Thursday, March 31, 2011

Exodus 23:20-33

20"See, I am sending my angel before you to lead you safely to the land I have prepared for you. 21Pay attention to him, and obey all of his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sins. He is my representative--he bears my name. 22But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you. 23For my angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there. And I will destroy them. 24Do not worship the gods of these other nations or serve them in any way, and never follow their evil example. Instead, you must utterly conquer them and break down their shameful idols.

25"You must serve only the LORD your God. If you do, I will bless you with food and water, and I will keep you healthy. 26There will be no miscarriages or infertility among your people, and I will give you long, full lives.

27"I will send my terror upon all the people whose lands you invade, and they will panic before you. 28I will send hornets ahead of you to drive out the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites. 29But I will not do this all in one year because the land would become a wilderness, and the wild animals would become too many to control. 30I will drive them out a little at a time until your population has increased enough to fill the land. 31And I will fix your boundaries from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the southern deserts to the Euphrates River. I will help you defeat the people now living in the land, and you will drive them out ahead of you.

32"Make no treaties with them and have nothing to do with their gods. 33Do not even let them live among you! If you do, they will infect you with their sin of idol worship, and that would be disastrous for you."

Points of Interest:

· In covenant terms, God is itemizing the benefits he is willing to give the people if they enter an exclusive agreement with him. The benefits include an angelic guide, fighting against their enemies, provision of food and water, protection against, healthy births, long lives, and lots of land. Basically, God is promising them that he will provide abundantly for all of their basic needs if they will trust him. A major part of trusting him is refusing to cut any side deals with other gods or with the people of the land.

· In hero’s journey terms, God is foreshadowing for them the ‘test, allies, and enemies’ stage of their journey to the promised land. Their allies are the angel and God himself. Their enemies are the other peoples and their gods. Their only real test is to listen to listen to their allies rather than their enemies.

· I am sending my angel’—apparently, the same angel who has guided and protected them so far is being lent to them on a longer term basis.

· Pay attention to him, and obey all of his instructions’—recently, God has been quite concerned to promote his lieutenants in front of the people. In 19:9, God explains to Moses that one of the reasons for his big fireworks show is to prove beyond a doubt that Moses has his confidence. Here, he very clearly gives the angel his own authority over the people. It seems that God is trying to protect against the substitute teacher effect; he wants to insure that Moses and the angel have the ability to control the classroom, as it were. God wants the people to know that Moses and the angel are trustworthy guides, and also that refusing to listen to them will lead to trouble.

· never follow their evil example’—like any parent would be, God is concerned about the effect of peer pressure on his people. He is aware that there will be things about the idol-worship of the Canaanites and the other tribes which will be extremely enticing to the Israelites, and he warns them ahead of time to stay out of circumstances which will be too tempting for them.

· Instead, you must utterly conquer them’—of course, a parent’s answer to her child’s temptation to hang with the wrong crowd isn’t usually, ‘Utterly conquer them.’ As I’ve mentioned previously, God’s command to overcome the Canaanites et al. probably comes out of a long history of stubborn unfaithfulness on the part of the Canaanites. It’s also true that the Israelites and the Canaanites are in an all-or-nothing situation that is not usually the case in youth peer groups; one or the other of these groups of people is going to control this land. God wants to make sure that it is the Israelites.

· the land would become a wilderness’—God intends to give them a fully settled, cultivated land, not some disorderly wilderness. He wants to give them a home in move-in condition.

· I will help you defeat the people now living in the land’—the land and the people in this passage are real people and a real land, but they’re also, I believe, meant to be a metaphor for our lives. The land represents our lives, and the Canaanites represent spiritual enemies and negative spiritual forces who have camped out in parts of our lives and hold them against us. God wants to kick those enemies out and give us our own lives, to live abundantly and freely.

Taking it home:

· For you: God shows here just how delighted he is to provide for his people. He wants to give his people a big home, fully equipped with all of the bells and whistles. He wants them to have a long, full, and prosperous life. He wants them to be safe from their enemies. Ask God to give you that sort of life. If you feel as if God has not provided, ask him why. If God has given you any instructions for how to obtain such a good life, make sure to pay attention. Ask God to help you have the trust and discipline to listen to him.

· For your six: God’s plan is to give your six the power to defeat the spiritual enemies who have camped out in their lives, but, just like with the Israelites and the land, he will only give them what they have the capacity to keep. Have patience with your six and with God as God slowly hands them abundant life piece by piece. Resist the temptation to try to ‘fix’ your six or to try to force them to address areas of their lives they aren’t yet ready to face. Ask God for discernment about appropriate next steps for them, and ask God to drive the enemies out of that ‘land.’

· For our church: God’s hope for the Israelites is that they will be an example to the rest of the world of the greatness of a life lived in relationship with him. But he knows that it is equally possible that his people will completely accommodate to the culture of the people around them, thus robbing them of anything distinct to say. Pray that God would give us the boldness and the power to live a life different from the standards set by the culture around us. Pray that we would be distinct in the right ways, ways that will show the goodness of a life lived with God.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Exodus 20:1-21

1Then God instructed the people as follows:

2"I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.

3"Do not worship any other gods besides me.

4"Do not make idols of any kind, whether in the shape of birds or animals or fish. 5You must never worship or bow down to them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not share your affection with any other god! I do not leave unpunished the sins of those who hate me, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations. 6But I lavish my love on those who love me and obey my commands, even for a thousand generations.

7"Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

8"Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, 10but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any kind of work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; then he rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

12"Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God will give you.

13"Do not murder.

14"Do not commit adultery.

15"Do not steal.

16"Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.

17"Do not covet your neighbor's house. Do not covet your neighbor's wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else your neighbor owns."

18When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the horn, and when they saw the lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.

19And they said to Moses, "You tell us what God says, and we will listen. But don't let God speak directly to us. If he does, we will die!"

20"Don't be afraid," Moses said, "for God has come in this way to show you his awesome power. From now on, let your fear of him keep you from sinning!"

21As the people stood in the distance, Moses entered into the deep darkness where God was.

Points of Interest:

· Then God instructed the people as follows’—what follows are the famous Ten Commandments. These commandments are not meant to be a set of random rules. Rather they are part of a covenant, or an agreement, between God and his people. God and the Israelites are essentially signing a contract with one another here. In yesterday’s passage, God mentions his part of the deal; he is going to make Israel his special treasure (he’ll go into more detail later). The Ten Commandments are Israel’s part.

The hero’s journey gives us another perspective on the Ten Commandments. Perhaps these commandments are the elixir; these laws are what the Israelites need in order to have a successful, happy life.

· Do not worship any other gods besides me’—this is actually the first time in the Bible in which the LORD makes it clear that he wishes to be worshipped exclusively. In his contest with Pharaoh, the LORD has clearly shown that he is a god with real power. Now, he reveals that he wants to be the God of the Israelites. This agreement is meant to be an exclusive contract. If they enter into a covenant with the LORD, they can’t make agreements with any other gods.

