Praise to the Holiest – Exodus 15. RBT Notes, 13th September

Chludov_Miriam (1)Theology without worship is dangerous. Revelation without adoration is wrong. We cannot see the works God does, hear them and understand them, without the response of a praise-filled heart, and a praising voice.

Moses and his people must be standing next to the waters of the Red Sea in a deep state of shock. They’ve been pursued by the greatest army of their world, only to see that army suddenly destroyed in an act of divine judgement, and they themselves have been rescued by another act of God’s hand. How can they not worship God with all they they’ve seen and learned and experienced of His power and grace? And how can we not, who’ve seen the same – and more in in Jesus Christ?

The Lord is our strength, because He alone rescues and protects, and our song, because His rescuing love is the joy of our hearts, and our lips; we will praise Him (vv.1-2). This love fights for us, and fights our enemies (vv.4-5). Our sins and their capturing power He has thrown into the depths of hell.

And we must not think that God’s victory over our sins in Christ is some dispassionate, bloodless transaction. The Cross is a place of cries, tears, snorting, writhing, anguish, anger and fierce, burning judgement. The Father lays His punishment for our sins on His own Son with searing anger. The Son is crumpled and crushed by the weight of that righteous judgment, broken and shattered. The Israelites worship a God of retribution (vv.6-8). We worship the same God, as we reflect on the cost of our salvation at the expense of the life of Jesus.

Against such power all enemy boasts are worthless. Satan and the world can make their boasts, but the power of God can never be truly thwarted. They want to defy the Living God? Like the armies of Egypt, they will sink like lead (vv.9-10). Holiness, glory and awesome power come together in God’s redeeming acts. The commitment to rescue is matched by the same commitment to lead His people from danger destroyed to a new land of blessing (vv.11-13).

God’s redeeming power is matched by His commitment to lead His redeemed people, all the way to His Presence (v.13). This grace will be shown to all the surrounding nations, to the terror of His enemies, so that they refrain from attacking the Israelites (vv.14-17).

Discovering God’s grace often makes us elated, and feeling like we’re walking on air. But we’re only still needy and weak people, who still need food and drink. God turns their bitter water sweet, and then leads them to the twelve springs of Elim (vv.22-27). All so simple and kind, and for God, all so effortless. And today, has God given you drink, and food? Then worship Him. Thank Him for His wonderful provision, trust Him for the next drop, and the next mouthful, and make your day a song of His goodness, for Him and all to hear as you live your day.

On Dry Ground – Exodus 14. RBT Notes, 12th September

“I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (v.4). God means business. He has not lain waste to the land of Egypt and brought His people out, only to stay His hand from Egypt’s final destruction, or from Israel’s true deliverance. He will act, so that all people, believers and unbelievers, will be without excuse as they are confronted by His glory.

The chase is on. The Israelites have gone, and Pharaoh has a change of heart (vv.5-6). What on earth possessed him to let them go? Obviously it’s the fact that he and his people are broken, and broken by God. He has seen undeniable evidence that Israel’s God is the Lord. And yet, sin is profoundly illogical. So, in pursuing the Israelites, Pharaoh is rushing against God, and rushing into his own self-destruction, just as every sinner does. Even here, though, is the hand of God. God hardens this heart so that, flint-like, nothing can break it until the hand of God comes down finally on Pharaoh (v.8).

Now the Israelites are really in danger (vv.8-10). And they respond, as we do, to their crisis in predictable ways. When we face a crisis, there’s the option of angry self-pity (vv.10-12). One test, and they rage at God. They must learn, and so must we, to take the second option, which is to trust in God (vv.13-14). Moses summons his faith, and tells the people to be still, and to trust. He gets it absolutely right. Will we?

CSIRO-Flat-Ocean-460x250Then God tells Moses to do his job, to raise his staff, while God does His, and He will have the glory (vv.16-18). It is fine, sometimes, to stand helplessly by. God is near. Let Him work. And He does, as first He protects His people, in front and behind (vv.19-20), and then He provides, against all faith, all hope and all likelihood, making a way through the Red Sea (vv.21-22). Finally, their salvation has truly come.

When God provides for His children, it means that He denies that same grace to His enemies (vv.23-28). These crashing walls of water on the Egyptians are under the Lord’s sovereign control as much as any of the plagues they experienced in Egypt. And this is total judgement.

And total salvation. Dry-footed, terrified, marvelling and safe, the Israelites pass in touching-distance of the walls of the sea which should crush and drown them. Now, at last, they fear the Lord, and they trust His appointed leader, Moses (v.31). And we are a rescued people, led through the judgement all sinners deserve because of the work and merits of Christ. He was judged for us. We are free, and we are called to worship. We have done nothing to achieve this salvation, we only marvel, and follow. And we fear the Lord and put our trust in Him and in Jesus His servant (see v.31).

 

 

Commanding Grace – Exodus 13. RBT Notes, 11th September

This is a chapter full of commands. If the Gospel were of no real importance or urgency, the Bible would just be a book of philosophy, ideas and beautiful poetry, but little else. The Gospel is more important that life, though, and so the Bible is full of commands. How would a God of saving grace do anything else than command us? So here God speaks urgent words to His people, which come under five main commands.

