that night, drying the sea bottom. So the people of Israel walked through the sea on dry ground!” (Exodus 14:21-22). However, God swept the Egyptians into the sea (Exodus 14:27). What a great and mighty God we serve! The God Most High was their Redeemer (Psalm 78:35). When the people saw the mighty power that God had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with respect, fear, and reverence before Him. The Israelites placed their faith (trust) in God (Exodus 14:31). The true and living God is our warrior, protector and defender (Exodus 15:3; see also 2 Chronicles 20:17-18) and He has no rivals (Exodus 15:11; Exodus 20:3).

There is only one God. There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for Him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (NLT)

The parting of the Red Sea is one great example in the Holy Bible of what are called miracles (Exodus 14:21-22). Miracles are supernatural interventions by God to accomplish His purpose and bring glory to His name. Without question, God continues to perform miracles today. The miracle at Red Sea was God’s greatest and miraculous act of redemption in the Holy Bible. Subsequent ages looked back to the Red Sea miracle as one of victorious living under divine guidance. Future psalmists would praise God for His miraculous mighty works at the Red Sea (see e.g. Psalm 66; Psalm 78; Psalm 105-106; Psalm 136). The psalmist never tired of celebrating one of God’s greatest events. Also, the Old Testament prophets would use the Exodus to encourage the Jewish people in their return to their land after the Babylonian Captivity (Isaiah 43:1-7; Isaiah 52:11-12; Isaiah 55:12-13; Jeremiah 16:14-15; Jeremiah 23:7-8), as well as to motivate the backslidden Jews to return to God (Jeremiah 2:2-3; Ezekiel 20; Hosea 2:14-23; Amos 3; Micah 6:3-4). The prophets harked back to the days of the exodus to stir the conscience of Israelites. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, the Apostle Paul saw the Israelites march through the Red Sea as their “baptism,” for the water was on either side like a wall and the miraculous cloud of God's presence was behind them and over them.

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord: I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; He has thrown both horse and rider into the sea. The Lord is my strength, my song, and my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him. . . . The Lord is a warrior — Yes, Jehovah is His name. . . . Who else is like the Lord among the gods? Who is glorious in holiness like Him? Who is so awesome in splendor, a wonder-working God? You reached out Your hand and the earth swallowed them (Egyptians). You have led the people you redeemed. But in Your loving-kindness You have guided them (Israelites) wonderfully to Your holy land. The nations heard what happened, and they trembled. . . . Jehovah shall reign forever and forever. Exodus 15:1-3, 11-14, 18 (The Living Bible)

With their Egyptian enemies drowned and their freedom secure, the Israelites burst into joyful song and praised God (Exodus 15:1-21). Moses’ song at Exodus 15 celebrated the event from which this book gets its name: “the exodus” from Egypt, when a band of Hebrew slaves escaped from the most powerful civilization on earth. The Israelites lifted their hearts and voices outward and upward unto God as they worshipped God’s mighty redemption. Redemption should lead to rejoicing (Luke 15:1–24). The first portion of the song retells the story of God’ decisive victory over Pharaoh and the Egyptians and Israel’s redemption and deliverance (Exodus 14:13) at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:2-11; see also Psalm 118:20), and the second portion of the song anticipates Israelites future approach to the Promised Land (Exodus 15:12-17).

Some scholars believe Exodus 15 is the oldest and first recorded song in the world. Exodus 15 is a pattern for true worship to God, for this song emphasized God first and foremost and praised Him. Today, believers of Jesus Christ must also praise God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for His strength, glory and redemption (Exodus 15:2; see also Psalm 118:14; Isaiah 12:2). All of Scripture clearly reveals a loving God – the divine name Yahweh (“the LORD”) – who is good, true, powerful, pure, and compassionate and not vindictive or brutal.

At the Red Sea, the Israelite learned that their future success lay in obeying three responsibilities: following God (Exodus 13:17-22), trusting God (Exodus 14:1-31), and praising God (Exodus 15:12-21). The Israelites’ trust and obedience in God would lead them into the Promised Land and give them their inheritance from God. No wonder the Israelites joyful sang, “Who else is like the Lord among the gods?” (Exodus 15:11; see also Micah 7:18) The answer is nobody! No one or no being in the universe is “majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders” than the Lord God Almighty (Exodus 15:11, NIV). The Lord God Almighty is definitely without equal and is glorious.