· Do not make idols of any kind’—the gods of Egypt and of any other surrounding culture were given physical representation in the form of idols. These idols were considered to be the actual presence (though not the only or exclusive presence) of the god. This commandment is in some ways a continuation of the one above. God is basically saying in a different, more specific way, ‘Don’t worship any other god.’ As well as saying something about who to worship, he’s also making a statement about how to worship. He is saying that he cannot be worshipped through an idol. Any idol is automatically considered a different god—not a representation of him. Perhaps God does not want to be limited to a static representation; he wants to be able to move as he wishes and to appear where, when, and how he wishes. It might also be the case that he wants to make clear that the Israelites cannot control him. There is some indication that the people of the ancient near east treated their idols somewhat like voodoo dolls. They believed they could use spells and charms cast on the idols to force actions on the god (Bible Background Commentary 95). God wants to make it clear that he cannot be bound in this way.

· but I punish the children for the sins of their parents’—this sounds a bit harsh and unfair, but perhaps it is simply a statement of the unavoidable truth that our sins always affect the people around us, and particularly our family. It’s a truth upon which much of modern psychology—at least the ‘nurture,’ rather than ‘nature’ end of things—is based. It’s also encouraging to see that God’s blessing on a family lasts a thousand generations. His blessing far outweighs his punishment. Three or four generations pass by quickly, but there probably still haven’t been a thousand generations since the time of Moses.

· Do not misuse the name of the LORD’—this commandment is often interpreted to be either a prohibition against using God’s name while swearing (e.g. ‘God damn it!’) or a warning against breaking promises. While doing either one of those things is probably not the best idea, this command most likely has something different in mind. Remember in chapter 3, when Moses asked for God’s name, and God revealed his name, the LORD (or I AM)? Moses thought of knowing God’s name as a key to success in his mission. There is real spiritual power that comes with invoking God’s name; it’s like using your father’s or your company’s charge card to pay for an expense. God is giving the Israelites authorization to use his name, but he’s warning them not to abuse it.

· the seventh day is a day of rest’—no surrounding nature had anything like the weekly day of rest in their religious practice (Bible Background Commentary 95).

· The Ten Commandments are often thought of in two parts. The first four commandments are about relationship with God. The other six are about relationships with other people. Jesus summarized it this way: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (the first half); and love your neighbor as yourself (the second half). In God’s agreement with the Israelites, he is equally concerned with their relationships with other people as he is with their relationship with him.

· ‘But don't let God speak directly to us. If he does, we will die’—the people make the sad choice to reject direct communication with God. Moses has brought them to the place where he met God in order to offer them the same sort of relationship with God he enjoys. They appreciate Moses’ connection with God, but they are too frightened to make that same connection themselves. They’d rather communicate with God through Moses.

· ‘let your fear of him keep you from sinning’—they have no need to fear that God will destroy them if they deal faithfully with him.

Taking it home:

  • For you: What is the legacy you want to pass on to the next generation? God tells us that both our good choices and our bad choices have an effect on those who come after us. What are some gifts you would like to pass on to your children or other younger people you influence? Choose those things for yourself now. Ask God to grow them for a thousand generations, and spend some time imagining the impact those good choices will have.
  • For your six: God spends some time demonstrating to the Israelites his power and his willingness to rescue them, without any strings attached. Then, he says, ‘If you really want to get the benefits of worshipping me, you have to worship me only.’ Have any of your six seen, experienced, and noticed God’s power and goodness to them? Perhaps it is time for them to choose if he will be their one and only Lord. Pray that God would give them this invitation, and consider broaching the topic with them yourself.
  • For our church: New Haven is an extremely busy place, where rest is a rare commodity (As we heard this past Sunday in Matt’s sermon). Even God took a day off, but it’s easy for us New Havenites to fall into the assumption that either we ourselves or the world in general could not survive if we stopped. Ask God to give us the faith to rest, following God’s example and trusting that his good work on six days can bring us prosperously through the seventh.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Exodus 19

1The Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Sinai exactly two months after they left Egypt. 2After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the base of Mount Sinai and set up camp there.

3Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The LORD called out to him from the mountain and said, "Give these instructions to the descendants of Jacob, the people of Israel: 4`You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I brought you to myself and carried you on eagle's wings. 5Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the nations of the earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation.' Give this message to the Israelites."

7Moses returned from the mountain and called together the leaders of the people and told them what the LORD had said. 8They all responded together, "We will certainly do everything the LORD asks of us." So Moses brought the people's answer back to the LORD.

9Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a thick cloud so the people themselves can hear me as I speak to you. Then they will always have confidence in you."

Moses told the LORD what the people had said. 10Then the LORD told Moses, "Go down and prepare the people for my visit. Purify them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. 11Be sure they are ready on the third day, for I will come down upon Mount Sinai as all the people watch. 12Set boundary lines that the people may not pass. Warn them, `Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Those who do will certainly die! 13Any people or animals that cross the boundary must be stoned to death or shot with arrows. They must not be touched by human hands.' The people must stay away from the mountain until they hear one long blast from the ram's horn. Then they must gather at the foot of the mountain."

14So Moses went down to the people. He purified them for worship and had them wash their clothing. 15He told them, "Get ready for an important event two days from now. And until then, abstain from having sexual intercourse."

16On the morning of the third day, there was a powerful thunder and lightning storm, and a dense cloud came down upon the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram's horn, and all the people trembled. 17Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18All Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the LORD had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook with a violent earthquake. 19As the horn blast grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply for all to hear. 20The LORD came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain.

21Then the LORD told Moses, "Go back down and warn the people not to cross the boundaries. They must not come up here to see the LORD, for those who do will die. 22Even the priests who regularly come near to the LORD must purify themselves, or I will destroy them."

23"But LORD, the people cannot come up on the mountain!" Moses protested. "You already told them not to. You told me to set boundaries around the mountain and to declare it off limits."
24But the LORD said, "Go down anyway and bring Aaron back with you. In the meantime, do not let the priests or the people cross the boundaries to come up here. If they do, I will punish them."
25So Moses went down to the people and told them what the LORD had said.

Points of Interest:

· they came to the base of Mount Sinai’—just as God had predicted when he first called Moses in chapter 3, Moses now returns with the entire people of Israel to the place where he first met God. It’s an interesting twist on the hero’s journey. In the typical hero’s journey, the hero goes to the special world, and eventually returns to the ordinary world with a magic elixir to save the people. In one way of looking at the story, Moses indeed follows that pattern: he goes out into the wilderness, gains God’s power, and returns to Egypt to save the people. But, from another perspective, rather than bringing the elixir to the people, he brings the people to the elixir. He leads the whole people of Israel out of their ordinary world and to the exact place where he met God and it changed his life. This hero’s journey is not just for Moses; the whole people of God have the opportunity to join in with him.

