God v. The gods in the Exodus (The Story Notes #5)

moses and ramses

My church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Text: Exod. 3

We come here to the story of the Exodus. If you’ve seen the 10 Commandments or the Prince of Egypt, or just grown up in Sunday School, you know what I’m talking about. Thing is, as far as the Bible goes, there are few books, or stories more important than this one. The story of the Exodus shapes the rest of the story to come, and the Gospel as a whole. While we can’t hit all of it tonight, I want us to see a few key points that you need to grasp if you’re going to understand the Exodus and really the Gospel itself.

So, what we’re going to do is answer three questions: What does God do in the Exodus? How does he do it? What’s the result?

Re-Cap – But first, let’s do a little recapping. So, last week we saw that Joseph led his family down into Egypt and life was good. It was good for a long time but then, his family grew and started becoming a mighty nation, so a later Pharoah enslaved them and put them to work. This last for hundreds of years and it was generally a horrible time. After about 400 years of this, things got interesting.

Pharaoh decided to kill all the little boys of the Hebrews in order to curb the population. It didn’t work too well, but one little Hebrew boy in particular was saved and, through a quirky chain of events, was adopted by Pharaoh’s sister/niece. He was named Moses. So, this Moses was a Hebrew, raised as an Egyptian in the household of Pharaoh. After he grew up, there came a point when he began to be burdened by the plight of his people. He ended up killing a guard who was beating a Hebrew slave, and it kinda looks like he might have been trying to save his people, so, the current Pharaoh got pissed and Moses had to run away.

Moses ran away to the desert, met a family, married a girl and then worked as a shepherd for 40 years. And that’ where we pick up the story.

What Does God Do? Now we can start to answer the question, what does God do? He reveals Himself in Saving Israel. That’s something you need to understand. God’s beating heart in saving Israel is that people would know him for who he is, the saving God who keeps covenants, unlike all the false gods. So God drafts Moses to head up this effort.

Encounter w/ Moses in Genesis 3

There’s a lot going on here, but the big thing is God’s revelation of his name. See, Moses asks him, “What should I call you?” In Egyptian theology, to know a god’s name is to know how he works. Well, God wants Israel know him for who he is so he gives them the name ‘I am that I am.’ That tells them a few things:

  • You can’t control me. I’ll give you a name, but the name just tells you that as opposed to all the gods you know, the God who promised your ancestors is the real God.
  • It also tells us that  “I’m faithful and you can count on me. You can’t know me fully, but I do want to be known by you.”

God wants to be known for who he is, not the false, silly ideas we make up about him. He wants Israel to know hims as faithful, sovereign, and good. And so he goes on to tell Moses that he will make himself known in saving Israel, through the Exodus.

So how does God do it?

How Does God do it? Well, what stands in the way of Israel’s knowing him? Two things: Pharaoh/gods & the Israelite’s own guilt.

a. Judging the gods – The first great obstacle in Israel not knowing who God was her slavery to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. Israel was tempted to doubt, or fail to see God for who he is because they enslaved or overpowered by other gods, other dominating forces in their lives. And this is true of us. When there’s something in our lives that just seems to own us (slavery to porn, to relationship, work, etc.) we’re tempted to doubt God, right? Or maybe, if it’s something we like, we’re just tempted to not even look for him, right? I mean, this other little god, this thing is good enough, so why go looking?

God knows this, and so He moves to dominate the false gods of Egypt, to show that these false pretender gods are no match for his glory. That’s what most of this account is about: a demonstration of God’s power, God’s true supremacy over the false gods of the Egyptians who claimed power, including Pharaoh. It starts with Moses encounter with Pharaoh and the staffs.

1. The Rod – Moses goes to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go, and he puts forward God’s staff as a symbol of authority. Now, the rod, in Egypt was a symbol of royal, god-like power. So, Moses throws his down and it turns into a snake. Pharaoh has the magicians do the same thing. Then, Moses’ snake eats the other snakes demonstrating that the rod that Moses bears is a true symbol of authority, God’s authority. Pharaoh still won’t acknowledge the Lord.