I find rest in God; only He can save me. He is my rock and my salvation. He is my defender; I will not be defeated. . . .  I find rest in God; only He gives me hope. He is my rock and my salvation. He is my defender; I will not be defeated. My honor and salvation come from God. He is my mighty rock and my protection. People, trust God all the time. Tell Him all your problems, because God is our protection. . . . God has said this, and I have heard it over and over: God is strong. The Lord is loving. Psalms 62:1-2, 5-8, 11-12 (NCV)

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
Word in Life Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Remembering God’s Deliverance

God through Moses:  “On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Exodus 12:12-13 (NLT)

Passover marked a new beginning for God’s people, the Israelites (also called “Jews” or “Hebrews”). This day was the Jews’ Independence Day and celebrates God’s miraculous deliverance of the Israelite people from Egyptian slavery. We usually call this event “the Jewish Passover,” but the Holy Bible calls this day “the Lord's Passover” (Exodus 12:11, 27; Leviticus 23:5; Number 28:16). The Passover was instituted by God Himself (Exodus 12:41-42). At the Passover, God revealed His greatness and supremacy to Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and to the world that He was truly the all-powerful and Almighty God – El Shaddai (Exodus 6:3; Exodus 12:12-13). Also, God brought “judgment on all the gods of Egypt” so that world would know He is the one true and living God (Exodus 12:12).

God’s tenth and final plague was the grand finale in the contest between God verses man. To the Egyptians, Pharaoh was a god. So when Moses and Aaron came, claiming to speak for a new god whom they called “Yahweh and El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’, Pharaoh wanted to know, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?” (Exodus 5:1-2; Exodus 6:3). In effect, Pharaoh was challenging the true and living God, El Shaddai — ‘God Almighty’.  God accepted the challenge. He brought nine catastrophic plagues on Egypt to demonstrate His great power. Nevertheless, Pharaoh resisted all nine plagues. But in the tenth and final plague, God struck down Pharaoh’s supposedly god child and revealed Himself as El Shaddai — ‘God Almighty’. “During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. . . . And also bless me” (Exodus 12:31-32, NIV). Pharaoh was now defeated and humbled by God. The true and living God of Israel had won and defeated Pharaoh!

The theme of the book of Exodus is redemption, deliverance or salvation, in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham at Genesis 15:13-14. Promises were fulfilled that Passover night that were made to Abraham four centuries before (Genesis 15:13-14). The Israelites had lived in Egypt for 430 years just as God promised Abraham (Exodus 12:40-42). God led the Hebrews out of Egypt, just as He had promised. This showed His great power and His great love for His people. The heart of redemption theology is best seen in the great Passover (Exodus 12; see also Exodus 6:6). On Passover night, this event marked God’s redemption of His people from slavery and bondage by God’s mighty hand. The Israelites would be making a new beginning as a nation and new life. “From now on, this month will be the first and most important of the entire year” (Exodus 12:2 - TLB). The Lord’s Passover is the beginning of the religious calendar in Israel (Exodus 12:2, 11).

For the children of Israel, independence from Egypt meant wholehearted dependence and trust in God. In fact, God came back to the Passover event throughout the Holy Bible as a way of describing Himself: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” Israel's miraculous exodus from Egypt was the greatest demonstration of God’s mighty and miraculous power. The prophets and the psalmists repeatedly pointed to the Exodus as proof of God's supremacy, greatest, and control. The pattern of dependence and trust in God was to continue all through the Israelites lives. When the Israelites ran out of water, God provided. When food supplies failed, God provided. When enemies attacked, God provided.

Moses:  For the Lord will pass through the land to strike down the Egyptians. But when He sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the Lord will pass over your home. He will not permit His death angel to enter your house and strike you down. . . . Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though He struck the Egyptians, He spared our families.’” When Moses had finished speaking, all the people bowed down to the ground and worshiped. Exodus 12:23, 26-27 (NLT)

The Passover is part of an annual one-week celebration. This seven-day feast period is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread and included the Feast of the Passover and the Feast of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:4–11; see also Joshua 5:10, 2 Kings 23:22, 2 Chronicles 35:18, Ezra 6:19; Luke 22:1). These feasts celebrated God! Passover became an annual remembrance of how God delivered His people from Egypt. Unleavened bread was used in the celebration as a reminder that the Israelites had no time to leaven their bread before they ate their final meal as slaves in Egypt. Passover is still kept today by many practicing Jews.