· Give this message to the Israelites’—the hero’s journey often starts when a herald or messenger comes to the hero with an invitation to join the quest. God himself served as a herald to Moses, and now Moses does the same for the people.

· you will be to me a kingdom of priests’—of course, the priests are usually only a very small percentage of the population, but in Israel’s case, the whole nation is a priesthood. The job of a priest is to serve as a mediator between a people and their god. Just like it is the job of one person, the priest, to connect the people and God, it is the job of this one nation to connect the rest of the nations of the world with God. Perhaps this is what God meant when he told Abraham, ‘Through you, all the nations of the world will be blessed’ (Genesis 12:3). This is Israel’s heroic journey: they are meant to be the priestly nation that leads the whole world toward God, just like Moses led them here.

· All Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the LORD had descended on it in the form of fire’—this is a re-enactment of the burning bush, but on a scale large enough for thousands of people to see. Similar to Moses removing his shoes on holy ground, the people show their respect for the holiness of the event by cleaning themselves, putting on nice clothes, and avoiding touching the mountain. When God called Moses, it was from a burning bush. Now, he calls the people from a burning mountain.

· Go back down and warn the people not to cross the boundaries’—it seems that the people respond to God’s presence with equal doses of fear and attraction. On the one hand, they are literally shaking with fear, but on the other hand God is afraid that they will come too close to this fiery manifestation of his presence.

Taking it home:

· For you: In this passage, Moses experiences a promise of God being fulfilled. Despite the odds, it turns out exactly as God had predicted. Have you ever had that experience? What was it, and how did it feel?

· For your six: The Israelites directly experience God’s presence for the first time in this passage. They find the experience powerful, almost overwhelming, but also undeniably attractive. Ask God to give your six the same privilege of directly sensing his presence.

· For our church: Ask that God would make us a church full of priests, ushering everyone around us into a deeper connection with God.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Exodus 18:13-27

13The next day, Moses sat as usual to hear the people's complaints against each other. They were lined up in front of him from morning till evening.

14When Moses' father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, "Why are you trying to do all this alone? The people have been standing here all day to get your help."

15Moses replied, "Well, the people come to me to seek God's guidance. 16When an argument arises, I am the one who settles the case. I inform the people of God's decisions and teach them his laws and instructions."

17"This is not good!" his father-in-law exclaimed. 18"You're going to wear yourself out--and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. 19Now let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people's representative before God, bringing him their questions to be decided. 20You should tell them God's decisions, teach them God's laws and instructions, and show them how to conduct their lives. 21But find some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as judges over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. 22These men can serve the people, resolving all the ordinary cases. Anything that is too important or too complicated can be brought to you. But they can take care of the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. 23If you follow this advice, and if God directs you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace."

24Moses listened to his father-in-law's advice and followed his suggestions. 25He chose capable men from all over Israel and made them judges over the people. They were put in charge of groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. 26These men were constantly available to administer justice. They brought the hard cases to Moses, but they judged the smaller matters themselves.

27Soon after this, Moses said good-bye to his father-in-law, who returned to his own land.

Points of Interest:

· let me give you a word of advice’—Moses has entered a new phase of his hero’s journey now, or perhaps has begun a new adventure altogether. Moses has become an expert on getting Pharaoh to let the people go, but he’s pretty much a novice at leading the people now that they are free. Jethro serves as a mentor here, helping Moses prepare well for this new phase of his journey.

· You should continue to be the people's representative before God’—it’s obvious to Jethro as he watches that Moses cannot do everything he is trying to do himself. So, Jethro tries to help Moses prioritize. Serving as the liaison between God and the Israelites is something that Moses alone can do; so he should make sure he leaves himself enough room to fulfill that role effectively.

· find some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes’—Jethro communicates two things to Moses here. First of all, he’s telling Moses that Moses doesn’t have to do everything himself; there are, in fact, people who are capable of doing some of the things Moses is currently doing himself. Secondly, he’s communicating to Moses that he needs to find the right people for the job. There are more people capable of responsibility than Moses is noticing, but that doesn’t mean there’s no need for qualified leadership.

· Appoint them as judges over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten’—Jethro proposes an appeals system, with Moses as the Supreme Court but several levels of court below him to take care of more basic cases.

Taking it home:

· For you: I’m sure that Moses feels a little frazzled in this passage: he’s working from dawn to dusk; at the end of the day he still has a long line of disappointed (and possibly demanding) people expecting to talk to him; and he probably doesn’t even get to the things he was hoping to do or expecting to do. Jethro helps Moses discover that at least some of his overwhelming busyness comes from the fact that he is spending too much time doing the wrong things. Have you been feeling frazzled recently? As you reflect on how you spend your time, are there things that are clearly taking too much time? What would it take to responsibly adjust what you are doing? Are there people who could be good partners to you?

· For your six: Jethro shows up in the right place at the right time to offer some much-needed help and wisdom to Moses. Pray that God would give you the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time to help your six.

· For our church: As you may have noticed if you’ve been around our church for any length of time, it takes a lot of work from a lot of people in order to fulfill the dreams we as a church have. Pray that we would become better and better at calling and equipping the right people for all of the right roles.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exodus 18: 1-12

Word soon reached Jethro, the priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law, about all the wonderful things God had done for Moses and his people, the Israelites. He had heard about how the LORD had brought them safely out of Egypt.
2 Some time before this, Moses had sent his wife, Zipporah, and his two sons to live with Jethro, his father-in-law. 3 The name of Moses’ first son was Gershom, for Moses had said when the boy was born, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.” 4 The name of his second son was Eliezer, for Moses had said at his birth, “The God of my fathers was my helper; he delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” 5 Jethro now came to visit Moses, and he brought Moses’ wife and two sons with him. They arrived while Moses and the people were camped near the mountain of God. 6 Moses was told, “Jethro, your father-in-law, has come to visit you. Your wife and your two sons are with him.”
7 So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law. He bowed to him respectfully and greeted him warmly. They asked about each other’s health and then went to Moses’ tent to talk further. 8 Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to rescue Israel from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. He also told him about the problems they had faced along the way and how the LORD had delivered his people from all their troubles. 9 Jethro was delighted when he heard about all that the LORD had done for Israel as he brought them out of Egypt.
10 “Praise be to the LORD,” Jethro said, “for he has saved you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. He has rescued Israel from the power of Egypt! 11 I know now that the LORD is greater than all other gods, because his people have escaped from the proud and cruel Egyptians.”
12 Then Jethro presented a burnt offering and gave sacrifices to God. As Jethro was doing this, Aaron and the leaders of Israel came out to meet him. They all joined him in a sacrificial meal in God’s presence.