Set apart the firstborn male (vv.1-2)

 They all belong to me, says the Lord, “whether man or animal” (v.2). God wants His people to know that He, the Lord of life, has special claims on the firstborn. Every time a male is born, in the home or in the field, the Israelites remember that God the Giver is God the Lord.

Keep the Feast (vv.3-10)

“Can a nation be born in a day?”, God later challenges His people. Well, yes, they were at the Passover. So God calls His people to mark their rescue every year with a week-long commemoration (v.6). And not as simply a party, or a meaningless ritual, but as an opportunity to talk of God’s rescuing power (vv.7-8). This celebration must be a sign of His grace (vv.9-10).

Give your most precious (vv.11-13)

A price paid for the firstborn son, and a sacrifice for the firstborn male animal must be given to the Lord. Why? As a powerful reminder, that life came to Israel at the cost of life to Egypt. This is the principle of costly substitution. One day the world will see a far, far more precious Substitute, God’s Firstborn paying the redemption-price for His own.

Teach your children (vv.14-16)

Rescuing grace is never just the privilege of one generation. Each must tell the next, and model the difference it makes living in God’s grace. The story of redemption must always be told (vv.14-16). If children don’t know that their parents were bought at a price, how will they ever discover themselves that the same costly and redeeming love is offered to them?

437-6-75Go, by faith (vv.17-22)

And now we plunge back into the drama. God leads His people, away from battle, but straight into the land between the pursuing army and the impassable Red Sea (v.18). They have their weapons, but surely no confidence for fighting (v.18). Then we have a strange detail, that Moses took the patriarch Joseph’s bones with him out of Egypt (v.19). Unnecessary detail? No, this box of bones shows yet again that God is faithful, and that God is with them. Not only has Joseph asked that his bones be taken back to Canaan one day, but God had promised that they would, along with his descendants (Gen. 50.24-26). So this box is another powerful link to God’s certain promises.

I am with you (vv.20-22)

God guides as a pillar of fire by night, and cloud by day. He is always with His people as they leave Egypt, guiding them by this visual display of His presence. He will never leave them, nor forsake them.

 

So, grace, guidance and commands. Grace meets, saves, leads us and teaches us how to live in response. This is the grace we discover in Jesus, the One who took the tidal-wave of God’s righteous anger for us and was drowned by it for our sake. Now He guides us, and we listen for His voice.

 

 

A New Day – Exodus 12. RBT Notes, 10th September

The final plague marks the climax of God’s judgement on the impenitent, and the breaking-out of His grace on those who trust Him. So important is this act, that it forever after marks the start of the new year for the people of God (vv.1-2). Moses is to pass on instructions to the Israelites. They are to share a meal (vv.3-5), selecting and then cooking a spotless lamb (v.5), and they must mark their doorframes with its blood (v.7). It is to be roasted over a fire and shared with unleavened bread. Roasting means cooking quickly, and unleavened bread is a snack prepared in a few moments. They must even wear their clothes so as to be ready for a speedy exit (vv.8-11). This is no leisurely meal, but a hurried one before a journey, and before an act of God. He will bring judgment on the men, beasts and gods of Egypt, but in mercy will ensure that His wrath passes over the Israelites (vv.12-13).

This is freedom, freedom after centuries of oppression. God will do it, and He doesn’t ever want His people to forget it. This is why Moses is given so many details to pass on (vv.14-20), as well as an explanation to share (vv.21-23). Nothing like this has ever happened before for the Israelites, so they are to celebrate it as a lasting ordinance (vv.24-28). And, as we have seen throughout Exodus, God is totally true to His Word – judgement and salvation come to Egypt that night (vv.29-30).

Egypt is broken, and the Israelites are surely astonished, terrified and elated, all at the same time. Now Pharaoh gives the orders for them to leave – “Go!” (v.31). And so they leave, with flocks, food, and even the wealth of Egypt (vv.33-39). Slavery has been defeated, and grace has come after all these years of misery and longing (vv.40-42). The Passover celebration must be observed carefully for the generations to come (vv.43-51). No one must ever forget this grace.

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Perfect wrath at human wickedness, brutal slavery, a perfect, spotless lamb, trust in the blood, judgement turned away from those who believe, freedom and new life, and a meal of remembrance. The drama of Passover is the drama which forms and sustains the New Community of the Church the People of God. Christ, our spotless Passover Lamb has been slain (1 Cor. 5.7), and thus God’s wrath has been propitiated. By grace we have been saved, through faith, and all of this is the work of God (Eph. 2.8). Once strangers to grace, we now celebrate mercy as free people (1 Pe. 2.10), and remember our Dying Lamb in bread and wine (Lke. 22.17-19). And here is maybe the biggest wonder of our experience of God’s free salvation in Christ: every day is a new day. This is not a trite or shallow statement, it’s a truth from the depths of God’s grace in Christ. Every day we are loved, every day God offers Himself to us in Christ, without hesitation or condition. Every day we are called to trust, follow, celebrate and enjoy God. Today is your new day, and so is tomorrow.

