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Praise and worship service
Exodus 15: Who compares with you in power?
When Moses tells the people to “stand still” he’s more right than wrong. While it’s true that they need to “move forward” in response to what God is doing, it’s still God who provides their deliverance. They don’t exactly “stand still” but they never raise a hand in their own defense. It’s God who provides the victory. Now they’re celebrating. Moses leads the way with his song of victory: “Who compares with you among gods, O God? Who compares with you in power, in holy majesty, in awesome praises, wonder-working God?” Moses turns their hearts in the right direction. Even more than being about victory over the army of Egypt, this celebration is about God at work in their world. Obviously that victory is no small thing. Still, God’s incomparable, powerful, majestic, wondrous work is the real reason to celebrate, whether it has to do with Pharaoh’s army or not. After all, this is God’s story even more than theirs. In my life there are many good things to celebrate, but beyond all that is the Reason behind the good things. I’m glad to join Moses in this praise and worship service.
Take Away: Celebrate the good things but don’t forget to celebrate the Giver of those good things.
Exodus 14: The Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground.
The crossing of the Red Sea is a vivid, unforgettable event. We don’t need Charlton Heston and the magic of Hollywood to picture for us something spectacular happening. Moses lifts his staff over the waters and the wind begins to blow, splitting the sea. Then, after a night of waiting, the order is given to move out and over 600,000 people walk through that canyon of water, arriving safely on the other side. The rest of their lives they’ll remember that experience, and well they should. Big events, powerful evidences of God, don’t happen every day, although this generation of Israelites is going to see way more than the rest of us. I’ve never seen the sea part or anything else that could be labeled “spectacular.” However, I’ve experienced some personal encounters with the Lord that have shaped my life. No, I’m not going to write about them here…they’re my precious memories and not for public consumption. However, like those Israelites of old, I warmly remember them and they have defined my life. I don’t need to see daily miracles to keep on believing but I’m both thankful for and humbled by what I have seen and experienced.
Take Away: Our personal divine encounters may not be as spectacular as those in Scripture, but they define our lives.
Head ‘em up – move ‘em out.
Exodus 14: Moses spoke to the people…“Stand firm and watch God do his work…God said to Moses: Order them to get moving.”
Behind them is the army of Egypt, moving in to destroy them. Before them is the Red Sea, impassable. What are they to do? Moses has great faith, “Stand still and see…” what God will do. That sounds good. They have pretty much stood still through the plagues and God took care of everything. Surely Moses is right and God will do it again. But God has other ideas. Even as the people of Israel had a part in the Passover by following God’s directions, now they have a part in this final victory over Egypt. The Almighty says, “Don’t stand still…move forward.” As they obey the command to move, God acts and deliverance comes. There are, indeed, times to “stand still.” To do otherwise is to attempt to be our own deliverers – something that’s bound to fail. At times like that we simply wait on the Lord. However, there are more often times to “get moving.” To do so is to act in faith that God is with us and that he has given us a role to play in our own salvation.
Take Away: Don’t be guilty of standing still when God is saying, “Move out.”
Exodus 13: The Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night never left the people.
The journey begins. Freed from bondage they’re now on the way to the Promised Land. This is the land God promised to their ancestor, Abraham. Moses is their leader yet God provides even more direct guidance. He guides them with a daytime cloud and a nighttime fire in the sky. When the pillar moves, they move. When it stands still, they stand still. What could be easier? Honestly, I kind of envy them, don’t you? Who could ask for a more clear way to know God’s plan. Still, as I think about it, I realize that many years later Jesus promises a “pillar” of his own. One of his last words of instruction to his disciples contains the promise of the Holy Spirit who will be their Guide. Instead of scanning the horizon to follow a pillar of cloud (have you ever wondered how that worked on a rainy day or during a nighttime thunderstorm?) the disciples will have an Inner Guide directing their lives. And it won’t be a case of God dragging them along in directions they don’t want to go either (remember, even with the pillars, there are an abundance of spiritual failures coming). This Guide, promised by Jesus, transforms hearts — changing his followers at the heart level. He not only guides; he also enables us to follow. It isn’t a pillar of fire but it is a wonderful way to be led by the Lord.
Take Away: The Holy Spirit is our “pillar of fire.”
Exodus 12: God’s entire army left Egypt.
Four hundred and thirty years earlier sixty-six descendants of Abraham left Canaan and relocated to Egypt. Now, Pharaoh not only “allows” them to leave, he insists on it and 600,000 people begin the Exodus. Even as they gather their belongs in preparation to depart, the Lord tells them that they’re to commemorate this event each year. Even before the Ten Commandments are given the Passover is initiated and this event and all that is associated with it will define this people forever. In the centuries to come when times are especially difficult they’ll look back to this night and be reminded that God delivered them; that they are his very own; and that the Lord is always faithful. My story isn’t all that interesting but it’s as important to me. The day came when the Lord delivered me from the bondage of sin. He called me his very own and he promised to be faithful to me. Even as the Israelites remembered and in times of trouble found encouragement in their Exodus, so do I look back and remember; and in remembering, I’m encouraged in my spiritual journey.