Points of Interest:
• ‘Word soon reached Jethro’—it’s possible that Moses himself has sent Jethro a message, but it sounds more like Jethro has heard the news through other sources. There were many caravans of traders that passed back and forth between Egypt and other parts of the Middle East; perhaps the rumors are spreading of what God accomplished. The victory over Pharaoh was not a private contest; it was meant to be shown on a world stage. One of God’s hopes was to show the whole world how much greater the Lord is than Pharaoh. It seems he has succeeded. We learn now that Moses had earlier—apparently while he was still in Egypt—sent his wife and sons to stay with Zipporah’s family. Now that Jethro has heard that it is safe, he’s bringing his family back to Moses.

• ‘the mountain of God’—Mount Sinai, that is. Understandably, places where God appeared were commemorated as sacred sites. Mount Sinai later becomes known as ‘God’s Mountain’ because it’s the site of the burning bush and—later in the story—the Ten Commandments.

• ‘bowed to him respectfully and greeted him warmly’—Moses’ heady experience as rescuer of the Israelites hasn’t changed his feelings toward his father-in-law. He still treats him with the respect due an elder and the affection due a friend.

• ‘They asked about each other’s health’—it’s a little funny to imagine Moses asking, ‘So, how’s it going?’ and Jethro responding, ‘Good. Good. How about for you?’ But that seems to be pretty much how it happens. They start with a few minutes of idle chit-chat; then, once they warm up a little, they go into the tent for deeper conversation.

• ‘Moses told his father-in-law about everything’—I wonder if Moses gets lonely. He seems to jump at the chance to talk things through with this person whom he can treat as a peer, or perhaps even an older advisor. Moses’ many responsibilities and his unique position of authority probably mean there aren’t very many people with whom he can just let his guard down and be himself.

• ‘I know now that the LORD is greater than all other gods’—Jethro’s relationship with the LORD before this point—and even after it—is something of a mystery. We are told that he is a priest, but not what god he serves. Virtually anything is possible. It’s conceivable that he has always been a worshipper of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Maybe he’s been a priest of the same God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but has known him by a different name. He might have been a worshipper of a different god completely, or of many gods. We don’t really know whether Moses and Jethro conceived of themselves as sharing the same faith or not. What we do know is that Jethro displays a character exactly opposite to Pharaoh: he has a very soft heart toward the LORD.

Taking it home:
For you: In this passage, Moses enjoys the chance to talk about everything that’s been going on with someone he knows and trusts. Has God given you people like that in your life? If so, thank him for the great times of deep community you’ve experienced with them. If not, ask God to send someone your way, just like Jethro unexpectedly showed up for Moses.

For your six: When Moses shares honestly with Jethro about what’s been happening in his own life—both the joys and the hardships of following God—Jethro responds by delightedly worshipping God. Share with your six what it’s like for you to be on the journey of faith, and see how they respond. Pray that they will be as joyful as Jethro was when he heard from Moses.

For our church: In this passage, we see Moses’ whole family participating in this hero’s journey of faith together: Moses’ wife, children, and father-in-law all join him on his path. Pray for the families in our church, that they will experience the joy and excitement of going on this adventure together.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Exodus 17:1-13

1At the LORD's command, the people of Israel left the Sin Desert and moved from place to place. Eventually they came to Rephidim, but there was no water to be found there. 2So once more the people grumbled and complained to Moses. "Give us water to drink!" they demanded.
 "Quiet!" Moses replied. "Why are you arguing with me? And why are you testing the LORD?"
 3But tormented by thirst, they continued to complain, "Why did you ever take us out of Egypt? Why did you bring us here? We, our children, and our livestock will all die!"
 4Then Moses pleaded with the LORD, "What should I do with these people? They are about to stone me!"
 5The LORD said to Moses, "Take your shepherd's staff, the one you used when you struck the water of the Nile. Then call some of the leaders of Israel and walk on ahead of the people. 6I will meet you by the rock at Mount Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come pouring out. Then the people will be able to drink." Moses did just as he was told; and as the leaders looked on, water gushed out.
 7Moses named the place Massah--"the place of testing"--and Meribah--"the place of arguing"--because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the LORD by saying, "Is the LORD going to take care of us or not?"
 8While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek came to fight against them. 9Moses commanded Joshua, "Call the Israelites to arms, and fight the army of Amalek. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand."
 10So Joshua did what Moses had commanded. He led his men out to fight the army of Amalek. Meanwhile Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of a nearby hill. 11As long as Moses held up the staff with his hands, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites gained the upper hand. 12Moses' arms finally became too tired to hold up the staff any longer. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side, holding up his hands until sunset. 13As a result, Joshua and his troops were able to crush the army of Amalek.

Points of Interest:
• ‘Why did you ever take us out of Egypt?’—this has become a familiar question, and we’re not finished with it yet. This cycle that the Israelites are in reminds me of the saying, ‘Whoever does not learn from history is destined to repeat it.’ This proverb is supposed to mean that if we don’t learn from someone else’s mistakes, we’re dooming ourselves to make the same ones. In this passage, though, the Israelites aren’t even learning from their own mistakes. They’ve entered the testing period of their heroic journey, but they’re not passing the tests. If you fail a test, you’ve got to take it again. Until they learn to trust God to provide, they’re going to keep finding themselves in situations of scarcity.

• ‘Take your shepherd's staff’—often when Moses is overwhelmed by the problems and complaints of the people, God points him to his shepherd’s staff. It’s a reminder that Moses is the shepherd of these people; he’s responsible to lead, guide them, protect them, and provide for them. It’s also a reminder that God has supernaturally equipped him to succeed in this task.

• “Moses named the place Massah—‘the place of testing’”—perhaps the consistent complaining of the people is beginning to wear on Moses’ patience. Rather than calling it, ‘the place of miraculous water,’ Moses calls this spot, ‘the place of testing and arguing.’

• ‘Is the LORD going to take care of us or not?’—the Lord has adequately answered that question. The real question is, ‘Are you going to trust him or not?’

• ‘the warriors of Amalek came to fight’—the Amalekites were another group of nomads who inhabited the general area through which the Israelites were passing.

• ‘Moses commanded Joshua’—Moses gets some new allies, Joshua and Hur. Joshua especially becomes a very significant figure. He’s a younger protégé of Moses who ends up becoming something of a personal assistant; he also gets sent on missions that Moses can’t accomplish himself, either because of age or his other responsibilities. Joshua eventually succeeds Moses as the leader of the Israelites.

Taking it home:
For you: Do you finding yourself repeatedly in the same uncomfortable situation? Although it’s certainly not always the case, often it happens because there’s a lesson we must learn. Ask God if there’s something he’s trying to teach you and what it might be. Ask him to give you the wisdom and strength you need to move on to the next lesson.

For your six: Aaron and Hur take on the simple task of helping Moses keep his arms up, but by doing it they get to participate in an amazing miracle. Look for opportunities to ask for help from your six, particularly in ways that will give them a chance to participate in and witness God’s work.

