EXODUS 5:1-4; 13:17-22; 14:30-31

AUGUST 9, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


            Trudy and I made a decision last Sunday. Well, we think we made a decision last Sunday. We decided to stop watching Masterpiece Classics on PBS on Sunday nights. We will keep watching the mysteries.  Well keep watching Grantchester and Inspector Lewis and Sherlock and Foyles War, but I think we are off Masterpiece Classics, shows like Downton Abbey and Poldark.  We watched the season finale of Poldark last Sunday and frankly, it wore us out. A wifes spine unintentionally crushed by her husband, family betrayals, a baby dying, and the hero being carried off to jail as the season ended well it was all too much. The series had started so well.  It was so fun to meet Captain Poldark and his wife Demelza, and the hero was always one step ahead of his circumstances, but it all began to go south in the last two episodes and Trudy and I dont know if we have enough energy to hang in there with the besieged Captain Poldark next season. 

            I get a similar feeling when opening the book of Exodus. We left Joseph and his brothers last week in Egypt. Joseph was prime minister of the land and his family moved to Egypt where he could take better care of them. They were living in luxury and the Pharaoh greatly respected Joseph, though a Hebrew rather than Egyptian, but then it all went south, not as quickly as it went south for Captain Poldark, but it went south. As the Book of Exodus begins hundred years have past and the conditions had radically changed. No longer is the relationship between the descendants of Abraham and the Egyptians characterized by goodwill and respect.  Now, as we open the book of Exodus, the Egyptians have become fearful of the growing population of Israelites and decide to oppress them. An unnamed new king comes to power, a new king to whom Joseph meant nothing. The new, unnamed king enslaved the Israelites and issued a command that all the baby boys born to the Hebrews be put to death.

            In this terrifying environment, the hero of the book, Moses, is born. He will be the one whom God chooses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, so lets fast forward to the events surrounding what the world knows as The Exodus, the sixth Old Testament Essential in our overview of the Hebrew Scriptures. Before we get to the actual Exodus, however, I want us to note a couple of things.

            First, note Moses original request.  I refer you to Exodus 5:1. Listen to these words from Moses to the Pharaoh.


            Afterward Moses and Aaron went to the Pharaoh and said, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go. Then they said, The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword. But the king of Egypt said to them, Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors?


            We often overlook the second half of their request. We remember the Let my people go, but miss the part that the original request was only for three days. In other words, Moses and Aaron do not begin by insisting that Pharaoh free the Hebrew slaves so they can go to the Promised Land. No, they simply ask for a three-day break so they can journey to the wilderness and offer sacrifices to their God.

            We are left to wonder what would the Hebrews have done if Pharaoh had granted their request? We will never know because the Pharaoh adamantly rejected Moses and Aarons request. Perhaps the Pharaoh thought they would not come back, and perhaps they would not have. Maybe it was a ruse to get a three-day head start on the Pharaoh and his armies, but we will never know.  What we do know is Pharaohs refusal to grant them three days off from their labors underscores his pettiness and cruelty.

            Second, note that the signs and plagues that God visits upon the Egyptians are acts of war against the gods of the Egyptians. In other words, there is a reason that the signs and plagues take the form that they do. Lets consider a few examples.

            The action begins with Aaron throwing his walking stick to the ground, whereupon it promptly turns into a serpent (Exodus 7:8-13). The serpent, of course, was an integral part of Egyptian royal symbolism, since one of the most common crowns for the Pharaoh was a coiled cobra. The coiled cobra was associated with the goddess Wadjet, considered to be the mother and midwife of the king. Then Aarons serpent, far outnumbered by the serpents produced by the Egyptian priests, swallows up priests serpents. Advantage God.

            Also, remember the plague where God turns the waters of the Nile into blood? Now, some scientists say, it was probably red algae, not literally blood, but whether it was or not, the plague of blood was an attack against a specific Egyptian god. The Egyptians believed that the Nile was represented by a fertility god names Hapi. Imagine the horror of the Egyptians when the Nile, the source of their fertile land, was blood red. They would think Hapi had been wounded or worse.