Take Away: What’s the story of your Exodus?
Cooperating with God
Exodus 12: The Israelites then went and did what God had commanded Moses and Aaron. They did it all.
Emancipation day is coming. After generations of slavery God is about to keep his promise to “rescue and redeem” them from the bondage of Egypt. The deciding event will be one of fearsome judgment. Death is coming. However, death will not visit every home in the land. The Israelites must to follow explicit instructions if they’re to escape the terrible events of that night. A lamb is to be slaughtered, cooked, and eaten. Some of the blood, mixed with hyssop is to be smeared on the door posts of their homes. As a result, the death angel will “pass over” their dwellings. They listen and obey – “they did it all.” In so doing they become a part on their own deliverance. Most of what needs to be done is accomplished by the Lord but they must cooperate by taking this action. Well, you know where this is going by now. God has acted to deliver me from slavery to freedom. He has done the vast majority of what must be done. Still, he has instructions for me to follow. I must respond by cooperating with the Almighty if his perfect will is to be accomplished in my life.
Take Away: How can I best cooperate with God today?
The stubbornness of Pharaoh
Exodus 9: But for one reason only I’ve kept you on your feet…
Things continue to go downhill for mighty Egypt. Dead animals and a plague of miserable boils have struck the land. As Goliath will stager before falling many years in the future, Egypt is near the end. All the wealth and power Joseph brought to Egypt is draining away. One has to believe that the people of Egypt and even the advisors of the king are practically begging him to end this by surrendering to the demand from God that the people of Israel be set free. As Moses promises yet another massive display of God’s power, he explains the absurd stubbornness of Pharaoh. This is God’s doing. Pharaoh hasn’t given in because he can’t give in. After centuries of seeming silence God is making himself known once again. When he’s finished with Pharaoh the whole world will know about the God of the Israelites. On one hand I squirm a bit in my spirit as I see Pharaoh stripped of his free will, suffering the consequences of his earlier stubbornness. On the other hand, though, I’m reminded that it’s the Almighty who’s doing it. Who has a right to question what the Creator of all things does? Pharaoh’s life is going to bring glory to God, not only throughout the world of his day, but throughout history as well. As I read about the plagues I’m reminded that every life will, sooner or later, bring glory to God.
Take Away: Ultimately, God is sovereign and ultimately, every life will yield to that truth.
Get out of jail free card
Exodus 8: I’ll make a sharp distinction between your people and mine.
The first two plagues that fall on Egypt might be called “equal opportunity plagues.” That is, everyone, Egyptians and Hebrews alike, suffer from them. From the third plague on though, the area inhabited by the slaves, Goshen, is a sanctuary from all the bad stuff that comes. I can’t help but wonder why it happens like this. One thing that comes to mind is that from the third plague on the magicians of Egypt give up on duplicating the miracles. In fact, they tell Pharaoh that this is “God’s doing,” suggesting that he needs to give in. When the magicians drop out of the contest, the descendants of Abraham no longer experience the plagues. Maybe there’s a connection. Another thing I note is that, at first, these people are hesitant to believe that Moses is being sent by God to rescue them. Maybe the Lord allows them to experience the first two plagues to convince them that something beyond the ordinary is happening here. I’m sure there are other explanations but these two come to mind as I consider this passage today. Beyond that, though, is a reminder that sometimes God’s people go through the same hardships as everyone else. Being a follower of the Lord is no “get out of jail free” card. In fact, the unwelcome hardship might just be a part of God’s plan for us. The road to heaven isn’t always a pleasant stroll. Sometimes, there are portions of the route that we’d just as soon never travel.
Take Away: The Lord never promised us an easy journey, but he did promise to be with us on that journey and to deliver us to himself at the end of the road.
Did I do that?
Exodus 7: The magicians of Egypt did the same thing by their incantations.
Have you ever wondered about the “miracle contest” that takes place between Moses and the sorcerers of Egypt? Moses throws his staff on the floor and it turns into a snake. Pharaoh summons his sorcerers and they do the same thing. This scenario is repeated when the plagues begin and the water of the Nile is turned to blood and then in the plague of the frogs. It’s only in the third plague that the sorcerers are stymied when they can’t produce gnats by their incantations. I know the Source of Moses’ miracle working ability but how do the sorcerers do it? This is one of those situations in which the Bible makes no effort to answer our question. All we’re told is what happens in this contest; not how it happens. I’ve always been inclined to think that they do it by sleight of hand. After all, it appears that they’re given advance warning each time. I can picture it now: “Hey, there’s a guy down at the river that’s turning water into blood, how can we do that?” Some experienced old faker says he has just the thing and off they go to duplicate Moses’ miracle. However, I’ve just been thinking of another explanation. Maybe they’re the most amazed people present when their efforts produce a miracle. You see, the Lord says he’s going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. What better way to do that than, when he sees an obvious God-caused miracle take place, he sees his own sorcerers duplicate it? I’m not sure of this understanding of events, but I’d sure like to have seen their faces when their staff’s became snakes.
Take Away: We’d better trust God because sometimes we can’t believe what we see with our own eyes.