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

Joseph, Crappy Jobs, and Working for the Glory of God (The Story Notes #4)

josephMy 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 – Genesis 39-

One of the big questions that a lot of us start asking in college, or should, is “How do we work in the secular world, maybe in difficult situations?” Right? A lot of us are getting our first jobs, or we’re thinking about what to study, and what career to go into. We’re starting to realize that if you don’t know how to live out your faith at work, then there’s about 40 or 50 hours of your week where you’re just saying, “Well God, I’ll check back in with you when I’m off the clock.” For followers of Jesus, that just won’t work. Jesus claims all of our lives, including our work lives. So how do you work as a Christian?

What’s more, how do we do it when it’s difficult? When your boss is a tool? When you’re at a job you hate? When your co-workers don’t love Jesus? When you’re kind of wondering why you’re even there?

 Well, while there’s a lot to say, tonight we’re going to talk about the story of Joseph and see the way trusting in God’s purposes allows us to engage the world at work for his glory.

To see this, let’s set up the story.

The Story – Here’s the set-up. so, last week we talked about Abraham. Abraham had Isaac who then had a son named Jacob. Jacob was a busy man who ended up with twelve sons. Joseph is one of Jacob’s sons. In fact, he was his favorite son and he made it very clear (special coat, privileges, etc), so much that his brothers became jealous of him. Now, Joseph was kind of an arrogant young idiot and even told them he had vision where he’d basically be ruling over them.

Well, later on they had a chance to get rid of them and so when they were far away from the house, and Joseph was coming to check up on them, they jumped him. Initially they were going to kill him, but instead, they ended up selling him into slavery. They took some of his clothes, tore ‘em up and bloodied them to make it look like a wild animal had eaten them.

Some time after that, he’s sold into the house of a very wealthy official in Pharaoh’s household named Potiphar, which is where we picked up the story in chapter 39 and we start to learn some things.

The Options — See, at this point, He was living in a new land, pagan, with a slave-owner boss who worshipped other gods. What we see is that Joseph avoided two basic options that we’re tempted to fall into, but opted for a third that comes from trusting in God. So what are these options?

Christians Don’t Slack — The first option would be to kind of slack off and shut-down. When you find yourself in a difficult situation, or interacting with non-Christians, you kind of do what you have to to get by, not more, not less, but just kind of half-it. A lot of Christians think that work in secular environments is just something you have to put up with. They refuse to participate, or accept positions of power because they think that working with non-Christians, or doing good at something other than churchy things is inherently sinful or inferior. Or maybe the situation is just so frustrating they get better and don’t work for that reason.

This is not what we see Joseph do. Joseph didn’t sit there getting bitter, cursing God for the situation and then just waiting it out.  See, it says that he worked and the Lord prospered his hand in all that he did. Now, if the Lord was prospering his hand, this doesn’t mean that he just kind of sat there and God worked it out. Clearly, Joseph applied himself to the best of his abilities and talents on behalf of his master. Despite being a pagan and his owner, Joseph worked to serve him and do the best job he could.

Christians are to work hard and do well in their jobs. We shouldn’t just punch our cards, and wait until the hours are done. Paul tells servants in Colossians that they should do their work as if they were working for Jesus himself. WE are to put our best foot forward, to try, to strive, to do a good job.

Christian Don’t Compromise – On the flipside, Joseph also avoids the other option: selling out. There are going to be times at work where it’s tempting to compromise. You may want to start giving in to the culture. It may be shady business deals. Or maybe its cheating your boss. Or maybe it’s just the general atmosphere of immorality. Whatever it is, the temptation is to just fit in and get cozy at the cost of your reputation and your relationship with God. Maybe you just figured all you can do is make the best of it because God has let you down, to you settle into the atmosphere of sin.

This is not what you see Joseph do either. Look at the situation with Potiphar’s wife. She’s coming on to him. She sees he’s young an attractive and she’s kind of a cougar, so she wants him. And, really, how easy would it have been for Joseph to give in? It probably would have been fun. What’s more, it might have benefited him short-term with his position. She might have put in a good word with her husband to set him free or give him more privileges, etc.

But he refuses to compromise and runs out the door on that. He says here quite clearly that he would not dishonor God or betray his master’s trust that way. He clings to his integrity and strives to honor God in what he’s doing. This is our call as Christians. We are to stand firm, not give in to the culture or sell out our integrity.

Being honest won’t always work out immediately either as you can see. She lies about him and gets him thrown in prison. You’re going to have these moments where being honest might not be the ‘smart’ thing to do, and yet the call is to stay firm and not compromise in our jobs.