For our church: We’ve been blessed in this church with an amazing group of leaders, but there’s always room for more. Pray for more people like Hur, who step into crucial roles at important times. And pray for Joshuas, a new generation of leaders ready to take on our call.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Exodus 16:1-21

1Then they left Elim and journeyed into the Sin Desert, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there a month after leaving Egypt. 2There, too, the whole community of Israel spoke bitterly against Moses and Aaron.
 3”Oh, that we were back in Egypt,” they moaned. “It would have been better if the LORD had killed us there! At least there we had plenty to eat. But now you have brought us into this desert to starve us to death.”
 4Then the LORD said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. The people can go out each day and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether they will follow my instructions. 5Tell them to pick up twice as much as usual on the sixth day of each week.”
 6Then Moses and Aaron called a meeting of all the people of Israel and told them, “In the evening you will realize that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 7In the morning you will see the glorious presence of the LORD. He has heard your complaints, which are against the LORD and not against us. 8The LORD will give you meat to eat in the evening and bread in the morning, for he has heard all your complaints against him. Yes, your complaints are against the LORD, not against us.”
 9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say this to the entire community of Israel: `Come into the LORD’s presence, and hear his reply to your complaints.’ “10And as Aaron spoke to the people, they looked out toward the desert. Within the guiding cloud, they could see the awesome glory of the LORD.
 11And the LORD said to Moses, 12”I have heard the people’s complaints. Now tell them, `In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’ “
 13That evening vast numbers of quail arrived and covered the camp. The next morning the desert all around the camp was wet with dew. 14When the dew disappeared later in the morning, thin flakes, white like frost, covered the ground. 15The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked.
 And Moses told them, “It is the food the LORD has given you. 16The LORD says that each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts for each person.”
 17So the people of Israel went out and gathered this food—some getting more, and some getting less. 18By gathering two quarts for each person, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed.
 19Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it overnight.” 20But, of course, some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. By then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. And Moses was very angry with them.
 21The people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. And as the sun became hot, the food they had not picked up melted and disappeared.

Points of Interest:
• ‘the Sin Desert’—this has no connection to our English word sin.

• ‘between Elim and Mount Sinai’—they are making their way back to Sinai, the mountain where Moses saw the burning bush. God had promised Moses that he would return there with all of the people to worship him. In hero’s journey terms, they’re still on the road back.

• ‘At least there we had plenty to eat’—perhaps, after a month, they’re reaching the end of the supplies they were able to bring with them out of Egypt. There being many thousands of them in a barren desert, it’s true that finding enough food is a matter of genuine concern. However, one would think that they would have some inkling by now that God might be able to provide for them. Somehow, they are unable to turn their amazement and gratitude over God’s past intervention into confidence during the current crisis. The faith they had after the parting of the sea has quickly dissipated. Because they have a hard time remembering God’s faithfulness and retaining their trust in him, they face each new obstacle on the edge of despair.

• ‘twice as much as usual on the sixth day’—the seventh day is the day of rest; so they are supposed to prepare twice as much food the day before.

• ‘What is it?’—from here on out, this bread is known as manna, which means, ‘What is it?’

• ‘Each family had just what it needed’—God demonstrates how well he knows them and how well he is able to take care of them. Everybody has exactly what they need.

• ‘But, of course, some of them didn’t listen’—apparently, they’re not quite convinced that the bread will keep coming; so they try to protect themselves from the coming famine.

Taking it home:
For you: Manna only lasted for a day; after that it turned kind of ugly. Sometimes, God gives us something that works for a certain season of our lives; but when we come to a new day, we need a new gift from God. Is there some life strategy you’ve used that used to be great, but doesn’t seem to be working anymore? Ask God to provide something new for this new phase of life.

For your six: When God gives the people the manna, they don’t even know what it is. It takes Moses to tell them that it is the bread they asked for. Sometimes, it takes someone else to point out something that God has done in our lives. If you see a way that God has met the needs or answered the prayers of any of your six, share what you’ve seen with them.

For our church: Moses is wise enough to know that the complaints of the people are against God, not himself; and he’s secure enough not to respond defensively. As we pursue our mission in this city, we’re sure to face criticism: some of that criticism will come because of some fault on our part; some of it will actually be complaints against God. Pray that God would give us the wisdom to know the difference between the two, and the security to respond with gentleness and confidence.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Exodus 14

1 Then the LORD gave these instructions to Moses: 2"Tell the people to march toward Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. Camp there along the shore, opposite Baal-zephon. 3Then Pharaoh will think, `Those Israelites are confused. They are trapped between the wilderness and the sea!' 4And once again I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this so I will receive great glory at the expense of Pharaoh and his armies. After this, the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD!" So the Israelites camped there as they were told.
 5When word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites were not planning to return to Egypt after three days, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds. "What have we done, letting all these slaves get away?" they asked. 6So Pharaoh called out his troops and led the chase in his chariot. 7He took with him six hundred of Egypt's best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with a commander. 8The LORD continued to strengthen Pharaoh's resolve, and he chased after the people of Israel who had escaped so defiantly. 9All the forces in Pharaoh's army--all his horses, chariots, and charioteers--were used in the chase. The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore near Pi-hahiroth, across from Baal-zephon.
 10As Pharaoh and his army approached, the people of Israel could see them in the distance, marching toward them. The people began to panic, and they cried out to the LORD for help.
 11Then they turned against Moses and complained, "Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren't there enough graves for us in Egypt? Why did you make us leave? 12Didn't we tell you to leave us alone while we were still in Egypt? Our Egyptian slavery was far better than dying out here in the wilderness!"
 13But Moses told the people, "Don't be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the LORD rescue you. The Egyptians that you see today will never be seen again. 14The LORD himself will fight for you. You won't have to lift a finger in your defense!"
 15Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! 16Use your shepherd's staff--hold it out over the water, and a path will open up before you through the sea. Then all the people of Israel will walk through on dry ground. 17Yet I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will follow the Israelites into the sea. Then I will receive great glory at the expense of Pharaoh and his armies, chariots, and charioteers. 18When I am finished with Pharaoh and his army, all Egypt will know that I am the LORD!"
 19Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to a position behind them, and the pillar of cloud also moved around behind them. 20The cloud settled between the Israelite and Egyptian camps. As night came, the pillar of cloud turned into a pillar of fire, lighting the Israelite camp. But the cloud became darkness to the Egyptians, and they couldn't find the Israelites.
 21Then 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. 22So the people of Israel walked through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! 23Then the Egyptians--all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and charioteers--followed them across the bottom of the sea. 24But early in the morning, the LORD looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw them into confusion. 25Their chariot wheels began to come off, making their chariots impossible to drive. "Let's get out of here!" the Egyptians shouted. "The LORD is fighting for Israel against us!"
 26When all the Israelites were on the other side, the LORD said to Moses, "Raise your hand over the sea again. Then the waters will rush back over the Egyptian chariots and charioteers." 27So as the sun began to rise, Moses raised his hand over the sea. The water roared back into its usual place, and the LORD swept the terrified Egyptians into the surging currents. 28The waters covered all the chariots and charioteers--the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived.
 29The people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry land, as the water stood up like a wall on both sides. 30This was how the LORD rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. And the Israelites could see the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the shore. 31When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the LORD had displayed against the Egyptians, they feared the LORD and put their faith in him and his servant Moses.

