Last week we looked at some important lessons from when Moses burst onto the scene as a screaming baby in Exodus 2. This broader story, which really recounts God’s efforts to form His people into a unique monotheistic culture, has some more gems to offer. Picking up where we left off, turning to chapter 5, we see Moses and Aaron getting into hot water. To recap where we were in the story, Moses had finally given into God’s calling for him, to return to Egypt and lead His people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Anticipating that the people wouldn’t readily follow Moses, God gave him a number of signs to perform for the Israelites to convince them that he had truly been sent by God. They finally agreed, worshipping God for recognizing their plight and sending a deliverer to them.
Sounds easy, right? They should be on their way by next Tuesday.
Well, not so fast. In chapter 5, we see that things don’t go as they had pictured in their minds. In fact, it’s a disaster. Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh, telling him that the Lord told them to tell him to let His people go. Pharaoh, of course, does not recognize the Lord (Pharaoh thinks of himself as divine, and obviously more powerful than the God of the Israelites since he has subjugated them). Even worse, he tells them that if they’re going to pull this kind of nonsense, he’s going to significantly increase their workload and even more brutally oppress them.
This does not win Moses or Aaron any points with their fellow Hebrews, who blame them for making the Israelites obnoxious to the Egyptians. God assures Moses that He has control of the situation and that He will deliver His people from Egypt and into the Promised Land. Moses and Aaron pass this message of assurance and encouragement along to the Israelites, but they don’t believe it.
This brings me to the first lesson in this segment of Moses’ epic story. Our world today abounds with negativity, hatred, and “doom and gloom” news. Yet there are pastors and other messengers of God who are reminding us that God is in control, that He has a plan to redeem even the most dire of circumstances. So the question is, which voices are we going to listen to? Will we listen to God’s voice, even in spite of all of the “evidence” the culture points to in order to support their assertions that there is no God or that He just doesn’t care?
Getting back into the story, we come to the famous ten plagues. The pattern repeats itself ten times where God tells Moses to warn Pharaoh that he will bring a certain plague on the Egyptians if he doesn’t let the Hebrews go, but at the same time, He also warns that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he won’t let them go. (Note that this odd bit of theology–God hardening Pharaoh’s heart–is worth exploring, but it is beside the point for today, so I’ll set it aside for now). The final plague, recounted in Exodus 11, 12, and 13, is that of the firstborn sons (and livestock) of Egypt being killed. This leads to the story of the Passover, a foundational part of the history for the people of Israel, and also for followers of Christ, since Jesus draws a stark parallel between His own crucifixion and the sacrifice of the Passover lamb since both sacrifices atone (or take away) the sins of another.
This brings up the next lesson for today. The story of Passover is a story about God rescuing His people. In Exodus 12, it tells how the Israelites are to identify themselves as God’s people by marking their doorways with the blood of the Passover lamb. Jesus Christ, as the Passover Lamb for the New Covenant, told us how to mark ourselves as God’s people, how to set ourselves apart from those around us. The Sermon on the Mount is full of such guidance, but here are a couple challenging ways in which Jesus tells us how to “mark our doorways”–to set ourselves apart from our culture:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.Jesus Christ, in Matthew 5:13-16, 43-48 (NIV, emphasis added)
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven….
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Wait, what?? We have to be perfect?
“You know I can’t do that, Dave, so count me out!” I’m glad you brought that up, because I’m right there with you. None of us is perfect, or even capable of being perfect. In our own strength.
This leads me to our third and final lesson from this part of the story: just as the Hebrews had to mark their doorways with someone else’s blood to set them apart, so too are we made holy with blood that is not our own, but that of Jesus, the ultimate Passover Lamb. It is out of that sacrifice that we are to, in a posture of humility and gratitude, try as best we can to live like Jesus and love others as He did. He knows our hearts, our failures, and yet this is what He calls us to do. This is God’s favorite modus operandi for working in this world: He sends regular people–us–to feed the poor and help our neighbors on His behalf.
God never promised this would be easy–only that He would be with us on the journey….