            In interest of time I offer just two more examples of the plagues as attacks on the Egyptian gods. The most important god in Egypt was the sun god, Ra. During the ninth plague, the sun was blotted out. An Egyptian would think of this as an attack on the all-important god of the sun. But the climax of the plagues came with the last plague, the death of the firstborn. Remember that Pharaoh himself was seen as a god, and the death of his own son would be an attack on that religious idea. God is more powerful than the gods of Egypt, and more powerful than the god-man Pharaoh, who had the gall to resist the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacobs command to free his people from slavery.

            Now we come to the Exodus itself. Turn with me to Exodus 13:17. Follow along as I read.


            When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt. So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. (Note the footnote in our pew bible. It could also read, Sea of Reeds.).  The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here. They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.


            It must have been a great comfort to Moses and the people to have the pillar of cloud and the pillar of light to accompany them the entire way. Perhaps there are times in our lives when we wish God's guidance was so obvious, but of course, 95% of what God wants us to do is revealed in the bible, so maybe we have book rather than a pillar.

            Their ultimate destination was north and east of Egypt, but God began by leading them south and southeast. Why? Maybe because God had made an appointment to meet with them at Mount Sinai, which is in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula. Or maybe its just as it says the pesky Philistines might have discouraged the Israelites, and so, in order to keep them from becoming discouraged, the Lord detoured his people around them.

      The decision to head south, however, appeared to be a strategic mistake, at least to human eyes. The Egyptian pharaoh had reconsidered his decision to let the slaves go. And so, with an army of chariots in his wake, the pharaoh set off in hot pursuit of the Hebrews. When he caught up with them, he found them camped by the shores of the Red Sea.

      The Israelites seemed trapped. On the one side was the dominating military force mustered by the king of Egypt. On the other side was the substantial body of water. If God had led them by the more direct route, they would not have encountered the Red Sea, and they would not be trapped. In DeMille's movie, The Ten Commandments, the pharaoh surveys the situation and says, "The God of Moses is a poor general to leave him no retreat.

            You know the rest. The sea parts for the Israelites and closes in on the Egyptians drowning the pursuing army. The Exodus account ends with these words (Exodus 14:30-31). 


            Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptian. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.


            This is the most important salvation event in the history of Israel, and I want to say just one thing in conclusion.  The exodus event, and particularly the crossing of the Sea, demonstrates that God can save us when we have no resources to save ourselves.

          How does the exodus event speak to us in those things in life that are beyond our capacity to fix or to resolve? Well, it reminds us that God can rescue us when we cant rescue ourselves. It engenders hope, when our natural tendency is to slide into despair.

            Does this mean that God will always open the sea so we can get beyond our problems? Well, no, not always in this life. But we know that death does not end our story. Our Promised Land is not Canaan, but heaven itself. No matter our present issue, we know that God can solve it now, but if in Gods wisdom God does not, we know that our future is secure.

            Maxie Dunham, former editor of The Upper Room tells of the death of his friend Buford. Dunham was with Bufords wife Jean and their two children and Jeans brother when Buford died. Dunham said that it was painful, heart-wrenchingly painful. The day before Buford struggled to verbalize the meaning of their friendship, and only a little while before he died the last word that he spoke was to his wife, Jean, telling her he loved her.

            Dunham said that it was painful, so painful, but also very meaningful. Jean and the children were touching him in love as he died. Buford loved to sing. When their families were together in Mississippi, where Maxie and Buford grew up, they almost always gathered around the piano and sang old gospel songs. Minutes after Bufords passing, Jean said, I feel like singing the doxology.

            Dunham said it was the worst singing they had ever done, with their voices cracking with tears, but he said it was the most meaningful singing they had ever done. He said it was the most significant affirmation of faith in which hed ever participated: Praise God from whom all blessings flow Praise Him all creatures here below Praise Him above ye heavenly host Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

            You see, what the exodus is to the Jew, Easter is to us.  Amen.