On the first Passover night, God struck all the firstborn males, humans and animals, from the lowest Egyptian prisoner to Pharaoh’s oldest son and all the firstborn animals (Exodus 12:6-11, 29). There was a great cry in Egypt; however, God mercifully passed over all the Israelites who applied the blood of the lamb on their lintel and side posts of the doors (Exodus 11:6; Exodus 12:30). Blood on the doorpost was a signal to God that His death angel should “pass over” the Israelites during the judgment. God often used angels to bring destructive plagues (see 2 Samuel 24:15-16; 2 Kings 19:35; 1 Corinthians 10:10). For the Israelites to be saved from the death, a perfect lamb with no defects had to be killed. Passover meant the Lord God would “pass over” and not destroy the occupants of houses that were under the sign of the blood (Exodus 12:11; see also Exodus 13:23, 27). It was not the life of the lamb that saved the Israelite people from judgment but the death and sacrificial blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:3). So begins the story of redemption, the central theme of the Holy Bible. “Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22; see also Leviticus 17:11).

During the New Testament times, Passover became a pilgrim festival. Large numbers of Jews gathered in Jerusalem to observe the annual celebration. During one particular Passover feast as thousands of Jews brought their choice lambs, one Man was selected as the Passover Lamb for all of humanity (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus Christ died during the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. Thus, there was a large crowd in Jerusalem at Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover celebration (Luke 19:37–39) and His arrest, trial, and crucifixion (Luke 23:18, 27, 35, 48). Apparently, many Jews stayed on until the Feast of Pentecost, when these same Jews heard Peter’s persuasive sermon (Acts 2:1–41). In celebrating His final Passover meal, Jesus Christ ate food that was highly symbolic (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23). On the evening Jesus Christ celebrated His last Passover meal with His disciples, He also established His own memorial supper, the Lord’s Supper or the Last Supper. The unleavened Passover bread symbolized the exodus from Egypt, and the cup with Jesus Christ’s blood echoed the Old Testament promise, “I will redeem you” and bestowal of salvation with the new covenant (Exodus 6:6; see also Jeremiah 31:31-34; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20).    

The lesson here is obvious: Unless we are protected by the sacrificial perfect blood of Jesus Christ by faith, we will be eternally killed (see Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28; John 3:14-17; John 10:11; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 9:28; Revelations 5:9). The first exodus Passover foreshadowed the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who unselfishly and willingly gave His blood to redeem and save us from spiritual death and slavery to sin. In His death on the Cross, Jesus Christ fulfilled the true meaning of the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was crucified on Passover day, a celebration that began the evening before the Passover meal was eaten (cee Exodus 12:8). Jesus Christ is “our Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians) sacrificed “once for all” (Hebrews 9:12). Jesus Christ was our substitute and He died our death for us and suffered the judgment of our sin (Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 Peter 2:24). Thus, Jesus Christ redeemed us from the power of sin and reconciled us to God (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Also, Jesus Christ’s final and perfect sacrifice made animal sacrifice no longer necessary. As believers, our part is to wholeheartedly trust in Jesus Christ and accept His gracious gift of eternal life (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our sins have been paid for, and the way has been cleared for us to begin a relationship with God (Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:13-15, 23-26). 

The Apostle Paul viewed the death of the Passover lamb as fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Passover lamb typified Jesus Christ. Indeed, John the Baptist called Jesus Christ the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36). Similar, Jesus Christ is like “a lamb without blemish or defect” (Exodus 12:5; see also Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19). He is the Perfect Passover Lamb (1 Peter 1:18–19) who had to die to save us and redeem us from the slavery to sin (see also Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Revelation 5:5-6; Revelation 13:8). We are saved by applying Jesus Christ’s sacrificial blood to our own hearts by faith. The Passover lamb saved the Jewish people and Jesus Christ as God’s Passover Lamb saves and redeems us too.

Today, many Jewish people celebrate Passover. However, most Christians do not. Rather, the Passover celebration has been incorporated into a new one called the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper or the Last Supper, with Jesus Christ representing the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:14; see also Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). The Lord’s Supper memorializes and celebrates our freedom through the redemption Jesus Christ accomplished at Calvary (see John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7). The Lord’s Supper must never be celebrated apart from acceptance and trust in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death (1 Corinthians 11:26).  Each time we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we look back and remember Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death as our unblemished Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:5-6; Hebrews 9:22; 1 Peter 1:19), but we also look ahead and anticipate His coming again. When Jesus Christ returns again, another wonderful exodus will take place! The dead in Christ will rise and the living believers will be caught up with them and taken to heaven to be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Hallelujah!