Points of Interest:
• “Then Pharaoh will think, `Those Israelites are confused’”—there is a highway that goes straight from Goshen toward Canaan, but God directs Moses to lead the people on a random, zigzag path that ends at a dead end on the seashore. It looks like they have walked right into a trap; actually they are the bait, and Pharaoh is the one walking into a trap.

• ‘the sea’—traditionally, this is known as the Red Sea; but it is almost certainly not what we call the Red Sea. It’s actually the Sea of Reeds, which was basically the string of lakes and marshes connecting the Mediterranean with the Gulf of Suez. These lakes and marshes were later formed into the Suez Canal. Obviously, the water is still deep enough to be an impediment to the Israelites’ passage and to drown the Egyptians when it rushes back in. The Israelites are thought to have been on the shore of one of the three larger lakes of the area: Timsah, Balal, or Bitter Lakes (Bible Background Commentary 87).

• ‘So Pharaoh called out his troops’—the Egyptian army was the best, most technologically advanced army in the world—or at the very least in that part of the world—at the time. Despite their large numbers, the Israelite rabble would have had every reason to fear these squadrons of chariots if it weren’t for God’s protection.

• ‘and he chased after the people of Israel’—This part of the hero’s journey is called ‘The Road Back.’ Now that the hero has succeeded in the big ordeal, he must return to the ordinary world. Interestingly, some of the most exciting chase scenes happen at this point in the story. The enemy hasn’t been as completely defeated as it seemed, and he chases the hero down, trying to regain what he has lost. There’s a final showdown, often with another near death experience and resurrection. That’s exactly what happens here. Pharaoh regains his composure and runs after Moses. He catches up, forcing a final confrontation. It looks like the people are doomed, but they escape death through the unexpected means of crossing the sea. What looked like death for the Israelites turns out to be death for the Egyptians, and Pharaoh is finally completed defeated.

• ‘Why did you make us leave?’—Moses has now called the Israelites to join him in the heroic journey. Just like Moses did, they are expressing hesitations and regrets at leaving their ordinary world for the special world of the hero’s journey. They hated their ordinary world when they were in it, but now that they’ve left it they find something appealing in its predictability and familiarity.

• “But Moses told the people, ‘Don't be afraid’”—Moses is leaving Egypt a significantly different person from who he was when he arrived. When Moses left the wilderness, he was a lot like these people. It took four miraculous signs from God to convince Moses to go on the journey—and even that wasn’t enough. Then, at the first sign of trouble he asked, like the Israelites do now, ‘Why did you even send me here?’ But now, Moses has utter conviction that God is with them and that he will rescue them. Pharaoh is still not completely convinced of God’s greatness. Even the Israelites aren’t. But Moses now is.

• ‘Just stand where you are and watch’—Moses may be convinced of God’s power, but he’s a little mistaken regarding God’s plan. When Moses tells the people to stand still and watch, God immediately responds, ‘Tell the people to get moving!’ There’s only one way to go for the Israelites. They can’t go back to Egypt, nor even stand still. They will be rescued by God when they move forward.

• ‘a path will open up before you’—the adventure for the Israelites is an adventure of faith. When they step out where there is no path, God will make a path.

• ‘the pillar of cloud’—caravans would often have a brazier carried in the vanguard (Bible Background Commentary 90). The rear of the caravan would be able to know where the caravan was heading because they could see the smoke during the day and the flame at night. Apparently, the Israelites have something similar, a massive, supernatural brazier—perhaps even an angelic being in the form of a pillar of cloud and fire, since the pillar is described as moving itself, rather than being moved. It’s possibly even the physical form taken on by God himself (the Lord looks down from the pillar in verse 24).

• ‘Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to a position behind them’—the phrase ‘the angel of God’ sometimes refers to an angelic lieutenant of God and sometimes to a manifestation of God himself. At the burning bush, it was probably the latter; here it is probably the former (later, God tells Moses that he will leave his angel with Moses, but that he himself was leaving—we’ll study this story in detail when we come to it). The angel and the pillar are sent to be a rearguard, giving the Israelites enough of a head start on the Egyptians that the Egyptians won’t catch up to them in the middle of the sea.

Taking it home:
For you: Moses is now firmly on the hero’s path. There’s no going back to the same, old ordinary world for him. In fact, he’s now called an entire nation to join him on the hero’s journey. If you’ve already stepped out on the hero’s journey yourself, consider who you want to take with you. What’s the call you have for them, and what do they need to know from you to take that step?
For your six: Often God’s plans don’t seem to make the most sense. In this passage, God instructs Moses to lead the people on a random, zigzag path through the desert. It doesn’t look like they’re headed in the right direction. In fact, it looks like they’re headed toward certain doom. In the end, though, God’s path turns out to be the right one. Pray for your six that they would have the boldness to follow a crazy plan from God, and ask God to amaze them with the results.
For our church: As we step out together on this hero’s journey, pray that God would be the guide in front of us and the protector behind us.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Exodus 11:1-9, 12:21-39

1Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will send just one more disaster on Pharaoh and the land of Egypt. After that, Pharaoh will let you go. In fact, he will be so anxious to get rid of you that he will practically force you to leave the country. 2Tell all the Israelite men and women to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold."
 3(Now the LORD had caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the people of Israel, and Moses was considered a very great man in the land of Egypt. He was respected by Pharaoh's officials and the Egyptian people alike.)
 4So Moses announced to Pharaoh, "This is what the LORD says: About midnight I will pass through Egypt. 5All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest slave. Even the firstborn of the animals will die. 6Then a loud wail will be heard throughout the land of Egypt; there has never been such wailing before, and there never will be again. 7But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark. Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites. 8All the officials of Egypt will come running to me, bowing low. `Please leave!' they will beg. `Hurry! And take all your followers with you.' Only then will I go!" Then, burning with anger, Moses left Pharaoh's presence.
 9Now the LORD had told Moses, "Pharaoh will not listen to you. But this will give me the opportunity to do even more mighty miracles in the land of Egypt" . . . 
 21Then Moses called for the leaders of Israel and said, "Tell each of your families to slaughter the lamb they have set apart for the Passover. 22Drain each lamb's blood into a basin. Then take a cluster of hyssop branches and dip it into the lamb's blood. Strike the hyssop against the top and sides of the doorframe, staining it with the blood. And remember, no one is allowed to leave the house until morning. 23For the LORD will pass through the land and 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 the Destroyer to enter and strike down your firstborn.
 24"Remember, these instructions are permanent and must be observed by you and your descendants forever. 25When you arrive in the land the LORD has promised to give you, you will continue to celebrate this festival. 26Then your children will ask, `What does all this mean? What is this ceremony about?' 27And you will reply, `It is the celebration of the LORD's Passover, for he passed over the homes of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he killed the Egyptians, he spared our families and did not destroy us.'" Then all the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
 28So the people of Israel did just as the LORD had commanded through Moses and Aaron. 29And at midnight the LORD killed all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn son of the captive in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. 30Pharaoh and his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died.
 31Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron during the night. "Leave us!" he cried. "Go away, all of you! Go and serve the LORD as you have requested. 32Take your flocks and herds, and be gone. Go, but give me a blessing as you leave." 33All the Egyptians urged the people of Israel to get out of the land as quickly as possible, for they thought, "We will all die!"
 34The Israelites took with them their bread dough made without yeast. They wrapped their kneading bowls in their spare clothing and carried them on their shoulders. 35And the people of Israel did as Moses had instructed and asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. 36The LORD caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So, like a victorious army, they plundered the Egyptians!
 37That night the people of Israel left Rameses and started for Succoth. There were about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children. And they were all traveling on foot. 38Many people who were not Israelites went with them, along with the many flocks and herds. 39Whenever they stopped to eat, they baked bread from the yeastless dough they had brought from Egypt. It was made without yeast because the people were rushed out of Egypt and had no time to wait for bread to rise.

