Judges 7: You have too large an army with you.
The Lord has such a sense of humor. Gideon’s been rounding up the troops to take on the mighty Midian army and he’s done a pretty good job of it. Now they’re on their way into battle, but first, God has some trimming to do. First, those who are afraid are invited to leave. Two thirds of the army decides this is a good time to go home. Then, as they get a drink of water, the few who show “battle sense” are kept while everyone else goes home. Gideon was reluctant enough to take on this fight. He must be beside himself as the Lord keeps whittling down his army. He’s now left with just 300 fighters. Of course, God has a purpose in all this. Even as we see the Lord’s disqualification of almost all of Gideon’s army, we see that the Lord is quite intentional here. If Gideon’s large force wins a victory they’ll take all the credit for it. The Lord wants not only to bring deliverance to Israel, but to restore them to himself as well. I believe proper preparation for things I attempt is wise and reasonable, but I also know that the ultimate Source in my life is, not my plans and resources, but my Lord. Sometimes, he has to whittle down my approach so, when it all works out, I’ll know who it is that gets the credit. And, as he does it, I think he’s smiling to himself.
Take Away: The Lord loves turning the tables and doing the impossible.
Make a pile of stones
Joshua 4: In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, “What are these stones doing here?” tell your children this: “Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.”
Out in the middle of the Jordan River, way down at the bottom, there are stones. That’s what the people of Israel discover as God opens the way through the river. As the thousands cross over, twelve men are given the assignment of each taking one of those stones and piling them on the bank of the river as a memorial of this momentous event. Then, in future generations, when children ask about the pile of stones, the story will be told. It is the story of God’s deliverance; of how God makes a way when there is no way. It’s a story of God’s grace, patience, and mercy. It’s the story of his unfailing love. Here’s a tip right from God’s Word: build some memorials in your life. Take the kids to the old church, point to the place at the altar and tell them what happened there. Read to them the scripture that got your attention and tell them why. Show them your pile of stones from the Jordan riverbed and in so doing pass your story along to the next generation. Someday, your great-grandchildren, who never met you, will hear their grandpa talk about how his dad came to Christ. Thus, God’s grace will minister through your life from beyond your years on earth.
Take Away: Tell your story to those who are the most precious to you.
Deuteronomy 30: God will cut away the thick calluses on your heart…freeing you to love God with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.
Moses doesn’t have to see into the future to know what’s coming. After all, he’s led them for decades. When he describes the blessing and the curse that’s set before them, he speaks with authority about what will happen. They’ll rebel against God and travel the road of the curse. However, before Moses ever led this nation he followed God. Through the years he’s gotten to know the Almighty in ways that no other person of his generation has. Even as Moses speaks with authority about failure, he speaks with equal authority about the grace of God. This man of God is sure of this: when they turn back to God the Lord will be waiting to restore them. Clearly, though, there’s more than restoration here. There’s also transformation. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise will come with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. God, the Holy Spirit, will come to “cut away” that which handicaps people from fully loving the Lord. In that work of grace, his people will be set free to love God with their whole being. That’s the way to really live.
Take Away: The Lord not only delivers people from the slavery of sin. He also transforms them, changing them as deep as their very hearts.
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.
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.”
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?
God is all about results
Exodus 6: I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.
After centuries of slavery and under increasing oppression the descents of Abraham are ready for some action from God. Their hope is likely quite modest. Maybe the Lord’s going to engineer a little bit less of a workload from their Egyptian taskmasters for them, or maybe there’ll be an improvement in living conditions. The thing is that they have the attention of the Almighty now and he has his own agenda that includes such big ticket items as “rescue,” “redemption,” and making them “his very own.” When God delivers people he does it in a big way. This is no patch up job so that they can somehow hobble on. Big things, things they can’t even imagine, are going to happen. That’s how it is when he saves us. I come to him, lost in my sins. My prayer is a modest one, like: “Lord, I just want to feel better” or “Just help me make it through this situation and I’ll be okay.” He says, “I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.” The result is more wonderful than I ever imagined.
Take Away: When the Lord does something there are no half-measures about it.
Big events with small beginnings
Exodus 5: Does this look like rescue to you?
The journey from slavery to freedom will not come without a struggle. Pharaoh’s known as the leader of a country with a world class economy and he intends to keep his free labor force. He also likes getting his own way. Mix all that with his having a hard, dispassionate disposition and we have a recipe for a long struggle. Moses eases into the negotiations by asking that the people be given three days off for worship and Pharaoh responds by increasing the workload on the people. The result is that Moses is disappointed and the Hebrew people are upset with him for making life harder on them than it was before. Of course, this is the first step in what will be an epic deliverance. For now though, the whole thing feels like a pitiful failure. The thing is that most great events have less than stellar beginnings. For instance, there’s the story of the founding of my own nation which is filled with several “one step forward and two steps back” situations. Or consider the story of the Wright brothers and human flight. A person watching their early efforts might have concluded that they were crazy rather than visionary. In the passage before us today, Moses appears to have totally failed in his mission. However, he has one thing going for him that assures a positive outcome: the Lord is with him. What has happened thus far may not look like much of a rescue mission, but the Lord is just getting started.
Take Away: Great miracles often begin with what seems to be pitiful failure.
It’s God’s story
Exodus 2: God listened…God remembered…God saw…God understood.
The story of the Bible is God’s story. He’s the central player. In the book of Exodus we have the major, dominating figure of Moses, but he isn’t the star. The Exodus story is about God. It’s he who listens to their cries, remembers his promise to Abraham, sees their need, and understands their plight. And it’s he who acts. Decades earlier, when Moses tried to take on the role of deliverer, things didn’t work out. Now, God takes on that role. When the story of the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt begins, it starts with God in a burning bush and not Moses killing an Egyptian. Today, I want my story to be God’s story. I’d rather play a small part in his big story than have the leading role in a one man play.
Take Away: It’s about my cooperating with God, not about him cooperating with me.
Hebrews 4: The promise of “arrival” and “rest” are still there for God’s people.
In the Old Testament story of the people of God we read of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. By God’s hand they triumph at the Red Sea and not long after that come to the Jordan River with the promise that this is to be their land of rest. Once they possess Canaan they’ll be home at last. However it doesn’t work out. The people refuse to trust God and, because of that, are sentenced to a lifetime of wilderness wandering. The writer of Hebrews uses that sad story to tell his readers that the Lord calls his people to a “rest experience” in their relationship with him. After deliverance from sin, there’s a “Jordan River” crisis in which believers are to trust God to give them rest from the inner struggle and freedom to love him with all their heart and soul and mind. The failure of the people of Israel is a real possibility for the believer: to doubt the extent to which the Lord can deliver his people from the bondage of sin. To fail here is to turn back to the wilderness and to experience the spiritual journey as a constant struggle with failure and sin. To believe God and trust him with all of one’s life is to cross the Jordan and enter into a deeper spiritual life of freedom and liberty. “The promise of ‘arrival’ and ‘rest’ are still there for God’s people.”
Take Away: The Lord not only forgives our sins – he also delivers us from that sin.