2. The plagues – In the same way, the rest of the plagues are a demonstration of God’s power. The Nile river had a god attached to it, as it was the source of life for the whole Delta, but the God of Israel turns it to blood. From there, all the rest of the plagues with animals, boils, etc. are systematically taking apart the pantheon and showing his total sovereignty over nature and everything in it. You can see this again, especially in the blotting out of the Sun, “You think Ra is the sun-god? Watch me turn off my lamp for a few days.” Still, every time, Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to listen to God in his stubbornness.

3. The death of the firstborn – Finally, this comes to it’s climax in the terrible judgment on the firstborn of Egypt and we see clearly God’s intent to reveal himself in judging the god’s of Egypt:

12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord

See, Pharoah had exercised the power of life and death over Israel’s firstborn, slaughtering an entire generation of them. Now God claims the firstborn of Egypt in recompense and judgment on the arrogance of Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, showing that He is the true lord of life and death.

God will, over and over again judge the gods in your life, eventually showing you the way they either enslave your, or fail you. (Story of God exposing a false god in my life.) God will show you that every other god fails and is false. He will judge it and you need to pray for that, because in the end, the true God is what you need. He is the one who will not fail. He is only one who can satisfy your soul and save you in the day of trouble.

But that’s not the only way he reveals himself.

b. Showing Mercy to Israel — See, the other problem of was that Israel was guilty of sin and idolatry as well. We’ve already kind of gotten there, but while they were in the land and there is every indication that they had sinned and worshipped foreign gods as well. So, in The Passover God gives them a way of escaping the judgment they deserved.

The destroyer was coming through all of Egypt that night. While in most of the other plagues, God was separating out Israel from Egypt, to demonstrate his intent, here he would not. The destroyer would come through and take the firstborn in all of Egypt. As we talked about last week, the firstborn represented the hope and future of the whole family. To take them was atonement for the sin of the people. But God was gracious and so he told them that if they would take a Lamb, slaughter and put the blood over the doorway, they’d be saved. (For those concerned, there are hints that the Egyptians had the chance to put blood on their doorpost as well, if they had learned to fear the God of Israel at that point.)

He was saying to them, “I’m going to set you free, but realize that I know you are culpable as well. You’ve been willingly worshipping false gods that enslave you. And that deserves judgment. Instead, I will show mercy and deal with your sin by accepting this lamb in your place.” And so, through the judgment on the Firstborn and the Passover, God revealed himself by saving Israel. In that one act, Pharaoh and the gods were judged, and Israel’s sins were forgiven in mercy.

Of course, that’s how he reveals himself to us as well, through Jesus Christ. See, Jesus Christ is the Passover lamb that was slain, and in his death and resurrection is the judgment on all the false gods that enslave us. His death and resurrection reveal the powerful, merciful God who saves us.

3. What is the result?  So what is the result? We are set free from slavery to false gods, to worship/serve the real God. See, God kept on telling Pharaoh to let Israel go so that they could ‘serve’ him. That word is the Hebrew ‘avodah.’ It can mean serve, or worship. In the end, it’s the same thing. The point is, God wasn’t setting Israel free so they could go off and do their own thing. He set them free from Egypt so that they could come and serve him, worship him, ultimately, to be in relationship with himself.

That is true of us. God doesn’t set you free from false gods, just to go off and do your own thing. He sets you free for relationship with himself. To serve him because serving him is the only true freedom there is. Of course, this only happens though when you see God for who he is in the Gospel: Powerful. Real. True. Covenant-keeping. Just. Merciful. Gracious. Loving.  Basically, all the things we see in Jesus.

And when you see that, the only fitting response is to worship, to serve him with your whole self.

Soli Deo Gloria