Points of Interest:
• Once again, we’ve skipped a couple of plagues: locusts and darkness. Both times Pharaoh promises to let the people go but reneges when the plague is gone.

• ‘Moses was considered a very great man in the land of Egypt’—a far cry from, ‘Who am I to speak to Pharaoh?’ Even among the Egyptians, Moses has gained respect through this contest with Pharaoh.

• ‘All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt’—this is a sobering moment. It nearly brings tears to my eyes to read it, and I can’t help but ask, ‘Lord, wasn’t there some other way?’ Although I confess that I certainly don’t completely understand God’s reasons for doing this, there are a few observations that help me get some handle on what is happening here. This passage powerfully portrays the fact that a willful decision to ignore God—and even more so a decision to actively work against God—has serious consequences; it can well be a matter of life and death. God wants to make it absolutely clear that it is very good to have him as a friend and very bad to be his enemy; he’s willing to go to shocking lengths to demonstrate that fact. In a way, God seems to be directly confronting a strongly held fundamental human assumption. We tend to think that saving life is the very highest priority; God communicates here that matters of relationship with him take precedence over life and death. He doesn’t take the situation to this level easily or flippantly, though. This is reserved as a last desperate measure.
Having taken this step, God actually shows himself to be more merciful than the pharaohs. The previous Pharaoh tried to kill all the Hebrew boys in order to keep the Hebrews in slavery. God sends death only on the firstborn. It’s certainly a strong enough statement: it affects every family, and it strikes down the person who was supposed to be the future leader of that family.
The hero’s journey also gives us some perspective on this awful moment in the story. Terrible as it is, this confrontation with death is actually a universal element of the hero story. This fact might not be immediately apparent to us because it is frequently either metaphorical or simulated: in a romantic comedy, the death is usually the death of the relationship, when the couple temporarily splits up; in the sports genre, like Rocky for instance, the hero is down on the mat or behind by an impossible score; in an action flick—James Bond comes to mind—the enemy has the hero in his sights, and he is about to pull the trigger. It might not be too much of an over-statement to say that every good story involves the hero facing her darkest moment; almost always that dark moment involves death, near death, or the semblance of death.
This face-off with death usually happens during a big show-down with the enemy. Sometimes at that moment, it is revealed that there is an even more sinister influence behind the person who we’ve assumed all along is our main enemy; the hero defeats her apparent enemy, only to find herself at the mercy of her true enemy. Such an unmasking of the real enemy happens here at the Passover. All along, we’ve assumed Pharaoh is the enemy. When it gets to the final moment, we see that the true enemy is death itself.
Perhaps this is what the hero’s journey—and in fact life itself—is actually about. To state something that is both incredibly morbid and incredibly obvious at the same time, we will all someday face the moment of death. Maybe, the hero’s journey is all about preparing for that moment well. In this passage, God shows his people that one key to victory at that moment is relying on him. He has the power to rescue them from death, taking them through the ordeal to the other side.

• ‘Only then will I go!’—Moses is predicting a complete reversal of roles. At first, Moses was practically begging (unsuccessfully) for permission to leave. By the end of the night, Pharaoh will be begging him to go.

• ‘when he sees the blood’—the Israelites are saved from death, but not bloodlessly. It takes the sacrifice of a lamb. Jesus later identifies himself profoundly with this Passover lamb. The Last Supper is a Passover meal, and at that meal Jesus identifies the wine they are drinking as his blood, shed for the ransom of many. Jesus’ trial and the beginning of his punishment happen during the night when the rescue from the Destroyer is commemorated. The sour wine Jesus is given on the cross is handed to him on a hyssop branch, the same branch used to sprinkle the blood here. Whatever we feel about the death of the firstborn of Egypt, we see in Jesus that God is not callously removed from the situation. He sacrifices his own firstborn to rescue his people from death. Jesus, as the Passover lamb, is our provision for escape. He is also our example: like a true hero, he faces death and overcomes it.
The Passover and Jesus’ death—a new and better Passover—are unsettling, frightening, and yet profound and awe-inspiring examples of the idea of ‘myth become fact,’ which Dave mentions in his User’s Manual.

• ‘but give me a blessing as you leave’—Pharaoh may be asking for special favor, but my guess is that he just wants some assurance that the madness will stop and life will return to normal if he does let the Israelites go. He doesn’t want Moses to leave any terrible plagues behind when he departs.

• ‘There were about 600,000 men’—there’s a great deal of debate about the accuracy of this number. Some translators suggest that the phrase actually means, ‘600 troops’ (Bible Background Commentary 88), meaning 600 squadrons of men, probably of quite a bit less than 1000 people each. Regardless of the exact number, the writer of Exodus has made clear that the Israelites are very numerous and that this is a total evacuation. It does not escape the author’s attention that such a very large number of people would be difficult to organize and feed in the middle of the desert; in fact, it becomes a major element of the story.

• ‘Many people who were not Israelites went with them’—we’re not exactly sure who these people are. It seems most likely that they are other immigrant slave laborers, but the story at least opens up the possibility that some Egyptians might have joined them too. God has made it clear that he is trying to reveal himself to the Egyptians through Moses’ mighty deeds; and in the past couple of passages, we’ve seen some Egyptians respond positively to Moses and to God’s words. It’s pretty clear that these non-Israelites are quickly welcomed and incorporated into the community. Before the plague of flies, God says, ‘I will make a clear distinction between your people and my people.’ We see here that God is not describing a strict, exclusionary racist policy. ‘Your people’ and ‘my people’ does not necessarily mean Egyptians and Israelites, although it is generally the case. People have the freedom to choose whether they will belong to God or Pharaoh. About those who choose to join God’s people, God tells Moses, ‘They will be treated just as if they had been born among you’ (Exodus 12:48).