When the Levee Breaks – Exodus 10-11. RBT Notes, 9th September

Three more terrible plagues bring God’s fury to its climax. Even in His wrath, God is warning, watching, waiting and speaking. Even in his powerlessness Pharaoh is resisting and avoiding, and risking a greater wrath to come.

Hail beats all the crops down, and then locusts will devour them, whether standing or fallen. Locusts were the great fear of the ancient world, a travelling force of devastation no one could stand against. Their power is swift, and complete (vv.13-15). But notice first that, just as judgement gets worse, God teaches His people more, and warns His enemies more. God says that these signs are lessons in God’s “harsh” dealings with the Egyptians (v.2), through which the Israelites learn God’s Lordship. God also brings a very lengthy warning to Pharaoh and his court through Moses and Aaron (vv.3-6). The officials feel its force (v.7), and Pharaoh seems for a moment to waver, but he still refuses to submit. God may have hardened his heart, but Pharaoh will have to answer to God for every warning he heard and yet ignored, to his further hardening, and condemnation. And notice, too, where the locust army ends up – in the Red Sea (v.19).

Then there is darkness (vv.21-23), a symbol of the evil of the regime and its slavery, and then there is death. Pharaoh refuses to release the Israelites, so his firstborn will be put to death. They have been warned, and warned for the last time (v.29). There will be no more warnings, no second chances, nothing but tears, loss and bitter regret.

Take a moment to reflect on this. We sometimes read the plagues as if they are the work of an impatient God, even a vicious God. We read the statements of God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and wonder if God had no space or pity for Pharaoh’s repentance. Yes, God has been smashing His fist down on Egypt. He has also been holding out His hands, reasoning with them, and waiting for them to repent. Those hands are held to us, too, and the hands of Christ have the marks of the nails. All has been done to achieve our salvation, and how we need to receive it from His hands. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2.4).

Now comes death (11.1). The Israelites will soon flee Egypt, loaded with gold and silver (v.2), but with the screams of desperate, bereaved Egyptians in their ears (v.6). God will strike the firstborn of every Egyptian home. God will one day strike His firstborn Son. “Consider the kindness and the severity of God” (Ro.11.22). He was severe to Egypt, and severe to His Son. Now we can come, and in Christ His kindness will break over us.

 

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The Grace of Disaster – Exodus 7.25-9.35. RBT Notes, 8th September

We live in an age of disasters. Global warming with its rising sea levels has brought massive insecurity to coastal communities around the world. Drought and desertification are major problems through the Continents of Africa and Asia, and in parts of America. Weather patterns in Europe, once stable for centuries, no longer have any reliability, bringing turmoil to agriculture. People are on the move right across the world: urbanisation leaves rural communities devastated and brings huge strain on city infrastructures, while millions are fleeing war and poverty for a better life elsewhere, often risking their livers to do so. Whole regions of the world are in uproar through wars waged on failed religious ideologies. Our world is a terrifying place, full of fear, despair and danger. You might say that we are living through successive plagues.

Perhaps, like Egypt. Egypt under God’s hand is falling apart. The Israelites are enslaved to the service of Pharaoh, and God insists that they must be set free for His worship (v.1). A week has passed since the striking of the Nile. Pharaoh’s heart will not yield to the Lord, so he and his nation must feel the heart of God’s anger. First it’s frogs, first living, then rotting. Next come gnats and flies, swarming and tormenting. Then the terror gets worse, and its costs get higher, with the death of Egyptian livestock (though not a single Israelite beast is affected, 9.7). There is a progress to the plagues, as God strikes at the waters of the Nile first, then the ground (8.1-14, frogs), then the air (8.16-19, gnats and flies). His hand is invading the different environments. Now He moves to strike at what the Egyptians depend on, bringing death to their livestock (9.1-7). The next plague affects the people themselves, with boils (vv.8-13). But the next plague will utterly devastate the land. Pharaoh still refused God, and God is hardening his heart (v.12). He and his people must see their land destroyed. God achieves this through the plague of hail (vv.9-35).

joseph-mallord-william-turner-the-fifth-plague-of-egypt-1800Note here, though, that the royal court is divided against Pharaoh, as some of his leaders are learning to fear the Word of the Lord, and bring their remaining livestock in from the field as they are warned to (v.20). They are learning, when Pharaoh won’t. Then God brings “the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation” (v.24). Pharaoh confesses his sin, and pleads for Moses to intervene (vv.27-28). Moses will pray, but he will not be fooled by these crocodile tears (vv.29-30). And Pharaoh will not change his mind (vv.34-35).

“See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks” (Heb. 12.25). God warns unbelievers as well as believers. Moses’ heart can easily become hard like Pharaoh’s. So can yours. God speaks primarily and clearly through His Word, but the wise hear His voice in the events of life, and should reflect on His will when life is turbulent. Pharaoh’s world and our world know the hand of God. All across our world things are breaking apart. The old certainties are gone, old structures and securities are crumbling. How much longer before we can see and say in worship with the angel in Revelation, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11.15)?  He does reign, and He will reign, and so we will worship.