Christians Glorify God by Bless Others – So what is driving Joseph? What is this third way? If it’s not shutting down, or selling out? What is his goal? What is his call? It is glorify God in his work. That’s what we see here, over and over again, as well as what we see in the rest of the story.

Summarizing some of the story ahead, you’ll see that once he’s in prison, he’s actually placed in a position of authority again. The jailer actually ends up trusting him so much he’s put in charge of the prisoners. While in there, he meets two of Pharaoh’s servants: the baker and the cupbearer. Both of them have dreams and he ends up interpreting the dreams for them: the baker would die and the cupbearer would return to his position. And that’s what happened. The cupbearer ends up getting out of prison and returning to his station right next to the Pharaoh.

Years later, the Pharaoh has a freaky weird dream about some skinny cows eating fat cows and it’s all very bizarre. None of Pharaoh’s wise men are able to decipher it and it’s at that point that the cupbearer remembers Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams. He brings him out of prison, where he is able to decipher the meaning of the dreams. They foretold seven years of crop abundance followed by seven years of famine. He then advised that the Pharaoh prepare by saving up during the fat years for the lean years.

And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” (Gen. 41:38-40)

Pharoah trusted in Joseph and because of his wisdom he took him and put him in charge of his empire. He was second only to Pharaoh. In other words, he went from the pit to the palace and from there, he administered Pharaoh’s kingdom wisely. And there he worked hard, and didn’t compromise either. But this shows us something else.

See, not only was he a hard worker and didn’t compromise, the wisdom of God helped him do things the people around him could not. See, this pointed ahead to what Israel was supposed to do in the world. God’s people have always been called to show the world what God is like through the wisdom he gives us. So, there might be times where the lessons of grace will give you extra peace, or graces, or care with a co-worker, or something like that which will give you an opportunity to be a light in the darkness for the name of Jesus.

And that  should be our goal: to glorify Jesus in the way we do our job with the wisdom of the Gospel

Christians Trust in God’s Sovereignty How do we do this in difficult situations, though? How do we have the perspective we need to be faithful in trials, to work hard, to not compromise and not give up hope? To testify to God’s wisdom for the world? By trusting you are where you are by God’s wisdom. This is what we see this later in Joseph’s story.

See, Joseph was raised to the palace, meanwhile when the famine hit, his own family was still back in Canaan, where the famine had no relief. So the brothers came down to Egypt to buy food and after an interesting chain of events, they were all reunited, and Jacob and his family were moved down to Egypt under the protection of Joseph where they grew and were prosperous.

In two speeches, Joseph testifies in his belief that God was in control the whole time. In chapter 45:5-7, he’s telling his brothers about what has happened and that they should not be afraid of him because he wasn’t angry anymore. He says to them,

““I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!  And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

Later, after Jacob dies, they are again afraid that Joseph will take his revenge and so he has to reassure them and he says to them in 50:19-20:

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

See, Joseph knew that God was in control and that he was working things out according to his plans. God was using the evil of his brothers and Joseph’s years to prepare  a way to save a great many lives, not only of Joseph and his brothers, but of many of the nations around him.  And, and, in the future, the bloodline Joseph preserved through his brothers, was that of the Messiah, the savior of the World.

Of course, Joseph had no idea at the time what redemptive purpose God had for him at the time. He only knew that God did have them, which is why he was able to serve without despair, or bitterness, and yet still work to glorify God. Only if you believe that God is at work in your work, that he has a plan for you can you follow after him.

Christians Look at Jesus– Of course, once again, we’re in a much better position to trust in God’s purposes for us at work because we’ve seen, not only Joseph, but the greater Joseph–Jesus Christ. Jesus was the perfect brother who went to work in a foreign land, not because he was forced to, but willingly. He was not made, but made himself a slave for his brothers. He worked in far worse conditions, amongst a people who rejected him, told lies about him, and threw him, not only into a pit, but the pit of hell itself on the Cross. But from there, that greater depth, he rose to a greater height, in the resurrection and ascension, he rose to heaven itself so that he might pass on riches, life, and health of salvation to those of us starving in sin.

This is what we see in the Gospel, and so even more than Joseph, we are able to trust in God’s purposes for our lives, even at work. As always, there are a number of take-aways to think about tonight:

Maybe God’s call is to quit slacking at work. Or, stop our compromise morally and spiritually. Or, it is to pick our head up and look for opportunities to bless those around us for the Glory of God. Whatever it is, know you’ve been called for God’s purpose wherever you are, serve as to the Lord, trust in God’s plans despite our lack of sight, and marvel at God’s ability to work that all out.

Soli Deo Gloria