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Dedicate to Me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to Me.” So Moses said to the people, “This is a day to remember forever — the day you left Egypt, the place of your slavery. Today the Lord has brought you out by the power of His mighty hand. Exodus 13:1-3 (NLT)

At the time of the Passover and the exodus from Egypt, God introduced an important principle:  every firstborn male, including animals, was to be dedicated and consecrated to Him. God had adopted Israel as His firstborn (Exodus 4:22) and He had graciously delivered every firstborn among the Israelites, whether human or animal, from the tenth and final plague (see Exodus 12:12-13). All the firstborn of Israel were God’s firstborn (Exodus 13:2-13). The firstborn animals were sacrificed but the humans were to serve God throughout their lives. Later, the Levites were established as a symbolic firstborn for all the people (see Numbers 3:11-13, 40-51; Numbers 8:17-18).
Exodus 13 explains the significance of the firstborn in the nation of Israel. Not only once a year at Passover were the Jews reminded of God's grace and power, but each time a firstborn male, human or animal, came into the world, that firstborn male had to be redeemed. This dedication practice described in Exodus 13:11-16 was to remind the people of God’s redemption and salvation. During the night the Israelites escaped from Egypt, God saved the firstborn of every Israelite house marked with blood on the doorframes (Exodus 13:12-14).  In exchange for God’s mighty deliverance in protecting and redeeming His people and saving the firstborn of humans and animals from death (Exodus 12:12-13), God asked for sanctification or consecration unto Him every firstborn among the Israelites. This means that the every firstborn male and animal among the Israelites belonged to God and were to be “set apart” for His service (Exodus 13:1-2). Firstborn males were sanctified, that is, set apart for God's exclusive possession and purpose. Parents would bring their firstborn males to God and offer the appropriate sacrifice (see Leviticus 12:6-8). Mary’s firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, was presented to God in accordance with this Law. Amazingly, when Mary and Joseph came to the Temple to redeem the Redeemer (Jesus the Messiah also called Christ), they brought the humble sacrifice of the poor (Luke 2:21-24).

“And in the future, when your children ask you, ‘What is this all about?’ you shall tell them, ‘With mighty miracles Jehovah brought us out of Egypt from our slavery. Pharaoh would not let us go, so Jehovah killed all the firstborn males throughout the land of Egypt, both of men and animals; that is why we now give all the firstborn males to the Lord—except that all the eldest sons are always bought back.’ Again I say, this celebration shall identify you as God’s people, just as much as if His brand of ownership were placed upon your foreheads. It is a reminder that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with great power.” Exodus 13:14-16 (The Living Bible)

When a firstborn male was redeemed, or a firstborn animal, it gave adults an opportunity to explain how God had miraculous rescued the firstborn of the Israelites on Passover night, and how God had slain all the Egyptian firstborn, both humans and animal. This release of the child to the Lord was symbolized by a ritual of redemption, in which the newborn was “exchanged” for an offering brought by the parents. Scripture highlights a few cases in which firstborn children were dedicated to the Lord. A few of the more significant redemptions include Samson (Judges 13:5, 24–25), Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11, 24–28), John the Baptist (Luke 1:15, 66, 80), and Jesus Christ (Luke 2:7, 22–24).

“On the seventh day you must explain to your children, ‘I am celebrating what the Lord did for me when I left Egypt.’ This annual festival will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always to recite this teaching of the Lord: ‘With a strong hand, the Lord rescued you from Egypt.’ So observe the decree of this festival at the appointed time each year. . . . “And in the future, your children will ask you, ‘What does all this mean?’ Then you will tell them, ‘With the power of His mighty hand, the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the place of our slavery. Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, so the Lord killed all the firstborn males throughout the land of Egypt, both people and animals. That is why I now sacrifice all the firstborn males to the Lord — except that the firstborn sons are always bought back.’ This ceremony will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. It is a reminder that the power of the Lord’s mighty hand brought us out of Egypt.” Exodus 13:8-10, 14-16 (NLT)

God wanted Israel to remember what His mighty hand had done to deliver and redeem them (Exodus 13:3, 9, 14, 16), lest in the future they forget to wholeheartedly trust, depend upon, and serve Him. The setting a part of the firstborn would remind them that the firstborn males of Israel had been redeemed by God.

It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons. It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned. Hebrews 11:27-29 (NLT)

By faith, Moses and the Israelites relied upon, trusted and obeyed God and God’s Word, regardless of Pharaoh and the Egyptians’ anger. The Israelites obeyed the Passover, even though slaying the lambs and putting the blood on the doors looked ridiculous and foolish to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. It was faith in God that had brought Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. No matter what our circumstances may be, we can trust God to bring us out and take us through. We must never forget that the enslaved Israelites defeated the powerful Egyptians through faith in Almighty God – El Shaddai. Hebrews 11 reminds us that Moses and the Israelites accomplished all of this by faith in the true and living God.

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