• ‘because the people were rushed out of Egypt’—these people have been kept captive for so long. Now, the Egyptians can’t wait one more second for them to leave. The Egyptians treat them like dinner guests who’ve outstayed their welcome, practically putting their coats on and shoving them out the door.

Taking it home:
For you: In this passage, we encounter the unsettling notion that the hero’s journey ultimately leads to death. Perhaps this explains our ambivalence about the hero’s journey, which is a story we love to hear about a life we’re afraid to live. We spend much of our life—either consciously or unconsciously—trying to avoid the topic of death. The hero’s journey places its inevitability right in our faces. It also inspires in us hope that, despite all appearances, we can in the end conquer death. How does it change your perspective on the hero’s journey, and on your own life itself, to think that it might be all about us preparing for that showdown well?

For your six: The true enemy of your six is death. Pray against their enemy, and ask God to provide for them a way to escape death.

For our church: Many people who were not raised as Israelites ended up joining them on this journey. That’s an exciting picture for our church, because one of the major dreams God has given us is that we would be a church filled with people who wouldn’t consider themselves church people. Pray that many, many new people would join us in our journey of faith.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Exodus 9:13-35

13Then the LORD said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning. Go to Pharaoh and tell him, `The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so they can worship me. 14If you don't, I will send a plague that will really speak to you and your officials and all the Egyptian people. I will prove to you that there is no other God like me in all the earth. 15I could have killed you all by now. I could have attacked you with a plague that would have wiped you from the face of the earth. 16But I have let you live for this reason--that you might see my power and that my fame might spread throughout the earth. 17But you are still lording it over my people, and you refuse to let them go. 18So tomorrow at this time I will send a hailstorm worse than any in all of Egypt's history. 19Quick! Order your livestock and servants to come in from the fields. Every person or animal left outside will die beneath the hail.' "
 20Some of Pharaoh's officials believed what the LORD said. They immediately brought their livestock and servants in from the fields. 21But those who had no respect for the word of the LORD left them out in the open.
 22Then the LORD said to Moses, "Lift your hand toward the sky, and cause the hail to fall throughout Egypt, on the people, the animals, and the crops."
 23So Moses lifted his staff toward the sky, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning struck the earth. The LORD sent a tremendous hailstorm against all the land of Egypt. 24Never in all the history of Egypt had there been a storm like that, with such severe hail and continuous lightning. 25It left all of Egypt in ruins. Everything left in the fields was destroyed--people, animals, and crops alike. Even all the trees were destroyed. 26The only spot in all Egypt without hail that day was the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived.
 27Then Pharaoh urgently sent for Moses and Aaron. "I finally admit my fault," he confessed. "The LORD is right, and my people and I are wrong. 28Please beg the LORD to end this terrifying thunder and hail. I will let you go at once."
 29"All right," Moses replied. "As soon as I leave the city, I will lift my hands and pray to the LORD. Then the thunder and hail will stop. This will prove to you that the earth belongs to the LORD. 30But as for you and your officials, I know that you still do not fear the LORD God as you should."
 31All the flax and barley were destroyed because the barley was ripe and the flax was in bloom. 32But the wheat and the spelt were not destroyed because they had not yet sprouted from the ground.
 33So Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. As he lifted his hands to the LORD, all at once the thunder and hail stopped, and the downpour ceased. 34When Pharaoh saw this, he and his officials sinned yet again by stubbornly refusing to do as they had promised. 35Pharaoh refused to let the people leave, just as the LORD had predicted.

Points of Interest:
• Between last passage and this passage, we skipped a plague and a terrible rash.

• ‘I could have killed you all by now’—this statement reminds me of something we sometimes hear people say in action movies: ‘If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already.’ God could have rescued Israel already. As he says here, he could have done it over the Egyptians’ dead bodies. It seems he also could have led his people out of Egypt without Pharaoh’s permission, protecting them from any punishment. Apparently, God wants something besides merely rescuing the Israelites or killing the Egyptians. What he seems to want is for the Egyptians to recognize and acknowledge his desire and ability to save the Israelites. It’s as if he’s saying, ‘Just admit that I’m a good God to my people.’

• ‘Quick! Order your livestock and servants to come in from the fields’—Moses gives the Egyptians fair warning here. If they believe what he says and act accordingly, they can avoid the worst effects of the storm.

• ‘Some of Pharaoh's officials’—even some of Pharaoh’s own officials are beginning to show respect for God and his word. At this point, it seems that Pharaoh is beginning to lose the public relations battle, even among his own people.

• ‘Lift your hand toward the sky’—it’s worth noting again that the LORD is saying and doing all of these things through Moses. God probably doesn’t need Moses to lift his hand in order to send the storm. But God gives Moses the incredible privilege of playing a crucial role in the amazing thing he is doing.

• ‘left all of Egypt in ruins’—because an earlier pharaoh was willing to listen to God’s servant Joseph, Egypt was saved in the midst of a famine. Because this pharaoh refuses to listen to God’s servant Moses, Egypt is being torn apart.

• ‘this terrifying thunder and hail’—even in our modern, materialist age, it’s generally acknowledged that there’s something awe-inspiring and even frightening about a thunderstorm. The idea that a thunderstorm is a God speaking or showing his wrath isn’t completely absent today, and it was the general belief in the ancient world. Any thunderstorm, therefore, would have been somewhat frightening. The fact that this storm was particularly severe—and that it was specifically sent as a judgment from God—would have made it especially unnerving.

Taking it home:
For you: Moses is in some ways quite an ordinary person, but God sends him on an extraordinary journey. One of the unbelievably awesome things Moses experiences on this journey is the power to do the impossible. How many of us have never dreamed about what it would be like to have a superpower? Well, one of the amazingly fun things about stepping out on a journey of faith is that when we do, God actually enjoys giving us supernatural abilities. Have you ever done something you know you don’t have the power to do yourself? How did it feel? Thank God for giving you that wonderful opportunity. If you’ve never experienced something like that, ask God to give you the chance.

For your six: In this story, some of Pharaoh’s officials experience the benefits of respecting God’s words. They hear him and respond, and it turns out well for them. Have you heard some words from God recently that you think might be especially helpful to one or more of your six? Consider passing God’s suggestion along to them. Give them the chance to hear, respond, and experience the benefits.

For our church: God makes his intentions clear: ‘that you might see my power and that my fame might spread throughout the earth.’ Pray that we will see God’s power here in New Haven—through a widespread outbreak of the benefits that come from the Holy Spirit, rather than a storm of hail, if possible—and that what we experience of God’s saving power will spread throughout the earth.